The FPS is Dead, Long Live the FPS

 

What do Condemned, Bioshock, The Chronicles of Riddick and Metroid Prime have in common? They’re all first person shooters- that aren’t. Yes they all play out from a first person perspective and yes they all involve shooting, but gunplay is not the primary focus of any of these titles. The Chronicles of Riddick for example, has more in common with Splinter Cell than Halo, despite the science fiction setting. Since the release of Doom, the first person shooter has been a pillar of the games industry. This generation in particular has seen it become one of the best selling genres with many of the biggest franchises, including Halo, Call of Duty and Battlefield, consistently topping best seller lists on both sides of the Atlantic. This popularity however, has come at a cost. In an attempt to appeal to a broader audience, games that in reality bare only a passing resemblance to the traditional FPS are branded and marketed in such a way so as to play up their similarities. Some games do escape such gross generalisations. Both Bioshock and Metroid Prime were both able to sell themselves on the strength of their environments and atmospheric design. However these are the exceptions to the rule.

Part of the problem extends from the times the terms were coined in. The last fifteen years have seen games become increasingly complex, both in terms of technology and design. Early games in the genre focused solely on shooting enemies from a first person perspective with the odd keycard to find to break up the pacing. However, it wasn’t long before developers were finding new ways to exploit this perspective. The lead character could a be an empty vessel, a cipher for the player to inhabit in the game world and in just a few short years, games like the original Half Life were starting to push the possibilities of such a unique viewpoint, using it to draw in players as characters engage them directly. These games became the prism that caused the genre to split and diversify to the point that even ten years ago, we saw releases such Deus Ex, which were almost impossible to pigeon hole into any one genre. Since then, there has been a conscious effort among many developers to create games that can stand toe to toe with films and literature with regard to narrative and character design. This certainly doesn’t mean that any first person shooter that has strong art design or engaging characters strays outside the definition of the genre. Recent iterations of the Call of Duty franchise have included several scenes that challenge more than precision with an assault rifle. However it is still very much a first person shooter, a direct evolution in a line that can trace its ancestry back to Doom and Wolfenstein as every interaction with the world around you is done through the medium of bullets, with the occasional grenade.

So if the genre label of the first person shooter is no longer sufficient to cover the array of games that fall under its umbrella, how should the genre be approached? One solution would be to create specific subsets within the genre, define each game as a member of a species. The problem is then becomes drawing a line between accuracy and pedantism. Is Modern Warfare a first person shooter? Or is it a military action game played out from a first person perspective with RPG elements within the multiplayer? Does Halo become a first person science fiction action game with third person vehicular elements? This type of subsetting is far too unwieldy and would ultimately over complicate the situation. Another option would be to follow in the direction of cinema and books, defining the genre through the theme in the narrative and setting. Condemned becomes a horror, Call of Duty an action adventure and so on. However, while genre labels may be appropriate for passive entertainment, the manner of interaction, the game mechanics cannot be ignored. Both Metroid and Halo belong to science fiction, yet the offer very different experiences within this setting due to the manner in which the player interacts with the world.

So what is to come of the indomitable first person shooter?  As the industry expands and as developers find new ways to exploit the first person perspective, how will we continue to classify and categorise their results? A medium is evaluated by how it expresses itself, how it connects with the audience. This true in all cases and can be judged through in the plot, art direction, the quality of its characters and yes, the manner in which the audience interacts with it, be it through reading, watching or with a controller. It is not necessary to quantify completely every variable and deviation from a genre label, indeed strict adherence to a template can only stifle creative expression and stagnate the industry. At the same time, these descriptors are necessary for comparison and discussion, and a good indicator of how games are developing as time moves forward. While the claim that current genre labels are becoming defunct across the board can indeed stand, it is within the first person genre that the greatest diversity in experiences is being corralled into the narrowest of definitions. The language of videogames must keep pace with the development and growth of the medium and if that means rethinking how we categorise our games, well then so be it.

