Game Review Roundup: ASSASSIN'S CREED, LOTR, JURASSIC PARK
Assassin's Creed: Revelations
Reviewed By: Seth Robison
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
The long middle chapter of the Assassin’s Creed franchise appears to be coming to a close in Master Assassin Ezio Auditore da Firenze’s third console outing: Assassin's Creed: Revelations, out now for PS3 and the Xbox 360. Just in time too, as while Revelations offers up some new wrinkles, like its aged protagonist, the game’s formula is starting to look a bit rough around the edges.
In search of more secrets hidden by his predecessor, ancestor and fellow Assassin's Creed game star Altair ibn La-Ahad, a 52-year-old Ezio sails from his Italian home to the east and ends up facing his order’s sworn foes, the Templars, in Istanbul amidst the rise of the Ottoman Empire in a race to recover knowledge hidden by Altair centuries before. Split as the city is by the Bosporus, Istanbul (once Constantinople, inquiries to the Turks about the name change were rebuffed as being none of our concern) feels smaller than Brotherhood’s Rome, lacking the open spaces, and the horses, of that game. Along the same lines, while an attempt was made to make Istanbul and its environs look different from Renaissance Italy, to veteran players the city and its inhabitants quickly feel like they’ve just been reskinned rather than being original creations.
Unlike Brotherhood though, Revelations wastes little time introducing its new elements, and that speed is a theme throughout the changes. Most noticeable is the Hookblade that allows for faster transit horizontally along ziplines and vertically extending Ezio’s grasping range and climbing speed significantly. In combat, its best use is for quick escapes, evading guards set in a blocking stance is now a simple matter of a Hookblade-assisted Judo toss. Bombs, in a form that today we’d call grenades, are another new development that offers a wealth of options and actually makes good use of the expendable collectible items found in-game. Once trained, Ezio can create bombs to attack, distract or defend himself using a variety of materials that effect when, how and with what the explosion will accomplish. Bombs from simple contact explosives to sticky, tripwire-triggered traps to metal shells filled with lambs blood, fake coins or sulfur really allow you to play games with your enemies minds or just take out a bunch in one shot. The game allows you to carry three each of three different types, adding a cool bit of strategy to each mission’s approach.
This expansion in the number of items you can carry is handed with a new inventory system that allows for quick-slots, but allows for manual control over what you are wielding in each hand just as fast. This two-weapon system ties into the franchise’s overt/covert action toggle that actually works well provided you have the coordination for it, no mean feat in itself, especially since the lock-on range for your thrown/fired weapons feels a lot shorter then it was in the previous titles.
Making a return in an expanded form is the breakout feature of Brotherhood, the recruiting and training of apprentice assassins. In addition to calling for their help during your own missions, the process of sending them out around the Mediterranean to earn experience has been expanded to a strategic mini-game against the Templars. Completing missions this time give you the opportunity to change a city’s aliment to the Assassins and allow for the gathering of more money and XP. You can then assign assassins to a conquered city to help hold it, which at the same time allows you to recruit and develop a new appearance in his or her place. Frankly, it’s more fun than any mode that takes place unseen in the background has any right to be.
Sadly the process of overtaking Templar-controlled parts of the city has been ‘expanded’ to include the possibility for them to take it back, which is fine except for the only way to stop this from happening is to engage in a clumsy tower-defense style mini-game. Compounding this, like all tower defense games, quickly devolves into chaos, the mode takes place from the immobile perspective of a perched Ezio, making the view of the area you need to defend cluttered by angled rooftops. This perspective also makes it hard to employ precise cursor control. Finally, when poor map design means you can’t tell immediately which end of the area you are defending, then you’ve already set yourself behind.
The rest of the game is largely the same as the previous two. Your mission to advance your cause by killing as many people as possible as quietly as possible, takes place, Young Indiana Jones-style, amid the backdrop of great events and the people who shaped them as an ersatz, bowdlerized history lesson. The third-person action, including the climbing, free-running and fighting feel great and natural, but the persistent problem of getting the player character to do exactly what you want remains, especially when you need to make a leap from an odd perspective or complete a move quickly to avoid detection.
The clever conceit of the multiplayer returns, with players advancing though the ranks of the Templars in training missions that mimic the classic multiplayer gameplay. Revisions for Revelations include modes where the radar is removed and replaced with a simple indicator if your target is in line-of-sight, a clever change that eliminates the warmer/colder system that weakened a match's tension. The multiplayer also has its own storyline, with unlocks that not only provide perks but character customization that you pay for with points earned by leveling. After a short trial, this mode is locked to those who have not purchased a new copy of the game by paying a fee.
