Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dishonored Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks Please see this post at https://medium.com/@ianrbuck/dishonored-review-953887a12108

Let me get the most important thing out of the way: if you came here already knowing a few things about Dishonored and you are just wondering if it is worth purchasing, I would tell you "Yes!" I'll even understand if you don't read the rest of this post so you can start playing it as soon as possible.

For the rest of you, here are the essentials that you should know about the game: It is a first-person stealth action game set in a steampunk industrial city infested with a plague (except that everything runs on whale oil instead of steam. The city inherits the city-on-a-coast that is slowly falling apart while a ruling class harasses the citizens vibe from City 17 (Half-Life 2) mixed with the steady unveiling of stories and details through books and audio recordings from Rapture (Bioshock). So the setting is already off to a good start, as I enjoyed both of those games immensely.

As was revealed to us before the game came out, you play as Corvo Attano, the Empress' body guard. In the first scene the empress is assassinated, her daughter is kidnapped, and you are framed for it. Not the most original plot, I know, but you really do get caught up in it. Before they can execute you of course you escape with the help of a group loyal to the true heir and the rest of the game is the story of your revenge.

Something tells me I shouldn't trust these guys.

But man, am I handsome or what??
Of course, the way that you go about exacting your revenge is entirely up to you. It is entirely possible for you to go in guns blazing and murder everyone in your path; it is also possible for you to kill almost no one throughout the whole game. You can even deal with most of the main targets in a nonlethal manner. The way you play affects several things in the game: the more people you kill, the more rats and plague victims there will be, and the ending of the game will be darker. This concept of giving you a moral choice within a linear framework reminds me once again of Bioshock.
I opted to try to kill as few people as I could, partly because it is a refreshing change of pace from most video games, and partly because I knew that the guards that I was encountering didn't know the truth and were just following orders.

Corvo has some pretty nifty gadgets at his disposal, including a folding blade, a crossbow, a pistol, rewiring tools, razor mines, and grenades. Oh, and of course his mask.

The guards in this game aren't completely clueless, so sneaking around them undetected is actually pretty challenging until you start getting awesome supernatural powers from The Outsider.

This guy lives in The Void, which is the otherworldly realm where everything magical comes from. He apparently seeks out interesting people to give powers to in order to see what they will do with their powers.  He kind of reminds me of the G-Man (Half-Life) but he manages to be creepy in a whole different way.
The powers he gives you include things like short-range teleportation, seeing things through walls, stopping time, possessing animals, and creating a giant swarm of rats that will devour people.

Both your gear and powers are upgradeable; for gear you collect money and supplies during your missions and bring them back to Piero to have him give you new goodies; for powers you collect whale bone runes and you can select a power to acquire as soon as you have enough runes.

Being that you are the Empress' body guard and her daughter was abducted, one of your main goals is to ensure Emily's safety. I am noticing that this is a rapidly emerging theme in video games: The Walking Dead, Dishonored, Bioshock Infinite, and The Last of Us all have grown men as the player character with a young girl they must protect. Of course, the degree of usefulness the girl provides varies, but they are quite similar. Also, in both The Walking Dead and Dishonored she draws pictures of things that have happened throughout the game.

There are a few things that I have to complain about, but they are relatively minor notes:

  • The game isn't quite as long as I was expecting. I was almost expecting another plot twist that would keep the game going because I only had 16 hours of game time, but it really was the end.
  • It isn't the most graphically impressive game I've seen. It makes up for it with a unique art style.
  • When I first heard about the focus on player choice, I thought it was going to be an awesome open-world experience. This was not the case at all. While there were multiple paths to take to your final goal, I felt almost guided by the level designers to take certain routes.
  • The $60 seems like too much; I would say that $40 would be more reasonable. Publishers really need to get away from their strict $60 price-point, especially with games like this that are good, but aren't huge AAA blockbusters.
After you have completed a mission you can revisit it and try it out a different way, in the spirit of player choice. If you are an achievement hunter you will be using that to go back and do things differently for several of the targets.

Take a look at all of my screenshots from Dishonored here but be aware that I took a few that may give away important plot points.

EDIT: you can now read my review of the Knife of Dunwall and Brigmore Witches DLCs.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Birthday Goodies

Have you ever noticed that as you get older, you want less of the toys-in-general and more of the this-thing-in-particular? Or is it just me? Oh well.

Anyway, I had a really good haul this year.

