The amazing end of Assassin's Creed II (SPOILERS!)

-mad spoilers-

So I finished Assassin's Creed II last weekend and it's really been stewing with me, can't seem to shake it. A great amount of fun to play for sure, it kept me engaged and up late from start to finish. But after thinking about it a bit, what really put things over the top for me was the deliciously memorable ending sequence. The game just throws payoff after payoff at you, satisfying gameplay and story tricks one after another. You may be done with the unforgettable open world Renaissance Italy, but the setting they do throw you in is no slouch at all.

1. Ezio in Rome. I'd imagine everyone immediately climbed to the highest point possible and just soaked in the amazing scenery found at the outset of Ezio's final mission. The level is jarringly linear with plenty of guards and some forced stealth, and it's not always great. But it's all worth it because..

2. You've come to kill the Pope. In the Sistine Chapel. While he's delivering mass, and you leap from the rafters. I hadn't heard of Pope Alexander VI/Rodrigo Borgia before but he seems like a shady character from history and a pretty good villain in Pope-form.

3 You both use Pieces of Eden. The mythical items finally get some face time, giving you a gang of dopplegangers and Borgia, um, the ability to get up from almost being dead and turning invisible for a bit. Things get even more interesting when you find yourself outside the fabled vault, engaged in..

4. A Fistfight with the Pope. Maybe it's because Ezio called him an old man, but for some reason this guy agrees to drop all weapons and just fight it out for all the marbles. The hand to hand gameplay is particularly good throughout the game and the scene is intensified as Pope denounces religion, claims to have found god and wants to take god's power. Of course you kick his ass, as you are the prophet and not him. The lights start glowing, you head inside and totally meet a god.

5. She only wants Desmond. The way she warmly humors Ezio while glancing at the player directly is haunting. Then way she coldly dismisses Ezio as a vessel, a means for a distant ancestor to hear her words through genetic memory one day, is mindfucking. "But I have so many questions! Who are you?" "Shut up already. I'm here to talk through you, not to you." Plus the whole story of the ones that came before, extinct beings that created?enslaved? man and the coming apocalypse seems like a pretty good setup for modern day high stakes. Desmond says WTF and the credits roll..

6. You get to go stabbing as Desmond! The modern day stuff was so deep in the background at times that I wondered if we'd ever get any kind of real closure for Desmond in this game. Thankfully it's time to run and soon enough you're controlling him as the credits roll, Lucy tosses you a wrist blade and, well, you get to stabbin'. And just like the good student he is, Desmond is already killing like an old pro without a hint of remorse. The bad guy gets away in a truck of course, they'll see each other next time, and they set you up to play around in the Animus in The Mystery Machine during the drive up "north."

7. You're right back in your study at Monteriggioni, the ultimate throne room. The paintings of your many victims have been hung with care. Your collection of weapons, armor and artwork is on full display. You have codex pages and assassin tombs to read up on the lore. Mom is still praying. You can look at the book. You can explore your fully upgraded town, head to Tuscany, Venice, find more glyphs, chase couriers, achievement hunt, go poison happy..

There's unanswered questions and more places to go but for the middle child in a supposed trilogy, I tip my hat. All in all it's one of the best ending sequences of the year at least, highly satisfying on multiple levels. Hey, here it is!

Final Boss

The Ending

The Credits


'Tis the Season...

I have so little time to play games these days as it is I should probably be doing that now instead of writing this. Especially since I've been picking up a bunch of these new releases, dabbling for a bit and knowing that eventually I'll get back to it - but damn if the next one isn't more engaging than the last. Nothing super revolutionary but so much genre refinement, enjoyable characterization, satisfying gameplay and memorable moments across the board. Lessons have been learned from previous titles and really I haven't been disappointed with a single purchase I've made this holiday yet. Some quick hits on what's out there from me: 