Franchise fatigue in gameplay aside, the one thing the Assassin’s Creed games keep doing well is the true draw of Revelations. That is learning more of the fascinating historical sci-fi storyline that frames the games. Revelations does this for long time fans in three ways. Along with learning about the later days of Ezio, players will also learn more about the enigmatic Altair in playable sections featuring him and about modern-day Desmond Miles, who players control for the first time in a significant fashion as the challenging code-breaking puzzles of the previous entries have been replaced by Portal-like first person puzzle rooms.
With the likely end of Ezio's adventure upon us, the franchise now rests on Desmond's shoulders. Ubisoft has their work cut out for them trying to match the popularity of the franchise’s previous protagonists with a game that is not structured within their literal plot device, the genetic history/virtual reality exploration machine, the Animus. Let's hope they take their time and do it right.
Jurassic Park: The Game
Review By: Seth Robison
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Telltale Game’s second foray into movie based games, after Back to the Future, revisits another popular film trilogy in Jurassic Park: The Game, an episodic action/adventure game out now for PC/Mac, Xbox 360 and PS3. A departure from the kind of point-and-click adventure titles that Telltale has carved a niche for itself, Jurassic Park: The Game instead blends a touch of that with the kind of quick time event/interactive drama element that recalls the critical smash hit Heavy Rain.
Taking place in the background of the events of the first movie, using elements from that film that will be very familiar to fans, Jurassic Park: The Game, like Heavy Rain, tells a simple story of survival and intrigue amidst dinosaurs from several different intertwining perspectives over its five episode structure. Missions include the activities of a rival company’s agent on an industrial espionage mission, Jurassic Park’s head veterinarian trying to save his estranged daughter and trapped scientists in a remote laboratory.
The challenge in this game comes from the same place that it does in all QTE based games, a mix of reaction time, borderline precognition and understanding what the game wants you to do in a particular moment. It can get frustrating, but the consequences for mistakes are not as severe as can be in other interactive dramas, here they will just lower your ranking for a particular sequence or in the case of a critical failure set you back to a not-too-distant checkpoint. This is not to say that there isn’t tension in place, Jurassic Park: The Game does a great job building suspense by pacing and framing the action in a very cinematic way and from multiple perspectives that you couldn’t get from a traditional first or third person game. Fortunately for the gamer’s nerves, the whole experience isn’t just a test of your reaction time as some elements of traditional adventure games remain, like point-and-click item collection, some light puzzle solving and short conversational exchanges.
These sequences help broaden out the game’s characters, who are rather flat, weakly acted and pale in appearance to the much more carefully developed dinosaurs who bristle with menace and sound terrific. The dinosaurs are in fact almost done too well, as their ‘realism’ sticks out from both the puppet-like humans and the flat-looking backgrounds.
Telltale’s commitment to the episodic game structure divides the game in such a way that each chunk should take a fast fingered gamer between 90 to 120 minutes to complete, and each doesn’t even need to be done in one go. Clearly a short experience overall, this format (and an intra-episode scenario select option) at least lets you try to recapture that first play-thru experience quickly or at least try to attempt a cleaner run through. Jurassic Park: The Game, ably revives a dormant franchise with an entertaining, budget-friendly adventure.
Lord of the Rings: War in the North
Review By: Lucas Siegel
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
This is a bit of a paradoxical game. It's clearly made for fans of the franchise, with enticing possibilities like learning the "other half" of the defense against Sauron, in the North instead of the South. You get to explore places mentioned (and some made up just for this game) but never fully described in the books or seen in the films. And overall, you're expanding on the world of Lord of the Rings, extending your (hopefully) enjoyment of the franchise. However, those same fans, so dedicated to the world established already, may be the ones who have the most problem with this game, as it does reach far beyond established canon and try to throw in some new ideas.
That's not to say you'll see a radical rewriting of history or formula here. The basic setup of this game is an action adventure with some RPG trappings, as you control a human ranger, an elven mage, or a dwarvish warrior in a journey to stop Sauron's other army. There is multiplayer co-op offered as well, so that you and your personal fellowship can take the journey together. That's where the game shines, whether online or on the same couch, when attacks can be co-ordinated properly to take down some of the larger and more advanced enemies – because let's face it, the computer-controlled AI companions aren't going to work very well with you, sometimes literally standing by and watching you get slaughtered.
Each class of character does lay suitably uniquely; you won't just be hacking and slashing even though you're a mage, for example, which is a nice touch. However you start going through the game, though, the swaths of orcs and occasional hard-to-beat trolls tend to get a bit droll after the first dozen or so. There simply isn't a lot of actual progression (i.e. you get stronger at the exact same rate as your enemies), and the types of battles don't vary enough to keep the game going, especially if you're solo.
For fans of the franchise, or fans of hack-and-slash action, this is absolutely a game worth playing. Don't expect anything revolutionary out of it, and definitely play with a couple of friends, and you'll have another great journey through Middle-Earth. Just maybe not quite an "epic" one.