Tag Archives: reviews

Review – Assassin's Creed: Unity

Assassin’s Creed: Unity hit shelves this week, with the stealth action game hitting the streets (and rooftops) of 18th Century Paris during the French Revolution.
Unfortunately that’s the only revolution found in Unity, which leans heavily on the now-tired mechanics of past games. As Arno Dorian, the game’s hero, I was run through the same missions I had grown tired of doing two or three games ago – tailing someone through Paris without losing them isn’t all that different from any other location the series has visited, for example, even with the much large crowds to push through. Where Black Flag, the series last outing, earned itself a reprieve with the all-new ocean exploration and combat, Unity has little new going for it besides a fresh coat of paint.
That’s not to say there haven’t been some changes. Combat has been overhauled slightly, with counter-kills no longer your primary means of dispatching enemies. Assassinations have also been revamped a bit, hearkening back to the days of the original release where you would stalk enemies to find a weak spot to strike – though the opportunities to actually put this into use are somewhat slim in number. I’d much rather have had more sandbox-style assassinations and less missions about wandering around Paris following a guy. That said, there are a number of new mission types that work well, including following clues – not a mission marker – around Paris to solve the 18 Nostradamus enigmas. There’s also four-player co-op mission, though connections have been a bit shaky at this point.
While Ubisoft has pledged to continue working towards resolution, at the time of writing Unity still suffers from a number of bugs on Xbox One and PS4 (the version played for this review) which affect everything from crowd AI (artificial intelligence) behavior to framerate drops and an assortment of animation and graphics oddities. The game also suffers from a number of legacy issues, like the frustration of having your character start to parkour up a wall when you just want him to chase a target down the street NEAR the wall, a problem that seems like it should have been solved five or six games ago…

Review – Destiny

Destiny makes me wish I hadn’t used the ‘plays great, less filling’ tagline last week for NHL 15, as using it back-to-back seems like taking the easy way out. Bungie’s latest shooter, this one a multiplatform affair available on both current and last-gen consoles from Microsoft and Sony, has all the great gameplay you’d expect from the makers of Halo but falls flat on delivering the epic storyline while trying to mix in elements from massively multiplayer online (MMO) games.
First, the good – you’ll love the controls, which allow easy access to primary, special, and heavy weapons, while still providing easy grenade and melee attacks. There are also special attacks this time around, with the three Guardian classes (Hunter, Titan, and Warlock) having unique super moves for both primary and secondary class options. Hunters, for example, can be either a Gunslinger with a super move that allows for three shots that deliver incredible damage, or a Bladedancer, with a super that turns you into a melee machine capable of shredding a room full of opponents in seconds.
The environments are also incredibly well detailed, with nooks and crannies to explore and gorgeous visuals around every corner. Bungie outdoes their past work on skyboxes, with stunning overhead vistas that will distract from the mission at hand.
Multiplayer is classic Bungie, with solid map design and a decent number of maps available from launch. Different modes like Salvage or Skirmish cycle in and out as featured matches, providing some variety, though Control is far and away my favourite. Those who loved Halo’s PVP won’t be disappointed here, though adjusting to the new power sets might take some time.
That said, there’s also a lot here that falls flat. The story, for example, is a by-the-numbers ‘opposing evil’ plot that loses steam quickly. Finishing the final mission in a fireteam with a pair of friends and watching the last cutscene, one said “Wait, that’s it?” There’s a lot of background story available in Grimoires, which are unlocked regularly as you play and complete challenges, but all that information is on Bungie’s website, not found in-game at all. The game also won’t allow you to skip cutscenes, even when replaying levels – something you’re called on to do with considerable regularity – which grows annoying quite quickly.
Then there’s the loot system…  Destiny is a loot-based game, where you hit level 20 fairly quickly and then use your armour’s ‘Light’ level to continue to advance. Stealing from the MMO genre, Destiny has common, uncommon, rare, legendary, and exotic drops, but these are parceled out sparingly. I quickly grew frustrated with the Engram system, a pattern that drops and is ‘identified’ by an NPC in the main hub, as Legendary Engrams rarely become Legendary items…dropping all the way to uncommon in my experience. Worse yet is getting a Legendary item, only it’s for a different class. With no ability to trade items with other players – a huge omission in a loot-based game – I now have a couple Warlock and Titan pieces banked up in case I make one of those, and not a single Hunter piece at all.
Lastly, there’s the Strike and Raid gameplay, which I’m not entirely sold on – though to be fair it’s not entirely in the game yet. The high-end raid just went active and took a group of highly-equipped players 1,600 deaths and 10 hours to complete, including a couple meltdowns caught on the live streams that brought back memories of raiding in World of Warcraft. The lack of matchmaking in the high end game locks it away from an awful lot of players, so we’ll see how the non-hardcore players respond.

