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by Ethos

Scatter Storming. Issue #043

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Well it just took me about 2 hours to buy a PS3 controller.

That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but when I went to pick up a shiny new blue Dualshock 3, the machine couldn’t handle the magnitude of my gift card’s awesomeness and everything exploded. Or at least that’s how I heard the clerk’s explanation of the problem. He told me that things would be fixed up in about 20 minutes, so I should do some other shopping in the area while I wait.

While other costumers would wave their hands and raise their voices, I noted that I was going to eat right after this anyway, so I left my two gift cards and two twenty dollar bills and trotted off to try out the new Japanese noodle place that just opened near my house.

Good choice, Ethos.

After my delicious and relatively inexpensive meal, I started the short walk back to the Gamestop. Then I remembered that I was supposed to buy a book, so after leisurely browsing two book stores, I finally came home with a Dualshock 3, my change from the purchase, and Life of Pi.

But do not worry, we’re not about to change our name to Booklethos – though I love the sound of it – Riddles and I just decided that we’ve become illiterate stupidface fartbrains, so we’re going to read race. So far I’m in the lead. Big surprise, AMIRITE!?

Anyway, onto games.

2 of 3 platinums in the Sly Collection

I’m ripping through these. The third will be the toughest, though. Also, while I’m really loving these games (especially 2 and 3), they’re wearing down on me a little bit. The 3rd game is definitely the most polished and easily the funniest. I just hope they finally settle on a voice for Carmelita and Murray.

Golden Sun: Doesn’t Suck

Seriously, after my previews, I kinda was expecting it to. But after a kind review from RPGamer, I decided to pick it up and I’m glad I did. Great classic JRPG action. The conversations definitely DO last about 4 times as long as they need to, but the battle system, puzzle solving, and good ol’ exploring and leveling up is everything a DS RPG should be.

Assassin’s Creed II: Doesn’t Suck

This one I’m not so surprised about. I just liked to give Riddles a hard time last year for kicks. Also, because the original was so bad. Still, Ezio is a far more likable character, and the game isn’t broken any more. Definitely addicting, though nothing incredible so far. Going to try for a platinum there too.

Award Weeks Approaching

Wow, these stories are short. Guess I’m just excited to do even more nothing. But seriously, even more exciting than that are the Award Weeks coming up. I truly loved doing it last year, and this year is going to be just as much fun. We’ve found a way to include everybody’s favourite Call Me Lameish YouTube HITS, so all your patience will be rewarded.

But on that note…

Fuck you AGAIN, it’s Christmas Break Week!

Yup! Although these past two weeks basically HAVE been breaks for Riddles and I, we’re still taking our official vacation. The only difference is that this time we don’t feel guilty for neglecting you all.

Until then, re-watch and thumbs up all the Lameish videos. That’s it. No other recommendations. I couldn’t top last year’s awesome post anyway. Enjoy Christmas, everybody! And if you don’t celebrate Christmas, then enjoy the clear roads on December 25! Zero traffic!

Sunday Soapbox: Let’s Play in the Sandbox!

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

Now, while I may have failed at writing… well, anything this week, I did happen to pick up a copy of Red Dead Redemption. Sure, I didn’t pick up up until Saturday evening, but, did get my hands on it. (Xbox 360 version.) And, I did play it. In fact I played a decent 5-hour chunk, and while I feel I need more time to provide decent impressions, I also feel like now’s a great time to talk about “Sandbox” games in general. What makes a good sandbox game good? What works in a sandbox game and what doesn’t? What are some examples of good and bad sandbox games?

For the hell of it, let’s first define a “sandbox” game. On Wikipedia, a sandbox or “open world” game is described as follows:

The term sandbox refers more to the mechanics of a game and how, as in a physical sandbox, the user is entertained by their ability to play creatively, boundless of artificial structural constraints, and with there being “no right way” of playing the game.

Yeah, I referenced Wikipedia. Got a problem with that? In any case, the above description is pretty darn accurate. Sandbox, free-roaming, open world; they all mean the same thing: a game in which you’re allowed to freely traverse a massive, open gameworld, and interact with that game world however you see fit. Think Grand Theft Auto. Assassin’s Creed. Infamous. Prototype. Fallout 3. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. And, of course, Red Dead Redemption.

So, what is it that makes a sandbox game fun? What makes a good sandbox experience, as opposed to an average one?

In my opinion, the most important requirement for a sandbox game is also a very simple one – there has to be a wide variety of things to do. Quests, tasks, missions, whatever they may be – but in order for the player to shape his own experience within the sandbox, you have to give him the appropriate tools. If you present them with a massive, open world to explore, and then populate it with only four or five different activities, then the player will quickly become bored. Plain and simple. And yes, I am glaring at the original Assassin’s Creed right now.

I’ll take this as an opportunity to discuss Red Dead Redemption. As Ethos stated in his insomniac edition of Scatter Storming, there is indeed, a “shit ton” to do. And, for now at least, it’s all fun. There are bandits to kill, Sheriffs to aid, property to buy, poker to play, horses to ride, treasure to hunt, movies to watch – the list could go on and on and on. And this is what’s opened up in the initial five hours – I highly doubt I’ve seen all there is to see. It’s quite shocking, really. And a lot of fun.

Another crucial component of a quality sandbox game is this: the ability to impact the world around you in a noticable, meaningful, or profitable way. Preferably all three. In Red Dead Redemption, if you perform noble task, you’ll score with the noble folk – including local Sheriffs and other such influential people. However, if you go for a more aggressive, self-serving, or violent approach to things, you’ll get in close with the seedy criminal factions. In Assassin’s Creed II, city guards will treat you differently depending on how many people you’ve stabbed lately. And, not to mention, your financial contributions can restore an entire town from slums to splendor.

