Not Quite A ‘Victory’ For Kotaku

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I’ve covered pretty much everything about Assassin’s Creed: Unity, including the parity controversy that happened in the pre-launch window. To be honest, I was relieved to be done with Unity coverage, but because Ubisoft can’t stop insulting our intelligence, I have to keep writing about it. So, what did they do now?

The other day, Kotaku reported a pretty substantial leak for the next Assassin’s Creed installment in 2015: The game is titled, or at least code-named ‘Victory’, and will be set in the Victorian era of London (19th century). The game is likely to launch in October or November of next year (not confirmed, but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure that out), so needless to say, it’s EXTREMELY early to have confirmation of where the Animus will take us next… which is why this leak is particularly puzzling.

At this juncture, at least with this particular franchise, we’d have to wait months before hearing any buzz, let alone such concrete information. Yet, what was provided in this so-called ‘leak’? A seven-minute ‘target gameplay footage’ video, which even takes the time to inform viewers the footage was produced entirely in Anvil (the game’s engine). And what do you know? The video shows off locations, trains, a new item (the grappling hook), and ends by panning the camera out and showing off the game logo.

What did Ubisoft have to say about it?

“It is always unfortunate when internal assets, not intended for public consumption, are leaked.”

Hold the God-danged phone. This wasn’t meant for public consumption? This has promo video written all over it. How stupid do they think we are?

“And, while we certainly welcome anticipation for all of our upcoming titles, we’re disappointed for our fans, and our development team, that this conceptual asset is now public.”

This isn’t a conceptual asset. The video went out of its way to let us know the footage wasn’t pre-rendered.

“The team in our Quebec studio has been hard at work on the particular game in question for the past few years, and we’re excited to officially unveil what the studio has been working on at a later date. In the meantime, our number one priority is enhancing the experience of Assassin’s Creed Unity for players.”

Oh puh-leaze. Decipher the PR babble, and their ‘response’ to this leak is basically, “It’s a shame that this had to be spoiled for fans so soon, but hype isn’t exactly a bad thing. It’s an exciting game and we can’t wait to unveil this title, along with its new innovations, at a later date. In the meantime, we’re going to fix Unity and we hope you continue to enjoy our most current release.”

It’s no secret that fans of the franchise are feeling burned by the glitch-heavy Unity. It’s also no secret that plenty of people on the net are saying, “Ubisoft just don’t care anymore, and everyone should skip buying whatever they release in 2015 until it’s confirmed to be working as it should.”

Wow. It’s one HELL of a coincidence that the very moment fans express disinterest in next year’s title, a video which could potentially regain consumer confidence leaks, and to a popular gaming media outlet, at that.

This wasn’t a leak. This was damage control. Ubisoft are likely feeling squeezed because of Unity. For example, Ubisoft recently announced they’d give the first Unity DLC pack away for free, while canceling the season pass altogether. Those who already spent their hard earned money on the season pass would receive a free Ubisoft game for their troubles. A good friend of mine theorized that the studio wasn’t making nearly enough money off the season pass to justify making additional content, so they decided to cut their losses instead. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Furthermore, Ubisoft were probably concerned that orders for their next installment – Victory – would probably suffer as a result of Unity’s blunders. So, what could Ubisoft do to keep the pissed-off masses at bay? By starting the hype train early, of course.

Hey, maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think it gets more transparent than this. I’m not buying this whole, ‘oh wow, this leaked and we’re sorry, but we hope you enjoy the game when it comes out anyway’ shtick. It’s a technique for distraction… and it seems to be working.

I urge my readers to keep Unity in mind next year. Do not pre-order Victory. Don’t pick it up blind on day one. Wait for user reports to come in so you can make an informed decision.

But, that’s not all. Kotaku – writer Jason Schreier, specifically – need to be taken to task for this. They lapped this video up and didn’t even bother to question the coincidental timing of its release. A commenter asked, “Jason, there’s no way this is a ‘leak’ right? Video explaining the engine plus a logo? This has to be a coordinated PR stunt. Do you think this is an actual leak, or not?”

By the way, can we give that person a cookie for questioning the obvious? Apparently, that’s above Mr. Schreier’s intellect, and he needed a reader to point this out. I mean, you’d think Mr. Schreier would have put two and two together, but what was his response?

