The Legend of Zelda – The Wind Waker – Review

Hey guys, this is another review carried across from my old DooYoo account. I believe this is the last of my Zelda reviews, but I like to save the best ’til last. This was written before Wind Waker HD hit WiiU.

Zelda WWNintendo’s Legend of Zelda series is easily one of the most well designed and superbly executed series of games around. They are, to me, the definitive adventure, puzzle and RPG titles; offering superb gameplay and excellent characterisation that has something for everyone. While the gameplay style is fairly consistent from game to game, we rarely see more than one or two titles a generation and so it doesn’t get old as you’d think. Often, playing a new Zelda title is more like slipping into an familiar old jumper. I suppose what I’m saying is that if you’ve played a Zelda game before, you know what to expect. Usually, excellence. While the series has branched out a bit in recent years with sequels and side stories on the DS, Nintendo’s home console is always the place for the main adventure, the significant chapters that contribute most to the overall story. This is definitely one of those chapters.

The Wind Waker was the first Zelda title released for the Gamecube and presented a major change in direction from its predecessors, Ocarina of Time and its direct sequel Majora’s Mask. From the start Nintendo seem intent to push the series into new ground, the influence of Ocarina of Time is never far off however. As the game opens, we are informed that many centuries have passed since the Hero of Time defeated the evil Ganon and sealed him away in a magical prison; referencing the events of Ocarina. Since then, the world has changed a great deal and thanks to a great catastrophe, much of it is underwater. Here we find Link on his tenth birthday, he and his family live on a small island surrounded by a vast ocean. To mark the special day, he is given an outfit resembling Link’s usual green gear, complete with his famous pointed hat. Young Link isn’t too impressed with this dorky getup but his grandmother politely reminds him that all boys are dressed like the famous hero on their tenth birthday, it’s tradition. Trouble soon erupts on the island as Link’s sister is abducted by a giant bird, rumours that other young girls have been snatched leads Link out into the wide ocean to save the day. Along the way, he strikes up a friendship with a talking boat, visits the flooded land below and even faces off against an ancient enemy. It’s a vast world to explore and the story is great; a good foundation for any Zelda game.

The Wind Waker distinguishes itself from other entries in the series somewhat with its distinct style. The most obvious element of this is the unique artistic direction taken with the visuals. Unlike the more realistic Ocarina of Time, Nintendo developed Wind Waker to resemble a living cartoon. Using early but excellent cel-shading techniques they have created a game in which the very environments seem to have been formed up out of acrylic paint. It’s very effectively done and is probably one of the most beautiful games ever made. Stylised art also dates far more favourably than realism in the video game world and so Wind Waker is still easily one of the best looking games around.

Wind Waker SailingThis visual approach suits the games back to basic approach very well. We are following a Link that is very young, similarly to earlier titles such as A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening. While the game inherits the stronger puzzle elements of Ocarina of Time, it really strives to play on different sides of the series’ heritage. It’s an approach that works very well, creating a Zelda story that is more accessible for younger players while still being deep and challenging.

Unfortunately, Zelda is a long running and very successful series which leaves it contending with its own fans. The Wind Waker suffered from a great deal f criticism from these fans before it even saw release. Despite a history of varying styles, Wind Waker’s more stylised graphics and colourful story were attacked as selling out. Nothing could be further from the truth, this game is absolutely excellent throughout and produced with a real caring hand. Still, it performs the biggest crime in the eyes of fandom, it attempts to be different.

While Zelda titles released on the Gamecube and Wii since have reverted back to the style of the Nintendo 64 games, it’s nice to see that Wind Waker’s influence is carried on in a series of titles for the Nintendo DS. These offer a lot of new gameplay ideas but maintain the cel shaded style that suits the system very well.

If you’re a newcomer to the Zelda series or just missed this one the first time around, The Wind Waker is an easy one to recommend. It’s as long lasting and intelligent as other entries in the series but has a nice feel to it that sets it apart. It’s easily one of the best home console versions and much better than Twilight Princess a few years ago.

This title will also play on a Nintendo Wii, however it will require a Gamecube controller to play. It is, unfortunately, a little hard to get a hold of and will set you back around £15. It’s as good as any new title though and well worth the investment.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess – Review

As with my Ocarina of Time review, this was originally posted on Dooyoo. Reposting it here because I’m still on a big Zelda kick. 

