Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Assassin's Creed II impressions . . .

I enjoyed the original Assassin's Creed.  It was a severely flawed game, but the core engine and game mechanics were refreshing and new.  I always had the impression that the developer spent so much time getting the building blocks in place that they just didn't have time to iron out the actual gameplay and story.  So you had a nice playground to play in, but there weren't too many interesting things to do.
Hopefully the sequel remedies that right?  Afterall, the groundwork is already done.
I was reluctant to pick up ACII.  It would be cutting into my MW2 time.  But I caved and got it on release day.
Much like with Gears of War 2, I hated it the second I started playing.  The entire first hour or so is dreadfully boring and uneventful.  I didn't even think the game looked impressive graphically.  It was bland and lifeless and I stopped playing wondering how Ubisoft could drop the ball on a game with such promise.
The game certainly takes a while to get going.  You don't even get a weapon until about 2 hours in (I spent some time exploring and finding treasure chests, so your results may vary).  You also start out as a carefree young man, not involved in anyway in the entire Assassins vs. Templars war that is going on behind the scenes.  Your first few tasks are mundane and seemingly unimportant; delivering some letters for your dad, beating up a cheating boyfriend for your sister, walking with your mom to pick up a package.
But all this exposition and "bonding" with your family serves a purpose.  One that the first game could have definitely used.  When the "shit hits the fan", and you are forced into this world of conspiracy, Assassins, and Templars, it is very personal and you really do want revenge.  I barely knew why I was taking guys out in the first game.  Sure there was a reason, but it was mostly because I was told to do so.  The targets meant nothing to me on a personal level.  Now, in ACII, every assassination is all the more sweet because I am much more invested in the reasons for them.
Once the game gets going, it it can be overwhelming.  There are so many different things to do.  You have your main story missions, sure, but there are countless side missions.  Beat-up events and races.  Viewpoints to reach.  Hidden chests to loot.  Feathers to collect (and even these are tied to the story).  There are Assassin's Tombs to find and clear (these are a blast).  There's the "truth" to seek out by finding hidden glyphs on the sides of selected buildings and solving their puzzles (which are unique and intriguing).  There are codex pages to locate and add to your collection so that you may reveal to bigger puzzle.  There are pick-pocketers and theives to chase down.  And then there's a a whole economic system at play.  Weapons and armor to purchase.  Different outfits and larger pouches to increase your capacity for things such as medicine.  You can upgrade your uncle's Estate, by repairing the worn and torn town to increase its appeal and bring in business, thus increasing your own wealth (money collected by the town is deposited into a chest in your villa that you can collect).
This game is riduculously large.
So far, about 5 - 6 hours in, I am still learning countless new moves or acquiring new techniques and weapons.  I still haven't seen (or even unlocked) all that the game has to offer.
Once you invest some time into it, the rewards far out weight the slow the start.  I went in expecting a better experience than the original and yet I ended up getting a lot more.  ACII is huge, and deep, and a hell of a good time.  Looks like it will be keeping me busy for quite some time.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tuesday Notes

- Assassin's Creed 2 comes out today.  I'm not as excited about it as I was the first game.  I might still pick it up since I will be at Best Buy getting Star Trek on bluray, but the anticipation is not there.
While on the subject of AC2, what is up with all these review embargos on big name games lately?  MW2 had a review embargo right up to its release and it looks like the same is true for AC2.  Typically a review embargo means that the developer knows the game is crap and they don't want early reviews up, but I know that's the not the case with these games (at least I hope it is not with AC2).
Reviews don't really affect my purchasing decision, but I just like reading them.  I'm curious to see if they addressed the repetitive mission structure of the first game.  Hope it all feels more organic.
- Been playing MW2 multiplayer (of course) and while I absolutely love it, that love is usually reserved for when I have a decent ping to the game.  This happened all the time in CoD4 too.  Your performance is greatly determined by your current connection to the host.  If I have four little green bars, I am golden.  What I see on the Kill Cam is what I experience during live action and I typically do very well.  If however, I have 3 green bars (I never go below 3), then things get ugly.  I then typically play terrible and the Kill Cam shows something very different from what I saw.  It is all a latency issue, but it can be very frustrating.
In games with 3 green bars, I'll typically finish with a 1 to 1 kill/death ratio.  If that!  In games with four bars, I'm usually 3 to 1 in that department.  That is a HUGE difference.
I hate that my enjoyment of the game depends so much on this.  I hope it is something that Infinity Ward can at least improve in a patch, since I know it can't go away for good.
I don't have a problem with playing poorly, as long as the reason I am sucking is because of my own doing, and not because I have a disadvantage because of latency.  When I have 4 bars and get killed, I know it was my fault, or the other player just beat me.  When I have 3 bars and get killed, something just feels off.  The Kill Cam confirms that both I and the player that killed me did not see the same thing.  It is frustrating.  And annoying.  And at times enough to make me turn the game off in anger.
But when the game is clicking, and the connection does not interfere, there is no better multiplayer game on consoles.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Modern Warfare 2 impressions

With my mysterious internet issues resolved, I've put in some quality
time into MW2 over the last two days. I've dabbled in the
single-player, Special Ops, and of course, multi-player. Impressions.