 Assassin's Creed 2
Assassin's Creed 2 - A few hours in and so far so good. It's everything I could have wanted in a sequel to the first game, with a lot I didn't know I wanted. The pacing, characters, and overall variety has improved by leaps and bounds. Can't wait to see how this one unfolds, lots of odd graphical glitches for some reason though. 
Dragon Age: Origins - For my tastes there's nothing quite like a BioWare RPG, flaws and all, and Dragon Age is the best yet in many respects. Part Baldur's Gate, part Mass Effect, part Lord of the Rings. I've spent way too much time just playing the different origin stories, my main isn't even that far into the storyline. Looking forward to spending many hours with Dragon Age for sure.
Borderlands - Gun loot madness, satisfying FPS action. Excellent and unique visuals, tons of fun with friends. It's a winner no doubt, but I feel like it may take a back seat to the two single player epics above for now. 
New Super Mario Bros. Wii - Haven't touched it yet, but I'm looking at the box on my desk. Maybe try to play through this weekend. No impressions but hey, a new Super Mario Bros. on my Wii to play. Awesome. 
Torchlight - Time has disappeared when playing Torchlight, 11pm turns into 4am like that. It scratches the Diablo and the WoW itch in me like nothing since, well, Diablo or WoW. Feels timeless and effortlessly enjoyable, if you like well crafted dungeon crawls.  

Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story
 - Fun, but the constant chatter at every turn grinds the game to a halt. It's well written but so much doesn't feel conducive to short burst portable gameplay sessions. I'm spending more time hitting X to get through speech bubbles than I am moving through the story or leveling up. Still, it's my go to DS game of choice right now.

Demon's Souls - Too many long  RPG's on this list. Don't know when I'll get back to this one seeing as it's such a slow burn. But the few hours I played were tense, dark and engrossing to be sure.
Uncharted 2  - The campaign was eye poppingly great - a far more engaging and satisfying experience than Resident Evil 5, either Gears of War, pretty much every other third person action game out there. It sets a new standard for the genre and I've really enjoyed the multiplayer under my belt so far. 
I'm still trying to achievement hunt in Batman: Arkham Asylum, Beatles: Rock Band and Brutal Legend. I've got my eyes on Modern Warfare 2. It seem like overkill compared to the landscape a few months ago, but I'm all for it.


currently playing


Uncharted 2 

PixelJunk Eden 
Brutal Legend 
Half-Minute Hero 
Flipnote Studio 
With Demon's Souls on hold for now. Videogames!

2009 game purchases I now regret

Bit early for restrospectives and there may be more on the way deserving of this list, but here they are so far. Maybe I should visit my local GameStop, where I can buy and sell used games!
Saint's Row 2 - I just could not get into this game.  
Star Ocean: The Last Hope - Just really mediocre in every way except for combat. Couldn't get more than a few hours in. 
Far Cry 2 - It felt like just another FPS to me, did not enjoy it as much as I expected to. 
Sacred 2 - Jury is still out on this but I'm already regretting it, at least playing it on a console. 
Guild Wars - Thought this might scratch the ol' MMO itch. It did not.
Maboshi's Arcade - This seems to get a lot of praise but I still haven't gotten around to playing it, so I probably could have done without it. 
Everything else I picked up this year? We cool.


first quarter 2010

It's old news now. Anticipated and most likely ready-for-release games have been getting delayed, pushed back, strategically placed, etc. into early 2010 with new announcements seeminlgy by the day. Or they were already scheduled to arrive in early 2010 in order to avoid the holiday rush altogether. Meanwhile I just picked up Sacred 2 because *nothing* worth playing seems to be getting released for consoles right now. No love for August, developers?
It's getting a bit stupid, especially when publishers cite "less competition" as the reason for the new release window, such as with the statement regarding Singularity. I don't have the money or time to play through all this stuff at once, and personally I'm not entirely interested in spending a shit ton of time with Modern Warfare 2 like the rest of the world, or even picking it up at launch. It'll be there when I want it, and let's be serious here, it's just another quality FPS, which I've played quite a few of over the past few years. 
Anyway, here's what I'm interested in playing in this now silly crowded Q1 2010:
Mass Effect 2
Starcraft II
Dark Void
Alan Wake (yeah, right)
God of War III
Bioshock 2
Ace Attorney: Miles Edgeworth
Heavy Rain
Red Dead Redemption
It's full of awesome and it's sure to shrink or grow due to critical and public reception, not to mention further delays. One can only buy so many $60 games. I'm also excluding some big hitters like Splinter Cell: Conviction, Dante's Inferno and Monster Hunter 3 because my interest just isn't there (yet). And just for good measure, of what's left for the coming months here's what will likely find their way onto my shelf:
Muramasa: The Demon Blade
Assassin's Creed II
Brutal Legend 
Dragon Age: Origins
GTA: Ballad of Gay Tony
The Beatles Rock Band (purchased!)
Modern Warfare 2 

