Tag Archive: PS3


During E3 2015, I had a chance to talk to Madden NFL 16 creative director Rex Dickson for Walmart Game Center about the game’s new modes, and new passing system!

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Switching sides

If you told me back in August, when Assassin’s Creed Rogue was first announced, that it would be the superior Assassin’s Creed game coming out this year—even though it’s a last-gen exclusive—I’d have said you went and lost your mind. But, here we are, several months later, and after having played both games to completion, I can attest that this is indeed the case, with Rogue serving as a perfect conclusion to the series’ time spent exploring Europe’s North American colonies in the 18th century.

Assassin’s Creed Rogue takes place between Assassin’s Creed III and IV, set against the backdrop of the Seven Years’ War (known as the French and Indian War here in the U.S.) during the 1750s and tells the story of Shay Cormac, a bright trainee of the Assassin Order whose first solo mission ends in horrific disaster. Furious at the Assassin Mentor, Achilles (yes, the same one who, in his later years, would train Connor Kenway in Assassin’s Creed III), Shay tries to undermine the Order’s future plans. Gunned down by his former associates when he’s caught in the act of stealing key precursor-race documents, Shay is left for dead in a snow bank just off Achilles’ Homestead in Massachusetts, where he’s found by a group of Templars and nursed back to health. Thus his conversion begins: From great Assassin prospect to one of the most effective Templars who ever lived.

I was originally afraid that Rogue would feel boring and would be nothing more than a complete copy-and-paste job with elements from the two games with which it links narratively. Instead, Rogue feels like coming back to an old friend. Familiar but changed in the time since last I saw it, full of new tales, but keeping the same mannerisms that makes it uniquely Assassin’s Creed.

For example, the game’s one proper city, New York, is completely different from what we remember in Assassin’s Creed III, since Rogue is set before the Great Fire of 1776. Buildings that were smoldering husks during Connor’s adventure are now mansions and monuments perfect for climbing. You can also undertake plenty of new side missions here, as well as in the outposts scattered about the brand-new Hudson River Valley region.

One instance of these side missions comes in the form of gangs led by Assassins that plague different areas. By removing the threat of these ruffians, you can increase the wealth of the area they formerly inhabited. Shay then gets a cut of that new wealth via the game’s economy, similar to the system seen in Assassin’s Creed II and Unity. As he helps the colonists prosper, he prospers as well, getting a steady flow of income to his bank account. He can also increase an area’s wealth by using materials collected during ship battles to rebuild important buildings that have seen better days.

Rogue also features Assassination Interceptions. Before, you’d go to a pigeon coop and get a side assassination mission. Now, you’re trying to catch pigeons to prevent assassinations, throwing a wrench into the Assassins’ plans. These defense missions provide a fresh twist on an old formula, since you have a time limit to hunt down would-be killers in a crowd and take them out before the target falls to a hidden blade or a pistol shot.

Also, the waterways that you sail on are new here. While the aforementioned Hudson River Valley and North Atlantic regions provide a topography that looks similar to what you saw in Black Flag, it brings its own set of challenges, such as clearing out French colonies in order to claim them for the glory of the British Empire or discovering a variety of collectibles like war journals and Native American totems.

Besides new outposts and colonies to explore, just the act of sailing itself is fraught with new dangers. Due to the freezing waters, icebergs are a constant threat—but they’re also a lot of fun to destroy as your crew gives a rousing “Huzzah!” with each one that breaks apart. You’ll also often find and recover building materials that were frozen inside the ice, giving you some additional economic motivation in bringing about their destruction. What’s more, sinking icebergs can cause huge waves in the surrounding waters, and by timing your shots right, you can sink nearby enemy gunboats and toss about other small ships to turn the tide of a battle more in your favor by adding that extra element of chaos.

Naval battles also see an upgrade. Not only does Shay have different weapons than Black Flag’s Edward had at his disposal (like flaming oil barrels that do massive damage if you can get an enemy ship to sail into them), but enemy ships are also more willing to go on the offensive now. Several times, it looked like I was going to have my enemy ready for boarding—but they rammed my ship and tried to board me instead. The results were the same, though, with me killing a dozen or so of their crew and stealing their cargo, and privateering as Shay felt a lot more invigorating than pirating with Edward.

Combat hasn’t just changed at sea, though. Shay has some special new weapons that come as a result of crossing paths with some of history’s most influential figures, like Ben Franklin, who bestows upon you a grenade launcher. I know—it sounds ridiculous that a grenade launcher would exist in the 1750s, but documents prove that Franklin had been working on a grenade back then. If you should happen to pilfer the prototype, and combine it with another new weapon in your Air Rifle, then history would be none the wiser. Admittedly, the grenade launcher is a bit overpowered and quickly able to whittle down crowds of enemy forces with just a few well-placed shots, but it’s also a lot of fun—I ended up using it more as an ace in the hole than something I’d frequently carry into battle.

Beyond the pleasant gameplay tweaks, Shay’s story is easily one of the most enjoyable we’ve seen from the series. With the large gap in history between Assassin’s Creed III and IV, Rogue avoids being backed into the corner that most interquels have to deal with, where the game has to start and end—no matter what—at a certain point in order to keep continuity in place. It also neatly ties up a few loose ends, especially in regards to a huge chunk of Haytham Kenway’s story.

Shay also proves himself as one of the strongest characters in Assassin’s Creed lore, and he almost instantly became a personal favorite for me. His constant struggles with his conscience—he’s often racked with guilt for leaving his former friends—shows a doubtful, remorseful side we rarely see from any series protagonist. The strong supporting cast of both Assassins and Templars only makes Shay a more well-rounded character, since he interacts with each in different ways—whether it’s the Templar George Munro, to whom Shay feels he owes his life (and he kind of does) or the contempt he shows the stuck-up French-Canadian Assassin Louis-Joseph Gaultier. In fact, I enjoyed Shay’s tale so much, and it offered such an intriguing glimpse into the other side of the Assassin-Templar war, that I was more than happy to pledge allegiance to the Templars when all was said and done.

It wasn’t just Shay’s point of view that told the Templar side of the story, however. The real-world sequences return in Rogue, once again having you play the role of an Abstergo Entertainment employee in Montreal. When you first access Shay’s story, it unleashes a virus that slams the building into lockdown. Only by bringing the computers back online, little by little, can you access more of Shay’s tale, and as you hack your way through a brand-new series of inventive and fun puzzles, you’ll learn more about the history of the Templars and what they think of the Assassins.

