Red Alert

No, not the game. I don’t know anything about Red Alert the game. I’m talking about Final Fantasy XIV, A Realm Reborn. It’s a relic of the past: A new subscription-based MMO. Although it’s apparently been out since 2010, it’s just that they recently re-released a version that actually works and that people might actually want to play.

Anyroad, it’s cheap so I got it and have been playing it, and it’s actually kind of fun and not terrible and most importantly, not boring. It’s extremely Asian in flavor, though, so you have to get past that vaguely unsettling over-emphasis on cherubic youth. Everyone in the game is either a child, a perfect semi-androgynous beauty, or a hideous monster.

This is the first Final Fantasy game I’ve ever played, believe it or not.

Bored with Everything

After I moved into a new house, I instantly became bored with all computer games. I still load up Assassin’s Creed III now and then, but I can only get through a mission or two before getting bored. I also tried to play Europa Universalis IV for a while, but I just can’t get into all the details of a Colonial Europe Simulator. Which is a shame because I think the game map looks very pretty.

Grand Theft Auto V is out … for consoles only. I hear great things about it and I could unpack my PS3 and play it, but I do not have a single HDMI monitor or television in the house right now.

Assassin's Creed III

I started Assassin’s Creed III unsure of what to expect. I had a general feeling that AC3 had not been well-received, but other than that I knew little about it, except that it was a departure from the previous versions.

First thing’s first: The game’s new engine looks beautiful. I mean, drop-dead gorgeous. I’ve always thought Assassin’s Creed was one of the most realistic-looking games out there, even back to the first version, but this new version raises the bar higher than ever.

The game controls seem to have been simplified a bit, which I think is probably a good thing. For example, in previous games, you had to hold the right trigger and the A button to sprint, but now you only have to hold the trigger. That seems like a logical change, since you always wanted to sprint anyway. (Actually I *did* do a lot of jogging, but I don’t really miss it.)

At the same time, it seems like the combat controls are slightly more complicated. Or maybe it’s just that they moved the buttons around a little, so I have to use more brain power.

Synchronize is back on the B button, instead of pressing the right POV stick.

In previous Assassin’s Creed games, you spent most of your time in big cities, first in the Middle East and then Renaissance Italy, running around narrow streets and jumping around stone buildings. Now the game has moved to Boston right before the Revolutionary War, which is a substantially less urban environment. The buildings are spaced much farther apart. There are huge expanses of wild forest. It’s radically different for an Assassin’s Creed game. I don’t mind that it’s different. It’s kind of cool, actually. But I don’t understand why there are big wilderness areas with nothing in them. There’s occasional points of interest to visit, but mostly it’s just a big place to hunt in. And I’m not really clear on why I need to hunt at all.

The story seems disjointed. I was very confused for the first few sequences because it was my understanding that the main character was a Native American Assassin, but you actually start out playing a British super-spy. (I thought of him as Roger Moore’s James Bond in Colonial Times.) Then there’s a big surprise, which I did not see coming at all, and *then* you play the Native American. I was actually kind of disappointed when the character change happened. I liked the super-spy.

It’s a bit weird to play two different characters in one game. Shortly after the change in POV, you — now playing a young Native American — have a vision that you need to seek out Assassin symbols. This vision comes from a "Piece of Eden" that a village elder happens to have. Weirdly, even though your character hasn’t done any assassin training, you have a lot of assassin skills, including climbing and killing, before you even get to your trainer.

Then you find your trainer, and he’s a Magical Negro. I groaned out loud when he opened the door. Assassin’s Creed usually has compelling storytelling, but this was a major clunker.

I don’t know. Something just feels wrong with this installment. We saw Altair and Ezio grow to become master Assassins over time, and their journey made sense, more or less. They started out with limited abilities and grew to have a lot more abilities, growing to embrace the Assassins and their mission. And we as the viewer grew to like them. In this game, we don’t really see our guy embracing the Assassin culture. He just sort of "turns into" one, for no particular reason. His motivations to become an Assassin seem very flimsy or non-existent to me. Also, I can’t say I’ve really grown to like this Conner guy yet.

But I’m still playing. :)

AC Revelations Finished

Finished the main story in Assassin’s Creed Revelations the other day. Other than the horribly inaccurate face models of Ezio and Desmond which made them look like scarred zombies, I thought it was pretty good, as all Assassin’s Creed games are. The endings always give me a chill, when they bring together the past, present, and future. Well — the past, the past, the past, and the present would be more accurate I guess. And this one was really poignant because I guess after four games, the stories of Altair and Ezio are now finally complete.

As a game, I thought Brotherhood was better. Revelations had these weird bombs and parachutes which I found almost entirely useless in actual gameplay. Except at the very end when you were *required* to use a parachute quite a lot. I dunno, that just seemed a little *too* anachronistic to me. And what happened to the horses??

Tomb Raider, the 2013 reboot

I was getting a bit tired of Assassin’s Creed Revelations, so I took a short break and finally played Tomb Raider, which I had gotten in a Steam sale. There’s no doubt it’s one of the best games of 2013.

