Thoughts on: The Assassin’s Creed Syndicate Announcement

Ubisoft officially announced their new Assassin’s Creed in a live online presentation. I watched it, I thought things about it, here they are for your eyes to look at. LET’S DO THIS THING.

As had been previously leaked/reported/speculated, it’s set in Victorian London. 1868 to be precise. You are Jacob Frye, a “Born and raised Assassin” who along with his twin sister Evie are launching a street gang-backed class war against the rich, ruling classes of London. From the off, it looked very similar to AC Unity (which was set during the French Revolution), and Jacob doesn’t seem to have much character other than “Violent psychopath, but he’s wearing a top hat so I guess he’s kind of posh too”. They haven’t shown much off though, so that could change. I’m interested to see where his sister comes into it, and at one point during the gameplay demo they were shown to have an apparently Indian ally, so that could be an interesting angle, if played right. That was about it for story. Not much to go on, but I’m already a bit unsure about it. The Assassins up to this point have all been shown to have an at least somewhat noble side to them, but Jacob appears to just be a thug, besides his ultimate goal, which is admittedly a good one. Also it’d be nice to have another game where you get to play as the Templars: “Rogue” has made me firmly on their side. But I’ll reserve full judgement until the game comes out.

As for his equipment, he’s packing a mean looking Kukri, brass knuckles, a revolver and a gauntlet including a hidden blade and a rope launcher for quick ascension and zip lines. Concept also shows that the cane shown in the picture above hides a sword. The gameplay demo showed that horse-drawn carriages can be used as vehicles and can apparently be parkoured over, and that the hand-to-hand combat system is a lot faster, more fluid and rather brutal. Though it seems to have the AC Unity problem of eschewing quick finishers in favour of whaling on opponents. At one point Jacob used a throwing knife to drop a load of suspended barrels onto an enemy, and the trailer and concept art briefly showed the inclusion of “Sherlock Holmes”-esque fighting pits, which I for one will be spending a lot of time in. Oh, and this might just be me, but “The Blighters” and “Bloody Nora” are stupid names for a gang and a gang leader respectively. “The Blighters” I can let slide during the time period, to be fair. But for those unfamiliar with British English, “Bloody Nora” is an exclamation used to express shock or surprise something, it’s not some tough name for a gang leader. The demo ends with a multi-bodied gang brawl in the streets, and Jacob proclaiming that everyone there now works for him and his sister.

Overall, I’m cautiously optimistic. I still really love Assassin’s Creed, I love a Victorian London setting and I’m sure this will turn out fine, but I’m a little put off by how the characters could turn out, especially after Arno. It also seems like they missed an opportunity to have an Indian main character. “The Order 1886” made good use of real life badass Rani of Jhansi, but instead Syndicate opts to continue the series’ recent trend of having white protagonists. Still, I’m looking forward to it.

It releases on October 23rd, despite the footage shown being pre-alpha. So hopefully it won’t be in the same state AC Unity was at launch. Hope springs eternal.

By James Lambert


Bloodborne Review

I’ve been looking forward to this one. I was one of the people fortunate to play the alpha, and I’ve been highly anticipating the game ever since. Though I haven’t finished it (due to my save data mysteriously vanishing) I love Dark Souls, and I’m a big fan of a Victorian London setting. Does Bloodborne meet Hidetaka Miyazaki’s usual standard? Does its new direction pay off? Read on, good Hunter. Seek my review to transcend the hunt and learn the true nature of Yharnam. Note that while I’ll be avoiding specific twists and character names, I will be spoiling certain aspects of the game’s plot. If you haven’t played the game yet, I highly recommend you do so before reading this review, or at least get past Rom.