A bad example would be the original Assassin’s Creed. Assassin’s Creed II is one of the best sandbox games I’ve ever played, which makes it that much more ironic that the original Assassin’s Creed is probably one of the worst. I’ve already called it out for having nothing to do within its massive world; but in addition to that, what you do has absolutely zero effect on the world at large. Kill as many people as you want, be they civilians or assassination targets, and nothing changes. And, aside from stabbing people, there really isn’t any meaningful way to interact with the world of Assassin’s Creed. I know it’s a bit late to be on the Assassin’s Creed hatewagon, and that’s not really my intent here – it is, though, one of the better bad examples.

If the player is expected to spend all of his time within the bounds of a single, massive gameworld, then it had better be a good world. And by “good” I mean endearing, believable, and attractive – make the player want to explore it. Red Dead Redemption pulls this off quite impressively; night and day, a bustling virtual populace makes the world seem very much alive, and very much like a real place. People talk aloud about current events in the world, passer-byes on horses shout hellos, bandits attack on the road, drunken idiots attack prostitutes – some of it sounds trivial, and some of it ridiculous – but its the small, quirky things that make a world feel alive and endearing to the player. A big city filled with mindless, shambling mutes doesn’t quite cut it – and, while I could glare at Assassin’s Creed yet again, I think I’ll take the opportunity to glare at the much-overrated Infamous.

Gameplay in a sandbox game is, perhaps, the greatest challenge. Why? Because gameplay mechanics have to be solid enough to hold up for a long period of time, (as many hours as the player chooses, really) and they have to be able to work in a variety of interchangeable gameplay scenarios. Since there’s no traditional level design, you can’t ever really use gimmicks – such as, say, a level on the back of a massive Titan. No offense to God of War, or course; just using that as an example of something you generally won’t find in a sandbox. So, this being the case, the core, “day-to-day” mechanics (as it were) have to be strong. And, once again, Red Dead Redemption is a shining example of that. Combat is nothing new – in fact, it’s suspiciously similar to that found in Uncharted – but it’s solid, fun, and bloody. The “Dead Eye” ability, while just another incarnation of Bullet Time, is still incredibly awesome. It has to be used sparingly, but that makes it all the sweeter when you activate it, and deliver head shots to five different bandits with your double-barreled rifle. Horse riding is surprisingly enjoyable; perhaps because of how beautiful the rugged Western landscapes are, and thus how beautiful the sites are.

Oh, wait... this one was ALMOST a sandbox game. Sorry.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to do, though, when building a sandbox game is this: maintaining a narrative that can move at the player’s pace, yet retain its focus as a whole. Sure, you want a compelling story to accompany the world you’re in – but, you also don’t want to be hindered by it. It’s a tough line to walk, but once again, Red Dead nails it. Basically, the story is advanced whenever you decide to take on a story mission. These missions are often simplistic, and short, but they always add something to the overarching story. Even if it’s just a three-minute conversation during a carriage ride into town, you’re always given some valuable bit of information or character development. And, since these missions are generally short and sweet, that means you can keep the story moving at a brisk pace – if you want to. But you probably won’t want to. You might want to spend 45 minutes or so completing two or three story missions, and then an hour or two riding around, shooting at game, fending off bandits, picking flowers, or trying your hand at the (highly addictive) poker minigame. Think it sounds simple? Well, it should be, but not many games get it this right. In Infamous, the story takes a backseat for hours at a time while you carry out overly-elongated story missions that do very little to advance the actual plot. If you don’t have a compelling story to accompany the world, players will lose interest.

Sandbox games can provide some of the most memorable gaming experiences, since they’re largely shaped by you, and how you choose to exist in the world around you. But, like any genre, there’s a big difference between a good sandbox game, and an average one. Or… a bad one. With the advent of current-generation hardware, the genre’s become quite a bit more popular than it once was. Frankly, it’s a trend that will probably continue to grow. With games like Assassin’s Creed II and Grand Theft Auto 4 selling in the several millions, the people have expressed their love of the sandbox genre. But hey, if games like Red Dead Redemption are any indication, this could be a good thing.

Sunday Soapbox: DRM and Public Relations

Monday, March 8th, 2010

drmAs you may have gathered “This Week is Copy Protected” was more of a gimmick than an actual “theme week” – regardless, I hope it made some sort of statement to… someone. And if it didn’t, maybe a little soapboxing will.

Ubisoft’s anti-piracy measures for the PC version of Assassins’ Creed II have been widely publicized, widely discussed, and widely lambasted. For good reason, too – People don’t like that they have to be connected to the internet to play. People don’t like the idea of losing progress due to an internet crash. And, more than anything, people don’t like the idea of a multi-million dollar corporation penalizing their consumers needlessly, in a desperate scramble to protect their aforementioned millions of dollars.

We’ve seen stupid gimmicks like this before. Remember back in the day when record labels like Sony BMG would release CDs replete with software that was required to play the disc on a PC?

Remember how well that worked?

If you had to choose between paying your hard-earned dollars for a CD that you couldn’t even use properly on your own PC, or downloading that same CD for free, sans limitations, what would you choose?

Using that rhetorical question as a springboard, I’ll go out on a limb here and claim that, if anything, Ubisoft’s new DRM method has made people want to pirate Assassin’s Creed II even more. Hence why it has – supposedly – already been cracked. Ubisoft is denying it, but there are plenty of people on the internet claiming that they’re playing Assassin’s Creed II, in its entirety, on the PC, without being connected to the internet. And the game just came out three days ago.

drm2People like to rebel against authority, particularly when they feel the “authority” in question is being tyrannical. To date, Ubisoft has sold over six million copies of the original Assassin’s Creed. When the console versions of Assassin’s Creed II were released back in November, it sold almost two million copies in a single week. So, when they roll out an intrusive new DRM measure, do they expect to look like anything less than a bunch of rich, paranoid asshats desperate to protect their millions?

You have to understand, this is how pirates justify their piracy. Pirates are convinced that the big rich game companies are only getting richer, and because of that, they’re perfectly justified in downloading games for free. Subconsciously, they view game companies as “enemies” – enemies that have more money than them, and charge too much for their games.

