Tag Archive: ubisoft


Great ideas are born all the time in the video game industry, but not all of them reach fruition—and fewer still achieve their fullest potential. It seems Ubisoft’s For Honor, at least at this moment in time, falls into the latter category of a game that just isn’t where it needs to be. After conquering the campaign and playing well over 100 multiplayer matches over the past week since it’s launch, I’m sorry to say that For Honor just seems to be another in what is becoming Ubisoft’s calling card of the past several years: a tremendous idea that falls short due to lackluster or questionable technical execution.

For Honor puts players in a fantasy world that mashes up regions and time periods, placing three of the world’s greatest factions of warriors together on one limited landmass. Samurai, Knights, and Vikings fight in perpetual war over scarce resources in this fictitious world, unwittingly serving as pawns in the plans of Apollyon, a particularly ruthless black knight who feels that only in war can people maximize their abilities.

The campaign takes you through each of the three faction camps as you begin to piece together Apollyon’s plot. There are 18 chapters (six for each group), and all told the campaign shouldn’t take more than 4-6 hours to finish. There’s some replayability here, with collectibles and multiple difficulty levels (including the hardest “Realistic” difficulty that completely removes your HUD), but not much else. It’s also a bit on the repetitive side, with occasional surprises to keep you pushing forward, but what serves as the brightest spot for the campaign is that it is an excellent teaching tool. As a de facto proving ground, it gives you plenty of opportunities to test strategies and learn more advanced combos with particular classes against the computer before you take those skills into the online world.

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One glaring flaw with the campaign, though, is the fact that if one of its major purposes is as a way to familiarize yourself with the game’s 12 distinct characters and it’s unique combat system in a safer offline setting, then it should give you an opportunity to play as all of the character choices. Only eight of the 12 are featured in the campaign, with the Berseker (Vikings), Conqueror (Knights), Shugoki (Samurai), and Nobushi (Samurai) being exempt.

Though, it could argue that some of these class styles are covered in other chapters. For example, the Vikings’ Warlord—who does get his own chapter—is classed as a heavy, which Shugoki and Conqueror also both fall under. However, there are enough differences between each choice and their playstyles that not being able to figure out how to fit playable sections for all 12 characters into 18 chapters—especially when many campaign chapters have all the characters in them already as NPCs—is bothersome. For example, the Nobushi has probably the most range of any character in the game (plus some attacks that can poison an enemy), while the Shugoki is the only character that can actually absorb a hit without flinching—but you need to experiment in multiplayer to find all that out. You can play the online modes against AI to get some experience with characters, and I admit that For Honor’s bots are some of the most intelligent you’re likely to find in any online game, but I believe that wrapping your training around a story and a tutorial increases your retention of learned skills, as opposed to just button mashing against a bot that falls into predictable patterns.

A big reason why it’s particularly frustrating having to learn characters in multiplayer, instead of more ideally just honing and mastering your skills against humans, is For Honor’s aforementioned combat system. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic system, but it has a steep learning curve and can be incredibly complex at times. The core of For Honor is three-way directional blocking/attacking. If you are swinging from the left, and your foe blocks in that direction, nothing happens; if they leave themselves open, you do damage. It looks like a simple third-person hack ‘n’ slash mechanic, but once you get past this, you’ll find there’s more to this game—and, again, each character’s specific nuances only diversify and add wonderful depth to the gameplay. Throws, stuns, parries, specials, and unblockable attacks all must be learned if you’re to have any success in campaign or online. The beauty of it, though, is how all of this plays off that initial mechanic, which requires you to lock onto an opponent in one-on-one “honorable” combat while trying to predict their movements.

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Combat is like a miniature chess game, with strategies forming and coming undone in an instant as your strikes hit, miss, or are blocked by your mark. Even positioning on the field, with one-hit kill obstacles like spikes or ledges, play into the combat, requiring you take in far more information than just which direction your opponent is blocking. I honestly couldn’t get enough of it all, and found my adrenaline pumping during the thrill of combat, screaming into my headset as cowards ran away from my Raider’s axe. (Of course, it also makes it frustrating to learn on the fly when your K/D may be on the line.)

