Assassins are never clean shaven

Probably the most recent title I've played, I got AC Unity preloaded on the box One.  That also makes this the first console game I've reviewed here, but I'm not really sure my play style really makes that relevant. Almost immediately after getting the Xbox One, I started following the development of a precision keyboard and mouse adapter for consoles, the XIM4.  As the number at the end indicates, this isn't the first of its line.  To be honest, I love having it.  This is mainly because I'm a worthless console game player when it's not something that lets me leverage the years of time I spent in arcades or arcade rooms of various facilities during my childhood years, like Soul Calibur or Marvel Ultimate Alliance. The only downside is that the context based help is all still in console speak, so those first few hours in a new game are made even more awkward by having to translate console input to keyboard input to making your hands move.  Needless to say, mistakes get made.

"Shit shit shit shit shit"

Regardless of my personal experience, Unity was another good step forward for the franchise.  As usual, the world they are able to create is as amazing and immersive as ever.  I can still remember playing first AC title and thinking about the worlds they created there being large, and now we are given a scale replica of late 18th century Paris.  To me this is absolutely insane.  I remember hearing that for the first time and thinking, "So that's why it takes me so long to get anywhere on foot."  To that, I was a little disappointed in the lack of alternative means of transportation.  Don't get me wrong, fast travel was great and is somewhat of a necessity if you want to get anything done in a reasonable amount of time, but the only way Arno could move around the city was that or walk/run/climb.

"If I start down now, I should be able to get across the street in two hours."

In some ways I liked the simplicity of that small element of the game.  You could look at previous titles and say that you had too many options: by foot, by horse, by wagon, by prototype flying machine, or of course - almost everyone's favorite - by boat.  This is something I have liked about the AC series; they are always changing things up from the environment to the gameplay.  I've discussed the environment, but there was a clear gameplay element that they raised the bar with, and that element was the multiplayer. It's not as though these kinds of co-op/multiplayer experiences are unheard of in games, but it's always in varying degrees in limited veins, like beat 'em up (Castle Crashers, Turtles in Time), shoot 'em up (Unreal Tournament, Mass Effect), military/FPS tactics (Call of Duty, Splinter Cell) or zombies (Left 4 Dead, Resident Evil).  This is the first time I've run into such a fun, tactically oriented multiplayer experience in the RPG gaming genre.  Counting down over a headset to simultaneous takedowns by all your party members to clear guards before sweeping into a target building in Unity  is one of my top, all-time gaming experiences.  You could certainly argue that other games out there allow you to do this same exact thing, but to me, doing it as an integral part of an RPG experience you are already involved with in a universe like Assassin Creed's sets it miles apart.


The work Ubisoft is doing with the Initiates community is also very interesting.  These kinds of game-specific communities are generally not something I get into.  Still, I have to admit I was impressed with the work they've put into Initiates, down to the "congratulations on becoming a master assassin" email they send you after completing the single player game.  I'm sure that platform has been designed to move into future titles, but I'll be really disappointed if they don't provide some kind of time in.  I love games that provide the kind of meta data they offer through Initiates, and the things they do based on that data like analyzing your play style would be really cool to track over the lifetime of a franchise. To me, this combination of single player, multiplayer, in game and out of game features are what defines the next generation of games.  And Unity is one of the few games out today where we see all of those elements come together.

LAG – Tomb Raider

May 24th, 2015 | Posted by Emmett in Games & Gaming - (0 Comments)
Marvel's not the only one who can recast an icon

This probably doesn't need to be said for a title this old, but I also don't always have spoilers in my reviews.  So, warning: potential spoilers to come. Tomb Raider was another Steam sale pick up I got during the Square Enix sale I got Absolution in.  However, unlike Absolution, Tomb Raider is a game I was pleasantly surprised by.  The Tomb Raider franchise is another one I jumped into part way through the series, when they did their first reboot with Legend, Anniversary and Underworld.  Obviously that was a big step forward in the series, and I think their latest reboot with Tomb Raider was just as significant if not more so. With almost every TR game I've played, I've always felt like I was playing a game that just a little behind the times.  Being a late-comer to the series probably didn't help with that, but even playing one of the titles on release data tended to be accompanied by that feeling.  Tomb Raider has been the only exception, and it was even one of those titles that I got to late.  I think the origin story approach gave that degree of separation from the rest of the series that allowed them to break away from a stagnant past and create something new. Beyond the highly publicized changes in character design, another addition to this title is a meaningful story that you can actually get immersed in.  Stories in the earlier titles were either non-existent or all over the place, which makes it hard to stay engaged.  With Tomb Raider, we're actually given something that (ok, maybe not the stuff at the end) could have actually happened.  Sure, it's a little extreme at times, but it certainly wouldn't be the first time we've seen people build up a survivalist cult in an isolated area that's based in that area's indigenous culture.