This post originally appeared here

Advertisements

Kinect Preview

 

Prior to E3 2010, much of the appeal of Project Natal came from its mystique. Microsoft had yet to reveal an official name, let alone its actual capabilities. However, the curtain has since been pulled back on the rebranded Kinect and what developers have been doing with the technology. There now remains but two simple questions; does it work and is it fun?

Inevitably for a product like this, the first wave of releases is primarily proof of concept. The demos on display were the same as those shown at this year’s E3 the only notable absentees being Ubisoft’s Your Shape and Child of Eden, the only title revealed so far that offers a choice between traditional and motion control. For most people, their first experience of Kinect will be Kinect Adventures, a mini game collection designed to ease people into the technology. With three mini games on display, Kinect Adventures simultaneously highlighted the potential of the motion tracking camera, as well as its drawbacks. So far, the company line has been ‘’you are the controller’ and when games stick to this rule, Kinect shows promise. It works best with gesture based commands; step left, jump, duck etc. Both the river rafting and mine cart race showed promise and trying to navigate a river by stepping left and right in time with a partner was simple silly fun. However, when tasking players with interacting directly with objects on screen, problems behind the entire concept of a controller free device emerge.

Judging depth in a television screen is normally not a problem, but when the screen is supposed to represent a 3D space in front of the player, accurate control becomes an issue. Ricochet, the dodgeball game which is now part of Kinect Adventures and Kinectimals both felt unwieldy as moving arms about became more about guess work and pulled me out of the games rather than making them more engaging. Ricochet boiled down to little more than shaking arms and legs in all directions in the hope that it would connect with the ball and while the fur on each cat did look very soft, in the end rubbing it boils down to waving your hands in empty space in front of you. This also extend to gesture menu navigation. While scrubbing through a video is smooth and surprisingly precise, navigating through the menu screens is still an unwieldy proposition. There was a lot of swinging arms out wide to catch the button on the side of the screen and it left me wishing the voice commands were available to try as waving hands around in space to move left was unnecessarily slow, especially because confirming a command requires your hand to hover over the icon for two or three seconds, rather than an instantaneous button press.

It was while playing Kinectimals that another potential problem emerged. Having just come from trying out the hurdles in Kinect Sports, I moved on to the pet simulator to take my tiger cub through an obstacle course. To make it run faster, the game asked me to run on the spot to which my immediate reaction was of déjà vu. There is a limit to the number of purely gesture based inputs games can use and regardless of what was happening on the screen, it’s still difficult to shake the feeling that your jumping again, or balancing your arms again and unless games can find ways to vary the gameplay, the novelty of the motion control will find itself wearing thin very quickly.

Kinect may have disappointed in some areas, but it certainly surprised in others. The most repeated comment about Dance Central coming out of E3 was that it works and it certainly showed off the cameras potential. I watched a lady in front of me 5 star Poker Face on medium with little difficulty and initially feeling confident, I followed by stumbling through the same track on easy. Like other music based games, there was a clear learning curve and there was never the feeling that random shaking was enough to get through the routine. It also felt like a proper game, rather than a tech demo, one that, with practice, players could improve at over time.

Dance Central was an expected highlight, but it was Joyride that had us coming back for a second try. Controlling a car with two hands on an invisible wheel may sound like an unappealing concept, but steering turned out to be one of the games most appealing aspects. In a kart racer such as this, the lack of speed control was not lamented and even the drifting, achieved by throwing out hips left or right, was fun and intuitive. Crucially, it never felt like the game was playing itself, choosing to take suggestions from the player rather than commands, as was the case with Kinectimals. The main question hanging over Joyride is cost. Originally announced as a free to download racer it remains to be seen whether or not it will have enough content to justify a full retail price tag. However, the concept is sound and the questions surrounding it are with volume not control. Although not playable, one of the modes mentioned was a multiplayer race, where one player drives while the other throws objects from the car to hinder opponents. If done right, it would be a great example of how Kinect has the potential to offer something really unique.