“I know it’s an actual leak.” “The video was leaked to us. Nobody else outside of Ubisoft has seen it. We decided that there was news value to reporting on the new game, so we posted screenshots from it. Ubisoft isn’t pleased.”

Great job, Captain Dipshit.

Think about it: Why would ANYONE at Ubisoft send this video – with promo tactics employed and all – to a website like Kotaku? Ubisoft may not be a bright company overall, but they certainly would have expected a game media website to report on the ‘leaked video’. But Mr. Schreier continues to justify what he ‘knows’. That’s right, he doesn’t say, “Maybe I WAS duped, I’m not sure, but I honestly believe…” No. Just, “I know it’s an actual leak.” How does he ‘know’, exactly? “…I heard it was supposed to be revealed next spring, like most AC games.”

Well, gee. Now I’m convinced.

And you know what else is odd? He didn’t even post the video. He discussed it at length and posted plenty of screenshots… but the video is nowhere to be seen. Why? “We decided that posting Ubisoft’s internal target gameplay video wasn’t necessary to hit those beats, and that this story stands without that footage.”

This is just speculation, of course, but maybe the game runs like crap (it’s a year off, so that’s to be expected), and Ubisoft left strict instructions not to share the video? I can see such an agreement transpiring behind the scenes, how ‘bout you? The only question left, then, is why Mr. Schreier would stoop so low as to lie to his readers. That answer is obvious: Money can make people do a lot of things. Regardless, no matter the scenario, Mr. Schreier comes out of this looking bad. If he didn’t coordinate something with Ubisoft, he looks like a moron. If he DID collaborate with Ubisoft for what could possibly be a ‘controlled leak’, then he’s full of shit.

Again. That’s all speculation, but the fact that Mr. Schreier just took the video, believed whatever he was told and ran with it, is all I need to see. Kotaku had their name dragged through the mud this year for questionable… ‘business practices’. They’ve been doing whatever necessary to evolve and evoke good will with gamers, but my take is that they only ‘changed’ as much as they had to. Because of this story, they still smell like shit, so I’m going to stay far, far away from that smell so I don’t have to step in it. So I’ll ask MY readers one more thing: Question EVERYTHING you read. Please.

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Remember, Remember, The 11th of November…

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I know the holidays are when publishers want to release their most ambitious games… but come on, guys. Really?

In late spring/early summer, the fall months were already overloaded with games. So, I began to scrimp and save, until I finally amassed enough coin to purchase Bayonetta 2, Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Grand Theft Auto V, and Far Cry 4… with the latter four split over two consecutive weeks. And these were only MY must-have titles. The rest of the gaming community had to weigh Sunset Overdrive, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Little Big Planet 3, and Smash Bros. for the Wii-U. For all intents and purposes, November was primed to be every gamers wet dream… so, why do I feel like the industry is in shambles now more than ever? The media’s ranting, gamers are raging, and… well, okay, that’s par for the course. So, let me put it this way:

On November 11th, when I SHOULD have been enjoying Halo and Unity, I was playing Super Mario 64 instead.

What the hell happened?

Well, from my perspective, this generation of gaming has… how do I put this gently? “A lot of room for growth.” Nintendo has decided to release yet another iteration of the 3DS, while expanding their focus to include cheap toys – that is, high in price and cheap in quality – and DLC.

In green vs. blue land, Microsoft is competing while Sony hardly competes. Resolution and frame rates have become marketing tools. Lies and broken promises continue to litter the landscape of consumer relations. Make no mistake about it; patience thins as incompetence grows. As a result, you would think the major publishers would take every precaution to ensure their games shine at the time of release… and yet, the opposite is happening. While it’s true that day 1 patches have become the norm, most of these come and go without a peep from the gaming community. And why? Because these updates are perceived by many to be trivial. Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t. But over the last couple of months – if not the entirety of this generation – the industry has sunk to a new low.

“The game just launched. OF COURSE it’s buggy!”

Let’s be clear: Nobody should EVER justify poor quality control as, “That’s just the way it is.” All that justification does is inform the industry that people are okay with products that don’t work as advertised. But… why? Why should they be granted amnesty? Battlefield 4 was broken for, what, half a year or so? Destiny was hyped to the high heavens, yet only the shell of a game had been delivered. Driveclub’s multiplayer was a joke, and its PS+ version is still a promise laughing from the wings. The Evil Within had a bunch of performance issues. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare suffered from some multiplayer hiccups. The sad thing? This list is only the tip of the iceberg.

