I just played through The Last of Us in one sitting. Was that smart? Of course not.

In the Quick Look for The Last of Us, @patrickklepek recommended not playing the game in huge chunks because it's so emotionally draining. That's nice and all, but I live with three girls who love to talk over movies and games, and I was not about to deal with that with The Last of Us, so the minute I knew none of them would be home, I did exactly that.

I burned through the whole game in one 14-hour sitting. I do not recommend it.

By the end, yeah, I was pretty drained. The surprising thing is that it had nothing to do with how dark the tone was. It was because the combat got tiring.

There is way, way too much combat in this game.

Just like Uncharted 2, Naughty Dog still hasn't learned that it's not enough to just call out the fact that you're killing an insane amount of dudes in a game; you have to actually do something about it. This game would've been way better if they'd kept the number of combat sequences in check because there's a lot of unnecessary fights that are literally just there because you haven't killed anybody in 15 minutes so here's 50 dudes to murder (the best example is the power plant).

So instead of making you fight hordes of dudes like literally every other third-person shooter on the market, they should've tried to limit it so that even three or four enemies feels really dangerous. Sure enough, in the early parts of the game, three or four enemies is really dangerous, but that's because you only had like, a revolver with three bullets, a 9mm with five bullets, one medkit, and a brick. The problem is that then they too easily give in to the temptation of giving you more, more, more in terms of weapons and supplies. Like, a flamethrower? Seriously? Come on. It would've been way cooler if you only had like three or four kind of crappy guns to choose from throughout the whole game, or even if they had the same number of guns as they do currently but you can't fit them all in your backpack. Seriously, is Joel like Merlin or something?

And don't get me started on all the one-hit kill enemies or the maddening inconsistency of how sensitive enemies are to noise.

So for me, it wasn't really the aspect that it was a very bleak game that made my one-sitting playthrough so draining; it's that Naughty Dog is king at designing combat that's always so close to being perfect but still have no clue what "less is more" really means.

That said, I actually really loved the bleak, no compromise nature of the story. The ending is really polarizing and I fall squarely on the "I didn't like it" side of things, but pretty much everything leading up to that is incredible from a story standpoint. That intro? Oh my god. That intro. Not since Up has a prologue been that affecting. Excellent characterization, genuinely great writing, fantastic atmosphere. Such an awesome game. I'd love to see a PS4-enhanced Game of the Year port or something.

But yeah. Play it in chunks. My second playthrough is definitely going to be in shorter chunks.

15 Comments

Smoke & Mirrors: How BioShock Infinite Tricks You Into Liking Elizabeth

AI sidekicks in video games are pretty uniformly terrible. They get in your way, they're incredibly stupid, and they rarely add anything meaningful to the story. That's why escort missions in games are among the most hated, and why I wouldn't begrudge a player for assuming that BioShock Infinite would be little more than a ten-hour game about babysitting Elizabeth and making sure she doesn't run into any sharp corners.

I beat the game a couple days ago, and I'm happy to say that I never needed to babysit her or worry about her during combat. She's a wonderfully written character whose interaction with protagonist Booker DeWitt forms the core of BioShock Infinite's tale and is all the better for it. She's easy to care about and hard to forget. As far as AI partners in games go, Elizabeth is probably the best.

But the developers cheated to achieve that.

I started avoiding anything related to BioShock Infinite in 2010 after the first gameplay demo surfaced, so the last time I saw Elizabeth in a fight, she was an active participant, calling out for Booker to electrify a storm cloud or telekinetically throw a molten boulder of pots and pans. Elizabeth's powers looked painful to use.

"Hey, you don't look so good," Booker said as Elizabeth, slumped against cover, sputtered and coughed like a dying car.

"I'm OK," she responded, getting up slowly. "I just... I just need a moment."

Later in the demo, after using her powers to bring down a bridge, her nose begins to bleed.

That is not the Elizabeth in the game.

You don't combine powers anymore, and the extent of Elizabeth's use in combat is tossing you supplies and opening tears in the space-time continuum to pull in everything from cover, freight hooks, and automated turrets. She can pull in any of these at the press of a button, but only one at time. It doesn't even matter what Elizabeth is doing at the time; it's an instantaneous effect. I tested it by telling Elizabeth to bring in a freight hook while she was preoccupied picking a lock, and sure enough, in popped the freight hook without delay. It never really feels like Elizabeth has anything to do with the tears, and that's because she doesn't.

