Some Thoughts On The Witness

Jonathan Blow's heavily anticipated second release is in some ways game design at its most pure, but that's not only a good thing. The philosophy at work here is a bit like putting Ockham's razor in the hands of Jack the Ripper; the result being a coldly logical bloodbath in which bloated design and directionless feature creep meet their ugly demise while leaving a bitter metallic taste in your mouth. Killing your darlings might be a necessary evil in the ruthless pursuit of perfection, but it still counts as murder.

Progress in The Witness is solely determined by the player's painstaking accumulation of knowledge about the rules and mechanics of the game world itself. It completely does away with all of the comforting mechanical and mental scaffolding of most modern games; there is no inventory to manage, no heavily scripted tutorials to learn from, no narrative progression in the traditional sense, no XP rewards to feed your inner dopamine troll with - in short, nothing that distracts from the game's many and surprisingly varied cerebral challenges.

While this laser-sharp focus on puzzle solving does give the player some much-needed room to breathe, reflect and take in the sights, I find the experience of exploring the game world to be equal parts relaxation and existential dread. The small but impossibly dense island on which The Witness takes place is overflowing with secrets, and I traverse its deceptively postcard-pretty areas with the sinking, paranoia-inducing feeling that absolutely everything on display is part of the larger puzzle. At first glance, it may seem that Jonathan Blow and his team have crafted an orderly, serene and intelligently designed environment; something akin to the ideal image of a Medieval walled garden. On closer inspection, however, the torturous layout of the place begins to resemble a satanic mill, forever shrouding your mind in a thick black smog of willful obfuscation.

It's clear that Jonathan Blow doesn't suffer fools and degenerated Skinner Box junkies like me lightly, as The Witness makes hard-earned discovery the core feature of its gameplay loop no matter the cost. The risk of less patient players lazily brute-forcing puzzles is minimized by the use of incredibly convoluted puzzle solutions - to the point that figuring out the complex rules is often far easier than grasping how to actually solve it once you already know roughly what to do - and also a time-consuming reset-at-failure mechanic regularly escorting the player back to square one. While I will readily admit that my pathetically slow progress (barely 230 finished panels after more than 20 hours with the game) did not overshadow the pleasure of figuring out how some of the more obscure puzzles worked, in the long run there is just no room in my life for such a relentlessly demanding game.

This is all a bit of a shame, because I've heard some intriguing things about the supposed "message" of The Witness, and would have really appreciated being able to dig deeper into the apparently rather problematic world view it seems designed to convey. As it stands, I'll have to be content with respecting the game from a distance. I hear the new Doom might be more up my alley...


Quick Thoughts on Burial at Sea

After having finished Bioshock Infinite shortly after it came out in 2013 I was definitely not in the mood for more of the same and didn't play the two DLC packs Burial at Sea at the time of their respective releases. Infinite was a huge disappoinment to me not only because of its stagnant gameplay mechanics but also because it casually dismissed all of the story's fascinating real world themes - structural racism, American exceptionalism, the nature of utopia, socialist uprisings etc. - and instead indulged in the most inward-looking, pretentiously metaphysical sci-fi nonsense I've ever seen in a video game (the Lutece twins were freakin' awesome, though). By the time "Booker" looked too deep into the baptismal font I was sick and tired of Ken Levine's storytelling, and when Episode 1 got lackluster reviews I stopped paying attention altogether (even though I'd purchased the Season Pass and thus would get the DLC whether I wanted to or not).

However, after scrolling through a screenshots thread over at Rock Paper Shotgun a few days ago and seeing some nice-looking environments from Burial at Sea Episode 1, I decided to finally check out the downloadable content. After having played through both episodes, I can at least say that they'd be worth €15 as a pack (however, at non-sale prices they are currently sold separately at €14,99 each on Steam, which is a bit much).

Episode 1 starts out as an entertaining film noir pastische before moving on to some familiar Bioshock-style FPS action and exploration which works rather well (apart from an annoying scarcity of checkpoints). Episode 2 is both longer and more experimental, with a particular emphasis on basic but functional stealth mechanics (!), and sneaking around in the shadows while listening to the eery taunts of Splicers proved to be a more immersive and appropriately unsettling experience than I had anticipated. EP2's rather ambitious storyline explores some surprisingly tangible connections between Rapture and Columbia only hinted at in the main campaign, and as far as fan service goes there are quite a few returning characters from the original Bioshock. Also, playing as Elisabeth instead of Booker in Episode 2 has the added bonus of giving center stage to excellent voice actor Courtnee Draper instead of the dependable but ubiquitous Troy Baker.