Things truly came to a head on November 11th. Mark this on your calendar as the day apologists allowed a dose of reality to seep in: The industry is focused on launch windows so much, that releasing a finished product has become a secondary concern. I know, I know: Some will find that last statement to be a double-barreled load of hyperbole… but is it? On this date, two of 2014’s most anticipated games were unleashed, and both were clearly not ready to leave their respective stables. It doesn’t matter what school of thought you want to bring to the table: This. Is. Not. OK.

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Halo: The Master Chief Collection. For all intents and purposes, this was poised to move Xbox One’s and increase the average software attach rate. EA’s Titanfall was the previous steward of such responsibility, but let’s be honest – It failed to make a significant enough splash. So, Microsoft looked to 343i to deliver its beautifully culminated package of Spartan and Cortana for the holidays. Unfortunately, 343’s early Christmas present to their parent company amounted to little more than a black eye.

For starters, 343 Industries decided to punish consumers for choosing physical over digital. Unintentional, I’m sure, but that doesn’t really make the situation any better. Weeks prior to release, the studio announced there would be a 20GB update on day 1. And no, that isn’t a typo: 20GB (although it was condensed to 15GB just prior to release). Why? Because the single player campaigns utilized all 45GB of usable disc space. No big deal, right? 343i had included a second install disc for Halo 4, right? Well, this time they said, “Screw it, that costs money. Let’s just let people download the additional content at home.” How is it I perceive this to be punishment? Because people who pre-ordered digitally could access the update ahead of time, meaning they could play the game on the stroke of midnight at launch. The rest of us had to wait until we downloaded that behemoth of an update…

…only to find out the matchmaking didn’t work.

When I complain about this around the web, the common response I get is, “You can enjoy the single player for the time being. 343i will fix it.” True enough, except I – and many others – purchased the Halo collection primarily for multiplayer. Not only that, with the onslaught of games being released at the moment, I have next to zero motivation to play Halo 1-4. I’d much rather play something new.

Good thing Assassin’s Creed: Unity was there to save the day, right? Right?!

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While I HAVE been enjoying my time with the latest dose of ‘sneak-stab-climb’ from Ubisoft, there’s no excuse for the condition this game was released in. There was a pretty big stink raised when the devs announced they ‘achieved parity’ between the Xbox One and PS4 iterations. Why? Because people believed the Xbox One was holding the PS4 version back at 900p and 30fps. Personally, we didn’t have any facts to back such a claim, so I decided to wait and see how everything shook out. There’s really nothing wrong with 900p, is there? 1080p is much better, of course, but Ryse was 900p, and stands – a year after the fact, mind you – as one of the most impressive looking titles of this generation. 30fps isn’t a big deal to me either…

…But there’s a difference between ’30fps’ and Ubisoft’s 30fps.

Frame rate issues jank the game on a regular basis. It doesn’t usually affect gameplay, but there ARE times where the game looks like a slide-show on my PS4. Pop-in is especially atrocious. It doesn’t matter if you’re running across rooftops, getting a panoramic view of the city while ‘synchronizing’, or pounding cobblestones beneath your feet. You’re going to see shadows, clothing, and even complete character models come and go. Arno – the main character – would also fall through the world’s geometry. The game also locked up my PS4 on a couple of occasions.

Outrageous.

No less than 10 teams worked on this game for about 4 years… and this is the how the game launches? “It’s day one, of course…” No. Just no. Keep in mind that of these 10 teams, not everyone was working on the game itself. Some of Ubisoft’s resources were allotted for developing a mobile app, while others (more than likely) focused on the microtransaction system. Some have undoubtedly spent their time building content for the season pass.

You have to hand it to Ubisoft, I suppose, because the set of balls on them are enormous. They released a game THIS buggy, yet have the unmitigated gall to suggest we further support their product by purchasing a season pass and in-game currency? Are they freakin’ nuts?

Truth be told, all the major studios are bonkers. As stated earlier in this article, Halo and Unity aren’t the only games with issues as of late. A week later, on November 18th, three additional AAA titles were reported with certain bugs and/or performance issues: Far Cry 4, Grand Theft Auto 5 (Xbox One/PS4), and Little Big Planet 3. As of this writing, Smash Bros will be launching on the Wii-U and (regardless of how you feel about Nintendo) I’m willing to bet their latest offering will be the least problematic of the bunch.