Even with these gameplay tweaks and the enjoyability of Shay’s story, it needs to be said that Rogue is a far from a perfect experience. In terms of narrative, Shay’s story is the shortest adventure in Assassin’s Creed, lasting only six Sequences. This puts a huge crimp on pacing—by the end of the game, Shay’s just chasing down all his former associates, one mission right after another, with little to no buildup. His dialogue’s also hit-or-miss: At some points, he’ll provide memorable, poignant lines, but in other spots, he’ll deliver cheesy catchphrases over and over again like a 1980s B-movie action star (I swear, if he said, “I make my own luck” one more time…).

Also, some glitches forced me to restart several main story and side missions. Often, assassination targets would spawn in (or behind) a wall, so I couldn’t reach them. I’d have to kill myself to desynchronize and then pick the mission back up from a checkpoint. Doing this once or twice always did the trick, but it was just the idea that I had to start entire sections of a mission over because the game became unplayable at points. Long load times and the occasional bit of lag also had me in constant fear that the game would crash at any moment. Unlike Unity, which did crash half a dozen times while I played it and also required several mission restarts, Rogue never completely locked up, at least.

Rogue also lacks a lot of the replayability we’ve seen in more recent Assassin’s Creed titles. There’s no multiplayer to speak of, competitive or cooperative, so once you collect all the items and complete all the side missions, there’s really not much else to do. As unpopular as it proved to be (I personally liked it, but I admit to being in a minority), at least the competitive multiplayer of previous last-gen entries offered something to bring you back for more.

Despite the rushed nature of the narrative and the semi-frequent technical glitches, I still found Rogue to be a far more pleasurable experience than I anticipated. It does just enough to put its own stamp on the franchise while also giving us critical story details in order to tie up loose ends between Assassin’s Creed III and IV. It acts as the perfect swan song for the franchise on the last generation of consoles, putting a neat-and-tidy bow on the Colonial Era Trilogy.

Developer: Ubisoft Sofia • Publisher: Ubisoft • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 11.11.14
8.5
The perfect Assassin’s Creed swan song on last-gen, Rogue offers perhaps the best protagonist the series has ever seen—even if the gameplay will be too familiar for the liking of some.
The Good Shay’s adventure is a perfect conclusion to Assassin’s Creed’s time in Colonial America.
The Bad Crams a lot of story into a short time, which hurts narrative pacing terribly.
The Ugly The shaggy, porno-esque goatee Shay sports before turning Templar.
Assassin’s Creed Rogue is available on Xbox 360 and PS3 and is coming to PC in 2015. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360. A retail copy was provided by Ubisoft for the benefit of this review.

A new Assassin’s Creed, which bundles the last three console titles in the series together, was announced by Ubisoft this morning.

Officially titled Assassin’s Creed: Birth of a New World – The American Saga, the three games in the bundle are Assassin’s Creed III, Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD, and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.

The collection has a release date of October 28, which means that with Assassin’s Creed Unity and Assassin’s Creed Rogue coming out on November 11, that there will be three Assassin’s Creed games coming out within a three-week period.

Assassin’s Creed: Birth of a New World – The American Saga will be available on Xbox 360 and PS3.

Introduction

There were a lot of good games in 2013. For me, however, there weren’t a lot of great games, ones that were clearly head and shoulders above the pack and got me excited every time I talked about them.Aside from some Nintendo titles, the end of the year was surprisingly dull, due to the less-than-stellar launch lineups of the PS4 and Xbox One. Because of that, half my list is comprised of games that surprisingly came from the first six months of 2013. But when I look back, these are the five games I’d sit down and play again more than any others. Enjoy!

Ray’s Top Five Games for 2013

#05: Fire Emblem: Awakening

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Platforms: 3DS

Ray’s Take

Until Marth and Roy made their appearance in Super Smash Bros. Melee, I’d never heard of Fire Emblem, since it had only been released in Japan at that point. I personally didn’t get into the series until Path of Radiance a few years later, but since then, I’ve been hooked. The story and strategy is everything I could ever want from a game, and Awakening miraculously finds a way to raise what was already a high bar. Elements like character customization are also introduced to the States for the first time here, and pairing units adds another nuance that can’t be ignored when playing.

#04: Remember Me

Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC

Ray’s Take

Some games take you by surprise so much that you can’t help but fall in love with them. Remember Me is one of those games for me. From futuristic high rises that pierce the clouds to the seedy sewers comprising Neo-Paris’ underbelly, Nilin’s world pulled me in, with no small effort from our dear protagonist herself. The unique memory remixes and combo-creation gameplay elements stoked my fire as I spent way too much time exploring every second of people’s pasts or playing with my Pressens in the Combo Lab.

#03: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, Wii U, Xbox 360, PS3, PC

Ray’s Take

Few games were able to just straight up impress me more than Assassin’s Creed IV did this year. The amount of freedom I felt on the open sea was unparalleled, and I’d lose hours on end just boarding enemy ships or diving beneath the waves to unearth some long-sunken treasure. I’m genuinely amazed at the progress made between this and Assassin’s Creed III, and I’m of the opinion that Black Flag is the best Assassin’s Creed since we first met Ezio back in Assassin’s Creed II.

#02: Injustice: Gods Among Us

Publisher:Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Platforms: PS4, Wii U, Xbox 360, PS3, PS Vita, PC

Ray’s Take

I have to play a lot of games over the course of a given year. I’m not complaining, but the only bad thing about this is that I rarely can find the time to go back to the games I truly enjoy. The one game I constantly found myself coming back to when I did find the time, however, was Injustice. I loved the story, I loved the mechanics, and I even loved playing online with other people—an activity that usually has me smashing controllers and living-room furniture left and right.

#01: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Platforms: 3DS

Ray’s Take

A Link Between Worlds is simply the best handheld Zelda game ever. Sorry, Link’s Awakening, but your 20-year title reign is at an end. The subtle changes to the classic Zelda formula, like having all the items at the beginning of the game, admittedly took some getting used to. But in the end, none of those changes stopped me from enjoying the game—and I couldn’t put my 3DS down until the adventure was over. In regards to the greatest Zelda games ever conversation, I wouldn’t put A Link Between Worlds past A Link to the Past or Ocarina of Time, but it’s not far off either.

Ray’s Off-Topic Awards for 2013

The Razor Ramon Award for Best Bad Guy
Jacob Danik
A lot of games this year tried to offer up some shades of gray to the black-and-white conflicts we normally expect. And while plot twists and grandiose questions about morality are fun, sometimes you just want someone you can hate. A bad guy you love because he’s bad. This year had a few candidates, but in the end, I chose Jacob Danik from Dead Space 3. He was a religious zealot willing to sacrifice the entire human race for what he believed to be salvation, and Simon Templeman played him brilliantly, projecting a cold ruthlessness akin to space itself.
Popsicle’s “The Colors, Duke! The Colors!” Award for Most Colorful Game
Super Mario 3D World
This one’s become sort of a tradition, so I figured I should continue it. It was a close call between several games this year, but I had to go with Super Mario 3D World. This particular Mario outing may have been a bit too easy and a bit too short for my tastes, but there’s no denying how gorgeous it was because of the variety of levels Mario was able to traverse for the first time in full HD. From purple ponds of poison and snowcapped summits down to the shine on the buttons of Mario’s overalls, a Mario game has never looked so good.
The Best Co-Op Gaming with Your Girlfriend Award
BattleBlock Theater
I play a fair amount of games with my girlfriend, but she only ends up happy that she joined in on a few of them. So, I figured I’d give a little recognition to the game she had the most fun co-op marathoning this year: BattleBlock Theater. She still talks about that game to this day, and it remains the only game where it’s OK to tell your significant other to go kill themselves, as we’d often sacrifice one another on floor spikes to serve as makeshift platforms to get across gaps.