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Quick Thoughts on Metal Gear Solid

During 8 long years between 1994-2002 I only played PC games, and thus missed out on a lot of important console-oriented series. One of the biggest missing pieces in my gaming education has been Konami's Metal Gear Solid, but in 2012 I finally started exploring the byzantine world of Hideo Kojima by finishing MGS1-2 for the first time that year (I remember being thoroughly impressed by MGS1 but less enthusiastic about the sequel). In late 2014 I continued with MGS3 but stopped halfway and only resumed and finished the playthrough earlier this summer (watching Metal Gear Scanlon helped me regain enough focus and motivation to power through the last few bosses). After that I swiftly moved on to MGS4 and yesterday I also finished Peace Walker, which means that it was now time to move on to the latest release in the series, Ground Zeroes (and yes, I have pre-ordered the PC version of MGS5).

The gameplay of MGS1-3 frustrated me a lot and the otherwise innovative Peace Walker included some awfully punishing boss fights. But even when the poorly explained mechanics, clunky controls and unnecessarily impenetrable storylines conspired to deplete my patience once and for all, I was always able to appreciate how Kojima's breadth of interests and obsessive attention to detail were reflected in the games. The politics of nuclear proliferation, Cold War deterrance theory, the history of American and Japanese genre films, experimental military hardware from the 1960s onwards and even postmodern reflections on the illusion of personal identity are just some of the topics you find yourself immersed in while playing through the MGS series. For all his obvious flaws when it comes to constructing plots that make even a little bit sense, Kojima's vision of video games as an entertainment medium within which to discuss all sorts of issues not directly related to killing bad guys and finding power-ups is certainly a laudable one.

And quite apart from its place in the sprawling MGS multiverse, Kojima Productions's swansong The Phantom Pain looks like it could be one of the most ambitious and exciting open world games yet (and that's no mean feat in a year that's already given us CD Projekt RED's highly impressive The Witcher 3). The fully modernized third-person controls and versatile Fox Engine introduced in Ground Zeroes combined with the in-depth base building of Peace Walker is more than enough to have me impatiently awaiting MGS5's September release...


Quick Thoughts on Everybody's Gone to the Rapture

The indie developer behind Dear Esther, The Chinese Room, has now released a new atmospheric adventure game/"walking simulator" called Everybody's Gone to the Rapture. Despite its sci-fi elements and many intentionally cryptic audio logs to go through, EGR is fundamentally a much less abstract and conceptual story than Dear Esther and I'm not sure what I think about that.

The previous game's artful fusion of physical and emotional landscapes was achieved through a dense, highly literate script which could often come off as pretentious and vague for the sake of being vague. Interestingly enough, EGR takes the exact opposite approach by building atmosphere and mood through the uncanny disconnect between the game's idyllic environments and its outlandish story events. Esther's morose narrator seemingly explored the sad but fascinating history of a windswept Hebridean island while only occasionally hinting at the actual storyline of the game. By contrast, EGR grounds its central mystery in a much clearer structure and with more straightforward (even melodramatic) characterizations.

Everybody's Gone to the Rapture provides a more gripping and thrilling narrative experience, but the price it pays for its relative concreteness and immediacy is that it risks slipping into sheer sentimentality and kitsch. Powered by CryEngine, the impressively rendered English countryside is one of the game's biggest assets but also proves to be its greatest vulnerability, since the sedate conformity of a provincial place like Yaughton lends itself more naturally to mundane soap operas than it does to grand sci-fi adventures with heavy existential themes.


Her Story: FMV Done Right

For those of us who believe in the still largely untapped potential of Full Motion Video, the release of Sam Barlow's intricate and fascinating new adventure game "Her Story" is great news indeed. The unique premise of the game is that the player character is given access to a database of fragmented old police recordings originating from a murder investigation. By watching the videos (which have been conveniently transcribed/subtitled as well as "tagged" in the database), new keywords naturally present themselves and it becomes possibly to delve ever deeper into the database and discover as many clips as possible. The overarching objective is of course to piece together what actually happened, while being constantly on the lookout for discrepancies in the testimony which might shed some light on whether the suspect (intelligently played by actress Viva Seifert) is lying or not.