There are some flaws to combat, though. While the game is surprisingly well balanced—with a smart player able to overcome most any other character’s strengths and exploit their weaknesses—there are those infuriating moments when it looks like the game’s physics or hit detection isn’t where it needs to be. A perfect example is when trying to throw someone off a ledge; a great way to overcome situations where you are outnumbered. Sometimes, a character will barely clip the edge of a rock or wall, and slam up against it as if a full support was there, saving the person from going over the edge and potentially falling to their doom. Or, you’ll get situations where a thrown body lands with half of it not on solid ground. You’d expect the body to slide off the edge—since that’d be the natural result—but instead the character just stands up as if their body had been fully supported. It reminds me of the original Super Mario Bros. way back in the day; as long as you had just one pixel of edge, Mario would never fall off. It’s not nearly as charming here, and definitely breaks immersion and draws my ire.

The crux of For Honor, though, is of course the multiplayer, which I’ve touched on briefly already a couple of times. The first thing everyone has to take part in is the War of the Factions. Similar to what was seen in Mortal Kombat X’s Faction War, as soon as you start the game, you choose one of the three factions to align yourself with for the entirety of a season (this doesn’t limit what characters you can play as, to be clear). By playing online you’ll earn war assets, and the better you perform, the more assets you’ll receive. Unlike MKX, you’ll get to personally assign where your assets go as you try to move the front lines of a never-ending assault against the other two factions on a satellite view of the game’s map. The faction that has procured the most land at the end of the season will receive special in-game bonuses. You can also change your faction mid-season, but at the penalty of lost rewards at the end of the season. Surprisingly, it’s one of the more addictive features of For Honor, as it gives players a sense of actually taking part in a living, breathing conflict.

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Then there are five different game modes under three different umbrellas. In Deathmatch, you’ll find the 4v4 single-life-to-live Elimination mode and the point-based Skirmish mode, where you can respawn until the opposing team reaches 1000 points (where points are awarded on a variety of factors, but killing human opponents always racks up the biggest points). Then there are the Duels, offering up 1v1 matchups and 2v2 Brawls, and which I personally recommend you start off with since they’re a great way to hone you skills. Finally, there is the 4v4 Dominion mode, which combines the point scoring of Skirmish with capturing zones like you’d see in a Domination mode for other games.

Although there are only a few maps, sections of each one are cordoned off depending on the mode you’re playing, and each map has multiple times of day available to offer some visual variety. The game is also graphically stunning as a whole; the detail of each character and the world around you is absolutely breathtaking, and makes you feel at times like you’re in a real medieval fantasy. For Honor’s customization is also something that should be lauded. While each character’s face is a given, you can change the sex of most characters (some are permanent female or male), earn ornaments, victory poses, and executions, and each character’s weapons and armor, piece by piece, can be changed out or given new paint and pattern schemes. It’s just enough personalization to make you stand out on the battlefield while making sure you still come across as your character class. Of course, it needs to be mentioned that a lot of items are locked away behind certain achievements or the game’s “steel” currency, but many of these can be bypassed by buying resources through microtransactions. This isn’t necessary, since you can easily grind for a lot of items, and most of them are cosmetic anyway, but that’s entirely up to you.

Despite the issues I’ve already laid out, when For Honor works, it works supremely well. When For Honor doesn’t work, though, it’s one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve had to date with an Ubisoft game. While the campaign was mostly issue-free, there have been tremendous connectability issues with the game since launch. In fact, part of the reason I’m so late with this review is that I tried to see if these issues would work themselves out or if we’d get a patch of some kind. Even as recent as last night, however, I was still seeing matches drop and disconnect on a regular basis—if I could even connect in the first place. As I stated at the start of the review, over the past week I’ve played and finished well over 100 matches—there was probably another 200 times, though, where the match would never connect or drop midway through.

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If this weren’t bad enough, because For Honor doesn’t have dedicated servers, not only does the game suffer frequently from lag, but every time someone else drops, the entire game freezes up, as it often has to re-instance. Half the time, it is unable to, and boots the remaining players back to the multiplayer lobby. I don’t understand how, after launching so many games in a row with shoddy or broken netcode before this, Ubisoft has yet another game—one that is so multiplayer heavy in particular and has had so many betas—come out in this condition. It’s absolutely unforgivable to launch in such a sorry state, and Ubisoft should be embarrassed.

For Honor could’ve been one of the best games of this young calendar year; instead, it’s riddled with issues, particularly on the technical side, which hold it back. It might still bounce back and become the game it has the potential to be thanks to its solid gameplay core—but if you were looking for something to play right now, I’d tell you to take a wait-and-see approach with For Honor in hopes the bugs, in particular the connectivity ones, end up getting worked out.