Kinect clearly has potential; the debug demo clearly showed that it tracks with far greater accuracy than many of the launch titles suggested. It has greater success when it asks you to follow, rather than lead, as was the case with Dance Central. Swtiching playerswas also impressively simple; when Kinect recognised a different person in front of the camera, the screen rippled to acknowledge the change and the demos continued uninterrupted. However, when I asked someone to walk in front of me while I was playing, Kinect kept me signed in and the I noticed little to no lag as it picked me up again.  It remains to be seen whether or not its use in conjunction with a controller will make it more palatable to a more traditional audience, though the games demoed had little to suggest that Microsoft has them in mind at launch. Kinect certainly works, it just remains to be seen if developers will tap its full potential, or get caught up in the fine line between  immersion and frustration.

This article originally appeared here

 

 

A Difficult Question

The most common choice offered to players upon starting a new game is the difficulty; Easy, normal, hard or some variant are the most frequent options, though “casual” and “insane” often get dropped in depending on the title. The issue of difficulty in games tends to be raised periodically among gaming communities, but with this being the week that Dark Souls, a game whose marketing has centred around the numerous ways it will destroy your face, I thought it might be timely to consider difficulty, gaming and their relationship as it is today.

For some people, the choice of difficulty is simple; hit normal and away you go. After all, it stands to reason that normal would be the mode the developers intended their game to be played. For others, myself included, the difficulty screen is the first major hurdle in starting a new game. What if halfway through, the game turns out to be too easy or worse, you hit a brickwall? This is an issue easily solved with the ability to change the difficulty at any time, an ability that many games still lack. However, it could be argued (and damn it I’ll play Devil’s Advocate and argue it!) that having the choice of difficulty in the first place is an oddity, both from a historical and practical approach to game design.

Let’s look at history first. It’s no secret that video games were originally designed to take your pocket change and leave you poor. The trick was to find a level of difficulty that would pummel the player into submission, while giving them the impression that with just one more try they may prevail. Not surprisingly, a choice of difficulty would make little sense as, should the player pick easy, there was the risk they could beat the game for a few pieces of shrapnel. This imperative in game design has mostly passed by, with people paying up front for the “full experience” (excepting DLC and subscription based models, which is a topic for another post). To this end, developers now want players to see all that their game has to offer, which is no surprise, considering the cost and effort that is involved in modern games development.

 Added to this, developers want players to see their games in the best light possible. Games are unique in that, unlike television or books, they actively prevent you from experiencing what they have to offer. You don’t have to beat a book or a TV show, simply progress along a linear narrative path until the conclusion. That’s not to say they are passive experiences; far from it. Books, for example, require the reader to draw out its world in their mind, using their imagination to convert text on a page into a living, breathing reality. Games however require active input from the player, where they are forced to make decisions in order to progress. In some games, this element is elevated to include deciding how the narrative plays out, but every game makes demands on the player, even in the most linear narrative. Take cover, fall back, which gun to use, which direction to walk… the list is endless. When you boil it down, difficulty in games is about consequence. Say for example, if you’re playing Gears of War or Uncharted on the lowest difficulty setting, and decide to rush the enemy. In this instance, it is likely you will succeed. However, bump up the notch to the highest setting and try the manoeuvre again. The odds swing back against the player. In the former instance, there is no real consequence for the player, while the harder difficulties punish poor decision making with death. This fundamentally alters the players relationship with the on screen character, either removing the vulnerability the narrative dictates they must have, or reducing a legendary soldier to a rookie unable to take on a small group of militia. As a result, after clearing an entire temple of soldiers and helicopters, Drake can trigger a cutscene and be overwhelmed by one or two lackeys.