There's never an element of managing how much stress Elizabeth can take, or how often you can use her powers before her nose begins to bleed. Even the horses in Red Dead Redemption could only be spurred so many times before they'd either die from overexertion or buck you off. Keep a horse alive and it would become loyal to you. It's disappointing that BioShock Infinite chose to play it so safe by letting you treat Elizabeth like a tool rather than a person.

Yeah, I never needed to worry about her in combat in the final game, but that's because everybody just ignores her. Enemies literally don't even see her. They'll run right past Elizabeth to get to me.

And yes, Elizabeth saved me more than a few times by tossing me health or salts or ammo at the perfect time, but it's just another trick. She's not actually finding anything. I'd scavenge every body for money and supplies after a battle, tapping square like my life depended on it on every interactive thing I could find until I was sure I'd picked the environment clean and was ready to move on.

"Need some money?" Elizabeth would ask, tossing me a coin.

Where did she find that? I checked everything already.

In battle, it's the same way. I have a pretty chaotic fighting style in the game, running and jumping and charging and blasting and riding and flying as much as I possibly can, so I usually didn't notice what Elizabeth was doing. Then I decided to watch her.

Elizabeth would follow me around, moving from cover to cover and chasing me whenever I got on a skyhook. But she's never checking bodies and rifling through boxes for ammo. Some if/then statement in her programming decides that since I'm about to run out of shotgun bullets, she'll toss me more. I'm almost dead, so she'll call out my name and throw me a medkit. None of these things were in the environment, waiting for one of us to find them. She just conjures them out of thin air. Maybe she's pulling them from a tear to another dimension where they have infinite shotgun bullets. I have no idea.

BioShock Infinite wants you to notice Elizabeth. It tries its hardest to keep her in frame in natural ways even when the two of you are just idly exploring Columbia. The developers said that "she'll find a way to entertain herself," but in my experience, that usually just meant she'd pick a wall I was looking at to lean against with all the practiced aloofness of a hipster trying way too hard to achieve that "just woke up" look.

The game tries so hard to keep Elizabeth near you that I'd often turn around after examining some interesting poster or sign and find Elizabeth inches from my face.

I want to reiterate: I really liked BioShock Infinite, and I really liked Elizabeth. But the ways that developer Irrational Games cut corners to make Elizabeth as likable as she is also make it really easy to see the seams in her behavior and make her a little less believable as a person.

That is, unless her constant need to get her face as unsettlingly close to my face as she can without me noticing is canon.

34 Comments

The Many (Major) Missteps of Far Cry 3

I've been having a blast with Far Cry 3, but no game is perfect and neither is this one. I already covered the game's more annoying minor issues, the ones that pop up frequently but aren't that bad, really. They don't significantly detract from the quality of the game, but they're there. You can work around them, but you can't avoid them. You deal with them. They're the kind of flaws you can love the game in spite of.

But Far Cry 3 has major issues too, and they're much harder to deal with.

These are the ones that threaten to destroy all the goodwill the game builds up by being so awesome in so many other ways. These are the ones that don't just annoy; they infuriate. These are the ones that keep it from being the best game of the year.

No New Game +

Last time, I told you that I was considering starting the game over because "there's no one left to kill." I'm not going to do that anymore. Why? Because I don't want to give up all my upgraded skills from a dozen hours of earning experience points. I don't want to give up all my upgraded gear and weapons from a dozen hours of skinning the right animals and earning enough money. I don't want all the collectables to repopulate after a dozen hours of methodically hunting each down.

I don't want to start over from scratch; I just want to start over.

This might actually be the game's biggest flaw because it's literally the only thing stopping me from playing it right now. I'm out of guys to kill but I'll be damned if I'm giving up my wingsuit.

The Co-op Missions

In theory, co-op in Far Cry 3 should be a no-brainer. Just drop a few of my buddies into my world and unleash us to do whatever dumb, demented stuff comes to mind. But that would make too much sense, wouldn't it? Instead,Far Cry 3 delivers a series of claustrophobically linear, poorly designed missions that abandon literally everything good about the single-player campaign.

