Tag Archives: Ubisoft

Fearful

Fearful

They’re afraid. As consistently innovative as they are—even to the massive detriment of their biggest ongoing franchise—Ubisoft seems deathly afraid of making the big changes. The times when they should be swinging for the fences finds them tenderly dipping a toe into the water, reassessing, and then going with another toe.

Why hasn’t Assassin’s Creed, for instance, made it to the modern era? Sure, Desmond’s tale took place present day, but the bulk of the series has relied on the kindness of history’s lack of audio video surveillance. Even with Assassin’s Creed III, the game with the most Desmond bits, had him quarantined off in extremely linear, almost fearful gameplay sections.

But those parts were interesting. You were in environments that designers could wholly conjure up from their minds. You were fighting against enemies that you’ve never seen before in any past Assassin’s Creed game instead of the usual palette-swapped grunts, brutes, and elites. More than that, you were facing them in situations you’ve never faced before.

Assassin's Creed III

Since the very first game in the series, it seems like we were teased with the intrigue of a fully modern Assassin. They tested the waters with some fun stealth and subtle yet elaborate story shenanigans and quickly moved onto giving Desmond his full Assassin abilities, allowing him to freerun and fighting and whatnot. And he constantly evolved, leading any reasonable person to believe it would soon be happening.

After the culmination of the Desmond storyline, however, hopes were dashed. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag tried something new outside of the Animus sans Desmond, but it was still the story of a seafaring scallywag. Assassin’s Creed Unity didn’t even have anything outside of Arno’s story. It wasn’t the assumption that followed Assassin’s Creed; it wasn’t the hope after Assassin’s Creed III; it was just disappointment.

It feels like fear. So much of what they’ve built relies on the lack of modern implements. And as they introduce more of them like Assassin’s Creed Syndicate‘s grappling hook and carriages in an Industrial Revolution-era England, you realize how much they could be rid of by go further into the future.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate

That’s not necessarily a good thing or a cure for the series’ ails. It’s a remark upon how much they’re afraid they’ll lose if they go full-bore on that concept, if they extrapolate out Desmond’s time out into a full game. Will they lose the core mechanics that many identify with the franchise? Will they lose the uniqueness as they skew too close to games like Watch Dogs or Splinter Cell, cannibalizing other Ubisoft lines?

They are entirely valid questions. When was the last time you saw a series reinvent themselves to such a degree? It’s just not how the industry works. You take a concept, give it a go, and if people latch on, you iterate to fix the flaws and juice up the working parts to see if they still like it. But eventually you have to call it quits.

If you look at Gears of War, Epic Games fulfilled the Marcus/Dom saga, gave it another go with Gears of War: Judgment, and called it when that failed to find traction and giving it up to Microsoft and Black Tusk Studios for something new. Visceral Games actually dipped out after a rock solid three Dead Space games.

Gears of War: Judgment

Ubisoft, however, feels content with taking a more Call of Duty or Guitar Hero—really Activision—approach: run it into the ground. For as long as people are buying, just have studio after studio go at it until they stop buying. It’s a solid strategy that responds to the essence of capitalism. After all, if consumers don’t want it, they show it with their money, or lack thereof.

That is perhaps the great virtue of indie game development. It’s not that they can’t employ the same strategy but rather that they choose not to. It’s a conscious decision and seems to be one based largely on guilt and internal obligation.

It’s not that there aren’t indie series because there totally are like Amnesia and Hotline Miami, but it’s rarely a triple-A farming situation. For all the problems of the insular, nigh incestuous component of video games that is the indie (those two descriptors, though, apply to the entire industry as well from development to press to players), it has imbued those independent devs to feel obligated to not be That Guy.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate

Instead we have multimillion dollar That Guys all trying really hard to be the Thattest That Guy in the biz, almost as if it were a point of pride. How many Hindenburgs have you piloted straight into the ground? Only four? Amateur hour.

Picking on Assassin’s Creed isn’t fair when there are a half dozen more just like it. But it did just make a recent and sizable announcement that was hilariously lukewarm in its reception. Even the most diehard of apologists could only tend to the crowd and say you could look away if you wanted while they sorted out their feelings. The well eventually dries up. Seems like Ubisoft finally found the bottom.

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Assassin’s Creed Syndicate And What It Means For You

Assassin's Creed Syndicate and What It Means For You

Innovation is dangerous. It’s a lesson that Ubisoft should be well familiar with by now. As one particularly and magnificently hairy Jeff Goldblum said in Jurassic Park, they were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.

Consider that the very first Assassin’s Creed was lauded for it’s fresh parkour traversal system (and, to be fair, it’s fascinating pseudo time travel conceit). In fact, that was just about all it was lauded for. And it remained largely the same for the next dozen or so games. Instead of refining its single biggest component, they became obsessed with innovation, often at the cost of excising additions that wholeheartedly worked.

There was a brotherhood mechanic of training and raising new assassins into the order; there was a vastly expanded property management system; there an interesting dip into two different types of multiplayer in two different games; and a lot more. There was pretty much only a single instance of refinement in the transition from Assassin’s Creed III to Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag with the naval combat.

Now, like clockwork, we stand on the precipice of another entry into the franchise based on excessive ambition and innovation. Yesterday morning saw the official announcement of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (I guess we really are done with the colons in the titles). It’ll throw us into the Industrial Revolution in London as Assassin Jacob Frye.

If you watch that archived bit of announcement stream, you can see a lot of interesting bits that are worth mining. The first is a protracted segment lauding the single greatest folly of the franchise. The next is a categorical admission of the failure of Unity while simultaneously shifting the root cause of the problem from rampant, unfettered innovation to overflowing ambition.