For those who don’t know, Dark Souls is a punishing but fair dark fantasy RPG known for its imaginative world, detailed, realistic combat and a story left up to the player to discover. Bloodborne carries on that tradition but with a few new angles. You are a Hunter, traversing the streets of the Victorian London-esque Yharnam; a city struck by a terrible plague that slowly turns humans into large, quadrupedal Werewolves. It’s said to be the location of advanced medical skills that can cure a wide variety of ills, but as you arrive the nightly hunt begins, in which “normal” people lock themselves indoors while heavily armed Hunters trawl the streets murdering beasts. Item descriptions paint the hunters as some creepy, twisted cult of sadists. There’s also a rather malevolent looking church with an unknown amount of influence on the town, and some unfathomable goings on in the nearby woods and mysterious town of Byrgenwerth. Every environment is dripping with atmosphere- coffins line the streets of the town, chained shut. Haunting, awful crying can be heard from some houses while laughter and merriment from others. It maintains Dark Souls’ air of dread and daunting tension; that around every corner there can and easily will be an enemy you can’t beat. It’s actually more horror focused than DS. Whereas that game felt like you were traversing a once noble land, tainted by a darkness accidentally succumbed to, nothing feels noble about this place. It’s bleak, grimy and dangerous, and it takes on a whole new level of horror around halfway through, when it becomes a Lovecraftian Cosmic Horror story. What starts as a game about Werewolves, infected villagers and a “Resident Evil 4” sort of vibe quickly evolves to include horrific, alien monstrosities barely comprehensible by human minds. It ties into a gameplay mechanic where you gain “Insight” from various actions. Higher insight makes certain enemies do more damage, but makes your Hunter privy to horrible secrets, such as seeing massive creatures hanging to the sides of buildings that normal people can’t see. The cosmic elements are really well handled, as you gradually unravel the story and discover the full extent of the beings involved and what they’ve done to the town and its people. Much like Dark Souls the story is hidden throughout the world, mainly in item descriptions, notes and in the more frequent, though still short, cutscenes. It encourages you to make your own narrative to an extent, at least for your created character.

The gameplay side of things is equally as impressive. Much like Dark Souls the combat has a realistic weight to it, though with more fantastical elements. It still takes a second or so (depending on what you’re using) to swing your weapon, it bounces off walls and other obstacles, and rolling does take time. However, you can now step-dash when locked on to enemies, your character has no armour to slow them down, and all the weapons in the game are “Trick Weapons”- implements with two different forms that can be switched between at the touch of a button, even mid-combo. A cane that turns into a whip, a sword that can be placed into a huge stone block to form a hammer, that sort of thing. You also have a gun, though it does little damage and is instead used to parry enemies and open them up for massively-damaging counter attacks. The most interesting and useful new feature is that, when damaged, you can attack any nearby enemy to regain health. These attributes come together to give the game a decidedly more action game feel. You have no shield, so it’s a viable tactic to roll in, slash away at whatever you’re fighting, and should you take a hit or two, keep hacking away to regain your health. You’re always on the offensive, even when you’re step-dashing away to adjust to new situations. This is particularly evident when you fight bosses, where a mixture of offense and defense rule the day, especially the ones with multiple, increasingly tough forms. The game is decidely tough but fair, and for the most part deaths are attributed entirely to mistakes made by the player. This wasn’t always the case however, as I found out with the final boss, who suddenly developed the ability to perfectly track me with his attacks. For the most part it makes you rise to increasingly tough challenges throughout the game.

Any problems? Well it’s been patched at the time of writing but initially load times were long and made you stare at the game’s logo. As I said it’s changed now, but it’s worth mentioning. The only real problem I had is that the game makes you choose whether you’re playing offline or online at the main menu, yet if you pick offline you still cannot pause the game. It makes no sense, and it would be very helpful to be able to pause the game.

“Bloodborne” is fantastic. It takes the combat of Dark Souls and gives it a more action-focused slant, its locations, plot and bosses all come together to make a daunting, creepy, unnerving tale, and it feels more focused than its predecessors. This and The Last of Us Remastered are the best reason to get a PS4, and in terms of true PS4 exclusives this is the best by far. It’s similar enough to Dark Souls but stands on its own merits as an amazing game worthy of anyone’s time, as long as you’re willing to work at it. A masterpiece that deserves to be remembered and re-played for years to come.