Review – Aliens: Colonial Marines

Start to finish, Aliens: Colonial Marines (ACM) is a half-baked effort that fails to respect the license it trades on and never comes close to being worth the $60 it’ll cost you. SPOILER WARNING – this review will cover a plot point that’s important, but ridiculous.
While it seems almost comically easy to make a decent Aliens game, Gearbox fails on every front with ACM. The alien xenomorphs are well rendered but poorly animated, and their artificial intelligence (AI) frequently breaks down and results in enemies that flat-out ignore the player, even when being shot.
Instead of the lithe and quick aliens seen in the movies, ACM is inhabited by twitchy beasts that rarely seem aware of the environment, much less the player. Even allies frequently have pathing issues through the terrain, perhaps partly to blame for the design decision to have them continually teleporting in front of the player when they get left behind, instead of running to catch up.
The game, first put into development in 2006, looks far more like an early-generation release than a late-gen one. Visual issues range from poor lighting and shadows to muddy textures and terrible clipping problems, where characters will pass right through enemies, walls, or other characters. It’s particularly amusing to walk around during the short in-game sequences meant to advance the plot, casually strolling through the bodies of other characters like they’re not even there.
Even the plot falls flat, returning a dead character to the land of the living with the wave of a hand. Hicks, seen crushed to death in his cryopod at the start of Aliens 3, is brought back to life with no explanation for any of the inconsistencies this brings but a quick “That’s a longer story.” It’s the same sort of ‘look, don’t worry about it’ counter they use for earlier questions about why a ship last seen orbiting a different planet has appeared over LV-426.
In addition, the Alien franchise has long featured a strong female character, Ripley, who cleaned up the messes caused by the stereotypical ‘tough space marine’ characters around her. Not so this time, with Ripley out of the action and Bella proving a poor replacement.
Finally, the game’s real villain isn’t introduced, and then unceremoniously killed, until the final cutscene of the game, leaving the player with reams of unanswered questions and no real moment of resolution to the five-and-a-half odd hours the campaign lasts.
There’s multiplayer to help extend the experience, but even at its best, the competitive game doesn’t come close to making up for the rest of the package. Playing as or against the aliens has been done better in other games, ones that are available far cheaper now as well.

Review – Batman: Arkham City

Batman: Arkham City, sequel to 2009’s Arkham Asylum, outclasses its predecessor in almost every imaginable way.
The new game plays better, with an improved counterattack system that allows players to easily retaliate against multiple enemies at once the highlight of the combat tweaks.
Batman’s wonderful utility belt full of toys also gets an upgrade, as his equipment has been revamped with new secondary abilities. The line launcher can now fire off a second line, mid-ride, while the remote control Batarang gains the ability to alter its speed in midair.
There are several new gadgets as well, the most “Batman” of them being the innocent-sounding smoke pellet. When spotted by gun-wielding foes, Batman can drop the pellet to disperse a localized smoke cloud. This allows the player to either escape using the grapple gun to move quickly about the environment or go on the offensive while the enemy can’t see.
While Batman might not use guns, he has no qualms against employing a new taser-like weapon that can temporarily disable foes or be used to activate machinery ranging from doors to cranes and electromagnets.
Even the grappling gun gets an upgrade, with a new quick-reel option allowing players to catapult Batman into the air where he can glide long distances.
The increased movement option proves incredibly handy in the new setting, a prison in the middle of Gotham City that includes prisoners from both the Arkham Island facility from the first game and the infamous Blackgate  Penitentiary – home to the city’s sane supervillains.
Where the original game featured a small open area as a hub between buildings, Arkham City is set in a large and almost fully-realized cityscape. There are still buildings that can’t be entered, but the majority of the environment is open to exploration and riddled with side quests, items to collect, and small, secret tributes to the fans.
Despite the new focus on an open-world setting, the game still runs at a nearly rock-solid 30 frames per second on both the Xbox 360 and PS3. The PC version was delayed just prior to launch, with a vague ‘sometime in November’ release date.
Staying spoiler-free, it’s fair to say that the Arkham City storyline is a bit more complicated than the original game’s plot. There are some additional twists and turns, plus some hidden ‘set up a sequel’ moments for those who are perceptive enough to catch them.
Replay value is added via the Campaign and Combat challenge maps, as well as a new game plus mode that adds difficulty as well as some new story content.