I’ve tried to remain as diplomatic as possible in writing this editorial, but the bullshit has stacked so high, I doubt I’ve come across that way. Not that it matters. After all, if I’m about to rage, it’s because each and every day I recognize the video game industry a bit less than the day before. For the sake of transparency, I should also share that I feel hurt and betrayed by just how far things have slid down the proverbial slippery slope.

You see, I’m a physical media kind of guy. I don’t really have anything against digital content, but I believe hard copies of video games are likely to outlast the servers that currently host them. In theory, if I wanted to play a PS4 game in 20 years, I should be able to insert a disc, install, and play. Unfortunately, the reliance studios have on updating games at, and even after the time of release is crippling that future. With the way things are, if I wanted to play a PS4 game in 20 years, the hard copy wouldn’t be enough. No, I’d need to download an update to play the bug-free version, but without any servers to acquire said updates, what’s the point?

So, yes, as a result, I’m weighing a digital only future with my Xbox One and PS4 (not my Wii-U, since its storage capacity is rather limited). Not because I’m feeling ‘jazzed’ about it, but because AAA publishers are doing everything in their power to make this aging dinosaur feel all but extinct. I mean, if my physical copies are worth virtually nothing – remember, they’re incomplete versions sitting on those retail shelves – then what’s the difference? Why not go digital? Why not join the masses in pre-load ecstasy, being able to enjoy these games the very moment they go live without ever having to leave the house?

Oh, I remember now. It’s because I have a spine, and I’m not willing to let the studios bully me into a position I don’t want to support. I’m not saying I’m as solid as a statue, because that’s not exactly true. If I were as ‘pure’ as one of my friends (dude’s a warrior, I’m tellin’ ya), I wouldn’t have purchased Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, and most all the other freakin’ games I mentioned in this article. Or, I’d buy them, hear the negative reports, and return them promptly to their point of purchase. But, I’m not that strong. Call me crazy, but I still want to enjoy the games I’d have fun with. Those day 1 bugs will inevitably be patched, and Arno falling through the streets of Paris will become a distant memory, amongst a host of other negative memories.

And I’m not justifying all the incompetence we’ve seen with the industry as of late. No, I’m merely saying that most of these games are going to be insanely fun once the kinks are worked out… but that doesn’t give any of the greedy big-wigs a pass. Their huge fuck-ups this year have finally allowed the casual gamer to take notice of the things I’ve been rambling about for months… and as GI Joe used to say, “Knowing is half the battle.”

But hey, look at it this way: I don’t get these games from publishers. I buy all my own games with my own money (sometimes they’re gifts, but you know what I mean). I get too curious and want to try these games first hand to know what the deal is. So… use me. Watch me play and vent my frustrations, or positive reactions, while playing these games live on Twitch. If a game sucks, LET ME BUY IT SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO. If my mistakes happen to help a person or two, then I’ll be grateful for the anguish.

Byte-Size Video: Discussing AC: Unity Parity and DriveClub Launch Issues

While playing Shadow of Mordor, I talk about the Assassin’s Creed: Unity 900p/30fps controversy, as well as launch issue that’s been plaguing the Driveclub servers.  This also stems into some discussion about PS+ and how Sony have dropped the ball in regards to bettering their service (which they had promised to do).

Source

This article quotes Yoshida talking with CVG at E3 in 2013, specifically in regards to the decision of the change with PS+. The article states ‘Yoshida explained the move was necessary to maintain a high quality service and facilitate improvements and expansions.’

“That’s (was) a big decision,” he said. “what we internally discussed and decided is that we will continue the free access to online play on PS3 and Vita, so that’s clear. But because on PS4 the online connectivity features such as second screen, auto downloads and share features – these are one big pillar of the PS4 experience and we will continue to invest in this area to EXPAND AND IMPROVE THESE ONLINE FEATURES AND SERVICES.

“If we keep giving away online access for free, the natural pressure is that we have to cut down on the cost to provide this free service. But that’s conflicting with OUR GOAL OF BEING ABLE TO PROVIDE VERY ROBUST AND GREAT ONLINE SERVICES going forward. So we decided that on PS4, because we want to continue to invest and IMPROVE OUR NEW SERVICES, we’ve asked the most engaged consumers in the online activities to share the burden with us so that WE CAN CONTINUE TO INVEST.”