Also, it keeps up Miyazaki’s tradition of sticking “Berserk” references into games, and I’m all for that.

By James Lambert

Wolfenstein The Old Blood Review

“Wolfenstein The Old Blood” is a stand-alone prequel to last year’s excellent “The New Order”, which combined shooting, stealth and surprisingly good character development under a bleak what if story where the Nazis rule the world. It’s also a somewhat frustrating example of trying to have your cake and eat it, but I’ll get to that in a minute. It’s a decent length, eight chapter story split into two equal halves: “Rudi Jager and the Den of Wolves” and “The Dark Secrets of Helga Von Schabbs”. It’s more gameplay focused, and takes the game back to be more in line with “Return to Castle Wolfenstein”, for better and for worse. But is it worth your time?

It’s 1946. Nazi hating brick shithouse B.J Blazkowicz and his Welsh mate Agent One go undercover in Castle Wolfenstein, trying to find a folder containing the location of The New Order villain General Deathshead. They’re captured, B.J is stripped of his shirt for some reason, he handily locates the world’s most useful pipe, and begins his escape. The first thing you notice is that the technology used by the Nazis is back in the same state as The New Order’s prologue- dogs that are half organic, half machine, Super Soldaten with conventional weapons and, unique to this game, plugged into a generator rather than using an in-built battery, and all of the 1946 weapons. The stand-out weapon here is the pipe, which is used to climb walls, jimmy things open and execute Nazis in rather brutal fashion. There’s also a new super shotgun, a really useful semi-auto rifle and a grenade pistol, though ammo for that is naturally sparse. The second thing you notice is that story segments are kept to a minimum; every cutscene is in first person apart from the very first and very last, and the game very rarely breaks up the action. You’re on the move constantly, and you’re almost constantly fighting or sneaking past enemies. Fortunately the shooting and stealth are as good as they were in TNO- weapons are responsible and all useful, most guns can be dual-wielded, and the 1946 weapons are all just as fun to use as the 1960 ones. The game starts with a lot of stealth, but quickly gives you a load of guns and ammo for if you just want to mow down every Nazi you see. The first half of the game is excellent- Castle Wolfenstein and its underground warren of caves and tombs make for a nice, “Indiana Jones”-type feel. Rudi Jager makes for a cool villain; a well-spoken man-mountain who is dearly devoted to his half-robot canines, and regularly feeds human prisoners to them. This section also shows you where B.J’s “Count to four…” coping mechanism comes from, and ends on a cool siege in an occupied town.

So, part 1’s a winner. Unfortunately, Part 2 lets the side down, for reasons that could well be considered SPOILERS, so reader discretion is advised.

Basically, zombies show up, and a giant monster. Part 2 starts with B.J attempting to steal the aforementioned folder while undercover as a waiter, but then an earthquake happens that turns everyone who dies into a zombie. The game then turns into a slog as you wade through hordes of the undead on your way to Helga Von Schabbs’ dig site. It starts quite interestingly, and has some decent character moments in it courtesy of a young Jewish girl desperately searching for her girlfriend, but for the most part it’s quite boring really. Now, the problem with the zombies isn’t that it feels at odd with Wolfenstein. Far from it, Return to Castle Wolfenstein was full of the buggers. No, the problem is that it’s at odds with The New Order, which eschewed the supernatural entirely. That game showed that the Nazis’ rise to power was due to General Deathshead’s futuristic technology (stolen from an ancient Jewish society) and super concrete, having dumped the more unwieldy, less reliable supernatural stuff. That worked much better in my opinion; the massive robot dogs, super soliders and gigantic robot controlling London. This might have worked if it wasn’t canon, but B.J goes through all this only for it to be NEVER mentioned in The New Order. Granted Helga’s plan completely fails, but you’d think someone would bring this up. This just feels like a step too far really, and its what I was referring to earlier when I said the game is trying to have its cake and eat it. It wants to have Return to Castle Wolfenstein zombies and an ill-fated archaeological dig, but also insists this be a direct prequel. It is helped by the fact that it doesn’t work and so is presumably completely scrapped by the Reich, but ever since I beat the game earlier today it’s been nagging at me that it just doesn’t feel right. Gameplay wise it feels a lot more simple and streamlined, with stealth and multi-layered fights with different enemy types being swapped out for gunning down loads of zombies, some of which have guns. It’s still worth a look, as part of a larger game, but it’s definitely a let down after part one.