And, frankly, a lot of companies do a good job of fitting that bill. Take a look at, say, Activision. Easy to pick on, yes – but legitimately so.  When their CEO, the infamous Bobby Kotick, admits outright that he’s only interested in games that can be “exploited every year on every platform” and have the potential to become “$100 million dollar franchises” that makes him look like a cash hungry douche. That makes him and his entire company appear to be out-of-touch with everything other than the bottom line. That makes Activision look like the stereotypical big, rich corporation that’s after a gamers’ wallet, and nothing else. Subsequently, that makes people not give a shit when they illegally download Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

And they give even less of a shit when they find out that the game generated over a billion dollars in sales anyway.

DRM3Activision’s one of the more obnoxious examples, but they aren’t the only one. One of my personal pet peeves happens to be everyone’s favorite Nintendo, and I’ll tell you why: they’ve abandoned every customer who made them what they are today. They promise “hardcore,” and they give us Wii Music. They built a gimmick that resonated with non-gamers, (or “suckers” as I like to call them) found out that there’s a virtually limitless supply of these suckers, and left the rest of us to rot. And they don’t give a shit, because god knows they don’t need to. I don’t like giving Nintendo my hard-earned dollars anymore, because a) they don’t care about me, and b) they don’t need it anyway.

At this point, you might be asking: “What, then, Riddles? Should rich companies become less rich?” No, of course not. The issue I’m alluding to here is simply that of public relations. If game companies want people to stop downloading their games, a good first step is to make gamers like them. Instead, like the music industry before them, the game industry seems convinced that the best way to combat piracy is to do the exact opposite: antagonize, inconvenience, and in some cases, criminalize the consumer.

James Burt is an Australian man who uploaded a copy of New Super Mario Bros. Wii to the internet. It was downloaded over 50,000 times. So, Nintendo sued him for $1.5 million dollars. Reportedly, an agreement was reached in which Burt will pay a lesser amount, but the actual amount was not disclosed. And one has to wonder how much “lesser” than $1.5 million they would agree on.

Back in 2008, five different U.K.-based videogame companies announced their intentions to slap lawsuits on 25,000 people. One of these people was a woman named Isabela Barwinska. A company named Topware dragged her to court and forced her to pay them $30,000 for illegally downloading a game called Dream Pinball 3D.

Remember back when Napster was a big deal? Like, such a big deal that everyone’s favorite group of thrashers, Metallica, filed a big stupid lawsuit against them? Remember how bad that entire ordeal made them look? Remember how much respect they lost amongst their fanbase?

Remember when Blender magazine ranked them #17 on their “biggest wussies in rock” list? I actually don’t remember that part; I just read it while doing research for this article and thought it was funny.

drm-is-badThese are mistakes that the game industry must learn from. What do you think Topware gained from their lawsuit? In all likelihood, they did nothing more than bankrupt a hapless pinball fanatic. And, in the process, they made themselves look like assholes. The same can be said for Nintendo and their crucifixion of Mr. Burt. Granted, Ubisoft’s DRM method for Assassin’s Creed II isn’t nearly as cruel or offensive as these lawsuits, but unfortunately, it has the same negative effect on the all-important relationship between game companies and the consumer.

The disturbing thing is that these draconian methods seem to be on the verge of becoming a trend. Take Sony and their ridiculous “entitlement” system for the recently-released SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo 3 for the PSP. In order to play the game online, you’re required to register your copy online, which requires a special code. Thinking about picking it up used? Well guess what: a new registration code will run you an extra $20. But hey, at least those nasty pirates won’t be able to play online, right?

Again: won’t this only encourage piracy? Imagine yourself as Average Joe Gamer. You don’t have a whole lot of extra cash on hand, so you decide to wait a few months and pick up a used copy of SOCOM 3 when the price drops. You visit your local GameStop and walk up to the desk with a copy of the game, only to be informed by the kind and knowledgeable clerk that, in order to play the game online, you’ll be forced to shell out twenty more dollars.

If I was Average Joe Gamer, I’d probably walk out the store, direct a silent “fuck you” towards Sony, go home, and download a cracked copy. For free. And the same goes for Assassin’s Creed II. I’ll take my copy sans internet-requirement, please. I mean, come on… aren’t games one of the first things we gamers reach for when the internet goes out?

And what about when Ubisoft’s servers go kablooey?

There’s no easy answer to the issue of piracy. I recognize that. And by all means, the game industry should continue to take measures to discourage illegal downloading. But it can’t be at the cost of sacrificing good relations with gamers. Intrusive measures such as those employed by Ubisoft and Sony will, inevitably, accomplish the opposite of their intended effect. People will rebel because of the inconvenience, and people will rebel because they feel like the companies deserve it. And, given the way they’re all acting about it, who knows – maybe they do.

Welcome to… This Week!

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010
Special thanks to whoever made this.

Special thanks to whoever made this.

We’re such oddballs here at Riddlethos.com.

This week, (March 5 to be precise) Ubisoft will finally release Assassin’s Creed II for the PC. Good news for the twelve people who will buy it, right? Wrong. With Assassin’s Creed II, Ubisoft is rolling out a brand-spankin-new DRM (Digital Rights Management) safety measure.

In order to play Assassin’s Creed II on the PC, you’ll need an internet connection. Furthermore, you’ll have to be connected to Ubisoft’s servers at all times while playing the game. Creepy, eh?

Oh, and if you’re disconnected from the internet for any reason, at any time, you’ll be thrown back to the menu screen.

To say the least, it seems like this new DRM may be a deterrent to people who live in countries with large expanses devoid of internet. Like, say, North America. Also, Ubisoft is not my big brother, so they don’t always need to be watching.

In honor of Ubisoft’s stellar efforts to further the cause of big, money-grubbing companies that criminalize their customers, and of draconian DRM measures that will serve only to increase piracy, This Week is Copy Protected.

