>AC: Brotherhood – the first hour

>Of all the big franchises out there that I’m proud to be a fan of, Assassin’s Creed is the one that I have the strangest relationship with.  There’s only 3 games in the series, but the pattern has already evolved thus:

  • I get phobic and downright hostile towards preview coverage, 
  • I start dreading the game’s release, thinking it’s going to be terrible;
  • The game comes out and gets rave reviews;
  • I buy it immediately and end up being totally in love with it.  

This happened with AC2 – watch me go from skeptical (1)…to puppy love (2)…to serious man-crush (3)…to full-on infatuation (4).  It’s true that AC2 ended up only being my 3rd favorite game of 2009,  but look – 2009 turned out to be an amazing year, and I was torn between AC2 and Batman:AA as my 2/3 for weeks

AC:Brotherhood took the phobia and hostility to new, unprecedented levels, however.  First of all, I was not ready for a sequel this quickly – sequels that occur with this kind of pace rarely end up being great.  (AC2 came out almost exactly a year ago, which itself came out almost exactly a year after the first one.)  And, of course, the marketing for this game was totally screwed up – the initial coverage made it sound like it was multiplayer-only, which was definitely not what I wanted out of an AC game, and then when it was revealed that there was a single-player campaign also, I figured it was an obligatory tack-on, and then when it was revealed that it was still set in Italy, with Ezio, I was thinking that this was going to be some shitty quasi-expansion pack cash-in, and planned to avoid it at all costs.

And then the reviews started coming in, saying it was clearly the best in the franchise.  And so my rental copy finally arrived last night, and I started playing, and now I’m totally hooked, again.

The most recent Giant Bombcast has an interesting bit of discussion regarding AC:B (starting at 1:05:22), with one point being that when you break down what it is you’re actually doing in AC:B, it sounds an awful lot like Fable 3.  Consider:

  • You are attempting to overthrow an evil, corrupt government
  • You buy property and shops, which help beautify each area and which contribute to your own personal wealth
  • There is an impending cataclysmic disaster that you must prepare for

And there are other comparisons to Fable 3 that are worth mentioning:

  • It’s a sequel that appeared rather quickly
  • The combat is better than in the previous game, but still a little janky
  • The graphics engine is a little old – still capable of great stuff, but, still, old

That’s the last we’ll talk about Fable 3, though.  The first hour of AC:B has totally quashed any and all desire I might have had to slog through a 2nd playthrough of Fable 3, and in any event, the bullet points I listed above are simply conceptual similarities – otherwise, you would never confuse one for the other.

I feel silly even talking about AC:B at this stage in my initial playthrough; I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s there, and I already know too much about what is to come.  I suspect that most of the rest of this blog’s entries for the remainder of this year will be related to AC:B, and I can already tell that this game will make me rethink my top 10 of 2010.

>Fable 3

>I accidentally finished Fable 3 over the weekend.  That wasn’t my intention.  I didn’t know I was at the end of the game and had beaten the final boss until the credits started rolling.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so torn on how to rate a game as I am with Fable 3.  I don’t even know where to start, to be honest, other than to say that it’s pretty clear that Fable 4, should there be one, needs to be a complete reboot.  The engine, the combat system, the map, the social interaction mechanic, the real estate management system, the pause menu, the controls; these are but a few of the major features that require a complete overhaul if this franchise is to stay relevant.

And that’s leaving aside the surprising lack of polish that permeates the experience; the glittering trail that leads you to your destination is broken more often than not, and the mini-map that requires several button presses to access is more of an abstract representation of your current location than an actual, 1:1 reference, making it more or less useless – so if your glittering trail refuses to show up, and you’re in a new location – or, indeed, in a location that you already know quite well – you can still get lost. 

And yet… I still kinda liked it.  I kinda liked enough to want to keep playing even though my campaign is over; and I must begrudgingly admit that, since my wife is out of town this week, I’m tempted to replay the entire campaign as a full-on evil bastard, since one of the few things that the game does remarkably well is adapt to the choices that you make.  If you play as a good guy, you’ll notice that the world will change; the city of Bowerstone, for example, is a filthy, foggy cesspool when you first enter it, but if you choose to make improvements to the city, it’s actually a quite lovely place to stroll through by the time you’re done.

And what’s more, there are repercussions to being completely good, some of which are quite shocking once you see them in person.  We’re getting into spoiler territory here, so skip ahead to the next paragraph if you want to avoid them.  The game starts with you, as the king’s brother, escaping out of the castle and starting to lead a revolution.  The revolution occurs at around the game’s midpoint, and then you’re the King, which means that in addition to your regular quests, you have several crucial decisions that you need to make; you learn that in exactly one year, a huge attack will descend upon your kingdom, and you need to make certain decisions in order to make preparations.  Those decisions will also affect your alliances that you’ve made as you formed the revolution; the promises you made to rebel leaders will affect your ability to properly save up enough money to pay for your kingdom’s defense.  I was playing as a good guy, which meant that I kept all my promises, and which meant that I drained my kingdom’s coffers completely dry in order to give my citizens a good life.  I assumed that I’d have enough time to donate my own (rather substantial) stash to make up the shortfall; and, if I’d dillydallied enough, I probably could have.  The problem is that the endgame arrived completely without warning; I thought I still had time to make some more money, but instead I suddenly found myself leading the final charge of the final battle.  (And the final boss battle… ye gods, what a fucking joke.)  Anyway, the point (the repercussions from being completely good) is that I had been a good king, but I didn’t raise enough funds to protect my people; and so, after the final battle was over and I could continue playing, I decided to visit some older locations to pick up some loose threads from the campaign, and everywhere I went, nearly everyone was dead.  So, obviously, I’m curious to see what happens if you’re completely bad.  End spoilers