Oh my darling, Clementine

EDITOR’S NOTE: THIS REVIEW MAY MAKE REFERENCE TO EVENTS THAT TOOK PLACE DURING SEASON ONE OF TELLTALE’S THE WALKING DEAD. IF YOU DON’T WANT IT SPOILED, I IMPLORE YOU TO GO PLAY IT AND THEN COME BACK. ALSO, WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG? IT’S BEEN OUT FOR A YEAR ALREADY. WELL, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?! GO! THEN COME BACK.

Last year, Telltale captivated gamers everywhere by capturing the essence of what makes The Walking Dead comics great: human drama that just happens to take place during the zombie apocalypse. In the process, we got to know—and fall in love with—protagonists Lee and Clementine. Their unique dynamic is what kept many players going to the very end, when Lee finally succumbed to his infection. Clementine’s story was far from over, though, and now in Season Two, instead of serving as her protector, we get to play as Clem herself and see just how the world around her begins to take its toll during some of her formative years.

It’s been a little over 12 months since we played the end of Season One (the first time, anyway) and six since 400 Days, so in order to get players back into the groove of surviving the end of modern civilization, the episode starts off by punching you in the gut several times with some sequences you will not see coming. If you thought you might coast for a while and get your bearings playing as Clem, you’d best think again.

This sink-or-swim approach is a brilliant move by the gang at Telltale, as it serves two purposes. Not only does it prepare you for what’s to come over the rest of the episode—both in terms of point-and-click gameplay and dramatic tone—but it also forces you into Clem’s shoes faster, preventing you from “meta-gaming” scenarios as though you were still protecting Clem (a possible side effect of your role in Season One). This habit would be harder to break later on if you became used to that idea, and the game would be less immersive as a result.

I admit that, going into this first episode, I was afraid I’d fall into that mindset myself—and that there’d be a disconnect between me and playing as Clem because of it. Due to the nature of the first few scenarios in the episode, however, I quickly found myself playing out conversations as though I were actually Clem. I was still “protecting” her, but mostly because I was protecting a part of myself. I didn’t have the time to think on a meta-scale. Thus, when things finally did slow down, I was already in the mindset of thinking as Clem and continued on that route.

I also thoroughly enjoyed many of Clem’s conversation choices. If I wanted to maintain her innocence—since she still isn’t even a teenager—the game offered options for that path. If I wanted to wear some of Clem’s emotional scars on her sleeve a bit more, I could do that, too. Other times, Clem displayed more adultlike logic, showing off her accelerated maturity due to her past experiences. I personally chose this path, and was pleasantly rewarded when it led to a particularly entertaining conversation between Clem and a sassy older woman. My Clem doesn’t take s*** from anybody!

For all the good Telltale does in this opening episode’s story, they did make a couple of questionable design choices. The most notable—and disappointing—is the lack of ramifications from the decisions you made in Season One and 400 Days. While the “next episode” teaser at the end of All That Remains does seem to hint at this situation being rectified, I would’ve loved something more than a couple of dialogue choices reflecting back on what happened down in Savannah.

Part of this could be the idea that new players may be coming on board, much like how some people start watching the second season of a TV series after hearing how popular it is. The problem is that by trying to cater to a new audience, Telltale might be ostracizing their returning fanbase with this more generic entry point for the series.

If anything, making a lot of references to prior events could compel people to go back and buy and play Season One. Even if players don’t have a Season One save, this episode has a scenario generator at the beginning that plays out the major choices so that players can experience Season Two without fear of punishment or missing out on content. So, why not reward your loyalists a bit more and throw them a bigger bone?

I also felt like the episode ended at an odd point. In Season One, every episode had a very natural conclusion. All That Remains’ end comes out of nowhere, and it’s incredibly jarring. While it works as a cliffhanger—and I understand that the next episode will begin with some major conflict—there was an earlier sequence that would’ve made much more sense as a “natural” ending. But ending there would’ve made this experience a bit too short, and as it stands now, the episode’s only 90 minutes long, so it seems that Telltale wants to make sure players are still getting their money’s worth.

Despite these couple of questionable choices by Telltale, their Walking Dead series continues to be a narrative powerhouse. Even though there’s only an hour and a half of content here, there were several instances that I had to pause the game, walk away, get a drink, and then come back. I simply couldn’t power through and ignore the events of this episode, and I found myself frantically worrying about Clem now—just as much as when I was protecting her as Lee.  Fans of Season One have no excuse not to go out on and get this first episode of Season Two, and while I think newcomers should still play Season One first, they’ll be OK using this as a jumping-off point as well.

Developer: Telltale Games • Publisher: Telltale Games • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 12.17.13
8.0
All That Remains is a fine way to kick off the second season of The Walking Dead. Telltale made some interesting design decisions putting players in the role of Clementine, and most of their choices—but not all—work out nicely.
The Good The story immerses players from the get-go.
The Bad Lack of ramifications from previous episodes.
The Ugly How easy I found it to play as a little girl.
The Walking Dead: Season 2: Episode 1 – All That Remains is available on Steam (PC/Mac), XBLA (Xbox 360), PSN (PS3), and iOS. Primary version reviewed was for Steam (PC).

Road Ready

As the series celebrates its 15th anniversary, Gran Turismo has had plenty of experience with both sequels and success. With just over 70 million combined copies sold (primary and secondary releases), it’s the single most lucrative exclusive brand under the PlayStation banner. But now, with all its success, it feels like Polyphony Digital is scared to change too much about a series that’s become such a massive institution—and it shows. Gran Turismo 6 feels more like a polished copy of Gran Turismo 5 than a true sequel.

This isn’t to say that GT6 is a bad game. It still wields the pedigree of one of the most applauded racing sims ever made, and in regards to the actual racing, it handles itself very well. Consistently smooth controls remain a highlight, now carried across the most cars ever in the series (1,200, over 100 more than in GT5), and 37 tracks that can be configured into 100 different layouts, including new ones like Silverstone and Willow Springs Raceway. The physics are also more realistic than before, since the game’s engine has been overhauled with an even greater focus on your car’s tires and suspension in mind. Of course, you can always take any one of your cars to the garage and tweak them yourself if you’re afraid of little extra tire burn when drifting or you want to loosen your shocks to really feel that “oomph” when you bump another car.