If you liked all the deranged, well-written characters of the story mode, that's gone. If you liked the freedom of exploring an entire island, that's gone. If you liked using all that space to pull off crazy strategies, that's gone. If you liked the interplay between nature and humanity as rampaging animals interjected into your fights, that's gone. If you liked enemies that take a realistic amount of damage, that's gone. If you liked having a mostly glitch-free and responsive experience, that's gone.

There is nothing good about Far Cry 3's co-op. It was a complete and total waste of resources.

Competitive Multiplayer

If I were to tell you to design the most cynical, creatively bankrupt multiplayer mode possible for Far Cry 3, a game otherwise brimming with imagination, what would you come up with? A progression-based Call of Duty ripoff with customizable weapons, perks, and kill streaks? Hey, what do you know? Ubisoft did too! Coincidence!

This is less offensive than the pile of filth that is the co-op mode because at least it works, but it's no less boring. There's just nothing special about it at all and I don't know why I'm supposed to play it over any of the other dozen Call of Duty clones.

I'm going to have to talk about the story in detail now, so if you haven't beaten the game yet and don't want it spoiled, stop reading now.

The Second Half of the Game

Far Cry 3's early hours are defined by Vaas, that guy with a penchant for talking about the definition of insanity. Once he's gone, though, the game loses its magic. Hoyt, the next big bad on the roster, just can't hack it on his own and the story ends up puttering across the finish line instead of roaring. There are still a few really good moments post-Vaas, but by and large, the game gets pretty boring.

But it gets frustrating too. Even though the mechanics only get stronger the further into the game you go, the mission design gets uncharacteristically restrictive. "Here, have a scripted turret sequence," the game says dismissively. "Or I don't know, some instant-fail linear stealth missions. The kids like those, right? Instant-fail linear stealth missions?"

Not even a little bit, Far Cry 3. Not even a little bit.

Killing Vaas Too Early

I wasn't kidding about this one. Far Cry 3 lives and dies by Vaas. Michael Mando absolutely crushes it with his performance as Vaas with the kind of hard emotional swings at the drop of the hat that make a person truly scary. Every scene with Vaas is arresting and unsettling and terrifying in all the right ways. He's the kind of character that sticks with you for years, like Andrew Ryan or the G-Man.

Then the game tosses it all away halfway through. And for what? For Hoyt? Please. In most games, Hoyt would shine as a fun, dynamic villain more interesting than most, but next to Vaas, he's like a plank of wood with a face drawn on it.

I'm not even saying that I needed to have been Vaas the whole time or whatever. I just wanted more Vaas.

And that's it — between this post and the last one, that's everything I don't like about Far Cry 3. I wouldn't care enough to list it all out like this if I didn't love the game so much. It does so much right that the things it does wrong stick out that much more, and this is just a way to process it all.

Seriously, Far Cry 3 is a wonderful game. Go play it if you haven't already.

10 Comments

So I Bought A Vita

Yep. I saw this very quickly turning into a PSP situation for me, where I just kept putting it off and putting it off, waiting for it to drop in price to a comfortable level for so long that eventually I realized I'd may as well just wait for the Vita to come out.

But Sony's strategy of continually giving you Vita versions of the PS3 games you buy and extending PlayStation Plus to Vita for no extra cost is nothing short of brilliant. I didn't even realize how many Vita games I already own until recently, and that's ultimately what pushed me over the edge.

So I bit the bullet and got the Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified bundle, not because I wanted Call of Duty but because I figured I could just trade it in to GameStop and get a game I'm actually interested in.

I've been messing around with it for a few days now, and here's what I think so far:

  • I'm way too OCD for screen protectors. I spent literally an hour and a half putting this one on because there's a bubble in the top-left corner that doesn't affect anything except that it's driving me insane.
  • The Vita is a super slick device. Everything from how gorgeous the screen looks to how responsive the touch controls work is really impressive.
  • The way the Welcome Park application turns teaching you all the features of the Vita into a set of time trials is cool, but now I'm going to end up spending all my time in Welcome Park obsessing over getting my times down instead of playing actual Vita games. I will become the greatest Welcome Park player in the world.
  • It astounds me that the Facebook application is so bad when the Twitter application is so good.
  • I had fun playing some of Rayman Origins on PS3, but eventually it lost me. After playing the demo of it on Vita, it seems pretty clear that this is the place to play it. It is so goddamn good-looking.
  • Seriously, I cannot get over how awesome the screen is. I keep having to wipe my own drool from it.