Hey! Look! Listen!

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

HLLfinal

This is already a strange day.

Why? Well, for starters, I woke up at about 8:30 a.m. this morning. And… well, that’s about it. But frankly, that’s all it takes to make my day weird. For me, early morning is between 11 and noon. Sleeping in is waking up 2-3 p.m.

And  yet, here I am at 10:24 a.m, typing up the Friday edition of Hey! Look! Listen! Who am I? None other than your host, Oliver “Riddles” Motok. Love me or hate me… you have to live with me.

Well, no, you don’t actually. Charlie does. Since he’s my roomate and whatnot.

But that has nothing to do with anything, so I suppose we should move on to the actual topics of interest.

Final Fantasy XIII Collector’s Edition Revealed for PAL Regions

I suppose this was to be expected. Like every other even-somewhat-high-profile-release these days, Final Fantasy XIII will be given the Collector’s treatment for both PS3 and 360 upon its release on March 9. The set will include:

-A soundtrack CD with tracks “especially chosen for the Limited Collector’s Edition by composer Masashi Hamauzu.” (In other words, you’ll have to look elsewhere for the complete OST).

-The World a Final Fantasy XIII, which is a hardcover art book featuring… artwork from the game.

-Three “highly collectable” art prints of the Eidolons, Final Fantasy XIII’s summon creatures.

-A ‘Brand of the l’Cie’ decal.

FF13_SPECIAL_PACK_UK

Doesn’t sound like anything that breaks the mold. Regardless, it’ll probably be a nice set for Final Fantasy fans such as myself. This is only confirmed for Europe and other PAL regions at the moment, but I’m *fairly* confident we’ll see the same set – or something similar – here in the states.

I like this guy already.
I like this guy already.

First Online Mass Effect 2 Review to be Published Tonight

While I doubt it’ll make a whole lot of cosmic difference, the gaming world will be able to scrutinize a written review of Mass Effect 2 before its release this Tuesday. UK site NowGamer intends to post their review of the game tonight at 1 a.m GMT. They’re so excited that they posted an article announcing the good news.

Well hey, if Riddlethos was posting an exclusive advance review of one of 2010’s biggest games, I’d be excited too. (NowGamer via VG247)

Mass Effect 2’s Cerberus Pipeline for Free DLC Only

Remember last Tuesday when I talked about the Cerberus Pipeline, an in-game download service for Mass Effect 2? Apparently it won’t be the only way to acquire DLC. In fact, you can only get free stuff through Cerberus. If you want any of the game’s “premium” DLC you’ll have to navigate the Xbox Live Marketplace as per usual.

“It’s not going to be all free DLC for Mass Effect 2 — far from that,”  BioWare co-founder Greg Zeschuk told Joystiq. ” There’ll be paid DLC packs, and there’ll be stuff available through Cerberus as well.”

If BioWare took the time to design and implement a convenient in-game DLC hub, why wouldn’t they allow you purchase, y’know… everything through it, whether it was free or not? That’s the first thing that comes to my mind. In the end, though, I suppose it’s a fairly inconsequential thing. (Joystiq via VG247)

Spoil the First Eight Minutes of Mass Effect 2

And speaking of Mass Effect 2, here’s the first eight minutes, courtesy of… some German site translated by Google.

Note: If you can not be spoilers, and the first minutes of the game, people wanting to enjoy in front of the TV, the best clicks away again!”

Hee hee. Those silly Google-translated Germans. For the record, I did not watch this. I’m not shit scared of early exposure to games like certain Ethos’ are, but this is a little too spoilerific even for me.

bayonetta-witchBayonetta Will Probably Spawn Sequels and Spinoffs

Bayonetta is the most well-received new action franchise to come along in a good while, so of course the internet is already hot and heavy with sequel talk. The game’s director, Hideki Kamiya recently spoke to Game Informer about the possibilities of future Bayonetta titles, and here’s what he had to say:

“We obviously have love for the work we have created, so I don’t see anything wrong with Bayonetta 2. Personally, I’d like to approach the world of Bayonetta from a different angle, in the form of a spin-off.”

Bayonetta’s plotline is best described as a clusterfuck, but regardless, there’s more than enough backstory and mythology behind it to easily spawn spinoffs and sequels galore. The most obvious possibility would be a game starring Bayonetta’s red-clad rival, Jeanne, but that’s just one of a myriad of options.

Who wants to visit the Demon World this time around? Anyone?

Oh, and Sega: whatever you end up doing, can you make sure the PS3 version doesn’t suck ass next time around? (Game Informer via Kotaku)

ac2screen2Assassin’s Creed II DLC Dated, Priced

Who’s ready to play some more Assassin’s Creed II, eh? I know I am, and on January 28 I’ll be able to do just that. The first DLC pack is called Battle of Forli, and it tells the story of the Orsi brothers and their attempt to take control of the city of Forli. (That’s an actual historical event, by the by.) The DLC will include six new memories in total, and it’ll cost you 320 MS points. ($3.99).

Bonfire of the Vanities will release in February, and will feature ten new memories. For those interested, check out this video on Joystiq, which has Assassin’s Creed II Patrice Desilets talking all about the two DLC packs. If you’re like me, it will fill you with both joy and rage – joy because it looks like these DLC packs will be quite robust indeed, and rage because I still don’t understand why this stuff wasn’t part of the game in the first place.(VG247)

Wordpress says I’m closing on on 1000 words, so I suppose I’ll call it quits here. Look for the third part of my JRPG relapse in a few hours; Persona 3, here I come…


2009 Game of the Year Nominees

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

So… this is 2010, eh? Funny, it feels an awful lot like 2009.

But seeing that it’s only the second day, I suppose I can continue to give it the benefit of doubt.