Even on the surface level this is a clever and innovative approach to the whodunnit adventure, but Barlow doesn't stop there. Partly a commentary on our media-fuelled voyeuristic fascination with spectacular court cases, "Her Story" also turns the player's inquisitive gaze back on itself and explores (among other things) our tendency to squeeze an often messy reality into neat little narrative constructs and reduce real people to mere heroes and villains.

Developer interview with Rock Paper Shotgun:

Offical website:

Steam page:


The infinite monkey theorem

"The infinite monkey theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare." (Wikipedia)

That's a pretty good description of how I play video games; especially ones that ideally would require some kind of actual talent (such as fighting games). I have no real gamer skills, but when you're as stubborn as I can be it sort of doesn't matter. Sooner or later, those random fumbling inputs *will* translate into victory. Maths for the win!


The Crying Game

It's not often that I get to feel a sense of pride (however misplaced) over my own stubbornness and rigid mindset, but methinks this compilation video of miserably failed attempts at clearing a single wave of enemies in Splinter Cell: Blacklist on Realistic difficulty using only a stun gun turned out rather nicely. Any sensible person would probably have used various gadgets - not to mention some, eh, actual stealth tactics - while still keeping the whole thing strictly non-lethal, but I restricted myself to the stun gun with its infuriating projectile arc and overall lack of speed. I eventually made it through wave 1-5 (out of 20 in this Horde Mode-inspired side mission) and was thus able to "cash out" and save my progress, but the process required almost 3 hours of laborious trial-and-error. The worst thing about it? I kinda liked it...


Some thoughts on Blacklist, The Bureau and Saints Row IV

By virtue of being a Tom Clancy spin-off, Splinter Cell as a stealth series has for a long time been balancing precariously on the edge between the amoral universe of global espionage one the one hand and the nationalist echo chamber of something like Call of Duty on the other. 2010's silly but effective Splinter Cell: Conviction temporarily ditched the whole government agent framework in favor of a bombastic anti-hero epic with a more emotional core to the proceedings, but in Blacklist we are back to defending America in an official capacity again. Sam Fisher's return to the fold is especially noteworthy since a Mass Effect-style mission hub has been introduced which allows the deadly escape artist formerly voiced by Michael Ironside to purchase upgrades, take on optional missions, chat with crew members etc.

The actual gameplay is supposed to allow for both a purist stealth experience and a more action-heavy (or at least lethal) approach depending on the player's preferences and tactical assessments, but personally I'm more interested in whether Blacklist can deliver memorable environments and situations to warrant the typically slow pace. Hitman: Absolution was breathtakingly good at this, and I somehow doubt that the new Splinter Cell can top IO's underrated gem in that department given the more generic military operations which the subject matter seems to demand. So far I've mostly been focusing on the short but sweet side missions, and the contrived but effective mechanic of rewarding good performance with in-game cash (which is used for upgrades and character customization between assignments) definitely serves as an important incentive to handle every mission as flawlessly as possible. Sure, I do curse at the screen like a drunken sailor when things go horribly wrong ("brute stealth" would be an appropriate term for my clumsy trial-and-error approach to stealth), but finally getting to that wonderful moment when I know the level by heart and can nail a more or less flawless Ghost score is an immensely satisfying experience.

The XCOM strategy reboot from Firaxis is a game I respect more than I like. It was a slick, thoughtfully streamlined reimagining of the Jullian Gollop classic alright, but I ultimately found the new formula too predictable and linear and never bothered playing through the entirety of the campaign. However, the somewhat ironic side effect of Enemy Unknown's generally positive reception is that the troubled tactical XCOM shooter from 2K Marin lost some of its potential to enrage the throngs of entitled conservative miscreants we refer collectively to as the "gaming community". With Firaxis already having delivered (in many people's opinions) a "true" reboot of the franchise, the Mariners were in a slightly better position to just go off in whatever direction they chose to. Sadly, they seemed unable to decide on a path altogether, and for a long time it wasn't even clear whether the game was still in development or not.

Now The Bureau: XCOM Declassified has finally materialized (the same week as Deep Silver put out Saints Row IV and Ubisoft unleashed Splinter Cell: Blacklist, which can't be good for 2K). Judging by the first few missions it appears to be a decent squad-based shooter with a functional Mass Effect-style tactical element and some upgrades and optional side missions thrown in for good measure. The 1960s art design is a nice touch but seems rather inconsequential in the large scheme of things, and I already get the feeling that The Bureau will never be able to fully justify its own existence (let alone offer a compelling argument for why it's even an XCOM game to begin with). What I have noticed so far is that the game can be rather challenging on the higher difficulty settings since the combination of an initially limited array of combat abilities, incompetent squad AI and a survival horror-esque lack of ammo makes for a very unforgiving experience. I wouldn't be surprised if a maxed-out party with better gear leads to significant shifts in the balance of power later on, though.