My intention isn’t to criticise game design by arguing that the difficulty feature should be removed, as
I’ve said already, I think the choice should be offered to players at any point during the game, not just at the beginning, before they have a good idea of where the balance lies. However, it should highlight the oddity of having the choice in the first place. Even if you are just along for the ride, enjoying the spectacle, the reaction elicited by said spectacle is altered depending on the players struggle to reach that point. Which brings me back to Dark Souls, a game where the designers have deliberately set the bar high and removed the option to change the difficulty should the going get tough. Overcoming adversity is core to the game’s message, a message that is diminished if the game could be set to “walk in the medieval fantasy park”. It is a reactionary move from a team that feels that games have increasingly pandered to the player’s whims, patting them on the head with every minor victory. They are part of a school of thought that argues that this trend robs the players from a true sense of achievement. In life, overcoming true challenge is where the greatest satisfaction lies, and so it is with games as well. They have taken this notion to its logical extreme and the result is a game with the tagline “You will die”.

At times, I wonder if this is an elitist attitude to games. Certainly it would appear so in some cases; die too often in Ninja Gaiden and the game offers to bump down the difficulty complete with a little pink ribbon for Ryu, so the player is constantly aware they are doing it ‘wrong’, that they are subpar. Wanted renamed its easy difficulty “Pussy” mode which, although it is in keeping with the tone of the movie and game, remains offensive for a variety of reasons.

Although the vast majority of decisions lie in the hands of the game designers, the degree to which players wish to struggle is often dictated by the players themselves. However, hopefully this feature has highlighted, not just the impact the choice can have on the player’s perception of a game, but also how it seems to run counter to the designers wish to guide that perception. In some cases, for example Halo or Operation Flashpoint, playing the hardest setting is almost like playing a different game; old tactics become redundant and once tiny challenges become mountains. So next time you start up a new game, spare a second on that difficulty screen and ask how a simple choice could alter your entire opinion on the upcoming adventure.

This post originally appeared here

The Issue of Control

In the beginning, there was the D-pad. The player could move their character across a 2-D plane with ease… and it was good. With Microsoft and Sony both set to follow Nintendo into world of motion control, it seems that the industry is standing on the brink of great change.

The limits of what a controller can do have been stretched. The analogue stick, the staple of gaming since the Playstation fully embraced the third dimension half through its life cycle (so much so that we soon demanded one for each thumb) has been declared now as only half of the equation and in the case of Kinect, it doesn’t even figure. The stick, surely the greatest addition to games since the ubiquitous D-pad (which still graces the controllers, despite the 360’s efforts to sully its name with a spongy mass of plastic), is so  perfectly fit to navigate a 3D space to the point that it’s addition to the way we control games was never really questioned. However, with motion control there are a number of avenues available to exploit and the definitive method is far from being locked down as is ably demonstrated by the fact that each of the big three companies all employ very different technology to track motion. It is easy to suggest that this is the first time the industry has come to such a crossroad. However, this suggestion, as sensible as it sounds would be wrong.

In the beginning was the D-pad. Well, not really. In the beginning were a number of different ways to control games. The Magnavox Odyssey, the system considered to be the first legitimate home games console, had two knobs on the side of a box, the Atari, various joysticks, but also a little wheel controller. The Sinclair Spectrum had a keyboard. The 80’s were a time of discovery for videogames. Back then, there were few industry standards, many systems had multiple controllers, like the Commodore 64, which featured keyboard and joystick options.

These control choices had two main avenues of influence: The arcade and the home computer. The joystick had its home in the arcades. The most adaptable of the arcade control systems (many of which were game specific), it made sense to adopt it as the method of control should the company be attempting to create the “home arcade” experience. The keyboard? The result of trying to market machines such as the Commodore 64 as home computers that could help children with their homework. Clever, but parents never reckoned on Paperboy…

The Magnavox Odyssey
                                                                                 The Magnavox Odyssey

It was the NES that got it just right. The classic controller, the first that many of today’s gamers became familiar with, a D-pad with two buttons; a and b. With the NES, the home console got a control method to call its own. The NES didn’t mark the cross’s first appearance, it had several incarnations before industry legend (and Game Boy creator) Gunpei Yokoi designed the now familiar design and added into the Game & Watch series. It’s also worth noting that the NES actually predated a number of the systems quoted above. It took time for the design to filter down and become standard, though tellingly the Sega Master System, released a year after the NES, featured a very similar pad as standard on the controller. However, by the time the 80’s had wrapped up, almost every system, home and hand held alike, featured the four way directional pad.