Darknut-twilightThe last few years have seen the Zelda franchise splinter in two directions. The “offspring” of Wind Waker are thriving on the DS, while games like Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword represent the “main” series; the franchise flagships, and find themselves firmly plonked on Nintendo’s home console. Twilight Princess is something of a bridging game, the last major title to see release on the Gamecube and one of the launch titles for the Wii; it kickstarted Nintendo’s new found success and no doubt brought in a lot of fans early on. In many respects it is typical of the series, offering a familiar combination of dungeon exploring, puzzle solving and adventuring, however it also takes time to really try out new things. It makes a few missteps along the way but Twilight Princess is, at times, a surprisingly original entry; though not perfect.

Things get off to a good start with Twilight Princess standing alone, requiring no back story or catchup intros. You begin as a young goatherd in a small village, your first hour or so will be spent here simply meeting characters you’ll come to know and helping out with the small problems that crop up in day to day life. It’s a slow yet rewarding opening that introduces you to the main features of the game, particularly the control scheme, without piling on too much challenge early on. Different tasks in the village will see you fish, climb, call birds from the skies and even scare a monkey, before the adventure really kicks off. It will be a slow beginning for those eager to get right to the dungeons, but it really worked for me. Soon however, the Kingdom of Hyrule is attacked and a shadowy twilight falls over the world. You are transformed by the dark powers into a rather friendly looking wolf and with the help of Midna, a spirit from the Twilight, you must go on a quest to return to your human form.

This however is just how the story begins and before you reach the end you’ll have had some surprisingly varied experiences. I’m sure I’m not spoiling anything by revealing that you will return to human form soon enough, though a short spell as a canine is never far away as you must repeatedly venture into twilight blighted lands. This dual world, dual character setup works surprisingly well and riffs a lot on themes established way back in A Link to the Past for the Super Nintendo. It creates a second perspective on every area and each new land must be cleansed before you can really progress through it. The ultimate effect of this is that the player is uniquely connected to the threat that consumes the land, entering Twilight not only changes your body but releases more challenging puzzles and monsters, a very real effect the player must confront.

You will also have access to the series’ remarkable arsenal of boomerangs, bombs and other bric-a-brac. These are collected as your work your way through the game’s numerous dungeons and usually serve as the key to their completion. Weapons in Zelda titles rarely serve no purpose, instead the designers use the addition of new skills to craft progressively more fiendish puzzles. It’s a good system but unfortunately it is becoming very familiar territory by now, often I felt a little disappointed when I could think of a couple of good solutions to a puzzle only to find that I was only allowed to use one specific weapon to proceed when five or so others would have done the job.

It’s a little hard to sum up my feelings for Twilight Princess because I find myself wondering on what standards to judge it. As an entry in the overall series, it is one of the most successful. The balance of dungeons to over world exploration is probably the best the series has achieved and it’s fair to say that I was never frustrated with the rate of progress. I also particularly liked the story and the characters. There were a lot of times when I felt more connected to this world than in a lot of other games I’ve played, a feeling I credit to that well paced introduction. And yet, certain aspects of Twilight Princess left me surprisingly hollow.

I have written before of the enjoyment I had with The Wind Waker on the Gamecube, despite the criticism it received I felt the art style to be beautiful and the overall story to be nearly perfect. While Twilight Princess is probably a better title when compared to The Wind Waker, I’m not sure it moves the series forward in any meaningful way. Part of the game’s problem is that for all its original ideas, it tries too hard to be Ocarina of Time. The tone of the game, the return to a dual world approach and even the nice, gentle opening are so clearly taken from the N64 hit that often I felt as though it were a simple remake. While this seems to have been a hit with the series fans, I want to see the series try new things, Twilight Princess seems like too little, too late. While Ocarina on the Nintendo 64 was a revolutionary game, arriving at just the right time to impress all the right people, Twilight Princess isn’t. Rather, it is a small step in a long line of small steps that just happens the travel the furthest so far.

Graphically, while Twilight Princess is a reasonably attractive game, most of that comes from its well defined visual style. It’s very clearly a Gamecube title that has had Wii functionality hammered on (though successfully.) While character models are all fairly impressive, scenery features a lot of very simple design choices and some depressingly muddy textures. The game was ready for release about a year before the Wii hit the shelves and so it doesn’t even attempt to exploit the Wii’s extra power and merely settles for what it has. Furthermore, it is games such as these, with vast surroundings and foliage that really show the Wii’s shortcomings when it comes to resolution. A bump of a few pixels would have really cleaned things up and it’s such a shame that for all the fun I had playing Twilight Princess, I kept wishing I were playing it on a different console.