They’re similar qualities, but the nuanced difference is the key here. It wasn’t that they saw a world far more grand than they could build (the world they built was actually a saving grace for the game), but rather that their failure to refine caught up with them the invention was thrust upon them. Unity was the first of the series to be totally on the next generation of consoles, so time spent drumming up new things went into making sure the old things still worked.

The loops were still as tired as they ever was. Enter a new area, climb a tower, ignore all the icons on the map, and start a mission. And during the mission, you would climb a building, sneak around, get spotted, and fight your way out. And during the fight, you would mash a button, counter, and then mash again. The random events in the water surrounding Nassau transformed into interpersonal encounters on the streets of Paris and your real estate endeavors carried a miniature narrative, but it’s mostly old mechanics trying to find value in a world built beyond their scopes.

With a settling into the new consoles, Syndicate is free to fall back into the trap. While it feels more considered in this turn—if the developers’ words are anything to go by—we’ve been burned before. Combat was never a highlight of the series, so it’s great they made it faster, keeping everything closer and more brutal. It still looks like it takes way too long to beat a brute into the ground.

The new grappling hook system allows for even more facilitated ascension, no longer restricting the skyward zip to cutting loaded lines and hauling up. But there’s still the problem of getting back down, something Unity moderately addressed but never quite resolved. And external locomotion sounds cool, but riding that horse in the smothering confines of Florence was an absolute nightmare. How is a full-blown carriage supposed to handle the increasingly narrow streets of 1800 London?

Without a doubt, though, the absolutely most impressive thing the franchise has consistently pulled off has been integrating their Assassin-Templar war into the real world. This has a great deal to do with the artistic direction of the assassins themselves. Connor’s garb looked unquestionably colonial and Arno’s kit was decidedly eighteenth century French. (I don’t know how, but even Arno’s running looked French.)

The spectacular trend appears to continue in Syndicate. Jacob and his sister Evie Frye both look 100 per cent like nineteenth century scoundrels. Better yet, while integrating Arno’s quest for vengeance into the French Revolution was cool, Syndicate seems to be building its systems directly into the settings.

From the Gangs of New York-ish street fights to the segmented districts of wealth and poverty, it world has hopefully and finally transcended the mere place of deciding what clothes should look like. And speaking of Evie, it seems like that much deserved derision from excluding women from Unity as made an impact. She will be a playable character alongside Jacob, utilizing a sort of Grand Theft Auto V-type switching mechanic.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate

So it seems like after eight main series releases in as many years, they’re finally learning. But the question is if there’s even room for this kind marginal kind of growth. The framework is old and creaky that surely stuffing it with more grandiose ideas would surely cause it to crumble. It’s still standing atop eight-year-old systems of annoying traversal that only sometimes provides moments of “god damn that was cool.” It still forces a laundry list of activity down the player’s throat that has been hated since 2007.

Is there a fear of true change? At the end of the first Assassin’s Creed, it was assumed (or, perhaps, just hoped) that the next game would throw us into solely the modern age. Assassin’s Creed but with guns and a greater exploration of the Abstergo conspiracy? Oh hell yeah. But then we were only tossed slightly forward into the fifteenth century Renaissance. Granted, the Ezio trilogy was fantastic, but it wasn’t the monumental shift we’d all hoped for.

Now we are so tantalizingly close to the true modern era. The Industrial Revolution is basically the catalyst for much of what we take for granted today as token conveniences instead of the world-shattering advances that they were. How much further can the series comfortably go until they are forced to take the plunge into today or beyond? (Yes, the Desmond stuff was the future, but it was superficial.)

Assassin's Creed Syndicate

But how much more patience does the public have for Assassin’s Creed? By virtue of switching between drastically different eras and studios that tell relatively contrasting stories, Call of Duty has lived far past its Old Yeller time. But Assassin’s Creed has been lead by a single creative vision and a single studio since 2007. It is exhausting.

Not just for the developers but also the players. We finished the Desmond saga and now it feels…gluttonous. Maybe not that. Perhaps just excessive. Like a shotgun blast of ideas that never quite made it when the lone view was laid out. Only last year with Assassin’s Creed Rogue and with Syndicate do we see new studios try their hand at leading the hooded charge.

Rogue was somewhat more well-received than Unity and it was led by Ubisoft Sofia instead of Ubisoft Montreal. With Syndicate, we have Ubisoft Quebec taking the lead instead of just contributing and porting. There’s a pang of hope in that exchange. Ill-advised or not, only time will tell.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate

I don’t want Syndicate to fail. That would just be crazy. It’s far more fun to have more stuff to like in the world that stuff to hate. But free of the veil of cynicism, there is skepticism, earned and valued, just as there is reason to hope. Based on the reveal, though, there isn’t as much as you’d want. Let’s all find out on October 23rd.

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Revisitation Hours: Assassin’s Creed Unity

Revisitation Hours: Assassin's Creed Unity

At the time, it felt foolish. Asking if I wanted to download 8.6GB of patches to play Assassin’s Creed Unity seemed like the most effective way to make anyone turn the other way. Unfortunately, curiosity got the better of me.

Its myriad of frame rate issues and crashes and bugs were enough to stop me and many others from playing more than five minutes upon release. Now the question is whether the patches worked. Unity actually fell into two camps of terrible practices from 2014 including shipping prohibitively broken or unfinished games and Ubisoft’s seemingly nefarious dissemination of open world game design.

Luckily (I guess?), one of those two things could be fixed post-release. (The damage, however, had mostly been done at that point in terms of player trust. Not even a free Dead Kings DLC could help the situation.) Right out of the gate, yes, those problems are fixed. Somewhere in all those gigabytes, there was a solid combination of solutions that turned a burning heap of hard locks and falling through the floor into a real game.

Assassin's Creed Unity

Now that simply navigating the world isn’t a chore (a task which is at least 99% of all video games, let alone Assassin’s Creed ones), it is truly hard to deny that this is one of the most beautifully realized virtual environments ever seen. It feels often far less like a video game and more like a real tour of Paris during the French Revolution.