Publisher: Ubisoft • Developer: Ubisoft Montreal • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 02.14.17
7.0
An inventive premise and surprisingly deep combat system sits at the core of what could’ve been a great game—if so many technical issues didn’t surround it and detract so much from the whole of the experience.
The Good The inventive new combat system takes some getting used to, but rewards players who put the time in with it.
The Bad A litany of technical issues and questionable decisions keeps it from reaching its fullest potential.
The Ugly This is now a thing and I can’t stop watching it: For Honor—Call on Me
For Honor is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Ubisoft for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

It’s been a long time since an extreme winter sports video game has really resonated with gamers. After the genre saw quick success with games like SSX, many companies have tried and failed to get a foothold in the category and capture a bit of the magic some of those early games had. But even with bigger mountains, deeper customization, and more realistic physics, many have fallen like a boarder unable to stick the landing after a 1080. However, I went into Steep, Ubisoft’s new attempt to fill that winter sports game void, with hope—only instead to find myself feeling like someone having fallen into a snowdrift, believing there to be something more solid underfoot when there was not.

Steep starts off well enough, with a quick tutorial that introduces you to the four different disciplines available right from the start: skiing, snowboarding, parasailing, and wingsuit flying. From there, your extreme athlete of choice will be able to explore the Alps via any of these methods or by scouting out locations with their binoculars, unlocking drop zones or challenges that they can then fast travel to by helicopter. By performing various death-defying feats at these spots, you will level up and unlock more of the mountain range’s peaks for exploration until you’ve conquered them all.

As soon as you set foot on your first mountain top, you’ll have to give Ubisoft Annecy some credit. This game looks gorgeous, and each mountainside has character to it. Frozen lakes nestled in valleys serve as ice bridges between crags, pine forests play the role of natural course boundaries, and cozy villages jutting out of rocky cliff sides are ready to welcome you as you explore. And, when your character sinks knee-deep into the snow as you wade to an edge to jump off, or you notice the light reflecting off of cabin windows at different angles as the dynamic day/night cycle proceeds, it’s hard to deny that Steep does a stellar job of making you feel like you could actually be in the Alps.

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The attention to graphical detail doesn’t just permeate the mountain, though. Your athlete is fully customizable, and the more tasks and events you complete, the more gear you can potentially unlock. Helmets, jackets, skis, boards, parachutes, wing suits, goggles, boots, beanies, and more can all be switched on your person. Of course, some items are also heavily labeled with brands like RedBull and GoPro, but they’re some of the most prolific advertisers for winter sports—so while some may find it obnoxious, it’s entirely realistic.

For as polished as Steep is visually, I’m afraid it’s hard to get excited about too much else here. That’s not to say there’s not a lot to do; on the contrary, there are over 100 courses, plus 30 “mountain stories” that give some more life to the area—ranging from ringing a bell in one of the village churches to just following another boarder through a winding path as she recounts some local mythos. The problem is the game doesn’t do a very good job of leading you through all these different challenges, or in giving you a reason to seek them out.

It flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but Steep actually opens up its world to you too quickly. After beating the first few challenges and leveling up your athlete, almost the entire world can unlock at once. The fast travel map does an awful job of clearly labeling what events are old and what you just opened up. Most times you have to hover over a point to see if you’ve already set a best time or score to know if you’ve played it or not, because from that bird’s eye view, everything looks exactly the same. There are also no clear goals that you’re aiming for besides win every challenge. There’s some bigger-name competitions going on, but you can stumble on them just as randomly as some no-name experience-boosting challenges. So, you never feel like you’re working towards something—there’s no real end goal.

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Should the thrill of the race be enough for you, though, Steep does try to inject a little replayability into each course to lengthen the life of this experience. First, another way for GoPro to work its way into the game was to be the foundation for a new replay system that allows you to cut together a highlight package, similar to how you would if you were really shredding down the Alps like one of these pro athletes. GoPro cameras are all over extreme sports now, usually attached to the heads and boards of athletes, and offering up new and interesting angles on non-contact sports we wouldn’t otherwise get. So, if putting together a highlight reel of your gaming prowess is something you like to do, Steep has an impressive suite of tools at your disposal here.

Another way Ubisoft Annecy tried to make Steep replayable—and something I found particularly interesting—is the fact that the game is always online and always in multiplayer. Like a real mountain, you’ll see other players taking on the courses as well, and depending on your settings, you can even bump into them. With a press of a button, you can group up with others to add a little more competition to things, giving you purpose beyond just racing once and getting gold. You can also carve out your own path in free roam and then set it up as a challenge to others online, giving you a rough create-your-own course feature that is extremely easy to upload to others.