Solo Campaign:

- Think I am about 75% done with the solo campaign. I'm playing it on
Regular difficulty. I usually do Hardened my first play-through and
then knock out Veteran afterward. But not this time. I went with
Regular for two reasons.

First, some sections on Hardened (not to mention Veteran) have proven
to be quite difficult in previous games (CoD2, CoD4) and they have led
to some frustration. This has lead to the stalling of the progression
and flow of the game, since you end up getting stuck in one particular
section or sections for a while. I didn't want to go through that this
time. At least not my first time through the game. I just wanted to
experience the story straight through and just enjoy the ride. The
agony of Hardened and Veteran can come later.

Second, I wanted to get through the story campaign as fast as possible.
For two reasons. I want to devote my full attention to multi-player.
And two, I don't want any sections or surprises spoiled for me. I
already had the airport level spoiled, so it did not have the kind of
impact it would have had if I would have gone in not knowing anything
about it. CoD4 had PLENTY of amazing moments, so I don't want to have
any of those potential moments spoiled for me.

- So far, I am enjoying the single-player, but I have not been blown
away like I was with CoD4. I really felt like Infinity Ward hit it out
of the park with the original Modern Warfare. It was one of the best
single-player FPS experiences I've had. It was intense, fun, and I
actually cared about the story.

I didn't enjoy WaW because I felt it leeched off MW too much and I'm
experiencing some of that same deja vu here. IW seems to be a victim of
its own success. Granted, if any game should be allowed to feel similar
to MW, it should be Infinity Ward's follow-up. I'm just not being as
blown away from all the set-pieces, because CoD4 already took me on this
roller-coaster ride before. Sure, this coaster has bigger drops, but
I'm a roller-coaster veteran by now.

And I should clarify, my dislike of WaW was the fact that I felt like
Treyach just blatantly rode on MW's coat-tails and didn't bother trying
to make WaW have an identity on its own. Obviously I am not feeling
that with MW2, since IW can copy off itself all it wants.

- Speaking of roller-coasters, it sometimes feels like MW2 is stuck on
giant drops. The game's pace is just relentess. CoD games are
notorious for total chaos, but maybe the formula is wearing thin, or I'm
looking for a change-up every now and then, because I could do with a
few more quiet sections. Some levels do ask for a stealthier approach,
but you know it's only a matter of time before that level explodes into
a giant firefight with hundreds of opponents. Ok, this is just an odd
"complaint" on my part. What will this game be if not one giant
fire-fight? That's what this franchise is built on. To its credit, the
game does try to mix it up. The airport level is unlike anything seen
before. There are some stealthy infiltration missions. I'm just being
pissy because I'm upset I haven't been as impressed with the solo game
as I was with CoD4.

- I'll stop commenting on this now until I actually finish it. I might
just be completely blown away by the end.

- Last note, going back to my first point of not wanting to have the
game's high points spoiled for me, I wish Infinity Ward would have keep
the fact that you will be doing fighting on America soil a secret. It
would have been difficult to keep it under wraps, since it looks like a
good chunk of the game takes place here in the US, but it would have
been a great revelation while playing it for the first time.


- I've played (and 3 starred) all of the Alpha and Bravo Special-Ops
missions. I love this mode. It is a total blast to play with a friend.
That is all.


I've written plenty on CoD4 multiplayer. Not too much more to add,
other than this game keeps all that was good and adds too it. It is too
soon to tell whether everything will work and it will stay completely
balanced, but it looks good so far.

IW does a great job of rewarding players constantly. It seems like you
are always unlocking something, or at least getting bonus points in-game
for doing something. I also like that they changed up the scoring
system a bit. Instead of getting 10 points for a kill in team
deathmatch, you now get 100. It is basically the same, instead of
needing 750 points to win, you need 7500, but seeing a +100 pop up is a
lot more rewarding than seing a +10.

I've leveled up to level 27 so far, so there are still PLENTY of guns,
perks and attachments for me to unlock and check out. Pretty sure I'll
be giving further impressions later.

But so far, multiplayer is just what I expected. The Modern Warfare
online formula is fantastic and MW2 just adds more toys, levels, and
perks to play with.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I mean, OF COURSE there was a problem . . .

Modern Warfare 2. A game I have been looking forward to for over a year
now. Last night was the night. Midnight release. I was ready.
Everything was planned. My buddy OneShotOneKilla (my trusty CoD4
team-death match accomplice) was also getting the game at midnight. We
were going to game for a bit, maybe get a few matches under our belt,
before calling it a night and resting for a long torturous day at work
the following day in which all we'd be doing was wishing we were home

Leading up to midnight I was honing my skills playing matches of CoD4.
I was playing very well in fact. At 11:30pm I decide to make my current
match my last one. Not just for the moment, as I was heading off to get
in line at Best Buy, but really, my last match of CoD4 ever. After all,
I was about to pick up Modern Warfare 2. I end up going 30-4, my best
performance in a really long time. I was riding high. What a way to
end my CoD4 run.