The career mode is also still a delight to work through as you move up through six different classes, each with their own set of special challenges unlocked in the middle and end of their respective gauntlets to keep things fresh. At the completion of each class, you’re also awarded a special car not normally attainable—such as a GT-themed go-kart—that you can then place in Photo mode (along with any other cars in your garage) and take pictures in digital re-creations of scenic locales.

But while these aspects that serve as cornerstones for a good racing sim remain, the flaws of the past linger in the experience as well—most markedly the awful visuals. Some minor improvements have been made, such as the convoluted user interface of past games being overhauled. Once you get into a race, however, the photorealistic backgrounds in the distance may look nice, but everything on or around the immediate track area looks like something from the start of the PS3 generation—not the end of it. You’d think that, by now, with the access and knowledge they have, Polyphony would produce better results than this. Maybe we can take a little solace in the fact they’ve already started work on GT7, so hopefully they’ll figure out the PS4 before this new generation is over.

And the screen tearing! Dear god the screen tearing! My head started to hurt after about an hour, due to the out-of-sync refresh and framerate drops, especially when hitting higher speeds or in stormy weather. Flaws like this feel amplified in a racing game because of the split-second decisions players have to make. I had to call in a couple of the other EGM editors to confirm that this was what I was seeing, since these problems–prevalent in GT5—still clearly plague the series three years later. What’s more, the real-time damage effects remain barely noticeable. I can’t believe a series that takes such pride in its attention to detail would allow these blemishes to remain in two straight games.

Gran Turismo 6 does offer a few new elements, though not many. Load times are much faster than what we saw in GT5, and the difference between Standard and Premium cars is a thing of the past, both welcome changes. The limitations on performance tuning or race mods have also been removed, with all 1,200 cars brought up to PS3 specs, unlike GT5’s PS2 imports comprising half of the car lineup.

Unfortunately, Polyphony also felt it necessary to include an obnoxious tutorial mode that forces players to take part in a race that teaches the controls. It can’t be skipped, and at the end, you’re forced to buy a crappy Honda Fit to play the first few races of your career. I’m an ill-tempered Italian from New Jersey. The only thing a Honda Fit is good for is burning it like the piece of garbage that it is.

I understand the need to cater to possible new players, but it’s highly unlikely GT6 will be the first racing game someone’s ever played—and, even if it is, I think gamers will be smart enough to figure out that X means “GO” and Square means “STOP.” By their very nature, racing games are supposed to be relatively easy to figure out but difficult to master, and a tutorial mode feels like the devs are blatantly talking down to us.

The bottom line is that Gran Turismo 6 feels like nothing more than a stopgap release to keep fans appeased until Polyphony’s new-gen offering is ready. Problems that persisted in GT5 remain, and the most noticeable difference—the mandatory tutorial mode—is an insult to anyone who’s ever played a racing title. Still, there is a solid racing game at GT6’s core, as the game does offer an unprecedented amount of cars compared to other racing sims, and the team keeps finding ways to make the physics better and better.

Developer: Polyphony Digital • Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 12.06.13
7.5

GT6 feels like a rushed effort, and many problems from GT5 remain unresolved. But the classic GT base remains intact, since the actual act of simulation driving remains very tight—and it’s coupled with a tremendous amount of choice when you consider the 1,200 cars that come on the disc.

The Good Solid career mode; plenty of cars and tracks to choose from; great controls.
The Bad Lackluster presentation; screen tearing; framerate drops.
The Ugly Most buildings in the foreground.
Gran Turismo 6 is a PS3 exclusive. 

An all-time great

After living in SoCal now for a couple of years, I miss that first cool October breeze to signify that summer’s come and gone, and that it’s time to look forward to a deep, wintery chill. Mind you, it’s not the shoveling snow, changing of tires, or layers of clothes that I reminisce about—I miss that it actually starts to feel like hockey season.

The closest harbingers of hockey I get these days? Blasting my AC, complaining about the fair-weather L.A. Kings fans who constantly seem to crawl out of the woodwork, and playing the NHL franchise. Fortunately, NHL 14 does the best job yet of making me forget that longing for North Jersey winters and drowning out the know-nothing Kings fans.

As always, I started off by selecting and using my favorite team, the New York Rangers. Yes, I’m from New Jersey, but I root for the Rangers. The reason? Fans of the New Jersey Devils are as mythical as the Jersey Devil itself. They don’t exist, and if they do, there’s only about 30 of them huddled in a cave down in the Pine Barrens somewhere. South Jersey roots for the Flyers. North Jersey roots for the Rangers. End of story.

The Rangers are actually ideal for a review like this, though, since they’ve got a balanced team: Some guys can shoot, some guys can hit, and some guys can skate. Sure, NHL 14 sees plenty of major additions this year—and I’ll get to them—but when I want to test the nuances of the game, I’m covered with the Broadway Blueshirts.

Take winger Carl Hagelin and his blinding speed, for example. In NHL 14, I could really see how much faster he was than everyone else as he pulled away from the defenders who chased him through the neutral zone. Similarly, it makes sense to use a guy like 6’7” forward Brian Boyle to bowl over a sniper on the penalty kill, whereas 5’7” right wing Mats Zuccarello will just bounce right off. Having every player feel unique when you take control of them is a huge plus in a sports game, and that shines through in NHL 14.

But it’s not just about the physics of a monster like Boyle running over a hapless player on the PK. In previous NHL entries, you’d have to flick the right analog stick—almost like the truck feature in Madden—to deliver a punishing hit. While that option’s still there for fans who can’t break old habits, you can also simply skate as fast as you can, and the new momentum feature will automatically see Boyle stick his hip out and send that sniper spinning to the ice—or maybe rough him up a little harder if some bad blood’s been brewing between the two rivals over the course of the game.

And that leads into the next big feature—and probably the one that’ll be a favorite for casual hockey fans: The fighting system is completely overhauled. Borrowing mechanics from EA’s Fight Night franchise, NHL 14 offers nuances to each throwdown. You can try to push or pull a guy off his skates, bob and weave to avoid incoming haymakers, or drop some bombs of your own—it feels more like a hockey fight should instead of the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots–style fights of years past.

Of course, similarly to how everyone’s helmets started to fly off or they got checked into the bench more often in NHL 12, the fighting’s definitely tuned to happen a bit more often now. If it’s not your thing—and I’ll admit that it can be a bit jarring, since everything else around you stops pretty abruptly—you can at least turn the frequency down in penalty options. If you leave it as is, though, you’ll go from having no fights or one fight per game, like in previous years, to potentially two or three each game. And if it’s a rivalry matchup—say, the Rangers versus the Devils—you’re likely to see it even more than that. I got into five fights the first time I played the Devils!