Of course, there is an issue with this needing to be online all the time: If you can’t connect, you can’t play the game. During my time with Steep, it happened once where I couldn’t play at all for almost an hour, and kept getting bumped back to the title screen. This can be a huge hindrance to the game and its community, especially considering Ubisoft’s history of issues with server maintenance and stability to begin with. The fact I can’t play the game offline at all is unforgivable, showing an overabundance in relying on the social aspects to keep what is clearly a barebones experience interesting.

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Steep’s greatest sin, however, might be its most damning: The game simply doesn’t control very well in most of its categories. I found the wing suit sports to be the most responsive, and therefore ended up trying to curtail the final hours of review time towards those to make what was an otherwise frustrating experience somewhat palatable. Parasailing felt like I had no control whatsoever, praying for updrafts to keep my parachute properly open and moving in the direction of the finish line.

Skiing and snowboarding were the most prevalent sports, and were as fun as wingsuiting—when everything worked. Unfortunately, there were times where I’d be trying to pull off stunts and it’d feel like the controls were locking up. Even hurtling down the mountain with a bat outta hell’s worth of momentum, I’d hit the jump perfectly and instead of performing the twists, turns, and rolls I’d expect, my athlete would almost listlessly drift in the direction I was jamming the thumb stick. The worst of it all would then be when I’d land, thinking I had at least gotten my rider adequately back to center, but instead he breaks every bone in his body as he tumbles head-over-end down the mountain. The rag doll physics were at least humorous, but it felt like the game should’ve just focused on two sports instead of four and tried to perfect those as much as possible.

Steep had a lot of good ideas at its core. Some, like its replay and social features, are a dream when everything is running smoothly. Unfortunately, the game is more frustrating than fun due to its lack of focus and execution in both controls and overall scope. What many were hoping would be a smooth ride down the mountainside instead feels like smacking into pine trees repeatedly. I wouldn’t be surprised if fans of the extreme winter sports genre again feel like they’re left standing out in the cold from this one.

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Publisher: Ubisoft • Developer: Ubisoft Annecy • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 12.02.16
6.0
The multiplayer and replay ideas that Ubisoft implemented in Steep were great, and the game looks terrific. It’s held back as a whole, though, by listless controls, a directionless world, and an always-online requirement that brings everything crashing down like an avalanche when the servers decide to act up.
The Good Great visuals; the create-a-challenge and multiplayer help keep things fresh.
The Bad Controls feel inconsistent and unforgiving. Always online except when you aren’t and can’t play.
The Ugly Breaking every bone in my boarder’s body when failing to stick a landing.
Steep is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Ubisoft for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Earlier this afternoon, EGM was able to confirm new details about the upcoming Assassin’s Creed: The Ezio Collection.

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood added a key feature to the series: being able to replay story missions. Revelations and later games in the series continued this trend, but it was absent from Assassin’s Creed II. Wondering if Ubisoft would go back and add this feature into The Ezio Collection to provide some uniformity across the trilogy, we asked Ubisoft if this would be an extra addition to the collection and if they could clarify.

In an on the record statement from a representative, Ubisoft told us “Assassin’s Creed II will not feature replayable missions. All games will have the same features that they had when they initially launched, but will have enhanced graphics.”

While it’s not unexpected that The Ezio Collection will do little more than bundle three games into one package add a graphical facelift, it’s disappointing to hear. Making that small change wouldn’t have been ridiculous, given that Ubisoft is already tweaking the games by removing features—namely all multiplayer modes.

Either way, if you want to replay a mission in Assassin’s Creed II in The Ezio Collection, it sounds like you’ll still have to start the entire game over from the beginning and work your way back to the point in question.

Assassin’s Creed: The Ezio Collection will be available from November 15th on Xbox One and PS4.

I had a chance to sit down and capture in 4K on PC some of my matches in the newly revealed Duels mode in Ubisoft’s For Honor. Duels mode is a one-on-one, best-of-five series of bouts that truly test your skills against another player. For Honor will drop on February 14, 2017, on Xbox One, PS4, and PC.

I had a chance to play some For Honor at an Ubisoft pre-Gamescom event, and capture some sweet 4K resolution footage off their pumped up PCs. This is Dominion mode, first revealed at E3 2015, and is a 4v4 mode that combined Domination with a MOBA. It’s obviously seen some upgrades in a year. For Honor will be available on February 14, 2017, for Xbox One, PS4, and PC.

The original Watch Dogs tried some interesting new ideas for incorporating multiplayer, and at the top of the list might’ve been the ability to invade a friend’s game in order to try and hack them (leading to a cat-and-mouse chase between players). Building on that idea, Ubisoft has unveiled the new Bounty Hunter mode for Watch Dogs 2, which I recently had the chance to try for myself thanks to a pre-Gamescom event at their San Francisco office.