"Never get out of the boat."

But I digress, another element that helped keep the story world cohesive were improvements made to the general game play.  Nothing takes you out of a story like having to battle against weird clipping points during a simple platforming puzzle or a crappy grapple mechanic you have to use just to move around.  The evolution of Lara's equipment also helped provide depth to the different areas of the world and how you were able to interact with them, and the journal entries Laura would read at key save points kept you immersed in the events around you even when you as a player were managing your equipment or skills.


The only downside I really experienced with Tomb Raider is more due to my own play style than anything.  If you give me a game with any kind of stealth element, I have to go full stealth, all the time.  This wasn't a problem at all for the early stages of the game where you are outnumbered and the focus really is survival.  Still, as the story progresses, guns become more important and you start unlocking melee combat skills.  At this point I did start using the guns I was able to pick up, but I really didn't dive into the combat skills until late game when there was nothing else for me to choose.  The story was almost completely run and gun at that point, so they were definitely useful then, but I feel like I missed out a little by not using them sooner.

Yeah, that's an ice axe.

I've talked with people who say the different takedowns seemed out of place when compared with the classic Lara from the earlier titles, and while I agree, I didn't see it as a negative.  It's just another pointed difference between this title and every other one that came before it.  Is it really necessary for Laura to unload an assault rife clip into an attacker that's close enough to touch?  No, it's not, and it's pretty grizzly when you think about it outside of the detached world of video games.  Still, I think these help further define the world you are put into and enhance the gritty survival-focused story that every other gameplay element, cutscene and plot point are driving at. All in all, Tomb Raider definitely exceeded my expectations.  So much so that writing this review is making me want to play it again.  Yeah, I'm going to do that.  You should too, and you can probably pick it up for pretty cheap about now.

LAG – Hitman: Absolution

May 7th, 2015 | Posted by Emmett in Games & Gaming - (0 Comments)
It was absolutely ok.

Gaming is something that hasn't suffered too much during my blogging hiatus.  For the most part, I've just been trying to work on that backlog of games in my Steam library that every PC gamer has, and for me, one of those games was Hitman Absolution. The Hitman franchise was one I jumped into with Hitman 2; and while Contracts was an interesting follow up to Silent Assassin, Blood Money was what really endeared me to the series.  Even though the story was pretty much non-existent in Blood Money, I loved the open nature of each mission environment, and it made the replay value of the game go through the roof for me.  Not like KOTOR or Dragon Age replay value good, but still pretty impressive for a game where the premise isn't much more than a bald guy who kills people. So about five years go by and there's a new Hitman coming out.  I go to PAX that year, see it there and think, "Awesome! Graphics have come a long way since 2006.  I wonder what they've put into the new game?"  So I stood in the Square Enix area to watch their trailer.  Did they feature any of the new gameplay mechanics?  No.  Did they setup the fact that there is actually a story to follow now?  Nope.  Did they show the improved graphics?  No.  It was a pre-rendered cutsceen-style trailer that showcased this:

They're called the Saints. Subtle, I know.

I understand why this particular approach is used when your fan base is made up predominately by straight males, but it was so blatant that I couldn't help but laugh a little.  Needless to say, I didn't fork out the premium price on release date to see if the nun-inspired assassin squad thing went anywhere, but I did eventually pick it up during a Square Enix sale day on Steam. It took me two moderately long sittings to play through the single player story, but you could probably grind it out in a day with some dedication.  In short, it was ok.  The main thing that turned me off was how you were made to interact with the environments.  It was a much more linear play through, which isn't necessarily bad, but I always felt like the game was rushing me along.  I never got the feeling that I was some master assassin that could complete a mission in any number of ways.  Instead, I felt more like I was some assassin intern just stumbling from one situation to the next, only running into those best-option scenarios by chance.  I appreciate that they still tried to give you options, but the pace felt too frantic to really understand and enjoy what those options were.
hitman absolution chicken.jpg

Don't worry, I'm a professional.