The streets are overflowing with people. It’s coming up on Dead Rising numbers, to be honest, and it’s spectacular, especially because Arno seems to have overcome his ancestors’ inability to run into people without falling over. But these people are also living their fully Revolutionary lives.

They are rioting, soapboxing, and amassing all over the place. It gives the worldly historical context more meat than ever before. This is in addition to the fact that most of the buildings you’re clambering over have fully realized interiors with hidden artifacts, treasure chests, and folk. Actually, it’s not most of them, but it certainly feels like that, which is just as important.

Assassin's Creed Unity

This seems to have the biggest consequence on the gameplay (right after violently shoving you into one of the most violent parts of modern history). For the first time in the series’ history, there is genuine stealth. Black Flag tried its hardest with systemic bits of hiding in bramble and bush, but holy moly, Unity has a crouch button, y’all.

More than that, Arno has the ability to take cover behind objects and walls. Being able to stick to a flat surface no longer gives you the lingering question of “can they see me” while you uncomfortably shift about under a doorframe. And now missions are designed around those two improvements, offering you the ability to finagle around guards on rooftops and shifting inside to come up behind and shiv them in the most satisfying ways.

It’s also worth noting that imbuing the world with an early modernism is that fact that your opponents are far more deadly. Instead of throwing rocks or firing arrows, they will straight-up gun you down from a few dozen yards away and you will die. It—and the random in-world events—offers a glimpse into the lethality of this and the coming age.

Assassin's Creed Unity

But for all the self-awareness of the time and place, this is still in escapably an Assassin’s Creed game. Whenever you do anything, you just wish it was easier, and not in terms of difficulty but rather in terms of implementation. Some things have been improved from past games and it’s still not enough.

It’s easier to avoid accidentally jumping to your death, but you still wish it was faster—or at least more fun than just holding a button down. And even when I could just eagle-dive down, most of the time I just wanted to stop halfway and stay on the rooftops.

And when you just want to run straight ahead, there is invariably a chair to stop you. Or a wall that Arno simply can’t figure out what he wants to do with. I found most of my time not just holding the freerun button but also the freerun up or freerun down button as well, though the down one has height limitations while the up one takes longer to get past basic structures.

Assassin's Creed Unity

It’s really just a staple of the series. Since its inception, the games have been just as much about fighting yourself as it has been about fighting the Templars. Every step is rife with opportunity to screw yourself over simply by playing the game as it was designed because for all the chances for joy it carries in its mechanics, they are also the sole source of its greatest frustrations.

I guess it really comes down to one singular sensation that defines Unity: a total and abject lack of surprise. From its story to its new mechanics laid on top of old ones—hell, even the degree to which it was totally busted to hell—there was nothing surprising about the game. Reactions span from “about god damn time” to “oh come on” to even a rock solid “meh.”

Even after coming back to the game half a year later, it’s hard to suss out any answer to any amount of why.

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Open Formula

Open Formula

Tokenism. You’re familiar, right? It’s generally used to talk about the superficial inclusion of a minority or marginalized group of people, often regarding the integration as perfunctory. It is the opposite of an ancillary melding.

It’s a concept that is beginning to run rampant in open world video game design, and for some reason, it can be blamed largely on Ubisoft. They have the Assassin’s Creed franchise, the Far Cry games, Watch Dogs, The Crew, and more. And that’s just from last year. (Assassin’s Creed actually squeezed in two of ’em in 2014.)

And what’s more is that they all seemingly abide by some template for interactive structure. To some extent that can’t be avoided—”open world” is a genre after all, and genres have staples for a reason—but some of it is reaching peak levels of absurdity.

Assassins Creed Unity

Obligatory map discovery? Yep. Point-to-point interest activation? Absolutely. It’s starting to feel like a rubber stamp of game with just different characters: assassins, rebels, cars. Of course it’s not all bad. Certainly there is virtue to each of these implements of gameplay and design. Like curiosity propels discovery and vice versa. It’s nicely symbiotic like that.

It’s why those bits and pieces have remained and been refined over the course of many years and many games. But at some point you have to wonder where has the innovation gone. Or rather, where has the impetus for such inclusion gone? Why did we go from ancillary to perfunctory? From necessity to tokenism?

Dying Light came out this week. It’s also an open world game, but this one features a bunch of zombies and parkour. It’s a pretty fun game that improves on a lot of things from Techland’s previous first person undead outing Dead Island, though it also sadly removes the analog combat from its spiritual predecessor.

The thing is that there are many portions of Dying Light that still strongly abide the steps laid out by Ubisoft, and this is a Warner Bros. publication. (This isn’t entirely unprecedented for them, though, as Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor aped large portions of Assassin’s Creed design.) You can, in fact, still climb towers.

This brings about an interesting notion that Ubisoft has unearthed and fully realized the whole body of open world clichés, and now when we see them trickle down to other open world games, we are reminded of their popular genesis. And then, of course, we are forced to analyze the merit of their inclusion.

It was a praiseworthy situation in Shadow of Mordor, where it had largely improved and successfully integrated those platitudes into some bigger and more interesting. It’s even arguable that their familiarity enhanced the overall experience by contrasting the impressive Nemesis system.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

But then it was a source of derision for the Fury, a film that seemed to only want to complete a checklist of war movie clichés just for the sake of seeing a bunch of boxes get ticked off at the end of production. It was a series of token scenes, moving a tank from one place to its final place.

These staple components of genres can’t be tossed into a bucket and be assumed a success. They need to be laid into the foundation and built up into something grander. The reason needs to be there. A game like Miasmata is shaped around the idea of exploration and discovery, earning its foggy map and hidden locations. What benefit is there to doing so in Assassin’s Creed?