It’s easy now to look back and see that the D-pad was the obvious choice to carry forward. More practical and than a keyboard and more precise than a joy stick, it’s easy now to wonder how it wasn’t thought of and adopted sooner. However, it is a situation in many ways similar to this that we are presented with today: The issue of control. Where are we going next? Right now, motion control seems to be the safe bet, though it’s possible the industry could veer off on another direction entirely given four or five more years (however, given the massive financial commitment involved within all parties on developing motion control it’s unlikely).  It’s possible that in twenty years time, the games industry will look back and say with a smug smile that of course Kinect was never going to work, that its reach exceeded its technological grasp, that the Sony Move was too little too late for a company that needed something to separate them from its competitors or that the Wii did little behind highlight the technical and practical limitations of motion control.

While it would certainly be unfair to suggest that what lies before us is a repeat of the infamous Super Scope, hype is a cruel mistress. In the end it will most certainly fall to software. The Wii had Wii Sports but failed to follow up with anything that suggested the remote could stir imagination beyond clever tech demos. Should Sony or Microsoft release a title that people feel must be played, they will have legitimised their respective approaches to motion control.

Remember, even the D-pad need Super Mario Bros.

This post originally appeared here

Resonance of Fate Review

It’s safe to say that Japanese RPGs have suffered a decline in favour in the West in recent years. Under pressure from games such as Mass Effect and Fallout, popular opinion on this side of the Earth on has tended to regard them as antiquated or stale. The challenge then, to Japanese developers attempting to broaden their appeal outside of the domestic market, is to offer something new and original while retaining the core of what the JRPG genre is. A tough challenge no doubt, but one that Tri-Ace has taken on with its latest title, Resonance of Fate. Swords are out, guns are in. Bright, whimsical clothing has been replaced by more modern, and I dare say sensible, attire. Most importantly however, the turn based battle system, so often a focal point of criticism yet somehow integral to what makes a game a JRPG, has been overhauled and blended with some Western sensibilities. Resonance of Fate is the product of cross pollination of ideas between East and West and the result is truly unique.

A recurring theme among Japanese RPGs is that of the unlikely hero; untested in combat, unprepared for the responsibility thrust upon them. Not so in Resonance of Fate. From the off, you are introduced to three hired guns, mercenaries of the guild who are cocky and aware of their aptitude for battle. However, the introduction of guns is not a license for Marcus Fenix and his troops to march into Final Fantasy. The characters in Tri Ace’s latest retain the innocent charm of Japanese adolescent leads. The story takes place, not in a vast world, but in a single city. In the wake of a global disaster, people have retreated to the tower of Basel; a bleak, dirty city where nature has no place. The plot is laid out in chapters, bite sized storylines which initially seem unconnected. Much of the first few hours will be spent scratching your head looking for context and in the end, the story is hit or miss. The real driving force in the narrative is the relationship between your party. One chapter in particular is laugh out loud funny and over all, Resonance of Fate is aided by some great voice acting headed up by one Nolan North of ‘Uncharted’ fame. The three leads never fall on the wrong side of snarky and it’s a nice change to have characters that are both likeable and genuinely funny.

