By Sparky_Buzzsaw 0 Comments
Last week, I discussed how I'd like to see Saints Row evolve, and what needs to be addressed. This week, I'm going to examine Assassin's Creed II as compared to Brotherhood and Revelations. I'll also be discussing my thoughts on Jonathan Mayberry's novel Dead Man's Song.
Slowing Down When You're Ahead
I started playing the Assassin's Creed series with the release of Brotherhood, and was pretty much blown away. If you've played an Assassin's Creed game since or including II, you pretty much know why. The story was rad, the exploration and realization of an ancient Rome was beautifully well crafted, and there was a lot to do besides just the main quest. I had some issues with the combat (still not a fan - more on that later), and after a while, some of the side quests grew a little repetitive, but that was it. And honestly? Playing a game for that long so often, it's bound to start to feel a little repetitive no matter what the game is. I played that game pretty solidly in and out for a month or two. Come this Thanksgiving and Amazon's annual Black Friday Week sales, and I found myself scooping up its sequel, Revelations.
I knew going into Revelations that it was going to be more of the same, and by that point, I was perfectly okay with that. It had been close to eleven months since I had played Brotherhood, and I was eager to jump back into the boots of Ezio and discover who this Altair guy was. The first half of the game was surprisingly bland and narrow in scope. Having traversed the same areas countless times, I started to grow really tired of the game. But then, the latter half of the game - and particularly its story - really started to ramp up. By the time the game's CGI finale had rolled, I was pumped up and ready for even more Assassin's Creed. Luckily for me, my so-called white whale of gaming deals had finally been fished out of the sea.
For the last couple of years, whenever Assassin's Creed II came up for sale, I somehow missed it, through bad timing, a lack of money, or a technical glitch through Amazon or another online vendor. But I had finally nabbed it for a respectable $10, an absolute steal given how much time I've put into the game. I played a few other games and knocked 'em out of the park. Assassin's Creed II came up in my pile of shame, and while at first I was hesitant to play more so soon after Revelations, I realized it was a great opportunity to look at where the series has gone and how much has evolved.
My basic conclusion is this: Assassin's Creed is Ubisoft's early attempt at a Smackdown vs. Raw. You see, I genuinely love the Smackdown vs. Raw series (though I guess it's called WWE xx now), but I'd be hard pressed to tell you that each new one is a technical marvel. Assassin's Creed has become much like that. With each iteration, they've taken the basic formula of Assassin's Creed II and tweaked it just enough to market it as a new game. Oh, and added multiplayer too, which doesn't really factor into these ramblings. I like the multiplayer, don't get me wrong, but I'd never buy a game solely for its multiplayer and I don't feel as I'm the best judge of its evolution or comparison to other incrementally changed games.
Where Assassin's Creed II shines far better than its descendants is in its staggering scope. This is a huge world. The story doesn't quite have the consistency of Brotherhood or the exciting feel of the latter half of Revelations, but on merit of sheer size and the desire to explore, this game trumps them both. From the gray waters of Forli to the remarkably beautiful Florence, I have spent hours just running around, collecting treasure, feathers, and the like. While I had that feeling in both Revelations and Brotherhood, I didn't feel it on the level that I do with II.
In a way, I almost hope Assassin's Creed III becomes a single-player game again. Will that happen? Most likely not. But with the continued diminishing returns on both the gameplay and the worlds, Assassin's Creed III needs to have larger ideas. Do they necessarily need to re-evaluate the series as a whole? No - as a matter of fact, I think they've got one of the most remarkably solid foundations for a series since Gears of War. But the developers and the publishers need to dream big. Bigger than just shoving another one of these out the door in late 2012. Bigger than a small chunk of a city. Bigger than a few incremental combat upgrades.
What definitely needs to be addressed though is the combat. Holy crap, does combat in the series stink. With the refinements made in Revelations, especially with the awesome addition of creating your own grenades, this is obviously something that Ubisoft is at least trying to fix. Honestly, though, it'd probably take massive stretch to entirely change the awkward enemy focusing, the rock-paper-scissors-Spock attacking and defending, and the strange group AI. However, that being said, Revelations and Brotherhood have managed to fix a great many of the UI problems from II, including seemingly random weapon switches, a more responsive weapon select wheel, and the seperation of primary and secondary weapons.
The graphics have remained largely untouched. That's not really a surprise, but it is sort of disappointing. When the series finally jumps ahead to a new protagonist, perhaps the graphics will change to reflect the new surroundings. But as it is, every location save Forli and Venice sort of all start to blend together into one pretty but congealed mass.
All in all, I really have enjoyed each of the games in the series that I've played. I hope Ubisoft decides to put a little more time in between sequels, but since that doesn't appear to be happening, at least I can hope that they'll start making more meaningful upgrades to the system. As it is, I can only recommend these games at discounted prices. For $35, they feel about right. Any more than that, though, and you'd be paying a ridiculous sum of money for what is essentially Assassin's Creed II.2. Or II.3. You get the idea. Really, though, if you're just after the single player experience, you should be fine playing Revelations without playing the others. It might be smaller in scope, but there's enough meat to the gameplay that you'll get the full experience as well as an excellent conclusion to Ezio's story.
A Real Horror Novel? Be Still, My Beating Heart. Well, Not Literally.
Jonathan Mayberry's Ghost Road Blues was an excellent debut novel, certainly one of the best in true horror novels in the 2000's. While some of the characters are a little black and white, he's got the fundamentals of what makes a modern horror novel great - lots of action, a sense of dark adventure, and some genuinely frightening and gruesome scenes. It's all too easy in reviews to resort to comparisons, so I'll simply say this. Mayberry has his own voice, but writes his novels in what is becoming the classic modern horror novel fashion. It's sweeping, with a lot of head-hopping, and it's got a great sense of rhythm.
Dead Man's Song, the sequel to that novel, is even better. It's more refined, taking the black and white characters from the first and giving them a little more flavor and color. His antagonists in particular come into their own, becoming frighteningly unstoppable (not literally). And while the good guys have a little glimmer of hope, they take some nasty licks this time around. It doesn't hurt that while the novel is fairly lengthy, it's fast-moving and lean where it needs it. We've been given the basics on these characters in the prior novel, so now it's about the story and the direction, and that's fantastic.
And that's it for this week. I plan on starting in on Lord of the Rings: War in the North sometime in the coming week as well as possibly finishing off Bastion. I may also get a start on Crisis Core, but we'll see.