  • Waking up and playing PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale without leaving my bed is great, but I'm pretty sure it means I'm never going to be able to get up and get ready for work on time again.
  • Also: in my first match online in All-Stars, I was playing against a Big Daddy and a Good Cole. Big Daddy and I were matching each other kill for kill and went into 4x Overtime, but I finally pulled ahead by a mile so he quit just before the match ended to nullify it. Seriously? Just take the loss, dude.
  • The analog sticks are pretty disappointing. They're too small and too sensitive, so I feel like there's no finesse to them. I'm finding myself naturally using the Vita's stellar D-pad whenever I can instead.
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified is an abomination. There's no story mode, just a series of missions with boring cut scenes before each. But the controls are so awkward even with two analog sticks and brain dead AI that I can't even make it past the first mission. And yet, in my first and only online match, I went 20:4 because everyone else was having more trouble than me.
  • Declassified doesn't even come with a box, presumably out of spite to make sure I can't trade it in for as much.
  • Frobisher Says is a delightfully weird WarioWare-esque palette cleanser after suffering through as muchDeclassified as I can take for one day.
  • I just can't wait for my 32GB memory card to get here. Right now I'm trying to avoid playing too many games knowing that I'll have to transfer it all over to the bigger card soon, but good lord I cannot wait to jump into Lumines: Electronic Symphony.

So far, I really, really like the Vita. I can definitely tell why people would be bored with it by now if they bought it at launch, but for me, there's so much I want to play that I can't imagine being bored with it for a very long time.

4 Comments

The Many (Minor) Missteps of Far Cry 3

Guys, I'm hooked on Far Cry 3. Seriously, somebody pull me away from this thing. I've beaten the story, cleared out all the outposts, and collected all the relics, letters, and memory cards. And now I'm considering starting it all over again because there's no one left to kill.

But when you spend this much time with a game, you really start to notice all the minor flaws. After spending dozens of hours running, swimming, gliding, spelunking, and parachuting over every inch of Rook Island, I'm starting to notice the seams.

Even great games have little niggling issues, and this one is no different. They don't detract significantly from the overall experience, but they're there nonetheless. Here are all the things that have been bugging me while playing Far Cry 3.

Constant Notifications

Every time you pick up a relic. Every time you pick up a letter. Every time you pick up a memory card. Every time you fill up your loot rucksack. Every time you get a skill point. Every time there's a new objective. Every time you harvest a new plant. Every time you skin a new animal. Every time you meet a new person. Every time you go to a new location, drive a new vehicle, or use a new weapon.

Far Cry 3 is always bugging you to read something, manage something, or spend something, and it all totally breaks the flow. I don't care about the description of a bear while it's mauling me. I don't care about the description of a hibiscus flower when I'm just trying to make a healing syringe in the middle of a firefight. And good lord, I don't care about the descriptions of any of the relics ever because they're all the same description.

There's no option to turn any of it off (yet) so for right now, you'll just have to endure all the nagging pop-ups.

Mountain Climbing

How am I even supposed to scale this? I'll tell you how: by going all the way around and finding the developer-designated pathway up. Sometimes you can finesse your way up by continually sprinting and jumping, but it feels really clunky and you might end up sliding all the way down to the bottom.

For a game that gives you easy access to cars, ATVs, jet skis, hang gliders, infinite parachutes, and eventually a badass wingsuit, it feels a little prudish that you don't just have a grappling hook or some climbing pickaxes.

Context-Sensitive Buttons

In the middle of a chaotic firefight, this can mean a swift (and frustrating) death. Sometimes, when I'm low on health and I start holding triangle, the game thinks I'm trying to switch weapons. Sometimes, it decides that I didn't actually want it to do anything at all, that I just wanted it to know I'm still here. But no, game, I'm trying to hurry up and start the long heal animation so I don't die.