There really isn’t one, other than finding a reason for you to climb towers, which was the biggest draw of the original game and arguably still the biggest draw of the series. The designers needed a way to force you to utilize this sizable mechanical system, and the missions rarely forced you to sneak around like that. The solution was to hide the map and show it to you as you used the system.

Dying Light

Dying Light would have a more interesting validation for hiding or restricting terrain knowledge. With unknown and mindless threats, it’s much more engaging to hide layout and structure from you. The surprise of navigating over and under and around things like fences, buildings, and the like forces you to dive into things confidently and boldly, persuading you to play a certain style and engage in specific experiences.

It’s a subtle difference between the two outcomes. Either way, you are being pushed into doing something. One, however, has a careless result, like a detour shoving your route onto a congested highway. The other puts a brick on the gas and hands you the wheel. You can still get somewhere how you want and even hit the brakes, but it wants to propel you forward. The other way kind of yanks you around just because.

There’s nothing wrong with clichés so long as they have a reason, some validation for being there. Otherwise it’s just perfunctory, and nobody likes that.

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The Year in Review: #2 Far Cry 4

The Year in Review: #2 Far Cry 4

You like Far Cry 4. I know you do. You know you do. Even if its ostensible aim (open world shooter) isn’t your cup of tea, there’s something in there for you to do. It is, impressively, an absurdly wide ranging game. Granted, the majority of the time, you’ll be shooting people, but the ways in which you can best accomplish that are manifold through the most delectably insane methods.

That’s kind of the key word here: “best.” It can, in this case, mean any number of things. As opposed to pure stealth games where getting spotted is either some arbitrary demerit down to Fox from Fox Hound or an overwhelming physical accosting by surly guards, being seen in Far Cry 4 is very often a choice. It is a choice to embrace the world as it comes.

If you so choose, you can sneak around with a bow the entire time, ducking in and out of bushes to disable alarms and picking off patrols one by one until you face the last foe face to face. Out in the open, he will receive his sweet release and you will deliver it by way of steel and lead. Or, you can plant C4 on a car, drive it into a camp, and blow it up. Or you can storm in guns blazing, hopped up on so many syringes you can hardly see straight. Better yet, do it on an elephant.

Far Cry 4

But the important thing, oddly enough, isn’t just that you have choices. That’s simple enough; simple binary choices plagued video games not five years ago and still we find their grubby little hands on our stories and mechanics every so often. What you have here is a very comprehensive freedom to accomplish a finite set of goals in a nearly limitless way.

That interminable bucket of possibilities is meaningful. In the most literal sense, you can already do that in any game. Wait some random amount of time before stepping into a mission marker and most likely you’ve done it differently than anyone else before you. Far Cry 4 does this instead by offering an immersive range for which you to rampage across and explore to your trigger’s desire.

Kyrat, the setting for the game, is what makes it so worthwhile. It is full of wildlife that at any given point could drastically improve or utterly destroy whatever well laid plans you had. Or it can just add little joyous moments of chaos to your day, seeing a bear and a tiger fight as you soar over in your wingsuit. Or you can let loose caged and feral animals on your unsuspecting foes.

Far Cry 4

So much of what the world accomplishes can be summed up in the notion of a living world. Open world games attempt to make this happen to varying degrees of success—from Infamous‘ starkly empty and noiseless streets to Grand Theft Auto V‘s bustling urban life—and Far Cry 4 does it by imbuing a sense of purpose to its inhabitants. There’s a lot of stuff happening in the mountains of Kyrat, but all of it is there with a reason.

Townsfolk tell you stories and comment on your impact on the area. Animals hassle you but also let you craft gear and provide you with interesting fashion-oriented missions. Guards patrol and get in very real firefights with rebels. And when you take it all in stride, variety cropping up at every turn as you drive from place to place, it gives the world a very appreciable veracity.

There are the parts of Far Cry 4 that are old being presented as new again. Some of it has been refined and other bits are just new signage for old quirks. You can count of it handling the same, which is to say tautly and quickly. The component with which you directly interact is still superb, but the world in which that mechanical nugget is set in has been built up to a remarkable degree. It is a land full of life, both wild and otherwise, and it spans a beautiful, vibrant bucolic expanse, offering shenanigans, strife, and explosions. And it’s what makes Far Cry 4 my number two game of the year.

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The Year in Review: Not Angry, Just Disappointed

The Year in Review: Not Angry, Just Disappointed

This year has been a rough one. Compared to the past few years where you could go into January with high hopes and a belief that this industry was headed somewhere good, leaving 2014 also leaves an aftertaste. There are some usual suspects that always make us shift uneasily in our seats, but when they stack up high like a plate of endless pancakes, it’s cause for concern.

Concern and indignation, really. First let’s consider that this holiday season looked like a banger back at the turn of 2014. We had games like Batman: Arkham Knight and The Order: 1886 coming at us hard and fast. But Arkham Knight‘s October turned to 2015, as did The Order. The same goes for Mad Max and The Division. (Technically aimed at the next year anyways, even The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt suffered yet another delay, breaking promises and deadlines.)

This turned the end of the year from a gangbusters gameapalooza to a rather tepid end to a depressing year. (We’ll get into that in another TYIR.) While not terrible games, we are left with Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker and Lara Croft: The Temple of Osiris for December. November was a little better off with Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and LittleBigPlanet 3 along with Far Cry 4 and Dragon Age: Inquisition (and the obligatory Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed releases), but still not the fresh bounty we’d been promised.

The Last of Us Remastered

Perhaps worse than that, we were fed stale (if refined) bits of bread and told they were good as new. This year was rife with HD rereleases, an invitation almost too obvious with the nascent years of these new consoles. The biggest and more recent titles of yester-generation came back like Grand Theft Auto V and The Last of Us, both of which proved their objective quality and impressive aesthetics.