Watch Dogs 2’s Bounty Hunter mode allows players to put a bounty on their own head. Doing so automatically sends the cops after you, but it also allows up to three friends to join your game and team up with the police to hunt you down. However, one of your friends can join your side if they so choose, turning the mode into a 2-vs-2 (with AI police) in addition to the possibilities for a 1-vs-1 or even asymmetrical 2-vs-1 or 3-vs-1 confrontation. If you don’t feel like being hunted, you can also do an online search to see if anyone else is on the lamb in order to join the police hunting them if you want.

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I had a chance to play as both the hunter and the hunted, and on both sides of the coin, it was nice that all my tools from the game’s single-player portion transitioned with me. I could hack cars and steam vents, use my automatic rifles, or even fly drones and place remote mines, just like in the single player, all helping to provide for a variety of options every time I played—making it so each time I tried the mode it never felt the same. Sometimes as the hunter, I would get a lock on the target, steal a car, and simply run them over when they were trying to escape on foot; other times, I would sneak up on them and snipe them from a distance.

Meanwhile, during the times when I was being hunted, my strategies shifted drastically. With my position immediately given to my enemies as soon as they signed in, I just tried to flee as fast as I could at first, hoping to lose my pursuers through back streets or by going off-road with a car. One time I had a friend drive the getaway car as I used my rifle to shoot out the tires of those hot on our tail. Sometimes, crippling would-be captors was more effective than trying to kill them outright.

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At a certain point, though, I got tired of running. On my final shot at the mode, I found high ground and planted mines near locations I thought people would try to come at me from. Unfortunately, most of the mines went to waste, as my enemies took unforeseen angles. Luckily I could remote detonate them though, and I was able to pick off another player who wasn’t close enough to trip the mine, but who was definitely within the blast radius when I set it off.

All told, I spent probably about a half hour with Watch Dogs 2’s Bounty Hunter mode, and got in maybe six matches (victorious in all of them)—which means the mode is also pretty quick. You don’t have to worry about a long time sink, and with the hunters always knowing where the hunted player is, it usually promotes quick and decisive confrontations, perfect if you want to get in and get out with the multiplayer, or really mess with some folks and go on a bounty-collecting spree.

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It’s nice to see Ubisoft continuing to support the multiplayer aspect of Watch Dogs, and this new mode feels like the natural evolution of invading someone else’s game while staying true to the tenants of the original’s gameplay. I can’t wait go collect some more bounties for real now when Watch Dogs 2 drops on November 15.

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In Russia, Chronicles crush you!

Serving as the third and final game in Assassin’s Creed Chronicles, ACC: Russia has the unenviable task of bringing up the rear guard of this series of spin-offs. Although Russia fails in some regards to capture the spirit of the main series—much like its predecessors—it at least continues the maturation process we saw between China and India, and can stand proudly as the strongest of the three.

Set in 1918 during the height of the Russian Revolution, veteran Assassin Nikolai Orelov, protagonist of the Assassin’s Creed: The Chain and The Fall graphic novels, must take on one more mission for the Brotherhood before he escapes with his family to America. This mission is not an easy one, however. Nikolai has been tasked with infiltrating where the Templars are holding Czar Nicholos II and his family, and must retrieve Ezio Auditore’s infamous box—the primary narrative link between all three Chronicles titles. Along the way, Nikolai interferes with the execution of the family, leading to the youngest child, a teenaged Princess Anastasia, surviving and suddenly coming under Nikolai’s protection. With the secrets of the box revealed, Nikolai must escape the pursuit of both the Assassins and the Templars if he hopes to save Anastasia and get his family free of Russia.

Like its antecedents, ACC: Russia is a side-scrolling platformer that focuses more on the stealth aspects of Assassin’s Creed than anything else. Each level is broken down into subsections, where players are scored upon how effective they are as Nikolai. High scores lead to character boosts, and by continuously scoring gold in the Silencer (non-lethal takedowns), Assassin (lethal takedowns), or Shadow (no interaction with enemies whatsoever) disciplines, a score multiplier will come into effect.

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Where Russia shines compared to the two previous chapters of Chronicles is in the variety of objectives each level throws at you, and how you can accomplish them. While combat is still a detriment here—with Nikolai feeling relatively underpowered compared to his foes—there is a new array of items and tools at his disposal. Their inclusion will help you avoid combat more easily and better even the odds, making the stealth elements not nearly as punishing or predictable as in Russia’s precursors.