In the end, it’s very hard to fault Twilight Princess when taken on its own merits and I had no qualms about giving it the full five stars. Taken as part of a series however, I couldn’t help being a little let down. It really doesn’t break the mould and it was a shame to see the Wind Waker backlash have such an influence. I could help feeling that Twilight Princess wasn’t just designed with adults in mind but was done so to the exclusion of younger players, something I would have never wanted to see. In the end I found it surprising that despite the many good things I had to say about Twilight Princess, I enjoyed Phantom Hourglass a lot more.

However, if you are a Wii owner you can’t do much better than this. It’s a first rate title that offers a lot for adults and older children, there’s nothing I’d class as being seriously unsuitable for a young child in here but there are a few scary moments and it can be very challenging. It’s available at most game shops stocking Wii games and will probably still set you back around £15.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D – Review

This review was originally written a few years ago for a review site called dooyoo. I don’t really use the site any more, but I have a lot of pieces over there that I’m pretty happy with, so I’m in the process of carrying them across. I’m playing Majora’s Mask 3D right now, so it seems a good time to bring you this review of its predecessor.  I’ve given it a re-write, a bit of polish to clear up Younger-Me’s little eccentricities, but it’s largely how I wrote it. Enjoy!

Ocarina of Time 3D CoverWhere should a review of Ocarina of Time begin? Most start off with a bit too much fawning. “Greatest game ever made” will probably turn up somewhere. My review won’t go like that. Firstly, because I don’t think that is necessarily true, and secondly because the original title came out fifteen years ago. Most reviews of Ocarina of Time 3D say more about games in 1998 than today, and more about the Nintendo 64 than the 3DS. Despite its great reputation among gamers, we are dealing with a whole new audience now and so this port must be able to stand on its own two feet.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D is a remake of the first 3D Zelda title. It features the entirety of the original game, along with upgraded graphics and a few minor adjustments to the control scheme. Otherwise, this game is generally unchanged. The game stars Link, (unless you change the name) a young boy who lives in the woods with a community of childlike people called the Kokiri. The game opens as Link is sent on a quest by the protector of the Kokiri village, a wise talking tree. It’s all a bit outlandish in the way games and films from the 90s so often were, but it’s not as goofy to play as it is to write down. As Link leaves the forest, he eventually finds his way into the vast kingdom of Hyrule, where he is given his world-saving quest. The story takes Link from settlement to settlement, dungeon to dungeon, where he’ll meet royalty, fish people, lava monsters and, if you’re lucky, a horse. Along the way he meets the Princess Zelda, eventually kidnapped by the seedy Ganondorf, who wants to kingdom for himself. Rescuing the Princess will see you travel the kingdom, jump back and forth in time, and eventually come full circle to what is an ending so satisfying, it’s a real rarity in games today.

ZOOT_PR_050811_06If this all sounds familiar, don’t be surprised, Ocarina of Time was so successful that it eventually became the template for almost every Zelda game that has come since. It’s only by replaying this game that I realised just how derivative, and dull, the series has become. Ocarina of Time 3D, despite its age, manages to be a better game than its successors by remaining so conceptually pure. Link is a young hero who sets out to rescue a princess, the kingdom of Hyrule is a recognisable fantasy medieval kingdom and the various dungeons have clear structures and puzzles based around their theme. There’s a sense that the game is reduced to its most basic elements here and the result is that it feels very accommodating. It’s a difficult game at times, but it never feels like the game is cheating or deliberately confusing.

I think one of the most enjoyable experiences to be had here is the sense of scope. This is a big game, it was a big game back in 1998 and it’s bigger than a lot of games now. It will take you a long time to work through, but there’ll be real twists and turns in the gameplay along the way. The 3DS is still not exactly rolling in great games, (EDIT: No longer true, it easily has the best library of any console out right now.) so it’s nice to have one that you can really get invested in. The flip side of that is that the game is not really pick up and play friendly. The 3DS might fit in your pocket, but this is a console game through and through. Put it down for a few days and you’ll probably have lost your way a bit, forget where you went last and where you should go next. In some ways it’s very modern, in others there’s a frustrating sort of trial and error about it. I’m not fond of modern gaming’s tendency to hold the player’s hand, but Ocarina of Time throws you into the deep end in a way that’s refreshing and irritating at the same time. Its style lends itself to continuous play, but its length prohibits it.