So, have you all been enjoying our Best of 2009 picks so far? No? Well good, because they’re not over yet. Today, I have the pleasure of announcing the nominees for Riddlethos’ Best Game of 2009. They should hardly come as a surprise to anyone who follows our site at all, but nonetheless, here they are:

ac2logoAssassin’s Creed 2

Ubisoft’s second entry in their popular new franchise improves on the original game in practically every way. The result? A fantastic sandbox experience that leaves you hanging for the inevitable third entry.

arkhamlogoBatman: Arkham Asylum

Nobody really saw it coming, but for a multitude of reasons, here it is on our Best of 2009 nominations list. Batman: Arkham Asylum is the best licensed game ever made, and sure to be the start of a fantastic franchise.

flowerlogoFlower

I’m including this because Ethos told me to. I could copy/paste any one of the 9234 gushing posts he’s written about it, but I really don’t feel like it. It’s on our Best of 2009 Nominees list, so that should say enough. Right?

mw2logoModern Warfare 2

What list would be complete without the self-proclaimed “biggest game of 2009″? Lucky for us, Modern Warfare 2 actually lived up to its hype, and well-deserves a spot here.

uncharted2logoUncharted 2: Among Thieves

What can be said here that hasn’t been said a number of times already? Naughty Dog knocked it way out of the park with Uncharted 2, and both me and Ethan have been singing its praises for months now. So, if you’re surprised, you clearly haven’t been following the site long.

Place your bets, Riddlethosians. Best of 2009 Week will conclude tomorrow, with the sure-to-be-earth shattering final announement. Be there! Or… don’t. I really can’t threaten a consequence one way or the other.

Hey! Look! Listen!

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

HLLfinal

Good… uh, early MORNING everyone, and welcome to yet another edition of Hey! Look! Listen! As per always, I’m your host Oliver “Riddles” Motok, and I’m here with a smattering of news stories and oddities that managed to catch my eye.

In case you haven’t guessed already, I’ve failed at playing any Wind Waker this week. However, the week is far from over, so there is time. That game happens to be my second favorite Zelda, hot on the heels of the immortal Ocarina of Time. So naturally, I’m pretty excited about re-visiting it.

Shall we?

PrinceofPersiaWarriorWithinUbisoft Announces New Prince of Persia Game

I don’t think I’ve ever been so simultaneously thrilled and terrified by a game revelation in my life. Ubisoft has recently announced that Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands will be released for both consoles and handhelds in May, coinciding with the upcoming film. Reportedly, the game will feature “fan-favorite elements from the original series,” as well as “new gameplay innovations.”

Why is this awesome? Because it’s a) Prince of Persia and b) a return to the Sands of Time universe, which is INFINITELY preferable to the cel-shaded universe of the recent series reboot.

Why is it terrifying? Well… because it’s a movie tie-in. While I can’t imagine that Ubisoft would mar the integrity of one of their most respected franchises, it’s still an unpleasant thought, given the quality of most film tie-ins. Secondly, Ubisoft DID NOT announce if this was a return to the Sands of Time videogame universe, or a game based on the film itself. (i.e, featuring the likenesses of the actors and such). If that turns out to be the case, no corner of the internet will be safe from my wrath. Let’s just say I’m tentatively both stoked and enraged. (Kotaku, 1UP).

Final Fantasy XIII Boxart, Length Revealed

The fact that Final Fantasy XIII will be mine in four months still hasn’t quite hit me yet. Not sure why, but regardless, the internet isn’t going to rest until my anticipation has reached the breaking point. Have a look at the game’s recently-revealed boxart:

FFXIIIboxart

My verdict: not bad, though extremely simplistic, and the Xbox 360 version wins for showing more leg.

While I’m on the subject: Final Fantasy XIII director Motomu Toriyama has gone on the record stating the the game will be a whopping 50-60 hours long. “For XIII, the size of the entire game is considerable,” said Toriyama.  ”Just running through the main story takes experienced players over 50 hours. For the first time, I think it’s possible to play through in full in about 60 hours or so.”

Good to know some things never change, I guess. Lord knows I’ll be punching in every hour and then some. (Kotaku, 1UP).

ac2screen2Assassin’s Creed II DLC Forthcoming

I rarely give a shit about downloadable content, but Ubisoft might change my mind with what they have planned for Assassin’s Creed II. Two different DLC packs have been announced, scheduled for release in January and February of 2010. They are entitled Battle of Forli and The Bonfire of the Vanities, respectively.

Those who have played and finished Assassin’s Creed II know that late in the game, the story skips a rather large chunk of time. (11 years, to be precise – it jumps from 1488 to 1499).  Also, it skips two chapters – jumping from “Memory Sequence 11″ to “Memory Sequence 14.”

Perhaps you’re picking up on something here? If  you need further proof, the Bonfire of the Vanities is an actual historical event that took place in Florence during the year 1497. Fits right in the aforementioned 11 year gap.

Oh, and Ubisoft is telling gamers to keep 1 GB of space available for each DLC, meaning these additional chapters will be quite lengthy indeed. (Kotaku).

Check Out Mass Effect 2’s New Asari Babe

I’m sorry, but Liara will not be making the cut as long as this chick’s around. All I can say at this point is damn.

Yakuza 3 Listing Found on Amazon Germany

It’s easy to forget that Yakuza 3 isn’t ACTUALLY confirmed for release outside of Japan. However, Sega’s persistent “no comments” and now this Amazon listing act as a sort of de facto announcement if you ask me. Apparently the game is set for a March release. I’d give you the link, but it’s apparently (and unsurprisingly) been taken down. Yakuza fans rejoice; I know you’re out there. I’m not one of them, though… seeing that I’ve, uh, never tried the series out. (1UP).

Nintendo Scales Back Wii Production

A report from Nikkei states that two Japanese companies, Mitsumi and Hosiden, are facing staggering losses in profit due to “declining fortunes” of Nintendo’s Wii. In case you’re slow on the uptake, Mitsumi and Hosiden are companies that assemble, among other things, Wii systems. Fewer Wiis being sold means fewer Wiis being assembled. All said, both companies are reportedly looking at net profit losses of over 50 percent. Ouch.

