Thursday, January 16, 2014

Diary of an Assassin - Twelfth Entry

Welcome to Abstergo Entertainment.

Every Assassin’s Creed game has some kind of modern-setting component to it. The first Assassin’s Creed had small intermission sequences with Dr. Vidic and Lucy resulting in a more-questions-than-answers ending with cryptologic glyphs. Assassin’s Creed 2 had Desmond training to become an assassin leading up to a confrontation with Dr. Vidic once again during the end credits. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood had you renovating the Villa Auditore and traveling under the Coliseum to Santa Maria in Aracoeli.

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations took place entirely within the animus with the exception of a cutscene at the very end. Assassin’s Creed 3 finally realized Desmond as an assassin in the modern day, jumping off skyscrapers in New York and a mission in Brazil before heading back to Abstergo to rescue Desmond’s father and take out Dr. Vidic.

The modern setting of Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag takes place at Abstergo Entertainment, the game studio branch of Abstergo that’s hinted in the multiplayer mode of Assassin’s Creed 3. You play as a nameless employee gathering memories from a ‘generous donor’ (Desmond) to create a new pirate game. Yes, this effectively means Black Flag is taking place within itself as Abstergo Entertainment is a weird pseudo-replacement for Ubisoft Montreal, even though it’s specifically noted that Abstergo Entertainment is working with publisher Ubisoft.

It sounds bizarre and silly, but it works meticulously. The studio is littered with copies of Assassin’s Creed 3 and Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation, a few nerf guns, even an Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag art book. They even take it a step further; as you explore the studio, you’ll find market research and focus group testing on prospective protagonists for their next project, as you can see above. It’s probably the most fantastically simulated game studio I’ve ever seen.

What makes this all work as a premise is the perspective. Whereas in previous games you’ve always played from an assassin point of view, Black Flag is through the eyes of templars. They view themselves as the ones doing good, with the assassin order corrupting minds. Ultimately though, the modern day story is a stop-gap. By the time you finish scrubbing through Edward Kenway’s memories, and a trailer is produced for the project you’re working on, the only thing that’s happened between the templars and assasssins is you handing off some Abstergo data to Shaun and Rebecca.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance review - slice and dice

I’ve never played a Metal Gear game before. The closest I’ve ever come is playing the beginning of the original Metal Gear on the NES, which held my attention for all of about five minutes before I took the cartridge out and replaced it with Super Mario Bros. 3. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, a spin-off of the Metal Gear Solid series, recently released for PC almost a year after its console release, and for someone like me it’s the perfect window into the Metal Gear series.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Diary of an Assassin - Eleventh Entry

Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag doesn’t waste any time introducing you to Edward Kenway. With the sound a boom, you’re on the deck of a ship, cannons firing back and forth in the middle of a storm as Ubisoft puts its naval combat front and center. There’s no cutscene to show who his family is, where he came from, or what his motivations are. Kenway is a pirate, out for riches and himself and that’s all you really need to know about him.

There is an exception to this, of course. There are a few flashbacks to his earlier life with his love Caroline Scott, showing how her father didn’t approve of Kenway. It’s a stark contrast to compare Kenway to the other assassins of Desmond’s lineage. I spent a good chunk of time getting to know Ezio’s family, and in turn, their deaths being his motivations for becoming an assassin. I spent even more time with Conner and his family. I spent time as his father, Haythem Kenway, Edward’s son, as Conner when he was a child and Templars killed his mother, as a teenager, and as an adult.

Altair is the only assassin who comes close to having as little backstory as Edward. I know Altair was a master assassin, before being demoted to a novice for breaking the assassin’s creed and essentially being too cocky, but before that, not much is known.

The short introduction to Edward is a far cry from Conner’s introduction in Assassin’s Creed 3, and almost feels like a direct response to it. For the most part, I liked Assassin’s Creed 3, particularly it’s time and place during the American Revolutionary War. But its long, drawn-out, and unreliable introduction set a pace that made the rest of it feel arduous. It’s near eight-hour introduction left me feeling like I was already halfway done with it before even starting. Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag slims the introduction to Edward and the Caribbean down to maybe three hours. Once you get your ship, it’s clear sailing from there.

Through the process of completing missions, recruiting crewmates, and upgrading your ship, it’s almost glaringly obvious Edward was written to invoke the vibe of Ezio, and I’m ok with that. Ezio is, without contest, the best protagonist the Assassin’s Creed series has seen, no small thanks to having three games dedicated to him. But Edward Kenway nicely fits in at no. 2. His selfish attitude and lust for wealth is just what was needed, and the way he plays sides, assassins and templars, makes his tale intriguing and unique among Desmond’s ancestor.

Intriguing and unique are also the words I would use to describe the real world setting of Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, and it’s probably the thing I’m most excited to talk about, but I’ll save that for the next entry.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Alien: Isolation - The difference an S can make.

Remember how terrible Aliens: Colonial Marines turned out to be? From its retconning narrative that conflicted with the films, despite its position as the official sequel, to its stilted animations and unspectacular gameplay, it unquestionably set a low-point for the Aliens franchise in video games.

Back in October of last year, Sega copyrighted the name of the next Aliens game, Alien: Isolation. The reveal trailer for it released today and it might be the Aliens game we’ve always wanted.

Alien: Isolation takes places 15 years after the events of Alien, where you play as Amanda Ripley, the daughter of Ellen Ripley. As a Weyland-Yutani engineer, Amanda takes a mission to recover the black box of the Nostromo, the last ship her mother served on. When Amanda arrives at Sevastopol space station where the black box is located, things start to go bad.

One of the main things that makes Alien: Isolation stand out from past Aliens games is that it has more to do with Alien than Aliens. It’s a survival horror game, not a first-person shooter. You don’t have a gun or any other way to defend yourself other than hiding in lockers or other compartments similar to Amnesia: The Dark Descent. There’s no HUD with a motion tracker, though you can hold one up to see if anything is nearby similar to the flashlight in Doom 3. And there’s only one alien on the space station, stalking you the entire time similar to Nemesis in Resident Evil 3: Nemesis.

Creative Assembly looks to be finding a way to capture the vibe of great horror games and combine them into Alien: Isolation. I never would have thought the developer behind the Total War series would make something so intriguing. Take a look at PC Gamer’s preview, which covers the built-from-scratch engine Creative Assembly is using and how the alien is completely AI driven, which makes sense given their Total War background. Alien: Isolation is scheduled for the Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and PC sometime late 2014.