One word of advice that should be heeded before broaching the world of Resonance of Fate is to read the in game manual. The battle system and world map are completely unique to the game and though initially confusing, prove to be the best reasons to play it. Unlike Final fantasy XIII, which drip fed new abilities to the player over the course of many hours, almost every mechanic in Resonance is available right from the off. However, it will take many hours to fully get to grips with them and some, such as the tri-attack are best left to the side until you have the resources to implement them effectively. Knowing when not to use an ability is as crucial as knowing when to go all out. It’s difficult to describe the flow of battle without handing over the controller. It is most certainly turn based, you have as much time as you need to plan strategy and tactics but once you press the go button, you have to rely on timing and quick thinking. Enemies are free to move and attack while you do and should they hit a character charging an attack, the charge is cancel and it’s back to square one. This can be negated by using a Hero attack, which sets the player character running across the map and allows the player to target and charge freely though at the cost of a bezel. Bezels are HP reserves and losing all of them sends the entire team into an emergency state where attacks are greatly weakened and hero attacks are no longer available. It all sounds very complicated and in truth it is but persevere and the game will reveal a battle system of great depth that is both rewarding and very fun to experiment with.

There is so much more could be said about how Resonance of Fate handles combat, but to go further would simply confuse what has already been said. It is spectacular to look at and is easily the games greatest success. Other elements however, are less successful. Apart from the overall plot, which is lacking, Basel suffers from a disappointing level of variety. The rust filled, steam punk setting is pretty certainly, but it all blends together after many hours of play. The colour palette never alters dramatically and even locations which should promise something new inevitably turn up more greys and dull reds.  The over map is tiled based and pieces must be placed to advance. These hexes are picked up from slayed opponents and players are free to choose to make a beeline toward the next objective or spend tiles exploring the immediate area in search of loot. Random battles come at just the right frequency to avoid getting frustrating though exploring goes little further than the tile map, as the ‘dungeons’ in the game are simply arenas chained together. It’s an original take on a world map and the tile based mini game breaks up the flow by cleverly allowing you to progress at your own pace.

The character models are gorgeous to look at.

Resonance of Fate also re-examines how clothing and equipment is handled. The game allows you to dress your characters as you see fit and without concern for how it will affect their stats. Everything from boots to coats to eye colour can be customised all for the good of looking fabulous. All of the cutscenes are rendered in game so the changes you make to the characters are reflected as the story unfolds, which is nice touch. Weapons also are treated differently. It’s likely that your entire team will be using the exact same guns they started as much as 8 or 9 hours into the game. However it’s possible to customise and augment them with everything from new sights to extra capacity magazines and they have a tangible effect on the weapons. Parts can be bought, or built with scrap earned from winning battles, which fits nicely with the theme of Bazel and its ragdag aesthetic.

With Resonance of Fate, Tri-Ace has given the JRPG a shot in the arm. It implements many changes to convention but never sacrifices its core. Admittedly, some of the changes don’t quite work, a greater variety of weapons is especially needed. With a tightened plot, a more varied setting and a more interesting take on dungeons, Tri Ace has a potential classic on its hands. As it stands, they have produced a flawed gem. However, its real importance lies in its successful blend of East and West sensibilities and if this is a sign on things to come, it would be unwise to think that Japanese RPGs have no room left for innovation.

This post originally appeared here

Kane and Lynch 2 Review

The original Kane and Lynch was a perfect example of a game that rode in on a wave of hype, only to be met by apathy when it reached the shore. With Kane and Lynch: Dog Days, IO Interactive have returned to bring a game that strips away many of the cumbersome mechanics and revamps the presentation and visual style of the original.Set over the course of 48 hours, Dog Days follows the pair as they attempt to escape Shanghai after a job goes horribly wrong. The ‘Fragile Alliance’ multiplayer mode also makes a welcome return, with several variants to shake up the mix.

The first thing people will notice about Kane and Lynch: Dog Days, is it’s grainy, handheld recorder quality visuals. That’s not to say the game looks bad, quite the opposite in fact. Artifacting, colour bleed, unsteady framing; all of the elements you expect to see in a video on Youtube combine here to create a Shanghai that feels lived in. Too grim to be called beautiful, the environments do an admirable job in setting the tone the rest of the game follows. It’s not a style everyone will appreciate; some may find it too difficult to pick out specific points or enemies on screen for example, but for those it clicks with, the presentation will be one of the high points of Dog Days.