For the record, I’ve never been a fan of the Tomb Raider games. Originally, they were largely nothing more than jumping puzzles, but honestly I haven’t played any of the hundreds of TR games since the original few, so I’m not sure what they’ve evolved into. All I know is that 2013 Tomb Raider bears no resemblance to the Tomb Raiders I remember.

The new Tomb Raider plays almost exactly like Uncharted, which is not surprising since Uncharted was clearly a derivative of earlier versions of Tomb Raider. (Both of which are descended in some way from the Indiana Jones franchise.)

There are basically three elements to the game: The evolving story, solving jumping and logic puzzles, and shooting bad guys. Oh, and some exploration to find hidden things if you want, but that’s optional. There aren’t really any "tombs" involved, per se, unless you do some optional side quests.

The game delivers on those main three elements almost perfectly. The story was great, the puzzles were great, and the shooting was great. The puzzles were not exactly difficult, but I expect that is by design. Unlike Bioshock Infinite, when I was always anxious to get past the "game part" to get back to the "story part," I almost never felt like the gameplay was a chore. (With one exception noted below.)

There was only one part of the game that annoyed me, which I have to get off my chest. Toward the end, when the pace of the story was picking up, and everything was clearly driving toward the final confrontation at an accelerating pace, you come into this room where you had to figure out how to work a combination of levers and jump on things to get through a hole in the wall. Up to this point, most of the puzzles had been fairly straightforward. I struggled a bit until Lara herself gave me a hint (she does that now and then), then I smacked myself in the head and moved the big thingy down into the right position so I could jump through the hole up there … except I couldn’t jump that far. Then I realized you had to get the big thingy swinging, jump onto it, then jump over to the wall, scramble up and through the hole. I knew in my head exactly how it should go. But getting Lara to actually do those steps took many, many tries. You have to time the jumps just right, execute the scrambles just right, and grab the ledges just right. It drives me absolutely crazy when a game forces you to executes moves just right before you can proceed. I am not 12 years old anymore. I do not have nearly enough patience to sit and do the same tasks over and over and over again until I get it right. (Honestly I don’t think I liked it much when I was 12, either.) And all the while, in the unfolding story, Lara is supposed to be getting into this place to stop something from happening before it’s too late. And she’s stuck in this stupid room, running and jumping and climbing over and over again. "Hold on, evil bad guy, just wait, let me get through this door, just a minute, almost there, almost got it." Arg! I get why they would save the harder puzzles for the end, but it killed the pace of the story.

Other than that, the game was awesome. It’s a pretty brutal story though. It’s not a light-hearted adventure romp like you might expect from a Tomb Raider game. It’s more of a survival horror type of game to be honest. There’s blood and guts and corpses everywhere.

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood Finished

Finished Brotherhood. Cool game – shorter than Assassin’s Creed II but I think more polished. (By the way, when I say I “finished” I mean I finished the story; I’m nowhere near 100% completion, because I’m not a completionist gamer. I think it was somewhere around 40% actually.)

Another cliffhanger ending. Can’t really say anything without spoiling it, but I was a little bit suspicious of that person anyway.

Started Revelations. First thing I noticed is that Desmond’s and Ezio’s faces look completely different! Not just aged, but totally different people. It’s really jarring, especially since the voices are the same. It’s like different actors playing the same part, but they got voiceovers from the original actors.

OH! And for some reason, they changed the controller buttons! Holding Y is no longer eagle sense or synchronize – now it just throws whatever your ranged weapon is. You have to use the left stick button for eagle sense, and those stick buttons are like the worst buttons imaginable.

Assassin's Creed II Finished

I finished Assassin’s Creed II last night. Man, the storytelling in this series is really good. It ended in a cliffhanger just like the first one did. And there was actually some light gameplay *during the closing credits*. How cool is that?

Anyway I started in on Brotherhood right away, which is a noticably better-looking game. It also feels a bit more like Uncharted. That is, it feels more action-oriented, with less buttons to worry about pushing. Plus there’s a part where Desmond and Lily (I think that’s her name?) wander around in some catacombs for a while trading witty banter, just like you saw Drake and what’s-her-name doing in Uncharted.

UPDATE: Her name is actually Lucy and what’s-her-name is Elena.

Finally Finishing up Assassin's Creed II

Over the weekend I decided to press on with the Assassin’s Creed series, since I rounded out my AC game collection in the last Steam sale, picking up Brotherhood, Revelations, and AC3. I played AC2 last year but for some reason I just stopped in the middle. I decided that I should finish it before I went on to the next game so I wouldn’t miss any of the cool story stuff.

I didn’t think it would take very long, but good lord, it doesn’t ever end. It turned out I was only on like Sequence 4 or 5 out of 14. Even ignoring side quests and sticking to the main storyline, I still didn’t finish it. I love just about everything about AC, but sometimes it gets a little tedious running around from place to place when you just want to get through it.

On another note, I finally picked up an Xbox controller because I got sick of trying to translate the ABXY buttons displayed on the screen into the square, triangle, circle, whatever buttons on the PS3 controller I normally used. AC was definitely made for a controller, but before now, I’ve always played it with keyboard-mouse controls. The controller is a lot easier.