For instance, Nikolai has a grappling hook that he can send an electric charge through to disable light generators, electrify water (and the enemies standing in it), or even overload outlets—all undoubtedly benefits of the time period. There are also new distraction techniques like using telephones to alter enemy patrol routes, or firing Nikolai’s rifle to pick enemies off from afar or make noise to divert their attention when necessary.

The rifle also allows Russia to build on the sniper sections introduced in India. Here, however, they feel more natural, since Nikolai often has to pull his rifle out to cover Anastasia as she runs ahead. Speaking of Anastasia, there are even sections where you have to play with her and her far more limited talents, forcing you to push your stealth skills to the limits. This is a rare instance in this series where narrative actually led to more interesting gameplay.

The only downside to all these new tools was how everything was poorly spread out, as certain techniques—like being able to electrocute enemies—are introduced very late in the game, making them feel like an afterthought design-wise. As well, some of the level felt noticeably weaker in terms of design than others.

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A perfect example of this is in the chase levels. In ACC: China, when Shao Jun had to get through an area as quickly as possible while being pursued, it was one of the best elements of that game and it only seemed to continue on in India. The chase levels in Russia, however, are probably the weakest of the series, with old, plodding Nikolai being something of a chore to control in those moments. It makes sense for him to feel different than the other characters, but for those differences to make him feel inferior—at least as a parkouring assassin, because his gadgets definitely give him a leg up in other ways—might have made sense for the story, but definitely detracts from the experience.

One last disappointing element about Russia was the art style. India was the most vibrant and interesting world of the three games, and Russia may be the weakest. The Sin City-esque usage of grayscale with splotches of red do make sense for the setting, giving everything a downtrodden, depressing overtone. Unfortunately, they don’t work as well as intended, making many parts of the game somewhat painful to look at—especially when you get to the handful of indoor levels that are awash in color.

Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia is the best game this offshoot series has offered up thus far. Sadly, it still falls short in ways that have plagued the series from the get-go. However, if you’ve come this far with Chronicles, at least things end better than they began, with a compelling narrative, great gameplay variety, and ingenious uses of stealth that will reward those players who have stuck around.

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Developer: Climax Studios • Publisher: Ubisoft • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 02.09.16
7.5
Shortcomings that haunt the entire series remain here, but more gameplay choices and a compelling narrative make Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia the strongest of the three Chronicles titles.
The Good Largest variety of gameplay of the three Chronicles games, interesting story that ties well into greater AC universe.
The Bad Combat is still a chore, poor pacing.
The Ugly You can almost see the osteoporosis setting in on Nikolai as he sluggishly runs around.
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia  is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Ubisoft for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

I had a chance to play the first couple hours of Far Cry Primal‘s campaign at a recent Ubisoft event. Here are two missions where I got to tame my first animal, and also took on one of Takkar’s rival tribes, the sun-worshipping Izila. Far Cry Primal will be available for Xbox One and PS4 on February 23, 2016, and PC on March 1, 2016.

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Diamonds are forever

It’s not always easy to provide fresh takes on an established game universe—especially when it’s an annual release like Assassin’s Creed. This hasn’t stopped Ubisoft from trying to approach their crown jewel franchise from different angles, however, and one of their more recent attempts was in the form of the spinoff series Assassin’s Creed Chronicles. Forgoing third-person action adventure for a side-scrolling arcade-like motif, the first chapter in this series, Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China, left much to be desired. Nine months later, we now have the second chapter in that series, Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India. While it’s improved on several of its predecessor’s shortcomings, enough issues remain to keep this title from being as notable as its open-world brethren.

Set in 1841, ACC: India follows Arbaaz Mir, protagonist of the Assassin’s Creed Brahman graphic novel and father to Jayadeep Mir, better known as Henry Green from Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. After being lost for nearly three centuries, a precursor box once owned by legendary assassin (and fan favorite) Ezio Auditore has once again emerged in Templar hands. The Templars believe the Koh-i-noor diamond—a known precursor artifact, and the focus of the aforementioned Brahman book set two years earlier—could be a power source for the box. Arbaaz must now prevent the two items from coming together, or risk unfathomable power falling into Templar hands.

On the surface, ACC: India plays similarly to China. Arbaaz must work his way through intricately-designed levels while platforming and parkouring his way past Templar soldiers. Each subsection of said levels are scored on stealth and combat efficiency, with the added bonus of high scores leading to character boosts and in-game rewards.