It's even worse in co-op and multiplayer where you'll launch into a reload animation instead of reviving a downed teammate and end up dying yourself as you just stand there over your friend like an idiot, reloading.

Lack Of Healing Options

In Far Cry 3, you heal yourself with medical syringes you craft from specific green plants you can harvest around the island. If you don't have any syringes, you'll launch into a painful-looking animation like the one above.

Now, when I'm embroiled in a hectic shootout with a dozen guys and a tiger on a burning hilltop, I don't mind burning one of my syringes to heal quickly and get back in the game. But when I'm alone and safe and have plenty of time for a long animation, I shouldn't have to waste a syringe.

For whatever reason, the medical syringes are the only type mapped to a face button instead of to a customizable spot on the directional pad. Two spots are reserved for your camera and for rocks. If I want to, I should have the option to swap one of them out for a medical syringe, which would make healing in a pinch easier and would allow me to heal manually outside of combat.

The Frame Rate

I'm playing the PlayStation 3 version of Far Cry 3, and for as fun and engaging as it is, it's not so hot on the technical side. After you've seen how gorgeous and smooth the PC version is, it's hard to look at the console versions the same way.

I can deal with a game having a paltry presentation because it needed to simplify geometry and remove effects to maintain a smooth frame rate, but Far Cry 3 on consoles doesn't have a smooth frame rate. Mind you, it's not nearly as bad as the atrocious Assassin's Creed III, but it still holds the game back.

Far Cry 3 makes some pretty major missteps too, and I'll be covering those as well, but these minor ones are what stick with me because they're always there. It's unfortunate that the game has these little flaws here and there, but it's still a fantastic experience overall.

14 Comments

I can't even tell what Dead Space 3's monsters are anymore.

Before Dead Space came out, I loved watching the developer diaries that came out because it showed just how much thought and care was being put into it. They'd talk about how the designs for the Necromorphs told a grotesque story of pain: bodies twisting, bones breaking, skin tearing. And that story was what made them so terrifying. You could see how the transformation happened just by looking at them, and that was my favorite part.

Now let's watch the new trailer for Dead Space 3:

Okay.

Let's just ignore how tonally different it feels from Dead Space for a minute. Let's ignore how it feels claustrophobic not from tight, dangerous corridors where you're never more than a few feet from a monster viciously stalking you, but from too many people, too much dialogue, and too much story. Let's even ignore how the power dynamic has shifted from the first game's trailers that simply showed all the gruesome ways Isaac can die to all the empowering ways Isaac (and Carver) can kill.

Let's instead focus on what the hell was that?

Seriously, just look at this thing:

What is that? I mean, I guess it used to be a baby judging by the size, but what was the transformation process? Did it just get overtaken by black goo like in Spider-Man 3 and have an allergic reaction on its back? Does it feed through the top of the baby's skull now? What?

Or this:

I don't even know what I'm looking at anymore. I don't even know which direction this thing is pointing. How can I possibly be scared or grossed out by it if I can't even tell what it is? It's just some dumb mass of flesh.

And check this guy out:

Okay, this is just getting embarrassing. The guy looks like he fell out of a PS1-era Resident Evil. Is he seriously holding a pickaxe? They don't even use pickaxes anymore in Dead Space; that's what plasma cutters are for. And why are his eyes glowing? Ooooooh, scary. I'm shaking in my zero-gravity boots.

Remember in the first game when you watch the body of the Ishimura's captain get turned and you witness firsthand exactly how the Necromorphs are made? Remember all the care that was put into the opening scene of the second game where a guy gets transformed just inches from your face?

Those were stellar scenes that legitimized the Necromorph presence in that world, forgoing the typical notions of "nothing is scarier than the unknown" for a detailed look into the game's monster closet, and I loved it. The way Dead Space 3 seems to be tossing all that believability out the window in favor of visually incomprehensible beasts, crusty zombies with glowing eyes, and "human enemies [with] guns" is really disappointing to see.

I want to be excited for Dead Space 3, but everything they've shown off has inspired zero confidence in me. Here's hoping that it doesn't turn out as bad as that trailer makes it look.