The fighting’s so detailed now, in fact, that players will walk away with black eyes and face bruising that’ll last for a couple of games. Of course, even before the fights, these are some of the ugliest character models I’ve ever seen. EA Canada can’t even get something as simple as a player’s hair color right. I look at Rangers center Derek Stepan when he scores a goal, and I see a real-life picture of him with dark brown hair—and then I see his character model with albino-white hair. It’s a little thing, but at this point, I’d like to think that the developers have figured out the differences between brown and blond.

I’ll take little snafus like that, though, when NHL 14 sees significant additions—such as the ability to change the opposing general managers’ AI in Be a GM mode. For years, opposing teams were either so stupid that you could easily fleece them and put together a virtual team of all-stars, or they were so smart that you’d have to sell the farm to even get a mid-tier prospect. While Be a GM’s default AI seems pretty good in this incarnation, it’s nice to be able to make adjustments if you don’t think it’s acting as realistically as it should. And adding money options—such as taking on part of a player’s contract instead of the whole thing—makes the negotiating room even more heated if you like wheelin’ and dealin’ like myself.

But if stylin’ and profilin’ on the ice is more your bag, the new Live the Life mode—a revamped version of Be a Pro—is the way to go. I don’t normally create players, but I tried this option out and worked my way up through the CHL to get drafted 7th overall by the Edmonton Oilers (I’m still working on getting traded to the Rangers!). Pre- and post-game press conferences with your player, interactions off the ice with teammates, and talking to your agent about what endorsements you should sign gets you closer to living the dream of being a pro hockey player than the franchise has ever offered. And for me, personally, it was even more special. See, every NHL player has a soundbite associated with his surname, and thanks to Chicago Blackhawks left wing Daniel Carcillo, it always sounded like Gary Thorne was saying my name during play-by-play—it freaked my girlfriend out when she heard it the first time!

Part of why I was drafted so high? The new, simplified deking system. I’ll freely admit that this aspect of NHL was way too difficult for me in the past. Some people swear by it—and more power to ’em—but I’d rather just make crisp passes that work the goalie out of position instead of worrying about spin-o-ramas and the like. This year, instead of working both analog sticks while holding a bunch of buttons, you simply need to tap a shoulder button—if your player’s skilled enough, of course. I’d never done so many dekes in a single version of an NHL game before, but it’s so simple here that I couldn’t stop.

One new feature, however, hasn’t been simplified. If anything, it’s gotten more complicated, and it comes when you skate into the face-off circle. Now, I’ve never been good at face-offs. I’m lucky to average a 30-to-40-percent success rate. Face-offs require a lot more finesse this year, and you’ll need to use both analog sticks to really work for the puck. This may feel more realistic, but it’s also a lot more frustrating—I only won around 5 percent of my face-offs against the computer. I could hold my own against human opponents, but it’s damn near impossible to win against the computer—especially when the friendly AI, for all the strides it’s made, still isn’t smart enough to skate over and take the puck if I tie up the opposing center.

Let’s be honest: I could probably be here all day talking about hockey. My love for the Rangers. My hatred of the Islanders. And the Devils. And the Flyers. And the Penguins. My love and hatred aside, this is easily the best hockey experience EA Canada has delivered yet. They’ve listened to just about everything the fans have said over the years, and they’ve done their best to incorporate it here.

They’ve even heard the fans in a particularly special way: NHL 14 features a full-blown NHL ’94 mode that not only celebrates 20 years of what many consider one of the greatest hockey games of all time, but that also expertly blends the arcade style of the past with the simulation style of today. That shows true dedication and passion from the development team, and NHL 14 is as close to that hallowed Super NES/Genesis classic as any entry we’ve seen since then.

Developer: EA Canada • Publisher: EA Sports • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 09.10.13
9.5
One of the best hockey sims to date. A couple of minor adjustments are always needed, but this is as close as its going to get for you short of lacing up skates and donning pads yourself.
The Good New fighting mechanics, better physics, and Online Seasons for Hockey Ultimate Team.
The Bad It’s impossible to win a face-off sometimes.
The Ugly The character models get worse-looking every year.
NHL 14 is available on Xbox 360 and PS3. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360.

Walking the Plank

WARNING: Due to the nature of this preview, there will be spoilers regarding previous Assassin’s Creedgames, especially Assassin’s Creed III. Consider yourselves warned.

The present day setting of Assassin’s Creed always served as a means to explain what we were experiencing in the past. This was done, of course, with Desmond hopping into some form of the Animus to relive his ancestor’s lives to find pieces of the puzzle that would prevent the end of days. But with Desmond’s ultimate sacrifice at the end ofAssassin’s Creed III to save the world, the catalyst to trigger these memories we so enjoyed as gamers is now gone. And yet, the Templar-Assassin War still rages on behind the scenes.

So, before we get into the juicy story and gameplay bits of Edward Kenway and his pirating ways in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (since it’s been leaked all over the internet anyway), we first wanted to look a bit at the new Animus user that would facilitate us experiencing early 18th century Caribbean life. You. That’s right, the player themselves are being directly inserted into the action. Looking to bring the players closer to the story, the unintentional barrier created by Desmond as a character is now completely removed by the narrative of previous games. Players will have a more personal say over their characters as they become one with the story to help immerse them in the Assassin’s Creed universe. And Game Director Ashraf Ismail was kind enough to explain to us how this works with the Assassin’s Creed canon.

“The Animus technology has progressed forward, so that it allows anybody to go into the ancestry of someone else as long as the DNA is in storage somewhere. And the way this is presented to the player is through Abstergo Entertainment. Abstergo Entertainment is a subdivision of Absertgo Industries, who are the present day Templars. So this is a company that does research on historical figures and historical events for entertainment purposes—or so they say. This is the façade. There’s obviously a darker, deeper intent behind all of this. And then you are hired as a research analyst. You’re told to use the Animus to research the life of this great pirate, Edward Kenway. You’re not told why, but as you progress through the story you will find out that Edward had a major impact on the Assassin-Templar conflict. The Templars of the present day need information about what Edward did in the past. And this is why you’re doing all of this.”

Abstergo Entertainment was introduced in the last game’s multiplayer under a similar premise. Therefore, it’s not a stretch to see this branch of the Templars expanded into another game. Just how the player will play through these modern day scenes, whether it’ll be a first-person experience like Desmond’s memories from Revelations, or something like a character customization suite that allows the game to maintain it’s more traditional third-person perspective, is yet to be seen, but something along these lines to help with the idea of being one with this new character was hinted at in our talks with Ashraf.