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There are some striking differences between the two games, however. The most noticeable from the get-go is how India is artistically divergent from China. A wide array of bright colors and floral patterns mark Arbaaz’s sword swings and dot the vibrant landscape as visual markers for you to follow through the levels—a stark contrast to the muted backgrounds with splashes of sharp red and black watercolors seen in China. This is, of course, also a welcome reflection of each setting and our respective protagonists, helping subliminally show their differences beyond what we see through the game’s limited dialogue and cutscenes.

ACC: India also offers more gameplay variety compared to its antecedent. There are several sections where Arbaaz will have to cobble together a costume in order to bypass heavily guarded gates, or use cannons and sniper rifles strewn about the conflict-laden region of 19th-century India to clear out and open up new sections of a level. This increase in interaction with the environment helps immerse players into Climax Studio’s version of India—even if Arbaaz’s adventures only begin to scratch the surface of what could have been done in the game.The varieties of objectives these interactions afford are also a nice respite from the constant sneaking the game otherwise promotes.

This leads us to one major weakness that both Assassin’s Creed Chronicles games have in common: combat. You have to be stealthy and sneak around everywhere, because much like China’s protagonist Shao Jun, Arbaaz Mir is easily overpowered if he ever finds himself in direct combat. Countering and blocking remain unintuitive; even with Arbaaz’s superior gadgetry and the returning Helix glitch system (that temporarily makes Arbaaz almost unbeatable), most of the time open conflict is the last place you’ll want to be. This makes Arbaaz feel extremely weak—a far departure from what we have come to expect from the protagonists of Assassin’s Creed—due to how limited your options feel when combat is all but removed from them.

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Also returning from ACC: China are the timed sections, where you have to get through a level as quickly as possible—stealth-be-damned—usually because Arbaaz just blew up something he shouldn’t have. Much like before, many of these levels are a highlight and we see more of them in India than in China. That’s good, because they not only provide more fun, but also lengthen ACC: India by several sequences when compared to its forerunner.

As good as many of them are, though, there are a couple that fail to understand the importance of speed in making them enjoyable. These levels usually require either a great deal more climbing, or stricter timing from Arbaaz’s movements, with platforms that swing, switch, or rotate in ways reminiscent of the puzzle-platforming levels seen in older, mainline Assassin’s Creed games. It’s hard to have a sense of urgency while you’re waiting for platforms to move back into proper position before you can continue on, obliterating any rhythm you’d hope to get into.

Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India is an improvement when compared to the first chapter of this ancillary Assassin’s Creed series. It does a nice job filling in more gaps in the universe’s massive timeline, while uniquely linking itself to the previous tale, which took place 300 years earlier. It’s also a longer game, with a larger variety of gameplay to help keep things fresh, and its arcade scoring system provides some replayability if you’re into setting high scores. The combat and pacing still need some work, but the improvements seen from ACC: China to India make me at least remotely hopeful for what we can expect when ACC: Russia concludes the series next month.

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Developer: Climax Studios • Publisher: Ubisoft • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 01.12.16
7.0
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India learned from the missteps of its predecessor, as gameplay is more varied and its colorful, vibrant levels are both pleasing to the eye and fun to interact with in most cases. Open combat is to be avoided at all costs, however, limiting how you play the game—and some of the puzzle-platforming levels drag in term of pacing.
The Good Better variety to the gameplay, another story that helps fill in the blanks of the franchise’s timeline.
The Bad Direct combat still feels unintuitive and clunky, new climbing sections slow down pacing.
The Ugly Alexander Burnes sounds like a bad Sean Connery impersonator.
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Ubisoft for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

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Slice and dice

Assassin’s Creed’s story-driven DLC packs have always tried to offer something different from their main story counterparts. From spiritual animal visions to freeing slaves, these post-release expansions have pushed the boundaries of what we expect from the series—especially gameplay-wise. In many ways, the newest addition to this lineage, the Jack the Ripper DLC for Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, continues this trend.

Set in the fall of 1888—20 years after Syndicate and during the height of the Jack the Ripper murders—master assassin Jacob Frye has a dark secret that he’s hiding: he knows who the Ripper is. Jacob hopes to catch the madman before the police in an effort to rehabilitate Jack, but then suddenly ends up missing. A month later, Jacob’s twin sister Evie is forced to leave her home in India and return to London, in the hopes of finding her brother and putting a stop to Jack’s rampage permanently.

The most intriguing aspect of the Jack the Ripper DLC is that it tackles a subject with so many questions surrounding it. Considered the world’s first serial killer, Jack the Ripper was never caught nor his true identity revealed. Therefore, one might think it would give Ubisoft a wide berth in terms of how to work their narrative into this unsolved mystery. Unfortunately, it seemed to do the exact opposite.