I find it rather humorous that, after years of keeping Wii production low, (likely for the sole purpose of stirring hype) Nintendo ramps it up, only to cut it back again with startling quickness. Or… maybe it’s all part of their evil plan. I don’t know. They’re devious little bastards like that. (Kotaku).

And that, as they say, is that! My goodness it’s late. Early. Whatever. Good thing I have to work for 10-11 hours tomorrow! Time to grab my four hours of sleep. Catch you on the flip side.

Assassin’s Creed II Review: Everything is Permitted

Friday, November 27th, 2009

ac2boxartLIKED:

-The major improvements to mission structure and variety

-The gripping narrative in two different timelines

-Free running. It’s still a ton of fun

DISLIKED:

-The occasionally choppy framerate

-Occasionally draggy swordfights

-The fact that I won’t see Assassin’s Creed III for two years

Assassin’s Creed II is the most improved videogame sequel I’ve ever played. Building upon the mechanics of its predecessor in spectacular ways, Assassin’s Creed II practically renders the original game useless, and stands on its own as one of the best action-adventure titles of 2009.

The game starts off with a bang. Desmond Miles is exactly where we left him in the first Assassin’s Creed: a prisoner of the evil Abstergo Corporation. And, with the help of the beautiful Miss Lucy Stillman, he’s finally busting out. Once free, Lucy takes Desmond back to a current-day base of the Assassins. By his own will this time, Desmond steps back into the Animus, in hope of acquiring skills, and finding some answers hidden in the past.

And so we are introduced to Ezio Auditore da Firenze, merely a boy when we meet him, and a member of a very influential family in Florence. You’ll soon realize that both Ezio, and the events he gets caught up in, are quite a bit more interesting than Altair and his endeavors ever were. Ezio is quite the likeable protagonist, actually, and the murder of his father and brother provide a strong motive for his actions throughout the game. Assassin’s Creed II tells a much better story than its predecessor, and maintains the same impressive attention to historical detail. Wanna take a crash-course in Renaissance-era Italy? Give Assassin’s Creed II a spin.

Like the first game, you will switch back to present-day at certain points, and take control of Desmond. Unlike the first game, these instances are painfully rare, which is unfortunate because they’re far more interesting this time around. Ezio’s historical drama is intriguing for sure, but the present-day events remain the most gripping aspect of the narrative. I’ll refrain from any spoilers, but let it be said that the ending of Assassin’s Creed II is mind-blowing, and leaves me on pins and needles for the inevitable third game.

Assassin’s Creed II is built on the same groundwork as the original, but the entire package has been given some serious renovations. From the most radical additions right down to the smallest of adjustments, every tweak and every change integrated in Assassin’s Creed II makes it a better game than its predecessor.

The largest addition to the game is the Currency system – there is money in Assassin’s Creed II, and you’ll use it to buy weapons, mercenaries, prostitutes, and much more. While it’s not a terribly prominent aspect of the gameplay, it does have its uses that make it a solid addition overall. It’s also worth mentioning that one of Assassin’s Creed II’s main sidequests involves restoring an entire Villa – which acts as Ezio’s home base. Restoring the Villa is as simple as pumping money into it, and over the course of the game it’s quite rewarding to see it shift from a run-down ghost town to a thriving little city. Oh, and as an added bonus, the town makes you money.

ac2screen2Another welcome change is a different approach to the stealth elements of the game. In the original Assassin’s Creed, the player had one way to blend in with a crowd, and that was to follow one of those creepy monk processions around. Pretty stupid, eh? Well worry not, because Ubisoft has taken a much more versatile approach to the stealth elements in Assassin’s Creed II. Ezio can blend in with any crowd at all, so long as he doesn’t disturb them. It’s as easy as slipping in and out of different groups of people. Also, you can now hire prostitutes and mercenaries, for the purpose of distracting guards or simply cloaking you in the crowd. Aggression from city guards is directly correlated to your Notoriety – aka, how much trouble you’ve been causing lately. Your notoriety level tends to go up rather quickly, with Ezio being an assassin and whatnot, but there are a variety of ways to lower it. Ripping down wanted posters, bribing town heralds, and offing certain politicians will do the trick. All said, unlike the first game, you won’t find yourself in many unwanted confrontations with armed guards. Quite the relief, really.

The fantastic free-running mechanics have been given a minor facelift. Running and jumping across rooftops is just as thrilling as it was in the original game, and you’ll likely find yourself platforming around without any objectives in mind, just for the fun of it. Ezio is much faster at scaling walls than Altair, which not only saves time but makes the climbing that much more enjoyable. Like the original, the game’s gigantic city environments not only provide fantastic platforming opportunities, but they maintain a consistent level of realism, which is quite impressive indeed; especially since they’re much larger this time around.

Combat is slightly improved as well, though it’s not as different as some might hope. Some new weapon types spice things up a little, if only for their unique counter-kill animations. A disarm tactic has been integrated, which helps make short work of weaker enemies. However, attempting an old-fashioned down-and-dirty swordfight remains a very slow, clangy affair. Your enemies block a lot, and you’ll find yourself relying mostly on counterattacks. Actually, if you’re like me, you’ll discover that you can actually engage in physical combat with your Hidden Blades, which makes extremely short work of any enemy. Counterattacks with the Hidden Blades are, as you can imagine, instant kills. Pretty neat, and definitely a timesaver, but unquestionably broken. Oh well. Combat really isn’t bad at all in Assassin’s Creed II, but it’s far from perfect.

ac2screen3If you were to simply watch someone else play Assassin’s Creed II, you might think it looks like largely more of the same. When you play it, you’ll think otherwise. The greatest improvement Ubisoft has made with this game is its mission structure and flow. The original Assassin’s Creed featured essentially the same four missions over and over again. Walk into a town, get some information on where your target will be at what time, go there, and stab him. The assassinations themselves were always fun, but everything around them became rather dull after the first few hours. In Assassin’s Creed II, there is far, far greater variety – and the missions themselves display much better mission design. Let’s take the assassinations themselves, for example: in the original game, they were merely stabbings bookended by lengthy cutscenes. In Assassin’s Creed II, you might assault a noble’s castle with an army in tow for the sake of routing out one man. One impressive segment of the game requires Ezio to assassinate six different men in order to learn the location of one target. Others might require you stealthily follow a target for an extended period of time. One of them might even require to you fly. And the inevitable moment of truth? Even sweeter than it was before.

