Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Assassin's Creed III King Washington Episode 1 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/assassin-s-creed-iii-king-washington-episode-1-review-97f3c469c23

I've been looking forward to this alternate story line ever since I first heard about it. Every time I think about it the Washington Rap starts playing in my head. Wonderful stuff. As I'm sure you have guessed, in this DLC George Washington has gotten his hands on a couple of Pieces of Eden and has declared himself King.

12 stories high made of radiation

It's good to be king.

Coming back to a game after a couple of months away is always a little funny, because you've almost always forgotten a few little details. In this case I had reinstalled Windows since last time I played, so the controls were all back to their default settings. I changed them back to what I thought they had been, but I couldn't figure out how to block people in combat, which is REALLY important. Turns out it is the same as the "use" button. Crisis averted.

Like the player, Connor is thrown into this alternate timeline with his memories from the real world, and he is really confused. In fact, by the end of the episode he still hasn't fully gotten over his confusion. This guy needs to learn to roll with it.

Because this is an extremely story-focused DLC, it is extremely linear. It took me a couple of hours to get to a point where I had an open map to explore. Even then there weren't any real side quests to do; sure, every once in a while I came across a convoy of prisoners to free or a starving citizen to feed, but they didn't seem to have any tangible affect on the world.
The world was pretty different from the real-life colonial America. Dead horses, frozen corpses, people hung on the side of the road, wolves all over the place attacking people. Pretty gruesome.

Things got interesting when Connor gains some new powers. They're pretty awesome, but at the same time they are pretty darn cheap and they kind of break the game. Later on they introduce a new enemy that helps to counter your new super powers, but it still felt a little cheap. They also make up for it by throwing even more special enemies at you at a time, which made the combat a lot more challenging.

I was really surprised when I got to the end of the episode. It only lasted 3.5 hours, and a fair portion of that was me having to do a few missions multiple times due to the game not letting me get on that stupid horse.

Overall I definitely would not say that it was worth $10. It was short, and despite being story-driven, I didn't really feel connected to the characters. It was also way too short. If you want to see how far Washington can fall, I would recommend waiting until the DLC goes on sale ($5 is the maximum I would recommend paying for it) or just watch the cutscenes on Youtube. I'm sure that somebody will put them up soon.


Move along. Nothing to see here.

Kill the mannequin-man!

That guy over there was stuck in midair and his legs are extra long.
EDIT: you can now read my review of The Betrayal DLC.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Crysis 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/crysis-review-6f6eb811b055

"Can your computer run Crysis?"
Despite the fact that it has been five years since Crysis came out, you still hear this every once in a while (usually in jest). I definitely wasn't worried about my GTX 670 and i5-3750k having trouble.

I had psyched myself up about the visuals so much that my initial impression was "well this doesn't look half bad..." and then I remembered how old the game is. And I nearly peed myself. Even the cutscenes were rendered in the game engine, so the game always had a consistent visual style. The only downside was that in order for 3D to work well I would have had to turn off a few things like motion blur and shadow effects, and even then there was a faint halo around a lot of objects. I decided that I wanted the full Crysis experience, so I played it in 2D with everything set to the maximum.

The appeal for anybody who plays Crysis is of course the beautiful graphics, so I wasn't expecting much from the story or gameplay. As it turns out the gameplay was really good; the controls were nice and tight, even when you drive vehicles. Even flying a VTOL (those flying things in the screenshot above) and floating around in zero-gravity was intuitive, which is saying a lot.

Although Crysis is obviously a linear game, the map was usually open enough that as long as you are going in the general direction of your next objective (which is what your character, Nomad, would be doing anyway) you won't feel constrained at all.

The one area where gameplay suffered was the enemy AI. I found them laughably stupid, and took great sadistic pleasure in luring large numbers of them into small choke points where I could easily mow them down.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there were a couple of areas where I really wasn't given sufficient tools to complete the objectives. One example was a map where I was trying to destroy a few anti-aircraft emplacements. I ended up having two enemy helicopters following me around, and I only found one rocket launcher on the entire map. It was a pretty open map so I may have missed the others, but they weren't in any of the obvious places. So I ended up just running around cloaked as much as possible until I managed to complete my objective. Oh, and once that was complete the helicopters magically went away.