Can I recommend this game, knowing how many other great games there are right now?  It’s a very tough call.  If you’re a fan of the franchise, and you’re willing to forgive the game’s numerous problems, both technical and philosophical, you’ll probably end up having somewhat of an enjoyable time.  I know I did; there’s just enough good in the game that made me feel like the experience wasn’t totally worthless.  But if you’re unfamiliar with Fable, or if you’re trying to shoehorn it in to your already busy gaming schedule, you may want to rent it, and nobody would blame you if you wanted to avoid it altogether.  Life is about choice, after all.

>feast or famine

>I can’t remember the last time I had so much good stuff to play, all at the same time.  It’s a little overwhelming, but I’m not complaining.  AT ALL.

We covered Rock Band 3 and Fable 3 on Friday; RB3 is still excellent, and F3 is maybe not as excellent but certainly absorbing.  It’s very easy to get sidetracked, which is sort of the point, and even though it feels incredibly artificial and “game-y”, it’s the sort of thing where you get used to that feeling pretty quickly, and it ceases being a concern.

I finished the first mission or two in the Red Dead Redemption Zombie DLC; man, that game continues to be awesome.  I’ve had RDR flip-flopping with Mass Effect 2 as my Game of the Year pretty much since the get-go, but RDR seems like it’s the more complete package, at this point.  Every time I fire it up I’m immediately back in the swing of things.

My Gamefly copy of Kirby’s Big Yarn finally arrived, and it’s as charming and adorable as can be.  My wife is very much into crafting, and she took a shine to the art design immediately; I’m hoping I can get her to play it.
 
Your mileage will vary depending on your predilection towards video pinball, but if you’re in any way inclined towards it, I would highly recommend FXPinball 2, which took up a number of idle hours this weekend.  For my money, it’s the best home pinball solution outside of actually owning a machine.

And I finally caved and bought Game Dev Story for my iPod Touch.  I’m generally not one for these kinds of simulation games, or really any kind of sim game, but I’d heard too much good stuff about this one to ignore, and lo and behold, it’s totally sucked me in.  VosstonVisions is about 4 years in, now, and while we’d like to get beyond ninja adventure games, we’re starting to make some money.  Highly enjoyable, and highly recommended.

>Impressions: Rock Band 3, Fable 3

>OK, so.  I had more or less written off the rest of 2010 in terms of “games to get excited about.”  And now, suddenly, I’m up to my ears in quality stuff.

Rock Band 3 is easily the best iteration of the franchise, and I say this even though I’ve only played one 14-song setlist with my wife, and without even owning the keyboard or trying out any of the “pro mode” stuff.  I’m talking strictly nuts-and-bolts here; the game feels “smart.”  Being able to save a setlist is a fantastic idea, especially if you want to set something up ahead of time; having the game actually pause between songs is also something much appreciated, to give everyone a second to catch their breath, stretch their fingers, take a quick bathroom break.  The stat-tracking is really interesting; it’s keeping tabs on all sorts of cool stuff, which definitely scratches that “let me play one more tune so I can get the next achievement” itch.  I’ve only seen a tiny fraction of what the game has to offer – I plan on messing with it A LOT over the weekend.  And I still need to get familiar with the on-disc setlist; I’ve already merged my RB1, RB2 and DLC libraries, so I need to see what’s actually new.

I can’t quite tell if Fable 3 is the best iteration in its franchise; I’m maybe 30-40 minutes into it, and it basically feels like Fable 2 (which is not necessarily a bad thing, of course, as I very much enjoyed my time with F2).  It does have some strange design choices, though, and I can already tell that some of them are going to get annoying. 

For example:  one of the bullet points of this franchise is that you can interact with anyone, and there’s lots of ways to do that; so that’s nice.  Except here, if you want to interact with someone, you have to stand close enough to them that a button prompt appears; if you press the button, then the game momentarily stops, and then restarts with a new contextual button prompt; if you then press that button (shake hand, belch, etc.), then you’re kicked back out into the first button prompt, and then you have to press another button to get back to the actual game.  This is strange and needlessly cumbersome. 

Also – the X button is both your melee attack and your block, which can be tricky, and the block really ought to have been mapped to one of the triggers, which are not used at all

It’s not really fair of me to criticize it just yet; again, I’m not even an hour into it, and there’s so much more left to do.  But every game’s first impression goes a long way toward coloring your eventual verdict.