Side missions are still aplenty, and they’ve been improved as well. They offer actual rewards this time around, such as added health squares and equipment. The Assassin’s Tombs sidquest deserves special mention: scattered throughout the world are six different tombs to be found and navigated. These tombs require Prince of Persia-esqe platforming and puzzle-solving to traverse, which is especially thrilling to a Prince of Persia fan such as myself. And the reward for completing all six tombs is so sweet that I refuse to spoil it here. Smaller side missions include “beat ups,” in which you literally hunt down an unfaithful husband and slap him around just for the hell of it. On the less ridiculous side are Assassination Contracts and Mail Deliveries, which are occasionally fun, and offer monetary rewards if nothing else.

AC2screenNeedless to say, Assassin’s Creed II is quite the looker. Not quite on the level of, say, Uncharted 2, but regardless, it’s one of this generation’s better looking games. Environments are absolutely gigantic, featuring not just cites this time around, but the accompanying countrysides as well. The game’s depiction of 14th Century Italy is absolutely gorgeous to behold; the art direction is absolutely top-notch, and the sense of realism is impressive. Playing on the PS3, the only problems I’ve experienced are an occasionally choppy framerate, as well as a few glitches such as audio cut-outs. None of these are game-breaking issues, but they’re present and worthy of mention nonetheless.

Assassin’s Creed II sounds quite good as well, featuring a better, more noticeable soundtrack than the original, and a solid voice cast across the board. Ezio, thankfully, is voiced far more competently than Altair was, which makes everything that much better.

Frankly, there isn’t much bad to say about Assassin’s Creed II. My main complaints border on nitpicking. This is a prime contender for Game of the Year, and one of the best open-world adventure titles I’ve played in some time. Oh, and it’ll keep you entertained for quite a while – even if you stick strictly to the main storyline, it’ll probably take you 15-20 hours to complete. I played for 25 or so, and I’m far from 100 percent. If you have the means, do not hesitate to give this game a try, even if you didn’t enjoy its predecessor. Given how the game ends, I’m quite interested in seeing where Ubisoft takes the series from here. Don’t be too surprised if goes somewhere completely unexpected – with Assassin’s Creed II, this franchise has shown that it can evolve, and better itself in the process.

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Hey! Look! Listen!

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

HLLfinal

It would appear we have something of a slow week on our hands at Riddlethos.com, no doubt spilling over from our slow weekend. Somewhat disappointing, perhaps, but what can be done? I’ve been trying my best to finish Assassin’s Creed II, but I can’t seem to stay on track. The temptation to run around and entertain yourself with the game’s ENDLESS side-missions is too great! I don’t know how Nate Liles found the time to beat it already. Ethos? He doesn’t even play videogames.

In any case, it’s time to shake things up a little around here. Roll film!

ac2screen2Assassin’s Creed II Sells Almost Two Million

I am hardly the only one faffing about in Ubisoft’s critically acclaimed actioner. The company announced today that in one week, Assassin’s Creed II sold over 1.6 million copies. That’s a 32 percent increase over first-week sales of the original Assassin’s Creed, which launched back in November of 2007.

For the hell of it, Ubisoft also re-iterated the fact that the original Assassin’s Creed remains the fastest-selling new videogame property of all time. Not sure why that’s relevant now, but hey, they’re entitled to some horn-blowing, I guess. Check out my impressions of Assassin’s Creed II right here, and check back SOMETIME this week for a full review. (IGN).

Diablo III Won’t See the Light in 2010diabloIII

No, I didn’t mean 2009, I meant 2010. The sad fact of the matter is that if you’re a Diablo fan, you’ll be waiting a long damn time for the third installment.

“We always announce all of our games too early,” said Blizzard’s executive president of game design Rob Pardo. “We realize that and go, ‘You know what? Next time we’re not going to do that.’ And then we always fail at that. But I’d rather fail at that than fail at making the game great. I think it’s safe to say that, yeah, [Diablo III] is not going to be out next year.”

Bummer. I actually spent a decent amount of time with the original Diablo. If it was anything but a PC game, I might have finished it. Diablo II I installed and never played. As for Diablo III? Not sure if it’s a planned purchase or not. Sounds like I have plenty of time to think about it, though. (1UP).

bayonettaBayonetta Demo Coming December 3

Bayonetta looks like something that just screams to be tried firsthand, and we lucky residents of North America will be able to do just that on December 3. The demo will be released on both Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, and will likely be unchanged from its Japanese counterpart. The PSN Demo gives players access to the Tutorial and Angel’s Metropolis levels, while the Xbox Live demo will have those two plus the Falling Clock Tower level.

Sounds like favoritism, now doesn’t it? But then, it shouldn’t be too surprising, since the PS3 version has already been universally lambasted for looking and running decidedly shittier than the Xbox 360 version. Sega supposedly plans to release a patch that will, at the very least, address the PS3 version’s long load times. Regardless, it sounds like this is one multiplatform game that I’ll be purchasing for the Xbox 360. Bayonetta will be released in North American and Europe on January 5. (1UP).