32 Comments

I already like the new Dante more.

If you haven't played the new DmC: Devil May Cry demo yet, you should get on that. I just finished playing it myself and I've got to say, it is one hot slice of pie. The new Dante—who seems like one of the most universally hated redesigns of a character in recent history if Internet message boards are to be believed (and really, when aren't they?)—already appeals to me way more than the old Dante ever did.

Old Dante will always be defined for me by that ridiculous cutscene where he's eating pizza and fighting demons, flipping chairs and striking poses, all the while spouting cheesy lines like, "This party's getting crazy! Let's rock!" and "I can already tell, looks like this is going to be one hell of a party!" It reeked of trying too hard to be cool.

Is new Dante trying a little too hard to be edgy? Sure, but I'll take that over old Dante any day.

The writing is a lot subtler here and Dante has a simple, straightforward charm. He and his companion, Kat, run into danger and split up. They reunite a few minutes later.

"There you are!" Kat exclaims, relieved to see him.

"Here I am," Dante says with easy confidence.

Still, this new Dante is no stranger to cocky flamboyance, but now it's refreshing instead of being cringe-inducing. At least in this demo, it never feels forced.

Step 1: Flip them up. Step 2: Shoot them. Yep, the classic Devil May Cry experience is still intact.

It helps that the new game seems like it'll actually be fun to play, a quaint little concept that the old games never seemed to care for, preferring to revel in their unrelenting difficulty like Ninja Gaiden with skintight leather pants and a curious aversion to wearing a shirt. By the time I'd gotten through the first fight in Devil May Cry 3, I was ready to put the game down already. It was exhausting.

DmC lets you ramp the difficulty up to sadomasochistic levels if you're into that kind of thing, but it seems more concerned in just making sure you're having a good time. It smartly uses its loading screens to demonstrate the kind of crazy, super long combo you can get yourself into if you can manage to wrap your head around everything Dante can do.

He's got you covered if you're just looking to flip guys into the air and shoot them with two pistols, but the real fun lies in his new angel and devil attacks. Hold L2 for the angel mode and Dante will pull out a scythe great for quick, stylish combos, or R2 for his devil mode for a flaming axe all about big swings and heavy damage. Sometimes enemies will require one or the other, but most of the time, you're free to go with whatever strikes your fancy. And for me, that meant carving enemies with my spinning scythe high above the ground. You know, like an angel.

Dante can also use his angel and devil modes to launch himself toward an enemy or pull it to him, respectively. It's a cool carryover from Devil May Cry 4 that makes it really easy to keep moving through the fight and keep the pace up. Be aggressive enough and you'll be able to activate Devil Trigger mode that brings Dante back to his white-haired, red-jacketed roots and grinds the world around him to a standstill.

But the coolest part of the demo is undoubtedly Limbo City. It's the city itself more than anything that wants Dante dead, reshaping itself at will to break him, bury him, kill him.

As Dante passes through an alleyway, buildings desperate to crush him grate together violently. The word "FALL" scrawls onto a cobblestone road as it breaks apart beneath Dante's feet and stretches impossibly, ripping a bellowing chasm below. The world shifts angrily at Dante's presence, a howling whisper piercing, "KILL DANTE."

It's the kind of reality-bending fantasy I've wanted to see in games for a long time, executed marvelously here.

The old guard Devil May Cry fans can lament the death of their dear Dante all they want. I couldn't be more happy with the change.

52 Comments

Assassin's Creed III is a buggy, unfocused, hyper-political mess.

Assassin's Creed III is the most dramatic overhaul in the series. It proudly features a new engine with streamlined controls, revamped combat, and reworked animations, among a host of other changes. It introduces a groundbreaking new setting with unflinching, unromanticized depictions of history. It promises to finally deliver on Desmond's potential and end his part in the overarching storyline.

Assassin's Creed III is also a total disaster from start to finish.

Many of the game's problems are subjective, just matters of personal taste. But many are not, as evidenced by the unbelievable notes for the game's Thanksgiving patch. Fixes range from "let's try and stop players from falling through the map" to "this mission is unreasonably hard. Let's do something about that." Plain and simple, Ubisoft released an unfinished game, and not even the substantial day-one patch could fix it all.