Caleb and Jonas got me Dishonored (great game, we reviewed it) and I have been enjoying it a ton.
Ian got me XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which I have not had an opportunity to play yet. Don't worry Ian, I'll get around to it!
Katie made me an origami X-wing.
A great time hanging out with fellow Gay 1-1 residents while eating ice cream cake.
The most fun game of Yahtzee I've ever had, which I lost to Nana by two points.
Getting Skittles from Auntie Dawn never gets old, but Jonas asking for Skittles gets old really fast.
A bunch of cash from the rest of my relatives.
Mom and Dad surprised me by giving me full access to the car. Even though I don't get the title (that would be too complicated, insurance and all) I still get to call it my car. Now I get to start paying for gas.
And the best gift of all was, of course, Kaelyn's bottle of ranch dressing.

The Walking Dead Episode 4

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks Please see this post at https://medium.com/@ianrbuck/the-walking-dead-episode-4-6fdf0b783862

I was going to play this episode on Sasha and let you all know how it looked in 3D, but it turns out that The Walking Dead does not synchronize save files (I thought everybody did that nowadays) so I am back on Vera the laptop. Which is fine, as this isn't a graphically intensive game. I played a little of the beginning of the game on Sasha just to see how it looked in 3D; while it looks good and everything renders at the proper depth, 3D really doesn't add much to the experience. I almost prefer it without 3D because it feels more like a graphic novel that way.

I talked about the gameplay aspects in my review of the first three episodes, so I won't go into that here.

This episode really notched up the suspense and intrigue. As usual they had plenty of heart-wrenching moments, and a few others that seemed like they were going to be heart-wrenching, but turned out to be good in the end. Here are a few, and I won't tell you which is which:

One of my favorite things about this episode was the character Molly. Instead of trying to tell you why, I will show you:

She's a badass, is what it boils down to. And who can't help liking a character who named their ice pick Hilda? Seriously.
Alright, I admit it; I have the hots for her. Kind of the same way I had the hots for Carter back when I was watching Stargate for the first time.

Unfortunately that is all I can tell you without giving away spoilers. Episode 4 is all the more reason to buy The Walking Dead; of course Halloween is coming up and I can't see Steam not putting this game on sale. So I would recommend waiting until then.

See all of my screenshots here. I can't guarantee that there won't be any spoilers there.

EDIT: You can now read my review of Episode 5.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Assassin's Creed Brotherhood

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks Please see this post at https://medium.com/@ianrbuck/assassin-s-creed-brotherhood-68857c8d36d9

I started the Assassin's Creed series last spring, and it just keeps getting better and better. The first game was a solid start, but the missions got repetitive after a while. AC II blew me away with the number of things they added; a compelling plot and characters that felt authentic, interesting platforming sequences, and a real sense of humor!

I just finished the story campaign of Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, and I can't decide whether I liked it better than Assassin's Creed II or not.

Graphically Brotherhood is obviously better, but it is not as big a difference as the change from AC to AC II.  Here are some screenshots for you to compare.

Assassin's Creed II

Assassin's Creed Brotherhood

Also keep in mind that the AC II screenshots were taken on my laptop, and the Brotherhood screenshots were taken on my desktop, so that makes a significant difference. Also, 3D gaming is really useful while freerunning around Renaissance Italy because depth perception helps me to know whether I can make a jump or not.

I think I preferred the story of AC II because it was an epic narrative of Ezio's journey over several decades to train and grow from a rather self-centered lady-killer young adult to a mature assassin (still a lady-killer). AC Brotherhood was much more limited in scope, as it takes place over the course of a few years in the city of Rome. Don't get me wrong, it was epic, but I liked the tangible progression that Ezio went through in AC II.

However, I definitely preferred the gameplay of Brotherhood. They improved on a few of the things that had been iffy in the previous games (like horses!) and they added some really great things as well. The big one of course is recruiting assassins to help you out. I felt like a total badass whenever I walked by a group of guards, raised my hand and whistled, and a moment later they were dead. I also became rather attached to the recruits, and it made me very proud when they gained enough experience to become full-fledged assassins. Losing recruits didn't have quite as big an emotional impact as losing people in The Walking Dead did, but when I accidentally killed one it came pretty close.

The endings of these games keep getting more and more mind-blowing; I have heard that Revelations raises the bar once again, and I can't wait to get there. One thing that definitely gave me the chills was the date that the finale takes place on. Ubisoft has intentionally been converging all events on December 21, 2012 and the final scenes of Brotherhood take place 72 days before that. Guess what day that is; it's October 10, my 20th birthday! Creepy, right?

So if you were to ask me which Assassin's Creed games you should play, I would say all of them. If you are short on time/money skipping the first one is excusable. AC II, Brotherhood, and Revelations make a nice little trilogy, so don't start after AC II. I have heard that Ubisoft is making AC III easy to just jump into, so you can also wait and jump in at the end if you want.

I'll leave you with a few more screenshots from Brotherhood. You can also see the full collection here.

EDIT: You can see all of my screenshots here.