Microsoft Faces Possible Class-Action Lawsuit over XBL Bansxbox_live_original

Well, this is rich. You’ve probably caught wind of the massive Microsoft banhammer that came down on Xbox Live a few weeks ago. Well, needless to say, it pissed a lot of people off, and it’s even caught the attention of a law firm.  Abington IP claims that they’re considering filing a class-action suite against Microsoft, and they’re attempting to rally all those who were banned to their cause. What legal feet do they have to stand on? None, as far as I can see, but Abington IP claims that Microsoft “conveniently timed the Xbox console ban to coincide with the release of the new Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 game and less than two months after the release of the very popular Halo: ODST game.”

The idea, in case you’re confused, is that Microsoft intentionally banned a lot of people around a time when many, many gamers would want an Xbox Live Subscription – and if you’ve been freshly banned, the only choice you have is to buy another one.

What does Microsoft think of it? Not a whole lot, as it were:

“Piracy is illegal and modifying an Xbox 360 is a violation of the Xbox Live Terms of Use,” a spokesperson said to Financial Post  ”Microsoft is well within its legal rights to ban these users from Xbox Live.”

Yeah, that’s more or less how it sounds to me. I doubt we’ll see this one go anywhere, frankly. (Financial Post, via 1UP).

Watch the Introductory Scene of Spirit Tracks

Egads! Spoilers! Nah, it really doesn’t spoil a whole lot, but it’s undeniably Zelda. Cookie-cutter-ish and simplistic as it may be, this video actually brought back some fond, Zelda-related feelings of magic and… warmth. Anyway. Watch the video below if you so desire.

I Don’t Understand This Video, so I’m Hoping You Will

Yeah.

Anyways… um. Yeah.

And that’s all for tonight, ladies and gents! Hope you enjoyed yourself, and please, someone go become a fan of our Facebook page. We only need one more fan to hit 100, and it’s just killing me that we haven’t gotten it yet. If you haven’t already, then just help a brother out and… go become a fan.

If you have a Facebook, that is.

And if you don’t have a Facebook, get one, and then become a fan. Because seriously, who doesn’t have Facebook these days?

Assassin’s Creed II: The First 12 Hours

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

ac2screen1Yesterday, I re-bought the original Assassin’s Creed to give myself a refresher course.

I soon realized that the game’s repetitive mission structure does not lend itself well to a replay. While I’m not about to renounce the love I have for the game, I’ll admit that I was fairly bored with the first few hours of Assassin’s Creed. The magic was gone, and in its place was a middling action game with aspirations of greatness, but not a whole lot more. And I found myself thinking, “man, I really hope Assassin’s Creed II lives up to its promises.”

Twelve hours in, I can assure you that it does. Assassin’s Creed II takes the bare-boned frame of a game that was Assassin’s Creed and transforms it into a fully realized open-world action experience.

ALL THAT IS GOOD:

-Improved Plot Development:

While playing the original Assassin’s Creed, did you ever really give a shit about the tough-as-nails protagonist, Altair? Because I sure didn’t. Altair was never characterized as anything more than a loose-cannon assassin on the edge who, apparently, hated everyone. The fact that he had the game’s weakest voice actor didn’t help either.

Well never fear, because Assassin’s Creed II’s protagonist Ezio is a major improvement.  Early parts of the game show us Ezio before he dons the Assassin’s robes, interacting with his family and friends. Because of this, you’ll find that you actually care about him, and the tragedies that soon befall his family.

It’s not just the character development that’s been improved, but plot development in general. Rather than being completely out-of-the-loop for 90% of the game, Assassin’s Creed II will instantly draw you in with its convoluted story of political struggle and intrigue between the various factions of renaissance-era Italy. Again, Ubisoft has their historical details down pat, which makes the story that much more credible.

ac2screen2-Repetitive Missions = Dead and Gone

As promised, mission structure in Assassin’s Creed II is far more varied than the original was. And, best of all, none of the side missions are actually required. Sure, you can still run around scaling viewpoints and performing random acts of charity for citizens, but you don’t have to do it in order to progress.

However, if you do choose to dabble in the surplus of side missions, you’ll actually be rewarded for your efforts this time around. Scaling viewpoints allows you to locate items such as codex pages hidden throughout the city. Collecting codex pages allows you to upgrade your health bar and weaponry. Mini-dungeons known as Assassin’s Tombs are scattered throughout the game’s cities. Completing these dungeons not only lets you take part in some awesome Prince of Persia-style platforming, but nets you some cash and an Assassin’s Seal. Collect all six Assassin’s Seals, and you’ll get something awesome, but I won’t spoil it for you now. And that’s just a few examples; there’s plenty of things I’ve yet to even try.

The actual assassinations are still the best parts of the game, and in fact, they’re even better now. Assassinations are actually fully-realized missions now, rather than a stabbing bookended by cutscenes. For example, an assassination might entail a large-scale assault on a noble’s castle.

ac2screen3-Improved Combat

I actually didn’t mind the combat in the original Assassin’s Creed, but for those who did, know that it has indeed been improved. The core mechanics remain the same, but you can now wield many different weapons, which adds a nice bit of variety. Additionally, Ezio has the ability to disarm opponents, as well as grapple and execute them. I’m not positive that it will hold up the entire game, but after 12 hours, I still enjoy the combat system.

-Free Running

It’s even better than it was in the first game. The mechanics are identical, but Ezio is noticeably quicker than Altair was, which is a welcome change. If you’re like me, you’ll often find yourself just free running around the game’s gigantic cities for the hell of it, with no particular goal in mind.

THAT WHICH SUCKS:

-Going to a Doctor to Heal

In the original Assassin’s Creed, your health would regenerate. In Assassin’s Creed II, you have to go pay a doctor to regain health. There are doctors everywhere, and it’s cheap, but it’s also annoying, and entirely senseless.

-Gah, So Many Falls

The ironic thing is that you’ll lose MOST of your health by stupidly falling off buildings. Why? Well, the camera doesn’t always position itself where it should during fast-paced platforming sequences, and it costs you occasionally.

But both of these complaints are minor. Assassin’s Creed II is a big, beautiful game, and a definite candidate for game of the year. I’ve only scratched the surface in this article. Look for a full review soon.