Opinion-Bytes: So Much For Unity In The Community

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So much for unity.

If you’ve ever so much as glanced at next-gen console news, you’re probably familiar with Resolution-gate. For the rest of you, it goes a little something like this:

Just prior to the PS4 and Xbox One launch, bloggers and news outlets made a big stink over Call of Duty: Ghosts’ resolution. While the game ran at 1080p natively on the PS4, it was only pushing 720p on the Xbox One (and subsequently upscaled after the fact). Needless to say, the internet erupted with cries of, “EHRMAHGAWRD! The Xbox One is a hunk of junk! Game over, man! GAME OVER!” In the months that followed, Microsoft were continually barraged with negative press, as nearly every cross-platform title showed similar disparity. Of course, gamers and press alike continually fussed over resolution and frame-rate, and now, they’re pretty much used as marketing tools… and we, as a community, allowed it to happen.

What happened to playing video games for fun? Forget the numbers: 1080p, 960p, 900p, 720p… who cares? If resolution and frame rate were the only two things that mattered, shouldn’t I be tossing my last-gen library in the trash? Of course not, because resolution doesn’t tell the entire story. RYSE is still up there as one of the most impressive looking next-gen titles to date, and what was its resolution? 900p. The bottom line, is that games and features should determine the outcome of any ‘console war’ – which is a ridiculous term, in and of itself – NOT resolution.

Well, apparently, gaming communities across the net don’t agree.

Yesterday, news broke that Assassin’s Creed: Unity was locked at 900p/30fps on both the Xbox One and PS4. Here’s the actual quote from Senior Producer Vincent Pontbriand (as reported by Videogamer.com):

“We decided to lock them at the same specs to avoid all the debates and stuff,”… while explaining that it’s the consoles’ CPUs – not the GPU – that prevents Ubisoft Montreal from improving the game’s performance.

“Technically we’re CPU-bound,” he said. “The GPUs are really powerful, obviously the graphics look pretty good, but it’s the CPU (that) has to process the AI, the number of NPCs we have on screen, all these systems running parallel.

“We were quickly bottlenecked by that and it was a bit frustrating, because we thought that this was going to be a tenfold improvement over everything AI-wise, and we realized it was going to be pretty hard. It’s not the number of polygons that affect the framerate. We could be running at 100fps if it was just graphics, but because of AI, we’re still limited to 30 frames per second.”

Of course, the gaming community immediately went into knee-jerk reaction mode. The most popular theory is that Microsoft paid Ubisoft to maintain parity across the board. Also, for whatever reason, Ubisoft may have their own incentive for console parity. Another idea is that Ubisoft are so lazy and hungry for money, they didn’t feel like optimizing the game for each platform. Yet another possibility – and this seems to be the one that gets overlooked the most – is that because this is the first next-gen exclusive Assassin’s Creed, Ubisoft may have hit some snags in development, which in turn could have forced their hands into making some concessions.

Either way, it wasn’t a great PR move. For wanting to ‘avoid all the debates and stuff’, they managed to shoot themselves in the foot in spectacular fashion.

Ubisoft then attempted to clarify the situation a short time later:

“We understand how Senior Producer Vincent Pontbriand’s quotes have been misinterpreted…” Ubisoft said in a statement to Kotaku. “To set the record straight, we did not lower the specs for Assassin’s Creed Unity to account for any one system over the other.

“Assassin’s Creed Unity has been engineered from the ground up for next-generation consoles. Over the past 4 years, we have created Assassin’s Creed Unity to attain the tremendous level of quality we have now achieved on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. It’s a process of building up toward our goals, not scaling down, and we’re proud to say that we have reached those goals on all SKUs.

“At no point did we decide to reduce the ambitions of any SKU. All benefited from the full dedication of all of our available optimization resources to help them reach the level of quality we have today with the core Assassin’s Creed Unity experience.”

It’s the highly sanitized PR babble you’d expect when a situation like this erupts, but this, too, backfired on Ubisoft. Mere months ago, a Level Designer for AC: Unity told GamingBolt that ‘they are indeed targeting 1080p resolution and 60fps for both consoles.’