Saints Row III was a decidedly average open world game with rudimentary shooting mechanics, boring side activities and a depressingly generic urban setting but the sharp writing and anarchic humor charmed a lot of people (myself partially included) and now the inevitable follow-up has arrived. This could probably just as well have been called "Saints Row 3.5" since most of the major features of the last entry in the series are back. Even though the game is ostensibly set in a virtual reality created by evil alien overlords (!), it all both looks, sounds and feels eerily familiar for those of us who played SR3. The extravagant, aptly named "superpowers" are a welcome Crackdown-inspired addition to the formula but the character upgrades, customization and mission structure are all things we have seen before. As for the script, it has so far been dominated by spoofs of Matrix, Independence Day and Armageddon (which at this point are old enough movies that a not insignificant part of the target audience might not even have seen them).

Perversely enough, I found Saints Row 3 to be most effective whenever it stopped trying so hard to be absolutely insane and instead focused on telling a surprisingly affecting (indeed, almost Houserian) story of friendship and loyalty between the gang members, and it remains to be seen if SR4 can match these high points. If not, I'm at least hoping that the game might include one or two moments which are as funny as the mission with the tiger in SR3 (which would be no mean feat, either).

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Bullet the Blue Sky: Thoughts on Bioshock Infinite [SPOILERS]

Note: While I don't normally believe in "spoilers", Bioshock Infinite is intentionally designed as a riddle wrapped up in an enigma so I guess it's only fair to say that some (relatively minor) story details will be "spoiled" in this article.

Party Like It's 1912

Just like the rest of the known universe I was anxiously awaiting the release of Irrational's new shooter Bioshock Infinite earlier this week. While the original Bioshock could never match System Shock 2's finely tuned mechanics - and the reuse of specific plot twists was jarring to say the least - the former was still a confident and mature game in its own right which wrestled bravely with political philosophy and provided clever meta-commentary on gaming itself. Despite the lack of RPG components and clumsy shooter controls, Irrational's 2007 shooter raised the bar considerably when it comes to world building and narrative sophistication in games.

After having played through Infinite, it's clear that Ken Levine and his hard-working minions at least got one of those things right for the sequel as well. To an even greater extent than the original Bioshock, Infinite's true appeal comes from the often incredible level design (arguably far more impressive than anything a technically more advanced title such as Crysis 3 has to offer). While Irrational's multi-platform release was clearly designed with currentgen consoles in mind, the gleaming facades of this Belle Epoque utopia simply look amazing (and the increased resolution when playing on a PC couldn't be more welcome). Infinite keeps throwing stunning vistas at the player throughout the 10+ hour campaign and you can take almost any random piece of in-game footage, print it out and frame it on a wall for non-gamer friends and relatives to gawk at.

Still in Kansas, Dorothy

In the gameplay departement, however, things are decidedly more mundane. Infinite's combat is decent but neither as satisfying as the best shooters out there nor as original as the very similar system used in its predecessor(s). The various rifles, shotguns and RPGs in Booker's arsenal certainly get the job done - not to mention make a pleasing amount of noise when fired - but the gunplay ultimately lacks the tactile precision of a Halo or a Battlefield. The Vigors are refined plasmids and that's nice and all but not the cool new thing that the plasmids were in Bioshock 1 half a decade ago. I also found the recommended Hard difficulty to be annoying because of enemies suffering from a bad case of BSS (Bullet Sponge Syndrome), frequent ammo shortages and some problems with getting a good overview of the action. The environments you fight in are quite large and it can be challenging to see who exactly is firing at you from what position, and I almost found myself wishing for a third-person cover system or something similar. I rarely used the sniper rifle, though, and it's not inconceivable that methodically picking guys off from a distance would have been preferrable to charging in guns/vigors blazing. The sky-hook is brilliant, but mostly because it showcases the incredibly expansive level design and really brings home the fact that in constructing Columbia Irrational cut no corners even where it would have been more than reasonable to do so.