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Part of the fun that stems from Assassin’s Creed is how the story finds ways to seep into the nooks and crannies of history, spinning well-defined, real-life events in a way that fits their conspiracy theory driven plot. Ubisoft took a great risk crafting their own tale to explain where Jack came from, how his methods evolved, and finally why his murder spree stopped. But because so little is known about the real-life Jack, the development of the character felt stifled, as there weren’t many ways to add depth to such a primal, one note villain to begin with without knowing something concrete about the man. Maybe part of this stems from the brevity of the DLC; a side expansion simply wasn’t enough to both introduce Jack and also turn him into a nemesis we could love to hate. Of course, the DLC alludes to Jacob and Evie having met Jack during the events of the main game, and yet there is no connecting between the two, unlike previous Assassin’s Creed DLCs. No matter the case, the result was a story that left me unsatisfied, even with its definitive ending.

Gameplay, on the other hand, added some surprising new wrinkles to the series—the foremost of which was actually playing as Jack the Ripper in several instances. Symbolic of the cat and mouse game Jack played with the actual police 125 years ago, the DLC sees Jack do the same with Evie, and there are several sequences where players can act out the brutality of Jack the Ripper as he leaves a trail of clues for our heroine. While these moments could’ve been used to better show Jack’s motivations—we see what he does, but never really get a clear sense as to why—they did offer a unique sense of freedom to how you would normally play an Assassin’s Creed game, now given the chance to step into the shoes of the villain as well as the hero.

Playing as Jack also introduced two new mechanics to the game (which then become available to Evie in non-lethal adaptations). The primary addition is a fear factor that allows you to instill terror in your enemies, so much so that they’ll run away instead of facing you. Building off of this is an supplement to melee combat called the Brutal Takedown, which—when pulled off successfully—can add to your ominous presence.

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The idea of using fear as a weapon is something that I didn’t realize had been lacking from Assassin’s Creed until now. Being able to double assassinate a couple of thugs, then do a Brutal Takedown on another that scares away a half-dozen other guards, is the most empowering tool in your repertoire yet. It also makes a lot of sense. If you were a lowly guard patrolling a manor, and just saw your buddy’s throat ripped out, would you stay and fight, or turn and run the other way? Of course, as you might expect, some enemies do stay and fight, but others quickly beat a hasty retreat. It also allows for more enemies per conflict, as you’re now not expecting to fight all of them. You can—and you can win—but it wouldn’t be very efficient nor Assassin-like.

The major issue with the fear system, however, is that it’s not limited to just Brutal Takedowns. Evie and Jack both carry tools such as fear grenades and spikes. While Evie uses her spikes to pin enemies to the ground, so that their screams inspire terror in fellow thugs, Jack impales them as grim examples of the carnage to come. Meanwhile, fear grenades allow you to strike terror from behind cover without being seen. While great for clearing an area, they also felt overpowered, as a fully-stocked assassin never even has to unsheathe their blade, as they simply had to chuck a couple of grenades into the crowd.

These new elements come courtesy of a foundation built on the main game of Syndicate, though. Jack the Ripper takes place entirely in the two most northern districts of the main game’s map—Whitechapel and City of London—which unfortunately gives you a much smaller piece of land to cover, expediting much of the experience. Thanksfully, there are some new side missions to complete from associates both new and old, and three new Black Box missions to partake in. All told, though, Jack the Ripper might feel a tad repetitive for anyone who immersed themselves in the main game when it comes down to helping Evie track down Jack.

Although a little light on the content side, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate: Jack the Ripper is still a fun side excursion in the Assassin’s Creed universe. New mechanics and characters meshing with familiar ones from the main game make this DLC a fun experience overall—one that won’t disappoint most fans, all while filling in more gaps along the ever more convoluted timeline of Assassin’s Creed.

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Developer: Ubisoft Quebec • Publisher: Ubisoft • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 12.17.15
7.5
Striking fear into Evie’s enemies may be a bit overpowered, and Jack may not be the formidable bad guy we hoped he would be, but this DLC is still a fun adventure that serves as a nice excuse to return to Assassin’s Creed’s take on Victorian-Era London.
The Good New fear mechanic provides a fresh take on familiar gameplay…
The Bad …that is also overpowered and too heavily relied on.
The Ugly Jack the Ripper would make the easiest Dickens Fair cosplay.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate: Jack the Ripper is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Ubisoft for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.