As devs figure out how best to milk the hardware of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, we further received the announcements of rereleases of DmC, Saints Row IV, and supposedly Borderlands. It’s a marginally improved concession for convenience if you want to play these games, but the draw of playing on our infant nostalgia is wearing thin. It’s almost becoming annoying—insulting.

You probably noticed that there’s a big HD rerelease missing from the aforementioned 2014 litany: Halo: The Master Chief Collection. That’s because it leads right into the biggest trend of disappointment for the year. Case in point, one of the biggest components of the Spartan anthology—the online multiplayer matchmaking—simply did not work. This lead to both Bonnie Ross, head of 343 Industries, to writing a personal apology to players and throwing an offering to the voracious wolves.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection

The biggest and most advertised portion of the collection was, in a word, useless. It’s still a lovely and centralized way to play the campaigns of the main Halo series of games, but all that marketing about playing every map with all your Xbox One buddies just couldn’t be made true. And unfortunately, it wasn’t the only one with that problem.

Driveclub didn’t have its full capabilities until this month, a chasm of lacking features including weather and, most importantly, online play. Its launch popularity broke its own server infrastructure, rendering much of it useless to its players, which then drove Evolution Studios to delay the Driveclub PlayStation Plus Edition.

Then there was Assassin’s Creed Unity, a true debacle on almost all counts. Frame rate often fell to nightmare status and crashes were strewn about like sprinkles at a Baskin-Robbins. Missing faces were commonplace enough to question the veracity of general healthcare during the French Revolution. It was so bad that Ubisoft offered free DLC and a free game so as to surreptitiously attempt a legal dodge.

Assassin's Creed Unity

Ubisoft, actually, just hasn’t had a good year in general. It had a solid highlight with Far Cry 4 and South Park: The Stick of Truth, but its highly publicized and anticipated Watch Dogs turned out to be somewhat of a dud. The Crew also turned out to be quite the uninteresting product and not without its own fair share of technical issues.

Combined with putting out the single most broken game of the year in Unity, Ubisoft has a lot of ground to make up in 2015. (They do get credit, though, for putting out Child of Light and Valiant Hearts: The Great War.) Quite a few studios coming out of 2014, actually, have a long road of ahead of them.

Bungie put out a similarly mediocre but functional game in Destiny. We thought they were just Halo developers and this would prove they could do more, but we ended up with Halo with odd bits of MMO mixed in and a mild proof that they do absolutely love pseudo-robotic space warriors with flying AI buddies.

Destiny

While not a broken or a bad game, it was disappointing. Much of the big, triple-A roster this year, in fact, was disappointing. Thief, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!, everything just mentioned, and so much more failed to live up to expectations either set by studio reputation, past franchise titles, or even just good demos as past trade shows. You have plenty of reason to be mad about some of these and many other things, but really, I’m just disappointed at this point.

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Refining Value

Refining Value

The most common criticism leveled against the recently released Far Cry 4 is that it is basically just Far Cry 3, except more of it. While entirely valid, there is a lot of meat left on that bone to chew on. The most superficial counter—while still being significant—is that this is only the second of this style of Far Cry that has been put out.

Even if you counted the Blood Dragon DLC for Far Cry 3, that still is a fa—nope, not gonna say that joke—that is still peanuts compared to the saturating product Activision has been pushing for the past seven years. (I’ll give them that Advanced Warfare is interesting enough to warrant differentiation.) Creatively and commercially, it’s worth revisiting something successful to divine something’s true value.

It allows the mining of deployed tactics to determine more discretely what concepts and philosophies to carry forward with and what to discard. The first go-round is more or less a stab in the dark. Via the tried and true scientific method, variables can be tweaked to see if a hypothesis was correct. Was it worth putting in more missions like that one? Should we have brought back that one vehicle?

Far Cry 4

Of course, that means that even with entirely new ideas being injected into the resuscitated product, there is going to be some wholly unchanged and eerily familiar bits and bobs floating around. In Far Cry 4‘s case, it is the game’s entire structure. Missions take you all over an enclosed and expansive territory while you hunt animals to collect furs for crafting; you climb towers so as to reveal previously fog-covered parts of the map; and you take over enemy outposts to prevent bad guys from harassing you and your local war buddies.

It is Far Cry 3 except in the Himalayas. But important differences crop up when you hold that Venn diagram a little closer. A lot of this sequel felt like it was a test, an experiment to verify the designers’ beliefs as to what succeeded and what didn’t in its predecessor. The wingsuit, for example, was a super cool part of Far Cry 3, but it came way too late in the game to be of much use (or much fun). This time, you can get it pretty much right off the bat.

More than that, they tested the theory further by making Kyrat much more vertical than the Rook Islands. Not to say there wasn’t a lot to climb in the tropics, but Kyrat is much more obviously designed around the idea of moving up and down with purpose, not just to be higher for fun. The tools given to you such as the grappling hook and the buzzer both are additional litmus tests to see if it is indeed better being able to move easily in all directions.

Far Cry 4

It wasn’t just that the wingsuit was a neat idea and helps us fulfill an incredibly dangerous fantasy but it made traversing down cliffsides a breeze. It’s a message that surprisingly didn’t make it from the Assassin’s Creed hall in the Ubisoft offices. In that game, it’s fun figuring out how and then watching your character climb up huge structures, but getting back down when there isn’t water or a hay pile nearby is a nightmare.

Far Cry makes the descent exponentially worse by not having any purely dedicated mechanics for climbing downwards, save for falling and hoping for the best. These implements eliminate the nearly punitive experience of backtracking down to the ground after scaling up high for the absolutely necessary prep stage of scoping and tagging an entire outpost.

