Friday, November 30, 2007

Mmmm orange soda.......

All hail Tina Fey Geek Goddess, Geeky Goodness
Best 30 Rock line last night:

They come from a place where orange soda is an acceptable substitute for breast milk.
(Tracy Morgan/Jordan about the ghetto baseball league he's coaching)

What'd they do, poll my family?
I'm still rolling

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Hey Ubisoft Pay Attention!!

Mixing it up with Assassins Creed

First let me say that I enjoyed this game. If I break it down on a 1-5 scale
Graphics: 4
Story: 4
Control: 5
Sound: 3.5

So it looks good on paper, but the experienced gamer may have a bit to quibble about. First off Assassins Creed definitely suffers from a serious case of same crap different day. Altair the main character may as well be reporting to a cubicle to crunch numbers. There is a very precise order to everything he needs to do to perform an assassination.

Get to town.
Report to the guild.
Scout the town through viewpoints.
Collect info through pick pocketing, eavesdropping, intimidating and using informers who only have two kinds of tasks, assassination or flag collecting.
Report back to the guild for permission to kill.
Carry out your assassination.
There are also citizens who are being harassed that you can save to create helpful vigilante squads to delay pursuers or groups of scholars to hide among.

While this may sound like a lot to do it’s not. Ubisoft could have had a stellar game here instead of an above average game. Knowing there will be a second installment, and the amount of potential this new franchise has, I am hoping they fix some problems in the next part. Here is a breakdown on the city missions and what I would like to see done to improve them.

Get to town – You have to visit each of the three main cities 3 times each. Each time you enter a city you blend in with a group of slow moving scholars to get past the guards. I’m not giving anything away here, it’s pretty obvious. It would have been much more interesting if you had to find a different way into the city each time as city security plugs the hole you exploited last time.

Report to the guild – this is important to the story and not too much of a bother, but you shouldn’t need to return after collecting info on your assassination then again after you were done. It slowed the flow of the game down for me. Altair already has permission from the head of the guild, why should he need middle managements approval? A carrier pigeon occasionally summoning him back for side quests/jobs would have been good.

Scout the town for viewpoints – this is fun, and jumping from your perch into the hay gave me a lurch in my stomach each time. The drawback is after climbing your first viewpoint all other viewpoints show up on your map. Make us hunt for them; we’re up for the challenge.

Getting info: This is where Ubisoft dropped the ball. While the mechanics of getting info were tedious, using the info correctly during your assassination instead of charging in really benefited the gameplay. It would be great to access the info you’ve collected during assassinations without going through 3 menu screens.
Here’s a breakdown on info gathering.

Pick pocket – why does each mark walk slowly and alone through the city? You can usually pick a pocket within seconds after the setup scene. Mix it up a little. Vary the speed your marks move in. Give some of them an entourage. Imagine starting a disturbance by causing a street fight or tossing a beggar into the marks protectors and slipping in while they’re distracted, or getting the entourage to chase you so you have to lose them and double back before they do.

Eavesdropping – sitting on a bench, using your ears..really? In a game with this many vertical surfaces the eavesdropping missions could have required you to hang on walls over people’s heads or just under them while hoping a guard, archer or snitch doesn’t see you, blowing the surveillance. If you’re busted, the eavesdropping opportunity should move to another location on the map.

Intimidation – guards won’t stop you if you start a fist fight. There really isn’t a need to do this stealthily. Give the intended some followers you need to take out as a group or one by one, non lethal and without attracting the guards. Then you can lay the smack down on the target. A little leg breaking would not be frowned upon either.

Informers – the informer assassination jobs were fun and difficult as they were timed and usually took place around beggars, drunks and madmen who could botch it for you. No problems here. I didn’t even have a problem with the pointless flag collecting except there are already flags all over the place to collect and it’s easy to go after the wrong one. Send me to get some artifact or save a particular person in a heavily guarded area with a time limit instead.

Save the citizen – this was also a lot of fun, but it also showed the lack of enemy AI. You kill a dozen guards and no one notices you standing there since the location reregisters. If some of the citizens were actually being dragged away and you had to keep up with them it would have been more of a challenge. Since saving the citizens aren’t necessary for the story they shouldn’t show up on my map. Make me find them. This would cause you to be more aware of the city around you instead of free running the rooftops from task to task.

Since I used the info collected, I had a great time with the assassinations. I even got panicked when something went wrong with all my careful planning. The dialogue between Altair and his dying targets is a fair enough trade off to move the plot forward. Again, I don’t see the reason behind revisiting the guild when he should be getting out of dodge with the guards in high alert.

Here are a few other points that bugged me.
He’s a kick ass assassin. He can’t doggy paddle two feet when he lands in the water next to the boat he was aiming for? The only people who die when they hit the water are quadriplegics. Why this still happens in games amazes me. Of course wet robes could slow him down making it harder for him to jump, run or move with stealth.

The subplot could have waited till mid game. I don’t want to give anything away, but they shot the wad a bit prematurely. It will be interesting to see how it all works out in later installments.

There were a few graphical glitches and my game froze 3 times, I’ve read worse on message boards, but the game does have a great autosave feature so if you’re collecting flags and carrying out side missions you shouldn't lose too much. Considering the quality of the graphics and the fluidity of control, I’m surprised it ran at all.

There is a character with the voice and likeness of Kristen Bell, (formerly Veronica Mars, currently Elle on heroes) but her character model needs a lift. I’m talking to you Jade Raymond, get the girl a bra. She’s hanging in grandma territory. A boob job didn’t hurt Lara Croft, and it won’t hurt here.

Just as an aside, if Jade Raymond and Kristen Bell want a catfight in the next game, I won’t complain.

Ubisoft Producer Jade Raymond

All in all I enjoyed my time with Assassins Creed and would recommend it. If they fix some of the problems I’ve listed above, or just add more variety to the missions the second installment will kick butt and take names. You are going to want to play that game and you’re going to need to play this one to have a handle on the story. At the least give it a weekend rental.