B003O6E800.02.lgThere are some problems here though. Most are leftovers from the 90s. The controls are alright, but the camera controls are a little awkward. The original game used an awkward “3D look” setup which had not aged well and has unfortunately been carried across here. For the most part it’s easy enough to adjust to, but it still becomes an obstacle now and then. There’s also the small problem that small 3DS screen makes a few things trickier to deal with. Shooting a tiny spider off a web from the other side of a dungeon is a lot easier on a 20+ inch TV. It’s not all bad. The developers have used the 3DS touchscreen to implement better swapping of inventory items. This makes quick switching between gadgets and weapons much more pleasant, and takes away one major design flaw from the original game that made a particular dungeon a nightmare to traverse. I wouldn’t give this game a great score for controls alone, but it’s never a serious infringement on your fun.

Graphically, it’s a gem. The style of the game is preserved, but improved. It looks clean, colourful and fits the console well. The 3D effect is a bit of a waste. The game doesn’t lend itself well to the 3DS style of depth, which works better for games with tighter, more locked in visuals. Though, I might be biased. I played this game with the 3D off most of the time. I don’t have anything against the 3D effect, but Ocarina of Time features a nice anti-aliasing option that is only enabled when the 3D is off. This very well implemented feature smooths out a lot of the aliasing and makes the picture dramatically better on the 3DS’ low res screen.

I was all set to bash Ocarina of Time 3D. A port of a 15 year old console game on a handheld that really needs more innovative releases. In the end though, I came away with the feeling that Ocarina of Time 3D had been really worth my time. It’s a nice, lengthy adventure that is accessible and well made. It feels more fundamental than more recent Zelda titles and held my interest far better than I expected it to. Its inherited a few problems as a remake, but none of them are deal breakers. Overall, I’d say it’s a 3DS must own.

Batman: Arkham City – Review

I’ve had some nice responses/hits for my Assassin’s Creed reviews, (here, here and here,) so I thought I’d copy a few more reviews across from my account on Dooyoo.co.uk for you. Batman: Arkham Asylum was one of my favourite games in 2009, I snapped up the sequel immediately. Here’s what I thought of it…

BatmanCatwomanArkhamCityBatman: Arkham Asylum was something of a surprise hit back in 2009. Developed by little known studio, Rocksteady, the game managed to combine original gameplay with a very authentic interpretation of DC Comics’ darkest hero into one of the finest games produced this generation. A sequel was inevitable, and when the first whispers of Arkham City started to appear people began to wonder if Rocksteady could make lightning strike twice. The final game is here now and we can see how well it lives up to its predecessor.

Arkham City picks up loosely where Asylum closed with a large section of Gotham City fenced off and turned into an open prison for all the thugs and crazies that make up Batman’s rogue’s gallery. Though, funnily enough, the neighbourhood also seems to house most of Gotham’s famous landmarks. The so-called Arkham City has become a political and legal nightmare which is brought to a head when Batman’s alter-ego Bruce Wayne is arrested in the middle of a peaceful protest and locked up with the rest of the baddies. This is not entirely unwelcome however, as Batman can now investigate the city from the inside and find out exactly who’s pulling the strings behind the whole shady affair.

BatmanArkhamCitySkylineWithin Arkham City, you’ll also find some subplots involving a lot of the supporting cast from the Batman comics. The Joker has a major storyline that interweaves with the overall plot which is tied to the plot of the first game, but you’ll also see some faces we missed last time. The game features are great take on both the Penguin and Mister Freeze, you’ll also spend a lot of time solving the Riddler’s puzzles once more. Each of the characters feel like they were written and designed by people who read and love the Batman comics. For anyone familiar with the comics, it’s very much like returning to that world of plot twists and interlocking characters, and it’s nice to see a Batman game that takes this source as its inspirations and not the films or cartoons.

ArkhamCityJokerThe game has made some changes from Arkham Asylum. Where the first was a tightly scripted affair, walking you through the Asylum building by building, Arkham City is an open world game. You are free to make your way around the city as you please, but the story will guide you to various locations such as the old police station or the abandoned steal mill. These sections are more tightly controlled and feel much more like the previous game. This creates a nice balance between the exploration sections that let you really feel like a superhero, and the more plot driven moments that give the game a stronger sense of narrative. One of Arkham’s Asylum’s biggest strengths was the feeling of authorship, of being guided through a really well constructed story. This is a double edge sword however, as the game occasionally felt on-rails and restricted. In Arkham City, the balancing of these two factors does have the consequence that the story feels like it has been placed on the back burner a little. The effect when you finish the game is a little less grand, the whole experience less gripping, but it feels necessary. A sequel could not have returned to the setting of the first game, nor performed the same tricks in a similarly structured location. It’s a step forward, but a little is lost in the process. Still, Rocksteady do a lot with their transition to open world. There is a lot to find in the game, ranging from in-jokes and trivia for comics fans, to whole sideplots you might not discover until you’ve completed the main game.