Because of this, we know now how we get into the world of Edward Kenway, but we should really look a bit more closely at the man himself. After all, it’s through his eyes most of the game really takes place. Edward’s backstory was explained with him being a charming and charismatic man of British decent who grew up very poor. This poverty led him to becoming very reckless and selfish. Upon adulthood, his only real career option was to join the British navy and once accepted, he was stationed in the West Indies (what we call the Caribbean today). The lure of gold, glory, and fame, however, leads him to quickly going AWOL from the navy and turning pirate. It is while being a pirate that Edward runs across the Assassin’s Order and becomes enamored with their struggle. And here is where we pick up with Edward, torn between the selfish pirate life he has cultivated for himself and the new selflessness of the Assassins and somehow, if he is to survive, he must strike a balance between them.

Edward is not just notable for his own exploits, however. He is also the father of Haytham and grandfather to Connor, two integral characters to Assassin’s Creed III. So even though the guys at Ubisoft weren’t looking to do another full trilogy like they did with Ezio, their focus on the Kenway bloodline was something they knew they wanted to do from the very beginning.

“Really early on, in conception and before this game really was started, the brand was headed toward telling the Kenway story. The Kenway saga. This is something that’s important—that we always try to surprise fans with the hero, with the setting. So at some point it was decided that we’re going to do the Ezio trilogy, and then we didn’t want people to just naturally assume that we’re going to do a trilogy with every hero going forward. So we decided for the next round we’re going to surprise people with the Kenway saga. So that’s what we’re telling now. We’re telling Edward’s side of this saga,” said Ashraf.

Like many Assassin’s Creed games though, the main protagonist can sometimes be lost against the backdrop of the recreated historical landscapes. Whether it was Connor in the American Revolution, Ezio in Renaissance Italy, or Altair in Crusades Era Middle East, the time period plays just as big a role in any game as whoever wields the hidden blade. And it looks like it won’t be any different with Black Flag.

The heart of Assasssin’s Creed IV: Black Flag takes place in the year 1715 in the Caribbean, as previously mentioned. Edward is captain of his own ship, the Jackdaw, and he has developed a reputation so that the likes of many other historical figures of the time, like Calico Jack and Blackbeard himself, know to beware of Edward as he is supposedly more ruthless or single minded than anyone else even these famed pirates have ever met.

And this untamed swathe of the globe is the perfect paradise for someone who finds himself clearly on the wrong side of the law as often as Edward does. Because of this, he will travel frequently on the Jackdaw to different islands to let things cool down when he kicks the hornet’s nest one too many times. Ashraf went into great detail about these unique locations Edward will travel to.

“Our map is centered with Cuba and Havana being one of the major cities. We have Nassau in the Bahamas, Kingston in Jamaica, and we’re bordered by Haiti and Yucatán. This is our game world, and it has 50 unique locations. So this is really the most different and freshest AC game that we’ve ever built. This is the most drastically different world. So three major cities, the first being Havana, is a Spanish-colonized city, which has a European flavor to it. For us, we really referenced Venice from ACII, because we love the rooftop running from ACII, and this city is inspired by that. Kingston, this is a British-colonized city, it’s a very dangerous, very threatening environment. It’s probably the most different AC city that we’ve ever had, because it merges natural environments with the city itself. The city actually had a lot of foliage and trees in it. It’s the first time we’ve had a city that’s dense in mixing houses and buildings plus trees and tree navigation stuff. And finally we have Nassau, which is a pirate haven. And this is a city that goes through a transformation in the game. It begins as the pirate haven, but then becomes besieged by the British. So the player really feels a different mood and atmosphere, and the gameplay actually changes as well here. So those are the three major cities, but we’ll also have tons of other locations, like hidden fisherman villages, plantations, tucked away coves where smugglers hide their goods and you can go in and steal it, really dense and claustrophobic jungles to do an opposite of the really open seas, we have naval forts, Mayan ruins, coconut islands— which are the picturesque image people have of the Caribbean—and a new location, a new setting for Assassin’s Creed, is the underwater.”

All these different locations will offer up many new and interesting gameplay challenges we’ve yet to see from the franchise. Just to accommodate the unique landscape of the Caribbean Sea, Ashraf told us to expect about a 60/40 balance between gameplay on land and at seas. And although Edward’s blonde locks may give him a passing resemblance to Aquaman, how exactly he is to navigate or survive in the underwater segments actually in game is still unclear. But no doubt there is a creative solution waiting for us once we experience those segments beyond Edward suddenly growing gills.

With the sea taking up such a large chunk of the game, it’s no surprise to find out that there has been a lot of focus on what you can now do with your ship. Taking a cue from the Far Cry 3 team, a new dynamic encounter system is being incorporated into the sailing portion of the game so that the Jackdaw never knows just when it may come across enemy British, French, or Spanish vessels patrolling a particular expanse of water. There are also several new mechanics now that will not only allow you to engage these ships, but whether or not you wish to board them and try to plunder their holdings or sink them outright.

And how you go about bringing a ship down or capturing it is completely up to you once you’re in the boarding process. You can have Edward lead the charge with sword in hand, use the Jackdaw’s swivel cannons to continue to wreak havoc on the deck, or even jump off the Jackdaw, swim around to the blind side of the enemy vessel, and clamber up the side to attack the enemy crew from behind. How you choose to do it is up to you. Just be careful, as too many failed encounters could lead to your own crew deciding to abandon ship…permanently.

There is a lot more to your sea faring adventures beyond just random encounters though. You can get goods from more than just enemy ships, as the Jackdaw is also outfitted with harpoons if you feel like going hunting for whale blubber or shark meat. There is also a random storm generator meaning Mother Nature is a foe Edward will have to spit in the face of as well. And a tool called the Spyglass will be to critical to scouting out naval blockades or unexplored islands before Edward actually attempts to interact with them, telling him what he might find there as well as what kind of an enemy force to expect.

Some of the new land gameplay elements we know about focus more on Edward’s signature weapons. Much like how Connor had the tomahawk, Edward wields a weapon unique to his character in dual cutlasses. These large swords make Edward even more of an intimidating persona as he strikes with them as easily as most men would with smaller blades. This isn’t to say he doesn’t also wield the traditional hidden blade, but depending on how much of a pirate you wish Edward to be, his swords are a staple that Assassin’s Creed fans should have a lot of fun wielding.

Another pirate weapon that Edward wields are throwaway pistols. Able to carry up to four at once, Edward can fire these pre-loaded pistols to keep his free flow combos going from a distance and it expands his range in the heat of combat, or allows him to take careful aim through a new third-person shooting system to surprise unsuspecting foes.

The most intriguing aspect of the weapons though may be the new upgrade system that allows you to strengthen whatever you wield. Pistols, blades, and even the Jackdaw itself, can be upgraded to make Edward an even more legendary scourge of the sea, and makes pillaging even more important as you look for key components to improve your items.