And then there are touches like allowing you to replay a whole outpost anytime you’d like, which is probably one of the best parts of the games. And automatically crafting syringes by culling the types you can create, which is quite literally a lifesaver when you have to hunt a bear with a bow. And speaking of that, allowing for clean harvests of furs and skins when you manage to skillfully kill critters with arrows and blades instead of bullets and bombs is a great change.

Far Cry 4

The game wants to still have the carrots in there, but these streamlined processes for either removing processes that add obstacles to gameplay (having to pause to craft syringes) or adding a layer to eventually bland activities (sniping animals for their fleshy interiors and valuable exteriors) improve upon already proven concepts. And they make such a sizable step up that it makes these old acts new again and, more importantly, more rewarding.

Far Cry 4 also takes more squarely compartmentalized bits and remixes them. For instance, the animals this time around don’t feel as intensely dangerous. Looking at a shark or a crocodile around the Rook Islands, you definitely get that they’re violent and should not be fucked with. Far Cry 4 has scary wildlife, too, in its tigers and wolves and bears, but it also has far more dickish critters.

Animals like dholes and honey badgers and eagles and definitely kill you if you come across them unawares and in dire straits, but they are generally just there to fuck with you. They take a well-laid plan and minutes of careful tagging and throw it out the window. Either you try to knife something to death while taking minimal damage (good luck) or you run like an idiot into the outpost with guns blazing and let the animals do some of your dirt. And try remaining calm when you hear growling come up behind you while peering through your binoculars.

Far Cry 4

They’ve become far more about mixing it up than being fodder for loot or making the rivers less than ideal to swim in. The same could be said for how the weapons are meted out this time around. Just as before, you get free weapons for taking back towers. This time, however, it feels like they are much more organized around the idea of engaging progression. You can still buy weapons if you have the cash, but finding and earning feels much more organic to the game.

By going the route of getting guns as I looted them or was reward them, I stepped into using a lot of guns I wouldn’t have used otherwise. Almost right out of the gate in Far Cry 3, I was stocked with an entire arsenal of silenced armaments including a potent and accurate assault rifle and an insanely powerful sniper rifle. While still fun for the majority of the time, it made every outpost the same thing over and over again.

This time, I was forced to use a crude bow for far longer than I would have liked for stealth. And once I got a silenced weapon (a pistol), the range was so short, I was still locked into close encounters. It forced me to take on the side missions that earned me more takedown skills. It also made me appreciate that silenced Z93 sniper rifle that I eventually got all the more.

Far Cry 4

It provided context and contrast for the luxury of being able to sit back and deal with those heathens from afar while making the early parts of the game feel appropriately raw and savage before allowing the refined ability to choose how you want to eliminate fools. And given the size and the scope of the game, it would have been hard to nail that sort of pace the first time around. Even the differences between the first and second Far Cry games were dipping toes into the waters of the extremes.

Then they found middle ground, and Far Cry 4 is the refinement of that calibration. Not to say they should continue on with this iterative production line for another five years, but this moderate repetition was well worth it if it means the designers gained insight for future games in the process. More ideas for how to make a game engaging is never a bad idea so long as innovation comes along for the ride.

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Far Cry 4 Review: Kyrat Me Home

Far Cry 4

Far Cry 4 is almost exactly what you’d expect, yet somehow it still manages to surprise you. It excels at placing a plethora of shenanigans and shenanigan-inducing items at your feet just as it dangles bombast and pyrotechnics right in front of your face. For all the games that manage to tell a heartbreaking tale or slather beauty on your eyeballs like gravy on a plate of biscuits, Far Cry 4 accomplishes the singularly incredible feat of never letting you be bored.

Once again in an open world of first person shooting, wild animals, and a semi-mystical and superstitious culture dealing with a maniacal bad guy, Far Cry 4 puts you smack dab in the middle of a Himalayan civil war between bat-shit crazy and moderately self-appointed Pagan Min and the local resistance called the Golden Path. You play as Ajay Ghale, the son of the late Golden Path founder Mohan Ghale, returning to his homeland from America to spread his recently deceased mother.

And very quickly, things go to Fucktown, USA. Ajay’s return does not go unnoticed by Pagan Min, formerly and romantically involved with Ajay’s mother Ishwari. This opening scene of going from casual bus ride to terrifying introduction to Pagan Min is utterly delectable. It’s like a hearty shepherd’s pie made from a demon cow: rich, filling, and altogether scary. It is gripping and engaging as anything you’re likely to see in a game this year.

It in fact almost wanted me to turn away from the Golden Path and go back to Pagan Min. He’s, like, a thousand percent more fun (and crazy, but hey, can’t win ’em all). While the writing is rather good across the board, it’s the performances that carry these characters from a nutso world to a grounded reality.

Troy Baker as Pagan Min is perfectly subtle and extreme all at once. James Woods, who was also Keith Ramsay in Far Cry 3, makes Ajay sound like a real person, a welcome departure from the all around caricature of Jason Brody last year. And from the intensely sensual designer Mumu Chiffon to absurd preacher/arms dealer Longinus, the performances give weight to otherwise objectively unreal characters.

That, however, is just the icing on the cake for most people. What many would like to know is whether or not you still do a dozen insane things a minute, and the answer is yes. All of the old things you can recall from Far Cry 3 like taking over outposts, climbing towers, hunting dangerous wildlife, and whatnot is all back. And with a setting like Kyrat where verticality is built into the environment, there’s a far greater sense of expansive possibility.

Far Cry 4

Most notable is that almost right off the bat, you have access to the wingsuit, allowing you to dive off of any cliff with little fear of dying at the bottom. There’s also the grappling hook, which allows you to quickly ascend sheer cliff faces and swing across massive chasms. It greatly removes the need to wiggle around slopes until you find grass to walk. Oh, and there’s the buzzer, a single rider gyrocopter that basically makes dicking around the best.