ArkhamCityPenguinThe combat system returns, with very few tweaks, from the first game. This is easily one of the best fighting styles in games at the moment and the gameplay is so strong that the game is comfortable making set pieces entirely around one of Batman’s martial arts battles. Essentially combat is divided into only two controls, Attack and Counter with more complex moves arriving later in the game. The goal is not to unleashed complicated attacks on enemies, but to fight multiple opponents gracefully. Moving from next to next without getting hit yourself. It has to be played to be understood really, but it remains one of the series’ best features.
Also returning are the stealth sections. These take the form of rooms or locations patrolled by prisoners with serious weaponry. These fights are generally impossible to win when attacked head on, instead you are required to pick off opponents one by one using stealth attacks. The combination of the flowing martial arts sections and the slow stealth rooms really add to the feel of being Batman that make these games so unique.

ArkhamCityFreezeWhere things have changed from the previous game, they have mostly changed for the better. Batman is equipped with “Detective Vision,” a sort of x-ray vision, computer mode that highlights enemies and strategic objects. In the previous game, this was criticised as having no restrictions. It would be too easy to simply leave it on permanently and play the game with super-sight. Arkham City however places clever restrictions on this that feel natural. Essentially, while the new detective vision highlights enemies and weapons, it obscures the environment somewhat. Leaving it on all the time will make it significantly harder to discern the room’s details further away. You also can’t view other directional info with detective vision enabled. This forces you to be more tactical and is a definite improvement.

Most of the gadgets from the first game return, with many of them unlocked from the start of much earlier in the game. There are even a few new ones. The game adopts the Legend of Zelda model, and uses the gadget progression model to lock you out of certain places earlier in the game, keeping you moving through the story to explore further. You can use the in combat also, but they’re mostly superfluous and unless you’re trying to get your trophies/achievements, you’ll probably never use them.

Arkham City is a definite step forward from Arkham Asylum. That doesn’t necessarily mean it is better in every way. It is an excellent game, but Asylum offers a more tightly scripted experience that moves from scene to scene with precision and timing. City looses a lot of that by going open world, but what it gains in return is a sense of forward momentum, a real reason to play the sequel. Most importantly, Batman: Arkham City is not a game to be overlooked by those who aren’t necessarily Batman fans. It’s a really great game that would appeal to all kinds of players.

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood – Review

Once again I’m reposting one of my Assassin’s Creed reviews. As with my review of the first and second games, this was originally posted on Dooyoo.co.uk and lingered there long forgotten until I decided to ressucitate them here. Rereading these reviews has got me thinking about the storytelling elements in these games and I’m considering writing some of these thoughts up as a blog post. We’ll see. This time I am discussing Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, probably my favourite in the series, but my response at the time was a bit more muted. Enjoy!

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood Cover It is rare that gamers are treated to a franchise as original or well developed as Assassin’s Creed. Arriving on consoles in 2007, the series has manifested in six incarnations on four different systems and each time it has surpassed expectation. The world Ubisoft Montreal are building is fleshed out with every release while the story becomes more captivating without become incomprehensible. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is probably the finest entry in the series so far.

For all the newcomers, Assassin’s Creed is a cross between period adventure and futuristic science fiction. Each entry follows the journey of Desmond Miles, a drifter from the not too distant future. A man with a distinctive pedigree, Desmond is the latest in a long line of significant, historical assassins. Using a device known as the Animus, he is reliving the memories of his ancestors, searching for clues to a puzzle unfolding in his own time. Eventually both Desmond and the player will discover an ancient conflict between the Assassin’s Order and the Knight’s Templars, each side fighting since the crusades over some oddly anachronistic technology. It’s a compelling setup that allows the series to approach both narrative and gameplay in ways quite different to many modern games.