Much like the previous Assassin’s Creed games, Black Flag looks to be an adventure that brings its own special twist to an interesting period in world history. All while providing the high level of polish we’ve come to expect in game design and gameplay from the folks over at Ubisoft. If you are a fan of Assassin’s Creed, this latest chapter looks to continue the trend of one-upmanship from the franchise, while finally giving gamers the pirate game we’ve always dreamed of come October 29, 2013, for both current and next-gen consoles. Eye patches optional.

Not always lucky there’s a Family Guy

It’s never easy to capture the essence of a licensed product in a videogame. Sure, games like Batman: Arkham City show it can be done, but for every gem, you get South Park: Tenorman’s Revenge, X-Men: Destiny, a half-dozen Simpsons titles (excluding Hit and Run), and the worst of them all, Aquaman: Battle for Atlantis (just beating out the equally awful Superman 64). So, when it came time for Family Guy to take another crack at a video game, six years after their first failure on the last console generation, it was hard not to think “Here we go again.”

Inspired by the Season 8 episode “Road to the Multiverse,” Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse centers around the machinations of an alternate universe incarnation of Bertram, Stewie’s evil half-brother who was destroyed in the main Family Guy universe episode “The Big Bang Theory.” This version of Bertram has built his own multiverse remote control and vowed revenge on Stewie for killing him in any universe. Knowing that their own vast multiverse experience makes them the only ones capable of putting a stop to the plan, the show’s beloved odd couple, Stewie and Brian, embark on a quest across 10 parallel dimensions to stop Bertram from putting together an unstoppable army that will squash the Griffin family once and for all.

As a fan of the show, I admit the premise sounded promising. When you consider that the plot was written by the Fuzzy Door writing staff and that everyone from the cartoon reprised their voice for the game, the story side of Back to the Multiverse didn’t worry me one bit. And it did, indeed, deliver in most instances, as there were many moments during the game’s cutscenes where I found myself laughing out loud as Brian and Stewie found themselves in a Pirate World, an Amish World, a world ruled by handicapped people, and much more.

Unfortunately, when it came to being a fleshed-out game, I found Back to the Multiverse lacking. The third-person shooter gameplay quickly became tedious as wave after wave of cookie-cutter enemies swarmed me in each level, yet still provided almost no challenge. Surprisingly, the handful of platforming obstacles in several levels—along with one very special level with Peter—provided some enjoyable variety to the grind of shooting everything in sight, but these brief departures from the blasting bonanza were too few and far between to save the game from becoming repetitive, dull, and simple.

The game is also extremely short and linear, and in order to try to cram in a couple extra hours of playtime, each level is littered with pointless item collection side quests that reward players with nothing but concept art and multiplayer skins. Somewhere between collecting my 10th wanted poster in the Amish world and my 7th handicap placard in the “Handicapable” level, I was already done with the hoarding.

And speaking of the multiplayer, what were developers Heavy Iron thinking by not making the co-op or versus modes online capable? The multiplayer suite here is impressive, with challenges, Deathmatch and CTF, a horde mode, and campaign co-op. Though far from revolutionary, Multiverse definitely has the potential to stand up to many other titles out there, but since all the modes are restricted to local play, they quickly lose their luster. The multiplayer levels, especially in Team Deathmatch, seem better designed for larger groups of players with their scope and size. With only up to four people locally, everyone is constantly wandering around, desperate for someone to shoot. I appreciate local play as an option, but it just doesn’t work well as the only option, not in this day and age.

In the end, this game is like many of those other licensed products that have come before it. There’s a very solid core here, with the visuals and the humorous writing capturing the animated heart of the show. If the fat from the single player had been cut out so there was only maybe only five or six more polished and varied levels, I could see this being a great downloadable or budget title in the $20-30 price range. For a full $60 though, Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse is far too flawed to be worth it for all but the most passionate (and delusional) of Family Guy fans, as this falls into place with the rest of the long list of other mediocre adapted media property video games out there.

SUMMARY: A solid comedic core cannot save what becomes tedious gameplay as you move through the 10 different dimensions of the Multiverse. Throw in the mind-boggling lack of online multiplayer for a suite that clearly could have benefited from it, and Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse should only appeal to fanatics of the FOX animated sitcom.

  • THE GOOD: Much of the game captures the humor of the show.
  • THE BAD: No online multiplayer, tedious side quests.
  • THE UGLY: Amish women. What? It’s not like they’re going to read this on the Internet or something.

SCORE: 5.5

Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse is available on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360. 

They may be two of the most anticipated games of the year, but getting information or extended playing time with Assassin’s Creed III and Assassin’s Creed: Liberation has been like trying to get blood from a stone. Until now. Last week, I had a chance to get some quality hands-on time with AC III’s single player campaign and new multiplayer modes as well as AC:L’s campaign as Ubisoft transported me back to colonial Boston to help immerse us in this revolutionary experience.

AC III Single Player

We started with AC III’s single player campaign and were immediately thrown into a never before seen area of Connor’s world: the Homestead. Similar in many ways to Ezio and Monteriggioni from AC II and AC: Brotherhood, Homestead is Connor’s home base out in the wilderness. Acting as a bastion for Connor between missions where he can gather his thoughts, learn more about the Assassins, and also do favors for others in the wilderness, Homestead is a much deeper experience though than Monteriggioni ever was.

By doing side missions for friendly faces, NPCs will set up shop in and around the Homestead so Connor can trade goods, upgrade items, and perform many of the same functions that you did in Monteriggioni. Giving a little bit of back story to these side missions though allows you to build a deeper connection to these extra characters in AC III and even after just chasing some poachers out of the forest or collecting trinkets for a retired pirate, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the idea of directly influencing the start of a new community with Connor as the lead.

After making a few new friends in my little slice of the wilderness, I wanted to test out Connor’s ship skills and finally take a whack at the naval battles. Not only were there battles that could forward that aspect of the story, but it had its own set of side missions, or could just be used as a quick travel between port cities. But I wanted to blow some ships up and so I just jumped right on into the next mission in the naval story.

In the mission, I was tasked with escorting some merchant ships to port, and after disposing of some small British warships in my way and completing the primary objective of the mission, I found I had stumbled upon a larger Templar plot when a previously abandoned fort in Martha’s Vineyard was suddenly alive and bustling…and targeting my ship! As I switched from half mast to full, this after easily disposing of British mines in the churning waters of the cape, I began circling the fort, pummeling it with cannon fire until its three towers stopped trying to rain mortars and death onto my ship. The best part of this mission was just piloting the ship though as it didn’t feel like I was fighting the ship to maneuver it where I wanted and the cannon aiming mechanics were simple enough to quickly understand.