Even outside of combat there are few meaningful innovations to the FPS formula in Irrational's latest title, and it's difficult to escape the feeling that some conventional solutions have seen better days. In particular, the heavy (if theoretically optional) emphasis on methodically searching the environment for stuff (ammo, cash and other resources) is getting really old by now. Even though it stimulates our innate foraging instinct, the mundane act of distinguishing interactive objects from non-interactive objects was always a peculiar art form which (at least in its current version) should have died out after the early point & click adventures. Apart from being a clumsy and superficial way of trying to immerse the player in the world, my own intermittent OCD tendencies tend to distract me from the experience when there's an ever-present risk of missing some of these often superfluous or sometimes even meaningless collectibles. This was a problem in Tomb Raider as well, which got the traversal mechanics just right but sadly confused the joy of exploration with the pursuit of property. And those audio logs which were clever in 2001 and acceptable if slightly artifical in 2007 have by now become lazy and almost comically contrived; to the point that they arguably do more to highlight the genre's long-established lack of meaningful interaction with the world than involve you in the story and characters. In short, I think it's time to start demanding that all seriously story-oriented FPS try harder to escape the confines of corridor shooters and embrace interactivity in a more meaningful way.

Infinite's one supposed innovation is the character of Elizabeth, who turns out to be a decent enough sidekick (unfortunate damsel-in-distress tendencies notwithstanding) and a lot of tireless scripting and sculpting has clearly gone into producing all the optional little activities and idle animations she's up to when there's nothing better to do. In stark contrast to many reviewers, however, I never once felt that her behavior approximated a real person to a significantly greater degree than similar NPCs in other games. To accomplish such wonders would have required an inordinate amount of additional content and advanced AI routines to ensure that Elizabeth reacts naturally to Booker's every move and takes initiatives at exactly the right time etc. At least with the technology we have today, that kind of realism isn't remotely feasible (and perhaps not even desirable), and I mention this only because the developers have boasted about their accomplishments in this regard. It's a job well done, for sure, but in the end it didn't amount to quite as much as Irrational claimed it would.

Tear me a new one

The story starts out promising but about halfway through it sadly degenerates into a convoluted science fiction mess - far worse than Mass Effect 3's ending as far as I'm concerned - and fails to resonate on an emotional level despite all the hard work that went into creating a bond between the player and Elizabeth. Without going into specific narrative twists and turns - not because I'm worried about spoilers or too puzzled by the events in question but because I simply couldn't care less about them - suffice it to say that the plot ultimately hinges on various complicated theoretical concepts which are far removed from our everyday experience. I really appreciate just how openly Bioshock Infinite acknowledges that everything is not what it first appears to be, but in the end the story's increasing emphasis on the truth behind the game's manifest image comes off as misguided. As the writing and Booker/Elizabeth's quest gets increasingly esoteric the story stops being about the city of Columbia with its seductive but ultimately despicable ideology and disgusting power dynamics. And in a game that's ultimately going to be remembered for its impeccable art design and the first hour's haunting yet resplendent representation of American fascism, that's just inexcusable.

In the discordant heap of separate time lines and isolated vignettes that results from Levine's loose interpretation of "plot", many intriguing possibilities are left unexplored and some really questionable narrative decisions are made. For example, I think it would have been much more awesome - yet still disturbing and ambiguous in all the right ways - to have the player be truly involved in (and not just briefly crossing paths with) the bloody Vox Populi uprising; taking over street after street from the Founder militia as Comstock's ideological infrastructure gradually breaks down and the once-ruling class suffers at the hands of the rebels (there's of course some of that in the game, but it's presented in a fragmented and detached manner). There would have been ample opportunity to question the degrading violence inherent in Daisy Fitzroy's glorious revolution while at the same time painting a much less one-dimensional picture of the rebel leadership. Ken Levine makes a very unconvincing case for some kind of sad moral equivalence between the two opposing leaders, and has been pointed out by John Teti among others there's a Rockstar-like "Nihilism Lite" at work here which frankly feels like a cop-out and a cowardly refusal to take a definitive stand on the issues. After all, Fitzroy's Voice of the People pamphlet supposedly calls for some worthy, distinctly democratic political reforms and does not appear to be a twisted mirror image of Comstock's Words of the Prophet with its Christian triumphalism and white supremacist creed. Politicians of every persuasion and perversion do indeed try to sell us a lot of bullshit, but to reduce it all to Machiavellian rhetoric used to disguise naked self-interest (with a bit of raving lunacy thrown in for good measure) is reductionist in the extreme. In the end it does matter a great deal whether what you're peddling is institutionalized racism or worker's rights; and I for one refuse to believe that the relationship between ideology and behavior is as tenuous as Levine seems to suggest.