Ezio Air AssassinationBrotherhood presents itself as an epilogue to Assassin’s Creed II. Once again we follow Desmond’s renaissance ancestor, Ezio Auditore and return to the rooftops of 15th Century Italy. Where Assassin’s Creed II turned some significant pages in the series’ overall story, Brotherhood really is a case of “what happened next?” As Assassin’s Creed II was drawing to a close, the game strongly hinted that Ezio’s role in larger events was finished. Brotherhood supports this with a story that is more concerned with Ezio’s personal struggles and the time he is confined to. Coming into conflict with Cesare Borgia leads to the destruction of his home and a revolution in Rome, while there are still secrets to uncover that will affect Desmond’s future, it basically amounts to little more than “where did Ezio leave the keys?” While the contribution to the series narrative is minimal, within Ezio’s life the game deals with much larger things; tasking you with bringing about the downfall of an entire city. Ezio himself has grown as a character. Much older than when we first joined him, he seems somewhat weary of his life in charge of the Assassin’s. A greater sense of responsibility has replaced his recklessness and while it’s a somewhat cliché development, it’s still a rewarding feeling to watch a familiar character develop. While the contribution to the series narrative is minimal, within Ezio’s life the game deals with much larger things; tasking you with bringing about the downfall of an entire city.

Ezio Climbing in RomeSeries regulars will find themselves to be on familiar territory here. Many of the series’ fundamentals remain totally unchanged and you will still spend most of your time leaping from rooftops, dodging guards and sneaking into buildings to chase down your target. It feels identical to Assassin’s Creed II and rarely breaks from your expectations in this respect. As before, the series is largely centred around climbing and free running. This is fairly simple to perform, holding down a couple of buttons puts you in free run mode. Run at a wall and you’ll climb it. In the past the series has taken some criticism for this control method, the suggestion being that it removes control from the player. Rather, it is about emphasising a different form of control. The player doesn’t necessarily tell the character when to jump, however the player does find the next ledge or foothold, tracking the right path up or down. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but it doesn’t bother me. Where Brotherhood branches out in new directions is in your gradual domination of Rome. Unlike previous games in the series, you are largely confined to Rome here. This isn’t too much of a restriction as Rome is significantly larger than any of the cities in previous games, however it does change the gameplay somewhat. Your long term goal is to remove Borgia influence from the city, this is done by destroying Borgia landmarks. After this is done you can the purchase businesses and beauty spots in these areas. This will provide you with an income, useful for purchasing assassin’s supplies but also creates areas in the city that are a little like safe zones where allies congregate.

Brotherhood, as the title suggests, also lets you take a little of the Assassin’s burden off your shoulders. As in all previous Assassin’s Creed titles, occasions will arise when you can save some oppressed townsfolk from harassment. Doing so will recruit the individual to your cause and give you backup in tricky situations. You can call in around five assassins at a time, useful if you’re heavily outnumbered or need a distraction. You can also assign them to assassinate specific targets, a handy option if you’re having trouble reaching a victim. Between your own escapades you can send the recruits on missions around the world for the assassins. Here they will help turn the tide against templars around the world while you sit back and collect the loot at the end. The benefit to this (aside from cash) is that your assassin’s will strengthen up and provide much better support the next time you call them in to back you up. The combination of recruiting civilians and buying up the businesses gives Brotherhood a juicy subversive feel. At times you really feel as though you’re building an army and spreading influence. It’s not perfect and I’d love to see it tackled a little more organically, fluid amounts of guards and way of taking territories based on influence and enemy strength would make it feel a lot less like risk. However, it’s a hard feeling to cultivate in a game and works well as an extension to Assassin’s Creed II.

Desmond in BrotherhoodPeriodically the game will take you out of Ezio’s life and plant you in the future. The future is a lot more compelling this time around and its nice to see Desmond and the modern assassin’s taking more action. The story is allowed to build up a lot more than normal and you get the feeling that Ubisoft are setting the stage for an Assassin’s Creed title that involves a lot less animus. When the inevitable flagship of Assassin’s Creed III sails along it’ll be interesting to see if they can bring the series to a natural, satisfying close.

One area I can find no fault is in the graphics. While I would expect no less from this series, it is one of the most stunning games I’ve seen since Assassin’s Creed II. This is partly because a large amount of effort has gone into producing detailed designs and rendering them well, partly due to style. The game reproduces renaissance architecture and then lets you climb all over it. It’s stunning to climb to the top of the tallest building in Rome and just look around. You can see for miles and it’s genuinely breathtaking. Something few games can claim.

