Keep Digging

The game looks beautiful, when it isn't chugging to keep up...Murder for hire requires a certain mindset. Patience, diligence, attention to detail, caution, detachment: all of these have defined 47 for the previous four Hitman games. In Hitman: Absolution, however, it appears that 47 has forgotten a decade of his experience and training.

Sometimes, 47 has to fight giant Mexicans while pretending to be a masked fighter called "The Patriot". I'm not sure what should be inferred from that confrontation...

Sometimes, 47 has to fight giant Mexicans while pretending to be a masked fighter called “The Patriot”. I’m not sure what should be inferred from that confrontation…

In the opening level, 47 turns his back on his agency, deliberately fails to complete his mission, and goes rogue. From then on, he is either seeking to learn the history of a girl named Victoria or attempting to get her back from those who’ve kidnapped her.

The gameplay in the Hitman series has been very similar since Hitman 2. Each game used a very similar system and each had a similar feature set. Most of the innovation was in level design and the creation of interesting assassination scenarios. Absolution is the first major change in system since then, and, unfortunately it is mostly for the worse. Arbitrary saving has gone away, replaced with checkpoints which are all too rare. The graphics have been updated to be appropriate with the times, but that has led to the game having a very inconsistent frame rate. If data is loading, the frame rate will often slow to a crawl.

Hitman: Absolution Apple

Sometimes, 47 likes to relax.

Unfortunately, bugs aren’t limited to the graphics subsystem. I’ve repeatedly had problems with the game corrupting its own data files and then crashing when it attempts to read the same. If left paused for an extended period of time (say a few hours), the game will be unplayable–lagging, stuttering and otherwise being finicky.

Hitman: Absolution Digging your own Grave

It’s easy to relax while someone else does the work. By the way, keep digging.

Absolution is really divided into three kinds of levels. The first–and best–are the open assassination levels. These give 47 a great deal of freedom in carrying out his mission and there is enough room to maneuver to make it fun while still being challenging. The second type are the highly restricted assassination levels. These levels often occur in entirely hostile places with highly restricted areas of movement and filled to the brim with guards. Often, these levels are just exercises in patience until the scripted kills can be identified. The third–and worst–type are the sneaking levels. They have no killing, no interesting mechanics, just waiting, sliding along cover, and dodge rolling. In a sense, they are entire levels devoted to the least interesting aspect of the Hitman series.

When you’re playing its good levels, Absolution is as good as any other Hitman game. I just wish that the good levels occurred more often. As it stands, less than half of the levels fall into what I would classify as the “best” type of level. And with a ratio like that, I just can’t recommend the game.

Hitman: Absolution: 0

Hitman: Absolution Sniper Scope

I see you. Do you see me? I guess it doesn’t really matter.

 

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Narrative Recursion

There are certain narrative devices that I’m a sucker for. One of those is the time loop. Alan Wake’s American Nightmare takes the time loop and runs with it. As this review covers a sequel, expect there to be spoilers about the previous game: Alan Wake.

American Nightmare picks up after the two DLCs for the original Alan Wake. Wake is still lost in the Dark Place and attempting to find his way back into the real world. To do that, he has written himself an escape plan. Of course, as with the original game, the act of calling upon the world-shaping narrative power of the Dark Place has mostly destroyed his memory of what he actually planned to do.

The complication this time, though, is that his foe is no longer the large and unknown dark place, but a sentient, and clever at that, doppelganger. Wake’s opponent has trapped him in the work that Wake created to escape the Dark Place and simply keeps looping him through it, making this more difficult each time.

In gameplay terms, this comes together as playing through each of about 4 or 5 areas three times each. Though the levels are the same, the other characters in each place slowly become aware of their situation and help Wake more on each pass.

The game plays much like its predecessor, but has become somewhat more actiony with the introduction of a greater variety of enemies. In keeping with that, this iteration, unlike the original, doesn’t periodically confiscate your equipment.

I think that, as a bridge between Alan Wake and its eventual sequel, it is pretty solid. What I really want though, is Alan Wake 2.

Alan Wake’s American Nightmare: 1

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Revolving Indians

The Assassin’s Creed series has a problem. That problem is the yearly release schedule. Unfortunately, Assassin’s Creed III is the result of a schedule that is untenable.