Oops. So much for achieving those goals… BLAM! Aaaand there goes the other foot.

You should never lie to your customers… ESPECIALLY while they’re parading #PS4NoParity on Twitter, with the hopes of getting next-gen console owners to boycott the game.

Feeling the rug sliding out from underneath them, Ubisoft provided another update, this time to Eurogamer:

“Final specs for Assassin’s Creed Unity aren’t completed yet,” a Ubisoft spokesperson explained, “but we can say we showed Assassin’s Creed Unity at 900p during our hands-on preview event last week. We’re confident that gamers will be thrilled with the gorgeous graphics and how Paris is brought to life in Assassin’s Creed Unity.

“The development team has been hard at work delivering the best Assassin’s Creed possible on next generation consoles. Regardless of which platform you’re playing on, Assassin’s Creed Unity will answer what an Assassin’s Creed game built from the ground up for the next generation of gaming looks like and will be the best looking Assassin’s Creed game ever developed.”

So, what are the facts?

Well, it’s basically just a bunch of PR nonsense that’s inconsistent at best. Nobody REALLY knows what happened. That said, I’d like to dissect some of what the various representative at Ubisoft have said:

“We decided to lock them at the same specs to avoid all the debates and stuff,” and then goes on to explain why AC:U’s performance isn’t better than that.

Personally, I don’t see the conflict here. They aimed for parity (at 1080p), and they achieved parity… at a lower resolution and frame rate, yes, but parity WAS achieved.

‘They are indeed targeting 1080p resolution and 60fps for both consoles.’

People REALLY yanked their ‘jump to conclusion’ mats out over this, all while ignoring the most important word of all: TARGETING. Ubisoft may have set their sights on 1080p/60fps, but that didn’t mean it was going to happen. And by the way… did ANYONE complain when those parity numbers were 1080p/60fps? Of course not. Now that the numbers are lower, however, people are assuming the worst and passing conjecture off as fact.

“To set the record straight, we did not lower the specs for Assassin’s Creed Unity to account for any one system over the other.”

There is literally ZERO evidence to show that the decision to go 900p/30fps was to accommodate one console over the other. Parity was in the cards before making the decision to drop resolution and frame rate.

That’s not to say there isn’t anything worth complaining about. Ubisoft lied and hoped nobody would notice. It upsets me, and it should upset you, too. There’s a blatant lack of transparency in this industry, and when publishers make up whatever they think we want to hear just to shut us up, it’s insulting.

Everything else though – from Xbox moneyhatting to whatever – is merely conjecture. As of right now, nobody ‘knows’ why Unity has the same specs on both consoles. For all we know, Ubisoft could have bitten off more than they could chew – keep in mind, the game already had a minor delay – leaving themselves little time for optimization… but that’s just it. We. Don’t. Know. It’s also worth noting that Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag launched at 900p, but was eventually patched to 1080p on the PS4.

Me? I’m still going to buy Assassin’s Creed. Why? Because I like Assassin’s Creed.

As Andre Gide once said:

“Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.”

Cluster-Bits: PS4 Launch Title Impressions, Why the Wii-U Completes Our Next-Gen Console Selection

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I seem to have a habit of making a lot of posts and then dropping off the face of the Earth for a few weeks, and for that I apologize.  It’s obviously been a little difficult with the holidays, not to mention a three year old that catches colds like it’s his job… and then, of course, mommy and daddy get the distinct privilege of catching said colds.  I also write Blu-ray reviews for a fairly well known DVD/Blu-ray review site, so that occasionally takes precedence over my blog… because, you know… free stuff.  So with that said, let’s get to it, shall we?

Despite how much I loathe Nintendo for the company they’ve become, our household has finally decided that the Wii-U shall be our second and final console in the next-gen war.  Xbox One has really failed to grab my attention, but the Wii-U?  They may not end up with as many great games, but Nintendo’s first party titles are generally amazing – That said, don’t confuse great first party devs with Nintendo being a great company, because those are two entirely different ideas.