Lastly, I suppose I should take a minute to mention multiplayer. As I’ve no doubt mentioned before, I don’t much care for multiplayer so I’m not the best person to judge, but I did enjoy it. While I didn’t spend much more than a week with Brotherhood’s multiplayer, it was a fun week. The game essentially asks you to choose a disguise, you will then be placed in a segment of town with various other players. A target will be randomly selected and you must track down that target, who will no doubt look like a lot of the civilians hanging around, and assassinate them. Meanwhile someone else out there will be tracking you down. I didn’t stick with it because after my one week, I felt I’d seen everything there was to see. But then that’s how I feel about all multiplayer so don’t let it put you off. It was fun, original and clever; it even contributed to the plot mildly. It’s definitely worth a look if multiplayer is your thing.

Brotherhood is not a perfect game by any means. Its biggest shortcoming is that it remains, at best, an expansion to Assassin’s Creed II. In its defense, it is huge, but with all that extra content it does so little. The building of an underground resistance is absolutely enthralling and I’d have loved to see more done with it but I suppose we can’t get everything. It’s absolutely beautiful, as usual, and the voice acting and writing is all to a good quality. It delivers what it promises, more Assassin’s Creed II, and I would argue that’s worth the price. Just don’t expect a revolution.

Assassin’s Creed II: Review

I’m currently playing through Assassin’s Creed III which arrived as a very well thought out present from Santa. It’s not  a bad game, but it has got me thinking about the highs and lows of the series so far. I posted my review of the first Assassin’s Creed a few weeks ago and had some nice feedback, so I thought I’d share my review for the sequel. As with the first review, this was originally written for Dooyoo.co.uk in 2010, and I’d like to say my writing has improved a little since then. My opinions haven’t changed however, so here they are.

Assassin's Creed IIAssassin’s Creed II

If I were running my own little award ceremony for video games, Assassin’s Creed II would have to be a strong contender in the “Most satisfying creative development in a sequel” category… it would also probably be the only contender.

In my review of the first game I praised it highly for being an original, interesting game that had a strong sense of being developed by invested and enthusiastic developers. While it had flaws aplenty, it never felt lazy or cheap and it earnt a lot of respect from me on that basis. Assassin’s Creed II continues down that path excellently while really taking time to correct some of the flaws of the first game. The final product is a game with great characters, an entertaining story and unique, addictive gameplay. Because of this it is easily one of 2009’s best titles.

The games framing narrative takes place in a future where protagonist, Desmond, is using a device known as an animus to relive the memories of his ancestors. While the first game placed you in control of 12th century assassin Altair, the latest outing sees you controlling renaissance Italian, Ezio. Part of the noble Auditore family, Ezio moves from one iconic city to another, fighting against a sinister conspiracy. The Knight’s Templars return as adversaries though the story is significantly more exciting this time around.

Ezio Diving Assassin's Creed IIImmediately Assassin’s Creed II benefits from a more interesting setting. The game will take you through cities such as Florence, Venice and Rome and its free climbing gameplay allows you to scale reproductions of some of the most fascinating and beautiful buildings in the world. Coupled with some truly beautiful graphics, the game is almost as inspiring as the cities themselves and it is a joy to look at and a joy to play through. In this world is a collections of characters ripped straight from the memoirs of Casanova as well as real life figures such as Leonardo DaVinci and the infamous DePazzi. The renaissance is not a common setting for a video game but it works excellently and it is one more way in which this game works to define its genre.

Exploring this world is made a little easier this time around with quick travel spots letting you jump back to previous cities, though you can always take a long journey by horse if you’re patient. Smaller towns and settlements are scattered all around and exploring every region would take a long time. Townspeople, thieves, courtesans and messengers populate every city, everyone has their jobs to do and they’ll get on with their lives while you do your thing. It’s wonderful to feel like you’re exploring a living, breathing world and the game accomplishes this moreso than any other.

As before the main thrust of your goals involves hunting down targets for assassination. This time around there is more variety to your missions and more flexibility in accomplishing them. It’s nice to see a game in which failure to complete a mission a certain way will not force you to try again, most of time you need only achieve the ultimate goal. On top of this there are a variety of messenger missions, side quests and collectables. The repetitiveness of the first game is gone and forgotten.

Assassin’s Creed II is my favourite game of the year, I would recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in action games.

Assassin’s Creed: Review

I know I don’t normally talk about video games on this blog much, but with Assassin’s Creed III on my shopping list I’ve been replaying one of my favourite franchises. I originally wrote this review of the first Assassin’s Creed for product review site Dooyoo a while ago, and I thought I’d repost it here. 

