Locked In

Before I beat Mass Effect 3, I had actually beaten Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. Revelations is the third, and hopefully final, game in the story of Ezio Auditore, a Renaissance era assassin. Like the previous 3 Assassin’s Creed games, Revelations is a third-person, free-exploration game.

Mechanically, Revelations has very few gameplay changes beyond what its predecessor AC: Brotherhood had on offer. Though they’ve added a “hook blade” which effectively increases climbing speed and maximum reach and a mildly complex bomb creation system, neither of these additions fundamentally alter the game. Careful planing, stealth and precise application of the hidden blade remain the easiest way clear most missions.

From a plot standpoint, Revelations feels like it could mostly have been replaced by a few cutscenes. Most of the game isn’t spent on a great struggle against an unassailable enemy, but instead on an extended fetch quest. The best parts of the game are the short sequences in which we see bits and pieces of Altaïr’s life post Assassin’s Creed 1 and those amount to perhaps 6 scenes scattered over the length of the entire game. Of course, I hadn’t had lingering questions about Altaïr’s life before playing Revelations, so it is difficult for me to say that this was necessary information.

It doesn’t help that Revelations removed both the ability to interact with the “real” world and the interesting (if not terribly fun) puzzles that lead to true revelations about the game universe. The first game’s “subject 16” data were puzzles layered on top of puzzles. The lack of something similar is a real disappointment.

Though the game is solidly constructed, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations feels a bit too much like Ubisoft just phoned it in. It certainly isn’t terrible, but from a franchise with the consistent level of quality that Assassin’s Creed has brought to each game, this feels like an expansion pack in the clothes (and with the price tag) of a full game.

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations: 0

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They Were Warned

Over the weekend, I finished up my play through of Mass Effect 3. Being a blockbuster franchise, I’ll be dispensing with the description of what it is. Now, the real trick in reviewing Mass Effect 3 is that, based on murmurings that I’ve heard round the Internet, the game may be vastly different to different players. Given such, anything I say about the plot should probably be taken as just one view into a multifaceted work. And finally, before I finish my disclaimers, I should say that there’s going to be plot talk about the two predecessor games and some about this final one. You’ve been warned.

For me, Mass Effect 3 began with Shepard under house arrest on Earth, after the events of the Mass Effect 2: Arrival DLC mission pack. The Reapers have finally invaded and decided to hit Earth first and hard. Honestly, given that the only person in the galaxy to kill a Reaper was a human, this seems a fair way to get started. With the fight on Earth hopeless, Shepard is sent off world to find some way, any way to fight back against the seemingly unstoppable Reaper threat.

After locating the plans for a MacGuffin capable of defeating the Reapers, Shepard instantly launches into a galaxy spanning campaign to recruit allies to both build it and hold back the Reapers advances to give time for said MacGuffin to be built. This section of the game is where it really shines. Unlike many other “save the world” or “save the universe” games, Mass Effect 3 manages to give the struggle real weight. People who matter die and decisions have real consequences. Most notably, the game often forces you to choose between having the best possible force now and trying to ensure a stable post-Reaper galaxy with the caveat that winning with anything less than everything (or even with everything) isn’t assured.

From a gameplay perspective, Mass Effect 3 follows very closely on Mass Effect 2‘s model. Nothing of great substance has changed, though weapon modifications are back from the original Mass Effect. Of course, the gameplay in Mass Effect 2 was extremely solid, so this isn’t a major issue. Given the nature of the story, however, there seemed to be less diversity in enemy opponents this time around. I wonder if that might make certain classes weaker this time around than previous.

My main irritation with the game was the available endings. I didn’t dislike the choices themselves–I’ve written a large analysis of them elsewhere on the site–what I didn’t like is that I was forced to make a choice and then was not shown the implications of that choice. This same problem appeared in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, though I would argue it is worse here.

Nevertheless, the sheer strength of the story in the mid-game largely makes up for the lack of denouement, at least to me. It is rare that a game can make me feel real emotion about it’s characters, but Mass Effect 3 did. It may also be the only game in which a forced loss didn’t feel like it can from stupidity being the only option.

Mass Effect 3: 1

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I Drink to Forget

Over the weekend, I played through the rest of Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Amnesia was made by the same people who created the Penumbra series and shares many traits with it. Amnesia is another first-person horror/suspense/adventure game but shares only a game engine–rather than a continuing story–with its predecessors.

Amnesia begins with the protagonist suffering from (wait for it) amnesia. He quickly finds a note from himself, to himself instructing him to go deep into the depths of the castle and murder Alexander. Who Alexander is and what, precisely, he has done to warrant murder is slowly revealed over the course of the game as the protagonist finds pages from his own journal.

Like its predecessors, Amnesia largely builds itself on its atmosphere. The entire game attempts to instill a tense, uneasy feeling. Darkness is ever-present and being in it the sanity meter to fall. Failing sanity then causes the protagonist to undergo both visual hallucinations–in the form of extremely exaggerated motion blur and a surprisingly unnerving undulation effect on the world–and auditory hallucinations–themselves often relevant to where you are (for example, the sound of dogs howling, just on the edge of perception in the room where you find a dissected dog).

Several people that I talked to about Amnesia, before playing it, had very strong feelings about the level of fear that it induced. Whether due to my extended history with horror/suspense games, the fact that I had recently played the Penumbra games, or my general jadedness, I tended to not react to the game with fear. It certainly managed to startle me on several occasions, but the enemies–themselves a common thread that others mentioned as something that made them quit playing–I mostly saw as an aggravation.

The sudden arrival of an enemy as a rounded a corner tended most often to mean that I would die another pointless death. Since Amnesia follows in the footsteps of the second Penumbra game (Black Plague), there are no weapons and the enemies themselves act primarily as things to be avoided. Unlike Black Plague, however, enemies could be defeated in a somewhat meta sense. I realized, rather quickly, that dying at the hands of a given enemy would cause that enemy to not respawn when I died (or at least to respawn somewhere far away). This meant that, in general, my method of dealing with an enemy was to flee in the direction that I wanted to move anyway and to shrug if I died.

One can argue, perhaps reasonably, that in assuming the above strategy, I was ignoring the game’s admonition, given before it even started, to “not try to win”. I would, of course, respond that such admonitions are an attempt to alter player behavior without bothering to make the gameplay (or meta-gameplay, in this sense) jibe with the authorial intent. Put more succinctly, I’d call it developer laziness.

My main complaint with Amnesia is that it feels incomplete. Although the journals, notes, and small bits of dialog work well in reconstructing what the protagonist knew before losing his memory, it seems as though the greater world–and the real motivation of the very small number of other characters–is left as a under-explained. For a game so heavily built on its storytelling, I felt like the third act didn’t provide the resolution that was necessary. Too many vital questions were left unanswered.

Amnesia is another game that I wanted to like. It is certainly one of the better done pieces in the horror/suspense genre that I’ve seen lately, but I think the endings (all of them) left me disappointed and unfulfilled. And if there’s one thing I can’t abide, it’s a game that drops the ball at the last second.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent: 0

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