The nano suit is the biggest aspect of the game (besides the graphics) that differentiates Crysis from other military shooters. The suit allows you to choose between several modes: strength, speed, armor, and cloak. Thanks to the nano suit you can play the game using a variety of play styles. One of my favorite things to do was to sneak into a complex cloaked dual-wielding a couple of silenced pistols with laser sights. It then became a nice little exercise in shooting everyone in the head one at a time before they figured out that I was there (and given that the AI was so stupid they would only figure out that I was there if they got a nice long look at me while uncloaked.) Ninja Nomad.

The story can be summed up pretty quickly: North Koreans and aliens on a tropical island.



Koreans and Aliens. On a tropical island.

Once you know that, nothing will surprise you. There were no plot twists, no sudden betrayals or finding out someone was a double agent or anything. But I was fine with that, because that wasn't why I was there anyway. That being said, I did like the ending; it was a satisfying "hell yeah!" at the end of a nice ten-hour campaign.

One last thing: on the latest episode of the podcast I said that Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was a great chicken-carrying simulator. Well I am here to tell you that Crysis is even better. In fact, it is the best chicken-carrying simulator I have encountered to date. They even die when you throw them at maximum strength!

If you are at all interested in playing Crysis, now is the best time to do it. The game is old enough that it is really cheap (it comes free if you pre-order Crysis 3) but it is still new enough to look good.

As always here are a few miscellaneous screenshots, and you can see my full gallery here.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery EP

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/superbrothers-sword-sworcery-ep-20c1f3f06cdb

Up until now all of the games I have reviewed have been on the PC. Now that I have a Nexus 7 I can start playing some of those mobile games that I didn't have access to before. I'm still discovering more, so if you have suggestions for games that I would enjoy, shoot me an email.

The first game I've tried out is called Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery EP, and I am quite pleased with my choice.

As the name suggests, it is a bit of a musical experiment wrapped up in a video game. Records (or Big Black CDs as I used to call them) show up with some frequency in the game as little reminders to pay attention to the awesome sounds being gently pushed into your ear canals. I enjoyed the music so much that I went and bought the soundtrack.

As you can see most of the visuals are very simple, very 16-bit. But every once in a while there is something that is nice and smooth. These objects usually don't belong with the rest of their surroundings, and the difference in visual style helps to emphasize that sense of alienation.

Despite the fact that the visual style is very pixelated, there were quite a few moments that just took my breath away. The best part about them is that I didn't see them coming, so the awe factor was even greater.

Most of the game is spent with the device in landscape, and you walk around by either holding down on the spot you want your character to walk to, or you double-tap there.

However, when you rotate the device into portrait, she will unsheathe her sword and prepare for battle. Obviously whenever there is an enemy nearby this is what you want to do.

The combat always follows the pattern of "tap the shield when your enemy is going to attack" until "your enemy is vulnerable, tap the sword." Each enemy has different patterns to them (usually the music gives you a hint at what that pattern is) so you have to stay on your toes. The boss battles are really intense, especially if you make a couple of mistakes at the beginning and can't afford to get hit when it gets really crazy. I'm pretty sure that I got more than a few weird looks while I was sitting in the TV lounge yelling at my tablet that it wouldn't defeat me.

In between the battles there are quite a few puzzles. The hints are often very cryptic, but they are always enough to get you going in the right direction and once you have started the rest just kind of follows.

The tone of the game is hard to describe, as it has several parts that almost conflict. The game is very meta, and makes references to the fact that you are outside of the game world affecting the events inside the game world. It also has a great sense of humor, and is often very frank with its jokes. At the same time it is very serious, and you are always aware that the events that are taking place cannot lead to a happy ending.

 The game, while being very story-driven, is also very easy to digest in small chunks. This is very important in  a mobile game. The chapters are not too long, and they make sure to remind you what is going on at the beginning of each one.

Sword & Sworcery is available on Android ($3) and iOS ($5). Of course I just checked their website and found out that it has been available on Steam ($8) since April of last year. So I could have played it on my PC, but whatever. If you have a choice I would recommend playing it on a mobile device. It is well worth your time.