Hmmm. That's more stuff that I anticipated. Maybe publishers do have a point here trying to avoid what looks to be an already expensive holiday of gaming. Sorry Forza Motorsport 3, Uncharted 2, Halo 3 ODST, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, Phantasy Star DS, Alpha Protocol, and the The Saboteur. Maybe sometime early next year, once the busy holiday season winds down, y'know?


the best collector's edition I've seen in a while

is for Anno 1404.

It doesn't seem like it's for sale in the U.S. but it comes complete with:

-Anno 1404 game DVD
-Exclusive bonus DVD
-72-page art book
-A panoramic poster
-Old-fashioned compass
-A bag containing 6 almond seeds
-Wood and leatherbound box

And it's currently in stock on for  £ 29.99, which is around $42.00. I'm trying to pick one up now, doesn't seem like they want to deliver to my office but lo, I shall find a way. Currently playing and enjoying the DS version of Dawn of Discovery to hold me over until that time.


I just finished pirating* through the first episode from Tales of Monkey Island, a worthy addition to the series and one that I can't wait to continue over the next few months. It has the potential to be Telltale's most enjoyable title yet when all is said and done. It's also got me in the mood to play through the original once again, which will happen soon enough over Live Arcade. Not bad for a series (and genre) that seemed all but dead until recently.

The first batch of LucasArts titles was just released on Steam, including a few notable adventures on sale at a very reasonable $4.99 apiece. Makes me want to repurchase The Dig and Fate of Atlantis just to support this business model, and also in hope of what's yet to come (DS? iPhone?). Getting less fanfare is the Tex Murphy series showing up on, another favorite of mine. Even if it's just booting up DOS Box, it feels great to see these games easily available for anyone to download and play.

Michel Ancel is working on Beyond Good and Evil 2, David Cage is polishing up Heavy Rain. And how about that Tim Schafer guy (so hot right now), who still finds the time to put out gems like this.

It's almost as if there's an honest-to-goodness resurgence of classic PC adventure games going on. One that's proving to be profitable for all parties involved as well. There were some dark years for a while there, grasping at mediocre and souless pixel hunts as acceptance slowly set in. Playing through Syberia, trying to play through Runaway, lurking around to learn the whereabouts of Jane Jensen or Al Lowe. I thought we'd never see high quality classic adventures again, at least the way I remembered them.

And here we are now, with Telltale and LucasArts teaming up to bring back an old favorite the right way. I can't wait to see where this partnership leads (Tales of Maniac Mansion? Yes please?) but I'm just as happy that new IP's like Strong Bad and Wallace & Grommit are being taken along for the ride as well. I'm less optimistic for the future of Sierra's properties, given the current nature of the ActiBlizzard machine they nest within. But who knows, money is money. I just know It hasn't been this good in a long time for adventure game fans, and it's only going to get better.

*Not the piratebay kind. I paid telltale, generously

itouch generations

And for my third handheld post in a row, the iPhone. Or rather the iPod touch, which is my iDevice of choice for browsing around the App Store. The best part about this whole iPhone gaming thing is the sheer values you can find - there's plenty of free and $0.99 titles worth taking a look at, plus daily price drops and sales to make those impulse buys go down easier. It's a system that still has no killer app or even great games on it, but when you want something quick and dirty to hold your attention for a bit there really is nothing better. The size is perfect, everything loads quickly, the games look great and the control, while limiting, can still be pretty fun when implemented well. 

Short burst titles work best for sure, but there's plenty of room for more complicated affairs and I hope we continue to see more of them. There's an incredible amount of crap to sift through, and even the good stuff can end up feeling somewhat uninspired in my opinion. I rarely feel the desire to return to any one title over time and some get completely forgotten, even if it remains fun to rearrange their icons.