I really didn’t have much reason to own a Wii, because most of the games were created for a single reason – to exploit motion controls.  A good amount of Wii titles were mini-games with a party vibe and lost their playability in a matter of weeks, if not days.  WarioWare, Cooking Mama, Trauma Center… all good fun for a little while, but certainly weren’t games that were designed to appeal for years to come.  I enjoyed the Mario and Zelda offerings, but outside of that, the Wii didn’t have much I appreciated.  The Wii-U had a slow start during its initial year, but more titles are coming… and with the catalog of BOTH consoles now at my disposal, I’ve finally found enough reason to bring Nintendo back into the house.  Besides, my wife and son actually enjoy Nintendo games and we can all play together as a family.  That’s a primary reason to buy-in right there.

So far, I’ve only been able to play through the first six worlds in the New Super Mario Bros. U, as I’m taking my time and attempting to grab every star coin along the way, but it won’t be long before I’ll be able to talk about Zelda: Wind Waker HD, Super Mario 3D World, and Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate.  I’m also working on getting a Wii backlog going, and have already picked up Donkey Kong Country Returns, Super Mario Galaxy, and a copy of A Boy and His Blob that I HOPE will work (can’t complain if it doesn’t though, as it was only $5).  Anyway, here are the titles I hope to pick up in the upcoming year:

Wii:

-Resident Evil 4

-Sonic Colors

-Zelda – Twilight Princess

-Zelda – Skyward Sword

-Super Mario Galaxy 2

-New Super Mario Bros Wii

-Super Paper Mario

-Muramasa

-Mario Kart Wii

-Okami

Wii-U:

-Pikmin 3

-ZombiU

-The Wonderful 101

I’m sure there’s more for both consoles I’d be happy to own, but that’s pretty much my tops.

Shifting gears, I promised reviews on some PS4 launch titles a while back… but since it’s been a while and I’ve played and completed much of what I picked up on day 1, I figured I’d provide my thoughts in a single blog post.  So, here goes:

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag: 

The Assassin’s Creed franchise is one that managed to escape me.  I don’t know how, and I don’t know why – Perhaps it had been the mixed reactions to the initial title?  Whatever the reason, I didn’t start collecting the AC games for my PS3 until mid-2013.  Up until the release of the Playstation 4, the only game I had a chance to play was the original with Altair and Desmond, and I loved it.  It was a little tedious as I got in the latter hours of the game, but it was still good fun.  Because I was interested in proceeding with the franchise, I decided to hold off on AC IV: Black Flag until I had a chance to catch up.  Once the reviews were released and began to call it a good starting point for new players however, I decided it would be worth picking up… and holy hell, I’m glad I did.  Black Flag is easily up there as one of the best games of 2013.  That’s my humble opinion, but many would tell you the same, with their only caveat possibly being The Last of Us.

I’m not going to insult your intelligence and give you an entire recap on what the gameplay entails.  There’s been 5 Assassin’s Creed titles before this… or 6, if you want to include the Vita’s installment.  What I will say is that as far as this game being n00b friendly is concerned, the reviews were spot on – A story arc has apparently closed in the previous game, and Black Flag does a pretty good job of filling you in on the events.  It doesn’t give everything away, mind you, but definitely gives you a vague gist of what happened.  The overall story used to be told strictly through modern day events, and while that still holds true in AC IV, you spend very little time in the present (near future?).  95% of the game takes place within the Animus, meaning you’re left to pillage and plunder as a pirate without much interruption.

And that’s the beauty of Black Flag – You really get to feel like a pirate.  The open world was actually pretty massive, and there was no shortage of things to do.  I could stop playing the main campaign whenever I wanted, and simply explore the seas and the land that I stumbled upon as an adventurer looking to line his pockets.  Throughout the entirety of the game, I was able to engage in TONS of naval combat and use my spoils to upgrade my ship and weaponry (not to mention my own like pirate town), and they got the naval combat right.  I was even able to attack seaside forts with the cannons on my ship, all while avoiding/attacking enemy ships and avoiding mortar fire from land.  Things got pretty intense, let me tell you.  Oh, and you can go out on a rowboat with harpoons and a hunt massive sea creatures.