Altair Assassin's Creed coverI have a lot of respect for Assassin’s Creed, a game that is far from perfect and yet has been written and designed with originality, care and more than just the cynical desire to shift the product to consumers. While it suffers from the occasional poor decision, there is no sense of haste about it. I never felt shortchanged by the game even when faced with the flaws. Its positives outweigh its negatives and it remains a title I would gladly recommend.

Promoted as a period piece and action title; Assassin’s Creed is actually a sophisticated science fiction tale. The player takes the role of Desmond, a bartender from the not-too-distant future. He is kidnapped by a sinister corporation and thrust into a machine known as the “animus.” This miracle of modern engineering is a DNA analyser, capable of picking out the memories of the user’s ancestors and representing them as a form of virtual reality. From here the game splits into two threads, the exploits of kidnapped Desmond in the future and the adventures of his long forgotten ancestor, Altair. Set during the crusades, Altair is a fully trained assassin of a secret order. Waging a secret war against the Knight’s Templars, Altair must investigate different cities in the Holy Land, kill corrupt officials and generally snoop, sneak and stab. As the narrative unfurls, Desmond uncovers connections between Altair’s investigation in the past and his own kidnapping. It’s a story that serves not only as an original and interesting backdrop to the main game but serves as a setup up for tutorials and in game instructions.

The concept of the animus also relates to Assassin’s Creed’s style of gameplay. Early on it is explained that the animus works on a “puppeteering” concept. This influences how you control Altair, providing him more with instructions to follow than control his every movement specifically. While the player isn’t detached from control, you are not expected to perfectly judge ever jump and climb. Control systems such as the “free-running” mode allow you to merely direct Altair towards obstacles and allow him to traverse them. It’s a mechanic that is new and has the benefit of allow the player to spend less time hammering buttons but does occasionally create a feeling of distance between the player and the character. However, it does create a more flexible, fluid climbing and running effect which is hard to replicate.

Altair is placed inside an open world reconstruction of the mediaeval middle-east. He must take a horse from city to city, ride the road to Damascus and stop occasionally at towers and castles to survey his surroundings, filling out his map. It has a good feeling for an open world game and solid graphics supporting the setting. At times the surroundings can be quite impressive and it’s nice to feel a part of Altair’s world. Gameplay takes you from city to city to perform tasks with each city having a nice range of differences in occupants, streets, styles. It’s definitely one of the highlights of the game.

However, where the game does fall short is undoubtably in mission variety. Most goals in the game are largely similar and require a combination of tedious, repetitive actions such as pick-pocketing or overhearing. These eventually lead you to a target to kill and the mission is over. The only real obstacle to this is the guards roaming around every corner. Far to sensitive, they will chase you down for so little as running in the street and can be torment to escape from when you’re really under pressure. They can swarm and outnumber you far too easily and it is often a frustrating exercise escaping them. Beyond the missions there is far too little to do besides explore the holy land, this gets boring quickly and at times the free-roaming world of Assassin’s Creed feels a little wasted. A more dynamic range of characters, locations and activities would really have turned this from a good game into and excellent one.

From a technical standpoint, Assassin’s Creed is quite reasonable. Released at a time when multiplatform games tended to go a bit limp on the PS3, this title has quite pleasing results. Graphics are clean and clear with no glaring flaws, the look suits the game and it runs smoothly for the most. The frame rate can take a bit of a knock when high up, surveying large areas of the world but otherwise it’s usually solid. The PS3 version features Quincunx Anti-Aliasing, unlike the multi-sample Anti-Aliasing of the 360 version. This does a great job of smoothing out the jagged edges, creating a cleaner picture, but Quincunx does tend too smudge textures a bit. This gives the game a soft focus look that some have been known to object to strongly. However, the PS3’s anti-aliasing performance isn’t brilliant and many developers resort to using Quincunx which is easier to implement. It’s infinitely better than shipping a game with no anti-aliasing (something that is becoming more common, unfortunately) and the soft focus look is a lot harder to notice than jagged edges everywhere, the overall effect is a game with a polished, professional look that the developers should be proud of.

Assassin’s Creed is not a perfect game, it is however and original game. In terms of storytelling it is a pleasurable, entertaining experience and it tries new things. In a time when the industry is clogged with mindless tat and endless sequels, Assassin’s Creed is the kind of game deserving of attention despite its flaws.