I change my Xbox Live status to "Away", grab my pre-order receipt and I
am out the door. I live 1 block from Best Buy so I'm in line by
11:45pm, with about 40 people in front of me. Midnight comes, the lines
moves fairly fast, and I am back at my apartment and sitting on my couch
just past 12:15am.

"Lets do this Marines . . ."

The game begins to load . . . can't wait . . . huh, I get the "Signed
out of Xbox Live" notification. Maybe there is a day 1 update I think.

Nope, the game continues to load as normal and I get to the main menu.
Strange. Let me just hit the guide button here and connect to Xbox Live

"Cannot connect to Xbox Live"


I select to test the connection. Sure enough, my Xbox cannot connect
to the internet. I go to my computer and launch Safari. Or "attempt"
to I should say. Nada.

Are you fucking kidding me?

I restart my router. Nothing. Restart the modem. Nothing. Restart
both. Fucking nothing!!!

At this point I am convinced that someone is playing a cruel joke on
me. I have not had internet problems for months. Basically since
switching to Comcast almost a YEAR ago! I had been playing CoD4 for
about an hour just before heading out to Best Buy. Everything was
peaches. How the HELL, could my internet just stop working all of a
sudden, the one fracking time I really want it to work?!?! I really am
in disbelief and my blood is boiling.

I just start the single-player campaign. Normally this is what I do to
begin with. I love single-player. I am one of those gamers who does
not want to single-player experience to die. Even though I participated
in the CoD4 multiplayer Beta, and absolutely loved it, when the actual
game came out I devoted most of my time to single player initially. But
not with MW2. I was really, really looking forward to some
team-deathmatch this night. More so than the campaign. Sure, I was
going to get to the single-player eventually, probably today even, but
last night was all about multiplayer. So after starting the solo
campaign and playing through the first 3 missions, I just had to turn it
off. I wasn't enjoying it. And not because it wasn't good. Because I
could tell that it was, but my heart was not into it. I was still
flabbergasted, that my internet was down, now, of all times.

After a whole night's rest, I was still upset when I woke up today.
First thing I did was to check my internet connection. Of course, it
was working just fine. Why wouldn't it fucking be?! It is not like I
was going to be able to play the game! I had to go to work!! Argh!!!!

Anyway, that is my rant. As seems to be the norm, I cannot anticipate
anything too much because it never goes as planned. I am just cursed
that way, I should learn to accept it. Hopefully my internet will be
working when I get home. If not, I'm sure my neighbors down the block
will hear my scream.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Revenge is sweet . . .

I beat Demon's Souls last night.  After that painful defeat at the hands of the final boss, I regrouped, came back, and took him out.  And just for kicks I took out his pet Blue Dragon that was guarding the outside of his castle burning everything in sight.  Take that you bastard!  Ha!
Man, what a great game.  After completion I immediately started playing again.  The game lets you start over, keeping all your stats, souls and equipment from your first run through (you lose the main quest items, such as keys, etc.).  It isn't a walk in the park the second time though, since all enemies are now more powerful.
I highly recommend this game to those of you with patience, who enjoy a really well designed game that likes to think outside the box and tries things that go against the norm.
So far this game is neck and neck with Batman: Arkham Asylum for Game of the Year.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Weekend gaming notes

Played some co-op Uncharted 2 with Gabe on Saturday.  It was fun.  Harder than I thought too.  Enemies attack you from all sides and it can get pretty hectic.  Man, I hate those annoying "assassin" enemies which grab you in a choke hold and you are defenseless unless your buddy rescues you.  It seems kinda cheap that you can't melee those guys before they grab you.  If they grab you from behind, that's fine, but if they are charging at you from the front I should be able to attack them with melee attacks without them automatically choking me.  Boo.
I also fought the final Boss in Demon's Souls yesterday.  Pretty sure it is the final boss at least.  I was doing great, picking at him when I saw an opening and just taking my time with the battle.  I had about 45,000 souls collected too and definitely didn't want to lose them.  I take him down to about 15% energy and then made one mstake.  I didn't properly dodge one of his attacks.  And of all attacks, it was the one I should have made sure to dodge.  He grabs me, sucks away one of my soul levels, then impales me with his sword, killing me instantly.
I had full energy too.  Well, as full as my energy could have been in Phantom form wearing the Cling Ring.  One attack.  That's it.  And the fight was over.  I had spent 15 minutes in combat, chipping away at his health, yet he ended it in 5 seconds.
Fucking brutal!!
Then, to add insult to injury, I get killed as I was making my way back to him (damn Blue Dragon), so I lost ALL 45,000 souls.  Yeah, safe to say I turned the game off after that.
But hey, the Dolphins beat the Jets yesterday, sweeping the season series, so it was hard to get me in too bad a mood last night.
Only one more week for MW2!!!!!