There is, however, a difference to be noted between dicking around and getting dicked around. The Rook Islands of Far Cry 3 felt dangerous, full of things that can kill you more or less in an instant. Kyrat, however, is full of dicks and assholes. Eagles will fly down from nowhere and pluck away a bar of health. Dholes and wolves chase you like it was one of the Ten Commandments. And don’t even get me started on honey badgers. Pardon my language, but they are what many would refer to as “some real fuckers.”

That is, though, a great component of what makes Far Cry 4 so compelling. At any given second, what once was a well-laid plan could go to shit. While settling into my old routine of scoping out an outpost before picking the guards off with my silenced Z23, I hear howling. It’s not from the Bengal tiger caged down below, but two shots into the schedule liberation, I hear footfalls. Might be hunters, a new enemy that evades tags and forces careful aggression, but then I hear snarling. Before I even turn, I know what it is. I just hadn’t expected so many of them.

Far Cry 4

Let’s just say one tiger, two ziplines, five wolves, and like 20 gallons of flamethrower juice later, the outpost was mine. Totally not what I had in mind, but certainly exciting. And that was probably the least crazy thing that happened that hour. Far Cry 4, more than anything, wants to make you do awesome things, and if that means charging a convoy with an elephant and a rocket launcher or crashing a C4-rigged buzzer into an enemy camp, then by golly it’s going to find a way to convince you to do it.

And among all these radical notions of turning reality-based action into the most supreme spectacles of nonsense and well-crafted havoc, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this is a both great sounding and great looking game. While a few textures don’t play well up close, the vistas laid before you with vivid colors and sweeping mountaintops more than make up for such visual shortcomings. And little touches with the sound, like your assault rifle sounding increasingly tinnier as you use up a magazine, shine even among the roars of tigers and leopards.

Plus, if you thought you were doing fucked up things solo, try co-op. It is one of the best co-op experiences I’ve had all year, enabling you to do all of your stag tricks with a very human element of intelligence and dickishness. From executing premeditated battle tactics or coordinating a flawless outpost dismantling to not warning your partner about your penchant for unwarranted mines or driving their truck into a lake before taking off in your own, it’s all so unpredictable and all the way fantastic.

Far Cry 4

Far Cry 4 tries to do a lot of things. It throws an inconsolable amount of collectibles at you. It delivers a solid story of real and interesting characters. It even lets you paint an elephant. But what it does best it given you every possible reason to not be bored. It’s a surprise you knew you were getting all along but still surprised you anyways. Far Cry 4 might be what you expected based on its predecessor, but it’s also just what you wanted: an excellent game.

+ Great character performances and writing that craft an unbelievably gripping intro
+ More activities and variety in those activities than you can shake a tapir at
+ Intrinsic bombast and absurdity with the campaign and side missions
+ Beautiful and bright landscapes with excellent audio design
– Not a lot of originality going on here

Final Score 9 out of 10

Far Cry 4

Game Review: Far Cry 4
Release: November 18, 2014
Genre: First-person shooter
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Available Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Players: Single-player, co-op, online multiplayer
MSRP: $59.99
Website: http://far-cry.ubi.com/en-US/

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Trailer Roundup: Final Fantasy XV, Silent Hills, and More

Trailer Roundup: Final Fantasy XV, Silent Hills, and More

How’s your schedule looking? If it’s not somewhere between Wide Open and Totally Available, then you might want to look elsewhere for your ephemeral jollies. Gearbox alone this week can fill a half-hour block of your time. Like, when does “extended” just not cut it anymore?

Also, I just watched I Know That Voice on Netflix, so if even after this series of epics of trailers you still have more time, maybe give that a go. Then we can talk about it. There’s a whole bit on video games and Comic-Con, and you’ll definitely be in awe of how few voice actors stretch across so many iconic voices, TV or otherwise. Anyways, time for those ridiculously long trailers!

Minecraft

Coming out from the biggest news of the previous week, Phil Spencer attempts to spend four minutes assuaging you with the idea that Microsoft is acquiring Mojang, the studio behind Minecraft. It’s a strange move; I’m not even sure how many people associate the game with this particular studio. Surely a sizable amount, but the percentage of total Minecraft players is likely miniscule. Who is Spencer trying to placate here? Is Minecraft simply too large to even steer now?

Fibbage

I think those You Don’t Know Jack games are pretty fun. They’re a great way to get friends that don’t necessarily play games to play some god damn video games. Now the developers Jackbox Games have Fibbage, a game where you attempt to fill in the blank on a tidbit you most likely don’t know the real answer to. It reminds me a bit of Deck Around, except digitized. Either way, it’s already out for Xbox One, PlayStation3, PlayStation 4, and, uh, Amazon FireTV.

Assassin’s Creed Unity

Another week, another triple-A game from Ubisoft putting out a reminder that It’s Happening. Really, this trailer doesn’t show any gameplay—like, at all—but it does have a pretty cool song playing, so that kind of makes it worth it. I think. Either way, Assassin’s Creed Unity comes out on November 11 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.

Final Fantasy XV

Now that’s a way to open up a trailer. It’s an excellent reminder of what made that first Final Fantasy Versus XIII trailer from back in 2006, namely the stupidly enticing blend of modern aesthetics with knights and monsters and magic.

It’s also, unfortunately, an excellent reminder that Final Fantasy XV has been basically in development for over eight years with no end in sight. Kotaku has a cool feature with the new solo director (formerly co-director with Tetsuya Nomura) Hajime Tabata that you should read. It’s fairly enlightening. Also, this trailer is pretty cool.

Silent Hills

So that was weird and totally fucked up, which is what I hope the entirety of Silent Hills is going to be like (and, more or less, was what P.T. was as well). Honestly, if I had to choose between a giant baby monster woman and going down into an ominous basement, I’d probably choose the basement, too.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!