Still, it wasn't all bad.  The graphics were a lot better than previous titles, and disguises played a much more important role in this title than anything previous.  Actually, the whole character recognition mechanic that takes into account disguises, the kind of NPC and the weapon/object you're holding added a new layer to the game that was fun to plan around.  The amount of objects to interact with and use also added depth to the gameplay, although I was a little upset about not really being able to choose your equipment load out.  I understand how that fit into the story, but at the same time that nerfed some of that replay value I found in previous titles.  Going into a level a second time with better equipment and getting a different experience was no longer in the cards. I think in the end, if you're a fan of the franchise, you'll do what I did: buy it cheap, marathon and moderately enjoy the single player, think back to it with an element of fondness, but probably never play it again.
Ok, today's a busy day so I'm not leaving much more than a picture. This cover by Jason Fabok is for Detective Comics #22. With all the yellow and the AR, I though the other person was going to be redesigned Deathstoke, but it's actually a new character called The Wraith. Enjoy.
I had planned to do a Superman cover this week in light of the Man of Steel release scheduled for this Friday, but then I came across this one. This is part two of Batgirl's encounter with the Ventriloquist, and the cover is nothing short of the thing nightmares are made of. And you have Alex Garner to thank for that; it's the first cover of his run on Batgirl. Garner's work is pretty spectacular, and there's a good chance (especially if you're a Wonder Woman fan) that you've looked at one of his covers and thought, "Wow." This time you might think, "Oh god, I'm never closing my eyes again," but even so, you want to look at it because it's so good. So enjoy.