I've spent a fair amount of coin in the App Store, but it turns out some of the games I play the most ended up costing me only $10 total:

Sky Burger - Plays with one hand, accelerometer only style. Build giant hamburger orders as ingredients fall from the sky! Simple, calming and easy to get lost in. $2.99 (I paid $0.99)

KarmaStar - Seems odd and complicated at first, but it's really just a great board game in a unique wrapper. A conceptual cousin to The Game of Life but way more interesting and it only takes 5 minutes to get through. $1.99

Drop7 - The puzzle game I've probably spent the most time with, despite maybe liking others more intially. Once it clicked I got hooked, over it now but it's worth playing for sure. $2.99 (I paid $0.99)

Space Deadbeef - It's free and fun. FREE

Moonlight Mahjong - Pricey for what's essentially a majhong game, it's a really great mahjong game. 3D with smooth touch screen control. Been worth it for me. $4.99

UniWar - A well thought out turn based strategy game that borrows elements from Advance Wars and Starcraft. A lot of the charm that made those titles great is lost, but at least it's hex based and super, super cheap. $0.99

So, iPhone/iPod touch as a gaming console: good deals, interesting, and mediocre. Despite it's shortcomings the future of the platform looks bright to me. Bring on Peggle and let's do this already! 

get out of my head

I'm slowly growing to hate Rhythm Heaven. Great game and all - super addicting, fun to play, lots to unlock. And the music isn't bad taken at face value. But oh man, if you get some of those songs/riffs/lyrics stuck in your head they just wont.. go.. away. Sometimes it's not so bad if one of the more enjoyable tracks starts repeating in my mind (ie. Karate Man or Love Lab) but right now, I can't stop hearing the final ghost guitar riff in Big Rock Finish no matter what I do. The same 10 seconds over and over, followed by "thank you!," and then again. I want to stab my ears with tweezers, only I'm not actually hearing anything so it wouldn't do me any good.

It's gotten to the point where I don't want to play the game in fear of this problem. Rhythm Heaven players will recognize the following triggers - I suppose, stretch out yer neck, scratch-o hey, spin it boys, yeah yeah yeah. What the hell is this shit, really? They're catchy I guess, but in the worst way possible. I'm a fan of the game but not of all the nonsense crap in the soundtrack. It's kind of charming when I'm playing but any other time, it's cripplingly annoying. Get out of my head, all of yous.

for the on the go gamer in your life

I usually play handheld games just to hit up something different every so often, to scratch that in-the-palm-of-my-hand gaming itch that consoles can't provide. Rarely do I actually bring them along with me as entertainment while I travel around the city, an iPod or similar device works just fine for that. I would probably play my DS more on the subways if it weren't so crowded, and I get annoyed with the clicky buttons on the PSP enough when I'm alone. No need to subject others to that (and my elbows) as I button mash my way through some DJ Max Portable.

But as I'm writing this on location in Israel (my job has some sweet travel perks sometimes), and as I take more planes in general I suppose, handheld gaming has become a key part of my travel planning. There's a whole romancing the drug aspect to what and how many games one should take with oneself on any given trip - Do I have my lengthly RPG to eat away at huge chunks of time? How about the puzzle title if I want to shift blocks around or something? What can I play that's quiet enough for the red eye flight? And do I finish game X once and for all or buy something new and start from scratch?

All are important questions that must be addressed by neatly piling out cartridges (or UMD's) of interest on the desk, then slowly paring the list down so you aren't too overwhelmed with options. Variety is key in case you suddenly become immensely sick of whatever title you had your heart set on sinking deep into. This particular trip I treated myself to a few new DS titles, as I'd been ignoring the handheld for a while during an unusually long lull of quality releases. Suddenly I'm knee deep in Chinatown Wars, Fire Emblem, Broken Sword and Civilization Revolution. Overkill perhaps, but it's been a joy to rediscover the system and it really made the flights (and the jetlag) a lot more enjoyable. Chinatown Wars especially, but all four have their strengths. In particular Broken Sword translates the point and click adventure interface just right - I want to play every DS title in the genre this way from here on out. Minus the creepy close up portrait in the top screen whenever my character uses something with anything.

When I return home I'm sure it'll be back to consoles and PC's occupying my precious gaming hours, with the DS and PSP getting occasional trips to the bathroom or the bed as the second class citizens they are. But right now, handhelds are my king. And it feels oh so good.