The realistic, grounded feel of the game carries over to the weapons. However, in contrast most games, which allow you to headshot enemies with a pistol from hundreds of feet away, the majority of the guns in Dog Days have the accuracy equivalent of blind firing in most other games. This didn’t bother me so much as the game is supposed to be played quick and dirty, dropping and picking up weapons every minute or so, but the lack of punch from the guns at a distance compounded the problem significantly. At times I could empty an entire clip and the target would still be standing at the end of it. In contrast, the shotguns are viciously lethal from a distance, unbalancing the game somewhat. The solution is to get in tight and attack up close. However, get to close to an enemy and they will headshot you for a one hit kill. What this adds up to is a game that should be played in close quarters, but keeps you at arm’s length. This is particularly a problem because with one exception, the entirety of the game is running and gunning. The running works fine, and the cover system has no issues, but the gunplay can let Dog Days down at times.

Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days is short. I beat it in about 5 or 6 hours, but I could have gone through it even quicker and even at that I was playing the campaign solo. It’s not inconceivable that in 2 player co op, the story could be beaten in 4 or 5 hours. There are downloadable titles that have longer campaigns for a fraction of the price of a retail release. However, lengthening out the package are the multiplayer modes. Rather than the titular anti-heroes, you play as unnamed criminals as they take on various heists across Shanghai. After the cash has been grabbed, the race is on to get to the getaway vehicle. The twist is that, from that point on, anyone can turn traitor and try take the entire score for yourself. Trying to take on the AI and the other players is a daunting task and many a heist will fail because you simply get too greedy. If you want to avoid confrontation, you can also pay the wheelman to leave the others behind, but this requires you to get there first, and half of the kitty. It’s only a viable option if you have the vast majority of the cash, but it means that if you’ll always be racing to get to the van first and adds a good bit of haste to the proceedings. ’Undercover Cop’ has the same setup, but one player is chosen at random to foil the robbery. Without raising the suspicions of the others, the undercover cop must take them down, whilst avoiding killing other police. It’s fraught, tense and most often ends in a bloodbath.Multiplayer is the highlight of Kane and Lynch 2, but it still relies on the same shooting that will turn many off the single player. It’s a pity that the guns can feel so off, because there’s really nothing quite like the game types on offer.


Kane and Lynch 2 is a far better game than the original. However it still has a long way to go before it can be recommended against Gears of War and Resident Evil 5. The story needed not just to be longer, but to have more. It’s a relief that the broken squad commands and awkward scenarios are absent, but there’s nothing to replace them and what’s on offer ultimately boils down to a rudimentary, though eye-catching cover shooter.

This post originally appeared here

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood Review

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the Assassin’s Creed series. I bought a 360 for the original and its sequel was one of my games of the year. So it was that the announcement of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood filled with me with dread. Like many, I first assumed it would be a multiplayer focused title, with the single player served as an afterthought. However, what Ubisoft have produced is a mammoth title, with an innovative take on multiplayer and the most expansive single player this side of Red Dead Redemption.

Ezio’s story seemed to wrap up pretty neatly at the end of AC II, but he’s back in a tale that takes him to the  streets of Rome and right into the heart of the Vatican… again. The story in this release doesn’t have the same drama as the location hoping, decades spanning tale we were treated to last year, but it still rises above most videogame offerings in no small part helped by the exceptional voice acting which rarely, if ever puts a foot wrong. Brotherhood also allows us yet more time with Desmond pushing his journey in new and unexpected ways.

Although Ezio moves from his villa in Monteriggioni, Desmond soon takes up residence, allowing a quick parkour session over parked cars and mopeds at night. It’s a small touch but getting to free run through a location with modern trappings is a nice change. However, Rome is the main attraction here and while it does offer a number of impressive sites (wait until you climb to the top of the Castel Sant’Angelo) Brotherhood falls short of the diversity of its predecessor, with regard to Venice and Forli in particular. Pop up also appears more noticeable, likely to be the result of the admittedly huge main location.