Producing a continuous series with an iteration every year is a monumental effort. Even more difficult, though, is ensuring that each entry into the series is fresh and interesting enough to pull players in. I don’t think Assassin’s Creed III has managed that.

From a gameplay standpoint, little has changed about the Assassin’s Creed games since Assassin’s Creed II. Equipment, weapons, and tactics all remain virtually unchanged. Yes, there are now firearms, but they mostly don’t matter. Their damage output isn’t extraordinary and most enemies only ever fire once.

What has changed, however, is uniformly for the worse. Enemies now seem to spawn endlessly and to be nearly unshakable once alerted; it is common to spend several minutes escaping from a single bad exposure. Double assassinations–a great feature that was added in Assassin’s Creed II–are gone without any explanation. The countering system has been made even more finicky with combo assassinations now failing randomly. Worse yet, the “rock-paper-scissors” of the countering system has now been replaced with “rock always works” as  long as “rock” is either a gun or the bow and arrow.

If the system changes weren’t bad enough, they’ve also brought in a wonderful smorgasbord of general bugginess. I was once attacked in the middle of a cutscene. The attack wasn’t part of the cutscene, the game just didn’t properly disable the logic to prevent me from being attacked. On many occasions, I had enemies fail to die because the air assassination technique just failed to hit. I had to redo many an optional objective because the game decided that I simply wasn’t killing correctly enough. And of course, I spent countless hours filling in the “Encyclopedia of the Common Man” because an NPC decided to repeatedly do the same action without ever switching to one that I hadn’t seen.

I could probably have taken the bad gameplay changes and the general bugginess if there had been a worthwhile plot underlying it.  There is not. The whole game seems disconnected and random. Connor’s motivations are rarely clear and often entirely bizarre, especially when coupled with general gameplay. He seems to flip back and forth between being a cold-blooded killer and a man trying to take no life. It seems like he has no narrative inertia. Whatever is convenient to the plot is what happens without anything really tying it back to the character development or existing narrative.

I don’t know who at Ubisoft greenlit this game, as it is. I do know that that person should be fired.

Assassin’s Creed III: 0

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The Kid Had It Rough

He always has a comment. One for every moment.

He always has a comment. One for every moment.

Narrators are a strange thing in games. When they do appear, it is often only in cutscenes. In fact, aside from the occasional “meanwhile, at the big bad’s hideout”, they are quite an oddity in the medium. In Bastion, though, the narrator is the first–and only–voice that the game uses to relate the plot to the player.

Throughout the game, the ever-present voice of “The Stranger” narrates both the plot and the gameplay. Do well, and he speaks of how nothing can bother you; do badly, and he describes how you were given trouble but managed to scrape through. This slightly detached interplay between the game and the player is surprisingly effective at drawing you into the game. It also makes easy work of providing information to the player.

Though the narrator is probably the most memorable thing in the game, the visuals themselves are nothing to forget. The whole game carries the feel of a watercolor painting.

2012-11-08_00002The game itself takes place in a world destroyed by an unknown “Calamity”. Bits and piece of the world rise up to form a makeshift platform as you move about, but the world itself is largely inhabited by monsters that have survived the end and now overrun the places that used to be. The “rebuilding” of the world as you move around provides a beautiful symmetry with the central plot of trying to collect the bits and pieces of the old world necessary to repair it.

As a game, Bastion is something of a two-stick shooter. Though different from many other2012-11-09_00003 games in this category in that the pace tends to be much more relaxed and the available space for movement limited. If one were just take a glace, it would seem much like any other isometric action game. The depth of gameplay, though, mostly comes from the large supply of weapons that the game has on offer. The game only lets you bring a pair with you into each level, so it forces a choice based on what you expect to face and which weapons you’ve managed to become skillful with. Even so, most all of the weapons are very useful and none of them ever really become useless, even as more are unlocked.

Overall, the game is quite good. My only real complaint is that the game can easily overwhelm you with enemies–especially if you crank up the difficulty. Nevertheless, I recommend the game quite highly.

Bastion: 1

2012-11-09_00005

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