Sparky's Update - Assassin's Creed: The Third?

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.

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Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

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.

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Posted by dankempster

It's interesting to read about Assassin's Creed II from the perspective of somebody who played the sequels first, especially considering I have yet to touch Brotherhood or Revelations. I played the first Assassin's Creed back in 2010, and Assassin's Creed II last year, and the level of improvement from the original game to its sequel was simply staggering. I spent well over fifty hours with ACII over a month-long period, and at no point did I feel tired of that world or the mechanics - I even went on to S-rank the game after finishing its story. There is so much to do, and so much of it is fun (especially compared to its predecessor, which often felt more like a tech demo than an out-and-out game). I'd genuinely go as far as to call it one of my favourite games ever.

My sister got me a copy of Brotherhood for Christmas, and while I'm eager to get stuck into another of Ezio's adventures, I think I'm going to wait until the summer rolls around, just to make sure Assassin's Creed II is well and truly out of my system. I have to admit, some of your comments have me a little worried, most notably the ones about scope (one of my favourite things about ACII), but ultimately all I need to know is that it's more of the same and it'll be a guaranteed enjoyable experience for me. While I don't have the benefit of your experience with the franchise's recent incremental improvements, the things I've heard really have me hoping that Ubisoft try and shake things up with the next title. The parkour gameplay is peerless and I'm not sure there's much they could do to improve on it at this point, but some more dynamic ways of interacting with the game-world and a combat system that doesn't almost exclusively rely on counter-attacks wouldn't go unappreciated.

Also, your talking about novels has reminded me that I haven't read anything even remotely resembling literature in over a week. Man, I'm going to rectify that right away and pick The Gunslinger back up! Great read Sparky, already looking forward to next week's Update!

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@dankempster: Brotherhood is still a big game, and it's quite a good one. But it is fairly limited in scope compared to II- imagine a city about the size of Florence, with an outer area (that doesn't require load times, if I remember correctly) about maybe the size of Forli and the villa combined. That's still quite sizable, and the exploration is encouraged even more, which is fantastic. Brotherhood should by no means worry you - both it and Revelations are still great games. But it's obvious that with the focus split between storytelling and multiplayer, the single player hasn't quite received the love and attention it once had.

And yeah! Totally forgot to mention my love of the parkour climbing and gameplay. It's superb, and though it never changes much, it always remains fun. I would like to see more ways to interact with the world, though to be honest, I'm not entirely sure what it is specifically I want there. It's a hard thing for Ubisoft - on the one hand, you've got this really spectacular backbone for a game, but on the other, it's become obvious that the series needs to add something to spice things up without it ever being really clear what that something should be. We see hints of what's possible in future iterations with one mission in Revelations that's staggeringly good. I believe the demo shown at E3 is that particular level, of Ezio setting fire to multiple enemy ships as he races through the carnage.

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Posted by Claude

I played Assassin's Creed first, ACII second and Brotherhood finally brought me to my knees. I tapped out on the series. Weird how that works out. Maybe I'll buy the double HD remake and try again.

Posted by Little_Socrates

I really disliked what I played of Revelations. The storyline and characterization seemed to go in bizarre directions, the grenades didn't improve the gameplay for me, and the city felt big in size and small in scope. It's easily the blemish on the series, in my opinion. If you're only going to play one Assassin's Creed title, I think it should be Assassin's Creed II.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@Little_Socrates: Respectfully, I've gotta say I disagree on most points save for the city scope. I thought the grenades actually added a lot to the gameplay, especially tactically. As to where the story goes, I thought the first half was unnecessary and sort of dull, but once the game got to the real meat of the story in its latter half, it made for some great moments. Not sure exactly what you mean by the direction of the characterization, either, as I felt that Ezio's story wrapped up in a nice, somewhat natural fashion. I don't want to ruin anything, so let me try putting this into a spoiler thing.

I thought in particular his decision to walk away from the piece of the Apple of Eden near the end was a great touch. Letting him come full circle by "meeting" his predecessor Altair was also a great little moment too. That whole sequence, where Ezio decides that he's done enough in his lifetime, felt really like the end and closure he needed as a character. It genuinely felt like at that point he really was ready to settle down and try to live as normal of a life as possible.
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Posted by Little_Socrates

@Sparky_Buzzsaw: I didn't finish the title, so I didn't encounter the bit you talked about in the spoiler, but the character of Ezio throughout the game feels like a naïve old benefactor, more similar to Yoda from Empire or a supremely positive interpretation of Batman than Ezio, master killer and efficient leader of Rome. It felt like the point Ezio was introduced was wrong to begin with. The writing in the first half of the game just seemed totally wrong, like if Trey Parker and Matt Stone decided to make fun of Assassin's Creed and describe the completely absurd pseudo-science through a joke version of Subject 16. Hell, Yusuf's line "The hookblade has two parts -- the hook, and the blade" line sounds like something the South Park guys might actually have written.

The game is so easy that the grenades simply felt unnecessary. They're never easier to use than your brotherhood, as far as I could tell. They were also pretty unwieldy to aim with, as far as I tried to use them.

I stopped after the first boatyard mission, somewhere after I got the third Masyaf key. I was simply bored. And the way they describe the sci-fi of Assassin's Creed in Revelations is by far the most inexplicable and comedic. I stand by my recommendation of the second title, though that stuff in the second half is sounding more and more interesting as time goes by.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@Little_Socrates: I don't think this is something we're going to agree upon one way or another, which is a good thing. If I agreed with everyone that commented on my blogs, I'd probably never write them. I've never thought of the writing in Assassin's Creed as being consistently great - ACII is full of groan-inducing lines ("It's-a me, Mario!" Really, did we need a Mario quote?), but I do agree that the writing in Brotherhood is at its best in the series. And if I had only played Revelations up until the point that you had, I'd agree 100% that the writing and story was pretty poorly done. But I don't necessarily agree with how you felt Ezio was portrayed in the last one. By this point in the series, he's gone beyond just leading the Brotherhood - he's actually gotten to the point where leadership entitles him to act out his days pretty much however he wants to. Seeing him try to become a gentler man fighting with the nature of the things he still must do is exactly how I'd want him portrayed in his later years, and I think they do a remarkably good job of that without becoming too ham-fisted.

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Posted by RenegadeSaint

I have never played any of the AC games, but they do look great. That being said, they really need to evolve.

And thanks for the book recommendation. I'll have to look into it after I finish A Game of Thrones.