Last Words

Artistically speaking, Bioshock Infinite is probably the best-looking game ever made and as such deserves to be experienced by all fans of immersive action games. It's very hard not to be impressed by what Infinite does right, and it's only because the game is such a big deal in the industry this year (both in terms of development costs, marketing budget and the overall level of hype) that it's really fair to criticize it for not going further and achieving more.

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A Confident Epic: Some Thoughts on Assassin's Creed III

Since the Xbox 360/PS3 release of Assassin's Creed III a few weeks ago there's been sort of a backlash against Ubisoft's latest open world action adventure, and by now the conventional wisdom seems to be that AC3 is somewhat of a disappointment and possibly even the worst game in the series (if only by a little). I have always had a love-hate relationship with Assassin's Creed - more of the latter than the former, to be honest - and playing through AC3's campaign in the console version I definitely had many of the same issues with the game's restrictive, dull level design and superfluous side activities as a lot of other players have struggled with. However, there were also parts of the epic if uneven storyline as well as the detailed, sprawling game world which truly impressed me, and it would be a shame if those strengths were ultimately overshadowed by the comparatively lukewarm reaction (i.e. by the insane standards of much-anticipated AAA releases) to the game as a whole.

In particular, Haytham Kenway is one of the best-written and most memorable acted anti-heroes I've ever encountered in a video game, and Adrian Hough deserves a medal or something for the bone-chilling voice work which brings this fascinating character alive. For narrative purposes his motives and behavior becomes more distasteful and cartoonish as the story moves on, but at its best the writing portrays Kenway as a mysterious, complex and multifaceted personality with an uncompromising and provocative but still uncannily ethical (or at least principled) vision of man's place in the world. Throughout the Assassin's Creed series there's always been this annoying, unconvincing vagueness about the supposed central philosophical division between Templars and Assassins (for example, what do the terms "freedom" and "tyranny" being thrown around by the good guys really mean in this context?), and even if AC3 doesn't exactly resolve this issue it becomes a lot more manageable due to the clear ideological presence of Kenyway. At least to me, the snarky and scheming Brit resembles some spirited caricature of a Straussian neo-conservative more than he does a stereotypical Manichean video game bad guy...and that's definitely a step in the right direction (not to mention curiously seductive to people like me who occasionally exhibit small-c conservative and elitist tendencies). Indeed, even though there have been attempts to blur the moral lines between Templars and Assassins before it's only with the introduction of Kenway that I truly felt a desire to abandon the romantic idealist fools and join the Devil's party for the good of mankind.

What saddens me the most about the AC3 bashing is that so much vitriol has been directed at the game's deliberately paced prologue, which takes about five hours to complete before the player gets to control the grown-up main protagonist Connor and do all the hunting and assassination stuff being advertised in Ubisoft's pre-release trailer campaign. While the tutorial sections which constitute the actual gameplay parts of the introduction do grow tiresome over time, I think Ubisoft should be applauded for their painstaking efforts to set the scene for the upcoming Templar/Assassin struggle and make very significant narrative investments for the story's second and third acts. In a MTV-primed media world which have made attention deficit disorder freaks of us all, there's something refreshing and bold about a game developer which insists that, yes, you're going to have to invest some time and effort and get to know the world and its characters since doing so will make you invested and immersed in a way that's simply not possible with, say, a mere half hour of semi-interactive intros. Furthermore, the game's prologue is arguably more focused and compelling than the entire rest of the game, which - with the exception of a hilarious Kenway-oriented "buddy film" section about two thirds in seems too preoccupied with retconning the American revolutionary war by inserting Connor at every historically important moment to bother telling a compelling, coherent and seamlessly integrated story.

That being said, once AC3 opens up it does offer what's arguably the most enjoyable game world to explore since Skyrim (although I have a feeling the upcoming, warmly received Far Cry 3 might soon steal the show in that regard), and the bar has definitely been raised as far as depicting interesting non-urban areas to roam around in. Too bad, then, that the actual main missions are so rigidly constructed and infuriatingly unforgiving and the combat remains as dumbed-down as it is meticulously animated. On a purely analytical level I do agree with the majority opinion that Brotherhood is the best AC game thus far in terms of game mechanics and overall structure, but from a personal perspective I simply had more fun playing the original Assassin's Creed (which, despite its flaws, was at least fresh and innovative for its time) and the latest problematic yet staggeringly ambitious installment in the series.