I encountered floating objects, disappearing civilians, scripting errors, broken AI routines, a grinding framerate, and total system hard locks as I trudged through the game. Just watch as my Assassin recruit fails to kill two random guards for the fourth time:



It is a broken game, yet surprisingly enough, that's not even its biggest failure.

The game stumbles right from the start with a video that summarizes all the previous games and makes a strong case for why there's no reason for us to play as any more of Desmond's ancestors... just moments before Desmond literally says, "ah, not again," faints, and enters the memories of yet another ancestor. At best, it's just one more cheap speed bump on a road littered with cheap speed bumps that prevent the main plot from moving forward, and weak justification for the game's very existence at worst.

More frustrating than that, though, is how none of the characters in the present ever address how Desmond murdered Lucy at the end of Brotherhood until a couple of easily skippable, throwaway lines many hours into the game. Apparently, nothing you learned in Revelations was relevant at all to the main plot except its $10 "Lost Archive" downloadable content, which is pretty vital stuff if you played through Brotherhood and wanted to know how Lucy's death would be handled.

Similarly, the game barely introduces Desmond's father, the current leader of the Assassins, or Daniel Cross, a Templar sleeper agent who murdered the previous Assassin leader and is responsible for the near-complete destruction of the Assassin Order, neither of whom have been in previous games. Put it this way: if you don't know what "The Great Purge" is, you might want to do some homework before jumping into Assassin's Creed III to really get the most out of it. For all the game does to prepare players new to the series, it does a terrible job preparing veteran players.

From there, it's about six hours before you don the familiar Assassin hood and you're playing the game you probably assumed you'd be playing right from the start. There's an interesting twist early on that almost completely justifies how boring the introductory hours of the game are, but it's also an unearned twist that the game achieves by outright lying to the player during one mission.

I beat Assassin's Creed III in a little over 12 hours, and for the first six hours, I was being tossed from one tutorial to the next. Imagine that: six hours of tutorials. That's half the game. That's an entire Call of Duty campaign. That's The Dark Knight, twice.

This is a series in desperate need of focus. There's padding everywhere. It's an incredibly bloated experience full of all sorts of story beats and gameplay mechanics and mundane missions that simply aren't needed, would be laughed at in any other medium, and add nothing to core concept of assassinating people.

For instance, you can build up your "homestead" by hiring different kinds of artisans, like a farmer, a lumberer, and a blacksmith, and level up each by doing favors for them. You can craft recipes for items that you trade through caravans to get more materials for crafting. You can engage in naval warfare to unlock new trade routes to make trading more profitable. You can hunt animals and collect their pelts to use for crafting and trading. These are whole systems that I avoided completely (with the exception of naval warfare, but only because those missions were marked by Templar icons, so I thought I was advancing the plot in some way instead of just wasting my time) because they have nothing to do with assassinating people.

I guess that's to be expected when you consider that the protagonist, Ratonhnhaké:ton, isn't even an Assassin. Sure, he'll eventually put on the hood and look the part, but he is not an Assassin. He doesn't believe in the cause or care about the Order. He barely cares about fighting Templars. Really, all he wants is to protect his village from all the encroaching white people.

And that's where the game gets really bad: with its haphazard, factually inaccurate, extremely judgmental depiction of history. When Ubisoft Montreal said that Assassin's Creed III is not a pro-America game, they weren't kidding. On a surface level, it absolutely is. You'll predominantly be killing British soldiers, working with colonists, and replacing British flags with American ones. But actually, there's a much deeper undercurrent of thinly veiled hatred toward America lurking just below the surface that's almost impossible to avoid.



Ratonhnhaké:ton is a fiercely self-righteous idealist through and through, but ultimately nothing more than a conduit meant to channel Ubisoft Montreal's disgust at America's history with slavery. The game comes back again and again to the hypocrisy of the colonists fighting for freedom while simultaneously engaging in slave trading. The game pathetically trots out historical figures like Samuel Adams to try to defend it half-heartedly with weak rationalizations, but eventually drops all pretense with a lengthy conversation between Desmond and his British ally, Shaun, where Shaun lambasts America's founding fathers and follows it up with an in-game email subtly titled "American Politics." I'm sure you can guess the content of that email.