Like, why. It’s not even a question. It’s a statement. Why is this video so long? How does this help anyone? Maybe once Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! comes out, this would make more sense as a series of in-game tutorials spread out across a sequence of tutorial missions, which sounds pretty bad outright but is relatively tolerable compared to this nine and a half minutes of swing-and-a-miss humor. Comes out October 14 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, OSX, and Linux.

I can’t believe I watched all of that.

Battleborn

I wonder how much of this was Andrew Goldfarb, content editor at Gearbox Software, fighting his journalistic roots to ask probing and dangerously inquisitive questions. Either way, Battleborn looks decent. I love the look of it. Super colorful and fluid like whoa. I do feel like the jokes and gags are once again swing-and-a-miss

The actual gameplay looks competent with the cooperative slant definitely making it more interesting. Thorn seems like she’d be super boring to play but Rath might be fun. I don’t know. I’ve basically eradicated all expectations of this game from my brain.

Roundabout

And now, I leave you with this delicious bit of nonsense. This trailer sums up the whole of what Roundabout from No Goblin has to offer, and that is I Have No Fucking Idea. Check out this badass description from its press page: “Roundabout is a ’70s B-Movie game where you drive a constantly revolving limousine!” Awesome. Just Awesome. Roundabout is out now for PC, OSX, and Linux and will be out for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in early 2015.

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Trailer Roundup: NBA Live 15, Persona 5, and More

Trailer Roundup: NBA Live 15, Persona 5, and More

Yeah, I’ve been out of it for a while. Honestly, all the stuff about Gamer Gate had me put off the idea of even talking to another person, least of all not even bothering with PAX Prime. It was a terribly destructive period of the industry that morphed from slander to verbal assault to a fundamental debasing of reasoning and decency.

Paste has a nice bookend to the whole ordeal, though the problematic existence of bullies and bigots extends far beyond the terminative boundaries of the end of a bookshelf. That’s all I want to talk about it. Others have spoken on it far more eloquently than I ever will and I don’t want to get dragged into a flamewar.

In fact, let’s just get back to what we do best on a Monday. Let’s watch some god damn trailers.

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

NSFW. Maybe? I have no idea. I don’t have a single solitary clue about what most of this trailer is but it certainly feels NSFW even when you take the somewhat naked burlap sack head people out. As weird as The Binding of Isaac actually is (and as weird as this port The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth will similarly be), this trailer takes the cake. Comes out November 4 for PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PC, Mac, and Linux.

Slender: The Arrival

Slender: The Arrival is a game that you kind of have to buy fully into to get any joy out of it. It’s very easy to play it, get bored, and stop after about five minutes. And even if you last long enough to encounter a thing to run away from, you have to be willing to play along and get perturbed. This is, however, a rather good trailer, though I’m not sure if you haven’t played this game before, what would convince you to do so now. Comes out September 23 for PSN and September 24 for Xbox Live Arcade.

Assassin’s Creed Rogue

This is an absolutely fantastic trailer for Assassin’s Creed Rogue, and for some reason, I just can’t get behind it. While Black Flag was a great game, it was kind of all I needed to cap off with the best of the series’ gameplay (mostly) and realize that without the Desmond story, I’m just not that interested anymore. I’ll probably still play Rogue since that’s how this job works, but the desire is lacking. Comes out November 11 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

Hatoful Boyfriend

Basically, if you like this trailer, you’ll probably like what Hatoful Boyfriend has to offer. It’s a weird game. Like, super weird. It’s a visual novel game about being the only human at a school for sapient pigeons. It’s strange and funny but also surprisingly deep with a branching storyline and complex motives for relationship building. It’s out now on Steam, so maybe give it a try.

Ancient Space

I really like how surprised the voiceover sounds when he says “PEGI 12.” I also really like what Joe Fricano, senior producer on the project with Paradox Interactive, said about Ancient Space being more like NASA and less like Star Wars. I like Star Wars, don’t get me wrong, but I like this idea of a clinical take on a deep space mystery. Sounds cool. Comes out September 23 for PC and Mac.

Wasteland 2

The problem with Wasteland 2, the $2.9 million Kickstarter success from April of 2012, is that the prospect of playing it isn’t very inviting, but playing it will undoubtedly be wholly encompassing. I mean, look at this trailer for combat. It’s a seven-minute trailer about just the fighting portion of the game. That being said, I probably will be one of those people playing. Comes out September 19 for PC, Mac, and Linux.

Firewatch

Now that’s a doozy. No idea what Firewatch is but I’m totally into it. Just read this description and tell me you’re not in, too: “Firewatch is a mystery set in the Wyoming wilderness, where your only emotional lifeline is the person on the other end of a handheld radio.” What a hook. Even the website is slick enough to make you want to find out more. Comes out sometime in 2015 for PC, Mac, and Linux.

Persona 5

God dammit, Persona 5, give me something to work with. I feel like that weird chair teaser from February was more informative than this thing. It has my interest piqued, sure, but at what cost, man, at what cost. Comes out in 2015 for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4.

NBA Live 15

The NBA Live franchise doesn’t die easily, huh. It basically stopped after NBA Live 10 until NBA Live 13 got canceled and then was officially revived with last year’s supremely disappointing NBA Live 14. Considering that the NBA 2K series has been alive and kicking in the intervening years, I wonder if NBA Live 15 will even have enough legs to run and not shit the bed again like 2013. I can’t tell if the song in the trailer is more wishing or telling. Comes out October 7 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

WWE 2K15

Boy, wrestling games seem like a lot of fun to motion capture. Even if you’re still beating the shit out of yourself while actively trying to not quite beat the shit out of someone else, it must be super cool to do all those acrobatic super slams and then watch it go into a game like WWE 2K15. Also, how is Goldberg still alive? Like, as a person. Comes out October 28 for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.

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