Video Game Reviews – March 2008

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Assassin’s Creed
Ubisoft Montreal
Xbox 360/PS3

The tsunami of hype that preceded the launch of Assassin’s Creed was so massive that it was sure to leave many expectations high and dry once the game actually set sail. An early trailer for the game generated so much chatter in the gaming community that Assassin’s Creed was able to launch this last holiday season and actually stand amongst the many triple-A sequels arriving at the same time. So the conundrum with a new game with so many hopes pinned to its sleeve is how it can establish itself as both new and enjoyable to players while at the same time satisfying all of those towering expectations, because just being a good game at this point isn’t enough. For the most part, Assassin’s Creed achieves this nearly impossible goal, but not without a few crucified opportunities that would have made it an unforgettable title.
The game takes place in a few different Middle Eastern cities during the time period of the crusades. The visual quality of the cities and their virtual inhabitants in Assassin’s Creed is second to none. Go ahead and explore the amazing details for a few hours; you won’t be disappointed. And since your character has Spiderman-like climbing abilities, you’re not just limited to exploring the streets. Every rooftop and tower becomes a new challenge to conquer. Unfortunately, this is the best part of Assassin’s Creed. The fighting mechanics are bare-bones simple and the plot moves at a snail’s pace. Also, the inability to skip over the long animated scenes sent tears of anguish falling onto my controller.
I’m doing my best not to make fun of the horribly tacked on sci-fi understory; that would be too easy. Planning assassinations is fun the first few times, but eventually the repetitiveness in Assassin’s Creed will have you hopping up on the cross just to end the pain. The controls and on-screen display are overly cumbersome, and, at times, feel as if they were designed to make the game at least somewhat challenging. Overall, Assassin’s Creed feels like it went for more wow factor than actual game play, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t at least stop by and check out the amazing scenery.
3 out of 5 ancient people don’t like being stabbed

Everyday Shooter
Queasy Games
Arcade Action

Since last month’s SLUG Magazine has thrown us all head-first into the fiery volcano that is independent video gaming, I wanted to keep that thread alive with what will hopefully become a monthly glimpse into the erupting chasm of alternative gaming. First up is Everyday Shooter, a game written by Jonathan Mark, originally released on PC and now available for download on the PlayStation Network. Everyday Shooter plays on the same classic principles as Asteroids or Galaxian (static screen, two dimensional) but takes the entire package to new places with unique visuals and a simplistic but very organic solo guitar soundtrack.
What made Everyday Shooter feel unique for me is how replaying the game is the cornerstone to completing it! By playing the game, points are earned that can be saved up to buy perks that will do everything from giving more starting lives (to allow you to play further into the game) to re-arranging the order of the levels to avoid too much repetition or even changing the color layouts on the different levels. This system rewards even a casual session and, at the same time, allows access to the depths of the game at a speed on par with the skill of the player. Though consistent themes for scoring run throughout the game, each level looks unique and redefines the rules for generating points while still providing new challenges and perils.
One of the benefits of having games like this loaded onto your console is the opportunity to jump into a quick game (load times are very minimal) and play a very accessible game while still earning points toward a more serious session yet to come. Considering the download cost of Everyday Shooter is only $10, you get a game that will challenge your precision gaming abilities and offer a glimpse not only into gaming past but also into gaming future, where something as simple as a 2 dimensional arcade game looks like a piece of pure imagination in motion.
4 out of 5 thumbs will not survive

Mass Effect
BioWare/Microsoft Game Studios
Xbox 360
3rd Person Action/RPG

Mass Effect goes a long way toward bridging the gap between video games and the parallel universes of graphic novels and film. The plot takes center stage here as your choices during the game will lead you to new dialogs and peripheral missions. BioWare, who also developed the 2003 hit Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, has retooled the combat system here to a live-action, 3rd person variety which keeps the game more suspenseful than the previous (and more detached) combat controls of Knights of the Old Republic. Know that this kind of game is not for everyone, it can be slow and tedious at times, but for gamers looking for an experience that will scratch the deepest geek itches, Mass Effect is the back-scratcher of choice.
In a game so with rich with dialog, the voice acting is absolutely critical, and here Mass Effect really shines. The voices work convincingly with a well laid out script that manages to not wander too far from the main plot considering how many layers unfold throughout the story. The facial animations are very well done and translate the nuances of the emotional spectrum incredibly well. The environments range from great-looking to sparse and barely finished. The many different levels found in the game are generally designed very nicely, but there are a few glaring exceptions that will leave you wandering around for way too long trying to figure out exactly where you’re supposed to be to keep the story moving forward.
There’s an unfortunate side to Mass Effect, which is the almost painful and constant stuttering of the game. I was completely baffled at first as to how a game with such an obviously huge amount of development could have shipped with such a glaring problem. From what I’ve read the problem is related to how the game streams off the disk instead of caching information on the (optional) Xbox360 hard drive, a fact that makes the game playable to 360 owners who didn’t buy the hard drive and a requirement for any game coming from the Microsoft Game Studios. No matter the reason it’s an annoying bug that really detracts from an otherwise stunning gaming achievement.
4.75 out of 5 aliens end up being evil