Bring Back Player 2

May 31st, 2013 | Posted by Emmett in Games & Gaming - (0 Comments)
I've been playing through the Mass Effect series again in preparation for a review piece for this website. RPGs tend to be a long process for me in general, so three in a row is no small undertaking. As I'm sure I've mentioned earlier (but don't want to dig through my posts to provide the pingback link) RPGs are the kind games I easily and completely immerse myself in while playing. During this time, I'm essentially dead to the world around me. This comes with a certain degree of guilt because it's something my fiance can't directly participate in. Sure, she can play her own, separate instance of the same game at the same time, but that barely counts as playing something together. What I would love to see is the most basic version of a 2-player mode for squad-based RPGs like KOTOR, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age (ok... so I guess I'd like to see it for Bioware RPGs). Player 2 would be able to take control of one of your available party members for travel and combat, and they would just be an observer for cutscenes and dialogue directed by Player 1. There wouldn't need to be any additional two-player specific gameplay or mechanics like you see in the co-op Resident Evil titles or shared dialogue sequences like you can see in group instances of the Old Republic. So the experience for Player 2 would basically be one of support to Player 1, but I think the nature of these games would not only allow that second person to participate in a one-player game, but that second player would also be able to be part of game's story. Many cutscenes involve dialogue (albeit static) with your currently selected party member, and while Player 2 wouldn't have control over their chosen character's dialogue, they would still be involved in the progression of the story. Relationship systems that are now fairly commonplace with RPGs would also be another element that would bring that second player into the first player's gameplay experience. Granted that may make a few moments a little awkward if you're playing with someone who's just a friend, but for someone like me who wants to game with his fiance, it adds something to the game that couldn't be there any other way. Plus, due to the play style and mission/quest structures of these kinds of games, there would be very few instances where a second player wouldn't have anything to do. I know in KOTOR there are some missions that you have to do portions of by yourself, and one of the DLC missions for Mass Effect you're alone the whole time, but these times are pretty few and far between. Some quests switch back and forth between characters (e.g. from the main character to a team member), but that could just turn into switching from Player 1 to Player 2. Other missions require a specific character to be with you, but I can't think of any instance where my entire party was selected for me. Besides, Player 2's ability to be any available characters would keep them from getting singled out of any of those instances. You can gain all of these benefits simply by allowing a second player to participate in the run and gun portions of the game. Granted this would be a shift away from today's standard idea of multiplayer, but co-op modes seem to be getting more and more popular. I see this as the most basic of co-op options for the typically single-player aspects of a game; a way for two people to share a single story and experience. I'd be surprised if something like this actually happened, but I'd still like to see it.
The problem with not posting anything for a long time is that you end up with a ton of potential comics to choose from when you finally decide to write about one again. Unfortunately, nothing really caught my eye until I found an upcoming issue of Batwoman, done by J.H. Williams III. I've posted some of his work on Batwoman before; all of it is pretty incredible. And despite the images he creates being quite different, an almost instantly recognizable style is present in all of his work. Even as a thumbnail image, this particular comic jumped out at me as one of his. I haven't seen Killer Croc featured in a comic for a long time, so that's exciting to begin with, but the cover itself is amazing. I love the black and white background and the space on either side of the red lines with the smearing and splatter. Those minimalist elements with the busy characters at the center give contrast and depth that make for an incredible image. And seriously, if you haven't checked out any of Williams' other work, you should.
Evidently it takes the death of a fundamental aspect of my childhood to wake me from my writing stupor. Namely, this headline - Disney Shuts Down LucasArts, Cancels Star Wars 1313 And Star Wars: First Assault. You might remember that one of my first posts was about Star Wars 1313 and how awesome it looked. Well, that excitement and hope was killed yesterday afternoon when the aforementioned Kotaku article was posted. While it sounds like the LucasArts name will remain as a publishing platform (wouldn't want to waste that custom letterhead I guess), it also seems pretty clear that any in-house development is dead on the table. The last remaining hope for these titles is that another developer picks them up. The Kotaku article doesn't give it much of a chance, and personally, I don't think there aren't many (if any) development companies that could or would pick up where LuscasArts left off. That's the aspect of the article that I find most depressing. Sure, LucasArts brought us X-Wing. Tie Fighter, Dark Forces, and Rebel Assault, but those games aren't being scoured from the Earth as a result of this re-purpose. Those titles still exist and can still be played, mainly thanks to ROMS/Emulators and virtualization programs. What is really gone is a developer who actually placed importance on PC game development, which is equivalent to a gaming industry endangered species. Stopping that development cold is like shooting the last White Rhino on the planet. Sure there are other endangered species hanging around, but this one is now gone forever. Thanks, Disney.
This week's cover is the final issue in X-Men volume 3! The series is scheduled to be relaunched in April as part of the Marvel NOW! initiative, and is also set to make a president for the X-Men franchise by having an all female team. Lead by Jubilee, the initial team will also include Rogue, Psylocke, Storm, Kitty Pride, and Rachel Summers. Exciting news and a fun cover? That's two for the price of one! While I'm not crazy about the art style, the nostalgic value of the cast of characters presented make this an easy choice for me. Created by Adam Kubert and Dale Keown, the cover provides a snapshot of the X-Men we all know and love. In a lot of ways, the classic uniforms and styling take me back to the original animated series, with a few additions like Hope Summers and Danger. So even though I probably wouldn't buy it for my wall, compilation pieces like this always bring up good memories for me. I hope it does the same for you.
I know it's Thursday; work's busy and I haven't had the creative energy to write at home so I apologize. Getting to why we're here, this is the first cover of a fun little series I stumbled upon last week. Created by Dave Johnson, the cover (and story, written by Dennis Hopeless) emulates the Japanese novel Battle Royale. Except this time, Arcade is the one gathering up teenagers for bloodsport instead of the Japanese government. Johnson has does a lot of great work, and this is the second time I've gone after one of his covers. I'm really excited that he will also be at Emerald City Comic Con this year, and I'm curious to see what work he brings along with him. Deep down, I'm hoping for this gem. But, as you can tell from the featured cover, he's done good work in a lot of different comic series, like this cover for Punisher Max #21 or this one for G.I. Joe. There are pages and pages of stuff like this so I'd definitely recommend taking some time to look though his work if you're interested.