After docking my ship, I wanted to get into the main plot of the story. Walking around Boston, I was to meet with Samuel Adams and other Sons of Liberty. But I wanted to push Connor to his limits in a fight first. And the British weren’t exactly fans of me killing their soldiers in the middle of the street.

With my new favorite weapons, the rope dart and the tomahawk, I had the Boston streets running red with British blood by the time I was done. I began by pulling a sentry off a roof with the rope dart, and his death  alerted countless other red coats who then swarmed the town square. With the tomahawk, which is the first time in an Assassin’s Creed game that I preferred using a weapon that wasn’t the traditional hidden blade, I began hacking away at red coat faces, kneecaps, and anything that was within range of my righteous rage. I started by countering two guys at once and had them run each other through with bayonets before throwing my rope dart at a heavy’s feet to trip him up and then strike the killing blow in his neck with the tomahawk. Then, I would spin and roll over the back of another red coat, only to quickly whip around while he was off-balance and stab him in the back, grab him as he was dying, and use him as a meat shield as two other soldiers were now lining up rifle shots. Next, with the dead soldier’s rifle, I would take aim at the folks who just perforated their buddy, and take one out with a rifle, toss it away, and then take the other out with my pistol.

This is quite simply the most fluid combat system we’ve seen from this franchise and the bevy of options available to you in any given combat situation will blow your mind into itty, bitty pieces. I could not get enough of it and even after several hours play time, I was still seeing new animations, take downs, and maneuvers from Connor.

After taking part in my own little Boston Massacre, I knew it was time to actually see a little of the story and so I met up with Sam Adams at a bar, a fitting setting if there was one, and found out that my mission was to assist in the infamous Boston Tea Party. But first, I had to help an ornery French-Canadian chef named Stephane who was ready to wreak a little havoc on his own.

After protecting our friend from the north as he set out on his own personal crusade, I was pleasantly surprised that another feature from previous AC games was returning in that Connor gets recruits, and Stephane was the first. What has changed now is that each recruit has a much larger and detailed back story, much like the folks around Homestead, and so in order to help these characters feel more personal to Connor, there are only six recruits.

Another change is that Arrow Storm has been removed in order to help keep the game situations a bit more balanced once you begin unlocking your recruits. In its place, each of the six recruits has a special move besides assassinate. Stephane for example has ‘Riot’, which does exactly as it says and can incite a riot in order to help Connor move more easily through large open spaces. Another recruit has ‘Guard Post’, where the recruit can dress up as a red coat and help escort/sneak you through heavily guarded forts. Unfortunately, we’ll likely have to wait till launch to see what the other four recruits may have up their sleeves.

After I destroyed a lot of tea and killed a lot of red coats, the Ubisoft folks told me my time with single player was done and I needed to move onto multiplayer. Reluctantly (they had to pry the controller from my hands as I kicked and screamed, it took four guys), I left single player and moved into the multiplayer aspects of AC III.

AC III Multiplayer

So, many of the modes in AC III’s multiplayer are returning favorites in how to get your personal stab on, and so this section of the hands-on preview will focus only on the two new modes we saw and played: Domination in Versus and Wolf Pack Co-op.

Now, Domination is pretty much like Domination in every other game out there. You have three markers scattered about a map with the objective being to control these markers for the majority of the match and you score points every few seconds based on how many markers are in control by your faction.  The difference is its done with an Assassin’s Creed flair in that a capturing team cannot kill players who control the section, they can only stun them, and it takes longer to capture a point then it does for someone to recover from stun. This presents the interesting dilemma of knowing when to expose oneself, if at all.

The big draw for multiplayer this go around though was the Wolf Pack Co-op. In this mode, you and three friends attempt to perform as many assassinations as possible and each assassination is scored. By hitting certain point thresholds, the assassinations start to get harder and harder as you move through 25 point thresholds.

The most interesting twist here though is that by coordinating your assassinations with teammates, you can earn larger and larger point bonuses so balancing both quality and quantity is the only effective way to progress through the higher levels. Not to mention communication becomes critical. There are also special side missions that can add to the score and your experience if you can accomplish them with the most impressive being the multi-sync kill. This is where all four members of the team must lock onto their targets and execute them at the same time, triggering an impressive cinematic and massive score bonuses.

After several multi-sync kills and floundering a few times around level 19, it was time for me to move on to the bane of my sausage fingers’ existence: the PS Vita in order to play Assassin’s Creed: Liberation.

Assassin’s Creed: Liberation

Admittedly, my experiences with the Vita have been less than stellar as gimmicks have polluted my favorite franchises left and right when they try adding chapters to their story via this handheld. But I was pleasantly surprised with my first time with Aveline. From assassinating Spanish lieutenants after scaling a massive ancient fort, to making costume changes faster than a Broadway lead, Liberation feels much like other beloved Assassin’s Creed adventures without forcing gimmicky controls on you. They are there, but they are options, not required, to advance through Aveline’s Louisiana.

Aveline’s combat and abilities also were a pleasant surprise as they rivaled that of Connor’s as she fluidly used her meat cleaver and various other tools to bring the pain to the Spanish who occupy and enslave much of her home. But the little bit of what we saw of Aveline’s story may have impressed me the most as she has an array of unusual allies and is torn between her sense of duty to the people, her own morals, and the Assassin’s order, which leads to a wide variety of missions for Aveline to perform. And watching how these all conflict with each other in the story is very intriguing.

There were some concerns though with certain aspects of Liberation. Possibly being spoiled from playing AC III first, I felt the AI of enemy troops was a little lacking in terms of reacting to Aveline and her actions, and her blow dart made her feel almost omnipotent as she could stealthily eliminate foes from a distance. She carries only a limited number of darts, of course, but when you only need one or two to carve a path through Spanish sentries, there was a lot less challenge it felt like.

I suppose part of the challenge as playing with Aveline though comes with her notoriety and the requiring of costume changes. Aveline’s Assassin garb has guards constantly on the lookout for her, whereas her slave garb has varying levels much like the other Assassin’s Creed games, and then her aristocratic garb has her always inconspicuous because no one suspects the lady in the flower dress. These costumes have their own unique positives and negatives, but if you’re like me, you welcome the challenge of constantly being under scrutiny from guards because the combat is so superb and so the Assassin garb was my primary choice.

When all was said and done after our trip up to Boston, the entire slate of everything we saw involving Assassin’s Creed blew me away. Liberation seems like it’ll be the first game for the PS Vita that I’ll thoroughly enjoy and AC III is quite simply a game changer for the franchise and possibly action/adventure games as a whole due to the most immersive and detailed story yet, plethora of side quests, and fluid combat system. After getting my first taste of these two games, I know I for one cannot wait to embody the spirit of revolution come October 30th and play as both Connor and Aveline in what are shaping up to possibly be the best AC games yet.