Did you know that the Mohawk tribe to which Ratonhnhaké:ton belongs to in the game also engaged in slavery? You probably wouldn't if you trusted Assassin's Creed III's skewed version of history where all white people were bad and all Native American people were good. Then again, I don't know why anyone would trust a game that literally renames its protagonist "Connor" because his actual name is too hard to pronounce to not be racist itself. Regardless, slavery was an accepted practice at the time exercised by just about everyone and it doesn't make sense to retroactively judge it using moral standards of today.

There are plenty of other factual inaccuracies, like uniforms and flags being used before they would have been created or grossly modified versions of well-documented historical events. It all culminates in a mission that is both ridiculous and annoying where Ratonhnhaké:ton is literally on the horse with Paul Revere as he makes his famous Midnight Ride, tasking you with steering the horse in whichever direction Revere yells in your ear to go. Again, subtlety is not this game's strong suit.

Imagine that: six hours of tutorials. That's half the game. That's an entire Call of Duty campaign.

So yeah, on top of everything else, the game's not much fun, either. The controls have been simplified to the point that it feels like you have no real control over the character, which is the opposite direction the series has needed to go for a long time. It tries so hard to let you hold one button and go anywhere that it inevitably ends up being extremely clunky and constantly misinterprets your inputs. You'll scramble up the side of a tree or cling to the wall of a tight alleyway in the middle of a chase and lose your target. The game needed to segregate the running and climbing commands to different buttons, but instead, it interlocked them tighter than ever.

Combat is the same way. Ratonhnhaké:ton is a vicious fighter, and he doesn't really need your help to do it. There are tons of really cool, really brutal animations that want nothing more than for you to sit back, stop pressing buttons, and appreciate them like a museum piece. This is a game that resents player input.

But I can't think of a much better example to demonstrate how backward some of the game's systems are than to just show off how the fast travel works:



Assassin's Creed III is absolutely baffling in how poor the fundamental design can be.

After recently coming off of Dishonored, a game that encourages players to have a unique approach to each mission and gives them the tools and space to do so, Assassin's Creed III felt claustrophobic. There's nothing inherently wrong with taking a linear approach to mission design, but the missions here just aren't fun. Very few of them even involve assassinating a high-profile target, more often opting to have you eavesdrop on moving targets, perform busywork for other characters, or directly intervene in a historical event in whatever way makes the least amount of sense, like having Ratonhnhaké:ton command colonial troops in battle.

Ratonhnhaké:ton's story is rarely exciting, so I jumped at any opportunity to play as Desmond instead and advance the main plot. But even Desmond is a bust in this game.

Since the first Assassin's Creed, there's been an implied promise that, at some point, you'll play as Desmond in modern times, roaming a modern city, and assassinating modern Templars. And given that Ubisoft explicitly said that "you're going to see a lot of Desmond. More so than in any past game," I had assumed that meant that they were finally making good on that promise. Not so. Desmond gets a few missions, but only one of them is the least bit interesting, all of them are poorly executed, and his story wraps up in such a rushed, unsatisfying way that I could barely believe that the credits were already rolling.

If you do make it that far in the game, though, make sure to stick around for the heavy-handed epilogue after the credits so Ubisoft Montreal can bash you over the head one last time with its political agenda.

Assassin's Creed III is the weakest game in the series yet and a clear sign that it's time to give the franchise a break and refocus before it becomes completely irrelevant. There will be an Assassin's Creed game next year, but there shouldn't be.

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Flawed, But A Good Start

The Wiki features are nice, for example, but are still very incomplete. I tried to add the characters for Penny Arcade Adventures, but I wasn't able to because those characters are not already in the Giant Bomb character database, and there didn't seem to be a way to add them right there. I had to go all the way out to the main character database to add them, then I guess now I'll have to wait until the moderators accept them to be able to then add them to the PAA page.

Another thing, and this is more pressing I think, is that the site is just so slow. The only reason I'm posting this blog is because I'm still waiting for the upload images thing to let me browse my images, but the gray loading bar is still going.

Just stuff like that shows that the site is still obviously very new, but for only being up fully for a little while, it's pretty damn nice looking.

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