Overall, “The Old Blood” is a success. An excellent first half and a shaky second half combine to make a good time, with meaty, challenging gun fights, involving stealth and interesting story parts sprinkled throughout a more gameplay-focused experience. If you enjoyed The New Order, definitely check this out. If you didn’t, you’re better off playing that first; its gameplay is slightly less intense, and takes you through things more thoroughly. It’s a shame about the second half, but on the whole, it’s a good time, and it’s always nice to step back into the shoes of B.J Blazkowicz.

Speaking of which, I like that his narration and dialogue is largely less broken, grim and defeated than it is in The New Order, what with this being a prequel. It’s a nice touch.

By James Lambert

Thoughts on… This Whole Konami Debacle

Oh that Konami, what are they like eh? They’ve a history of questionable decisions and practices (Jim Sterling has some excellent videos detailing their incompetence) but recently seem to have imploded in a supernova of stupidity. Now this won’t be anything constructive or helpful, but it will hopefully partly entertaining to see me have a break down over the current state of my two most anticipated games. If you’re into that sort of thing. Strong language from here on.

There was a time when I considered Konami to be my favourite game company. They were responsible for Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill- my two favourite franchises. Fuck, Silent Hill 2 was and still is my favourite game of all time and Konami were responsible, or at least partly. I didn’t really know how involved, but they were in there somewhere. Then of course they scrapped Team Silent and brought about Silent Hill’s descent into fucking mediocrity and somehow managed to fuck up the HD re-release of Silent Hill 2. Then recently it was announced that Hideo Kojima had left Konami. Had he left because he can’t deal with the sheer amount of fuckwits and horrible decisions at the company, or was he pushed? Either way, the company let him go, which was a fucking terrible idea. They then stated that they will continue to make Metal Gear games, despite the fact Kojima won’t be involved, and MGSV is going to complete the story loop. Say what you like about the shitty business practices of the likes of EA, at least they know what they’re doing. Konami seem to have some bizarre aversion to money and success- they let Kojima go/get rid of him, but apparently want his series to continue. It doesn’t make sense.

Even worse is what they did more recently regarding Silent Hills, Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro’s revival of the series, as shown off by the excellent “P.T”. As of 29/04/2015 P.T is no longer available for download (unless you’ve downloaded it before) and Silent Hills is cancelled. In one fell swoop Konami has removed on of the best horror games I’ve ever played, one that still haunts me to this day and made me genuinely excited for Silent Hill for the first time in years. It’s also torpedoed the game P.T was demonstrating. Somehow, against all odds, Konami fucked it up royally. Its still up in the air as to whether or not Kojima could develop the game under a different name, or maybe even buy the rights should Konami go under, as it appears they might. Hopefully he can salvage something from all this, but for me the damage is done. Konami and I are finished; save for MGSV they’re not having any more of my money, and I have no interest in buying their games. Unless Silent Hills somehow comes out, I’m done with both Konami and Silent Hill as a series. It could have been something special, but Konami has doomed Silent Hill to continuing mediocrity until it either fades into obscurity, is rebooted, or becomes a bloated, action-heavy mess like Resident Evil.

Well done Konami, you fucked it up. You deserve the irreparable damage this will do to your company.

By James Lambert