One area that Brotherhood completely outclasses the previous games is the secret temples. While they provided a welcome break from the city scaling antics of AC II, here they often outshine the main campaign in terms of spectacle. Racing through a cathedral under construction before scrambling across the rain slicked roof or infiltrating a fortress using the underwater canal network provides a more directed take on the assassin’s abilities setting up some truly memorable moments.

One of Brotherhood’s great improvements is that you can now replay any memory you’ve already completed meaning that these great sequences can by enjoyed multiple times without having to replay the entire campaign. They also give you the opportunity to shoot for ‘100 % synch’ by fulfilling certain conditions the game places on each memory. These include taking little to no damage, not getting caught or by assassinating a character a particular way.

In previous instalments of the franchise, the player had no choice but to get their hands dirty in the executions. Brotherhood changes this. As you burn down Borgia towers, you unlock slots to recruit initiates to the Creed. It would have been enough to allow Ezio to summon a helper every few minutes or so but instead they included a management system that many will lose hours to. Each assassin-in-training can be dispatched on missions around Europe or called in to help you, rising through the ranks to eventually become fully fledged assassins with a garb that mimics your own. It’s very empowering to walk into a restricted area and be challenged by guards, only to hold up your fist and have your minions leap from the shadows and dispatched you foes. When you finally accumulated three marks, Ezio can call on an “arrow storm” that instantly downs all guards within your vicinity. However, while it certainly is very satisfying, eventually the novelty wears off and you may be left wondering where the challenge went or even if the trade off is worth it.

The single player campaign is solid, but it is ultimately a selection of iterative improvements rather than a huge advancement for the franchise. If you want something completely new, look to the multiplayer. Unlike Halo, Call of Duyor numerous other popular multiplayer titles, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is about patience and observation. Each player is assigned a target and must sift through an arena of identical clones, searching for their mark. Higher ranked players can have up to four players tracking them and the key is not drawing attention to yourself. Running around and causing a ruckus will not only paint a target over your head but, should you get a kill, you will earn far fewer points compared to a stylish stealth kill. This is reinforced by the fact that it’s points, not the number of kills that matter and I regularly played games where the winner had two, three or even four kills fewer than some of the other players.

The most surprising part of Brotherhood is that the multiplayer not only works, but is hugely satisfying. However, it does have two issues which hold it back from greatness. The first is matchmaking. It can take up to six or seven minutes to find a game and start playing and even then, matches will often close up within the first minute of playing, booting everyone into their own lobbies. This is also a problem with party play and I have yet to have a smooth multiplayer session when playing with friends. The other issue is its levelling up mechanic. Progress through the multiplayer is slow but the rewards for each new level are great… too great. Regardless of skill, a level 1`player will rarely be able to touch someone in their 20’s. It’s going to turn off many from jumping in even a few weeks after the launch and is set to become a haunt of hardcore elites only. You have been warned. The game also implements leaderboards, attached to challenge rooms. If a number of people on your friends list have Brotherhood, then  expect to spend a long while trying to beat each others score in movement, combat and stealth challenges which do a great job of showing of the depth of the mechanics at the heart of franchise. Even if you’re a veteran of the series, I’d recommend trying these out as you’re guaranteed to learn tricks you didn’t know existed.

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is a good game,  in fact it’s a great game, but it doesn’t reach the dizzy heights of imagination of its predecessor. It does make improvements to the formula, but I can’t help but feel a whiff of fatigue about the franchise. It’s also brought by a later sequence which is horrifically broken and will have more than a few players cursing at their televisions. I still love Assassin’s Creed, but as the credits rolled, I was left feeling deflated rather than the excitement I had become used to. Maybe it’s because AC:II was such a huge leap over the original, which in itself was a game like none before it, but riding through the contado of Rome, I couldn’t help the feeling of “been there, scaled that”.

This post originally appeared here