Once I pulled up to land – be a it a small, uninhabited island or a town on the verge of becoming something more – I was able to look for animus fragments, treasure chests left in the open or even those of the buried variety, treasure maps, more sea shanties for my crew to sing aboard the ship, and hunt so you could craft better items.  The fact that you could do any of this at will without being forced to tackle the main story missions really helped to make my time in the Animus as immersive as possible, and I’d liken it being Batman in the Arkham-verse games – No matter what you do, you just FEEL the part the devs wanted you to be a part of.  A lot of people are claiming this to be the best title of 2013, and some even call it the best Creed game of all time (or, at the very least outside of AC II)… and although I haven’t had a chance to play the other games just yet, I can see why.  It’s not often I stumble upon a game where I could play the 15-20 hour campaign and then want to continue for another 20+, but that’s precisely what happened with AC IV.  So yes, it’s worth the money and then some – It’s worth it if you like a lengthy campaign, it’s worthy if you like a gameplay experience that can last for tens and tens of hours (the devs said there’s about 80 hours of content total), and it’s worthy if you’re a fan of the series, regardless of how you felt about the prior installment.  Pull the trigger on this one… or, at the very least, unsheathe your sword and ask for this game nicely.

Knack:

This game was met with polarizing reviews, and for the record, I can understand why.  Knack is not a title that everyone will enjoy, although it’s a title that everyone SHOULD enjoy.

Why all the hate, though?  Well, the gameplay mechanics aren’t exactly complicated.  You most run through each stage and collect block so Knack can get bigger and bigger, and at any given time you’re not given many enemies to deal with.  That said, there’s still a bit of difficulty because Knack dies quicker than you’d expect for a game that looks to be geared towards children.  So people complained that there wasn’t enough to do, the range of attacks wasn’t enough to contend with, and the growth and inevitable shrinking of Knack during each stage feels forced and takes away from the excitement of becoming a big, hulking beast of a fighter made out of relics.  I guess all I can say to those complaints would be, “Fair enough.”

But for me, I felt Knack was a hell of a lot of fun.  The story and graphical presentation were Pixar-esque, and exuded a certain amount of charm through and through.  That said, I feel one of the main characters were kind of irritating if not downright stupid at times, but it didn’t ruin the overall experience for me.  Anyway, Knack is, simply put, a beat ‘em up platformer that requires you to study enemy patterns in order to succeed.  Yeah, you might only face three enemies at any given moment (sometimes more, this is just an example), but it isn’t always easy to determine the most effective way to take them out.  Do you move in and attempt to get the ranged weapon user out of the way first, or should you clobber the guys up front because they’re quick and will destroy you before you even make it that far?  Or, do you play it safe and use the crystal energy you’ve accumulated and user a special power to obliterate them all?  As Knack, you have options, and it’s up to you to determine the best strategy.  This keeps the game challenging, especially in the latter parts of the game… but if you want some REAL fun, then you have to play on one of the harder difficulties.  ‘Normal’ may be too easy for seasoned gamers, so choose your difficulty wisely.

There are some interesting gameplay mechanics, and I enjoyed their utilization well enough, although there was a bit of hand-holding that will turn some people off.  Knack can turn into a pure crystal form for a short amount of time, and he can also accumulate ice and wood to bulk up, although they will break upon impact and melt or burn accordingly.  The problem with this idea is that you weren’t exactly free to gather materials at will… they were there, or they weren’t, and you sort of force fed everything you were supposed to do.  Same thing goes for Knack’s growth – Every level starts you out as tiny Knack, and you collect pieces throughout the level only to lose them once again by the end.  Rinse and repeat.  Would have been amazing if the ability to grow or shrink was dynamic and you could figure it out on your own, but once again, it’s all sort of built into the design of any given stage.

All this said, flaws and all, Knack is still a lot of fun.  It’s not ‘amazing’ or anything, but it definitely takes me back to the days where platforming was fun despite its simplicity.  I think if Knack ended up on a Nintendo console, people would have been raving about it and perhaps even calling Knack the next great mascot.

Battlefield 4:

I’ll have to update you all later on this one.  As you’re all aware, there’s been a slew of issues with this game on the PS4… well, and on every other platform for that matter.  I had started the single player campaign and experienced some crashes, and thankfully because I stayed away from the multiplayer mode, I hadn’t run into file save corruptions.  Not wanting to test fate any further, I decided to set the game aside play whatever else was at my disposal until Dice resolved a majority of their issues.  Needless to say, I was kind of upset that a game got released in this state, because it’s a hell of a promising title.  I’ll say that the controls look great, the campaign is average, and the graphics are incredible.

Need for Speed Rivals:

This franchise has been largely hit or miss for me.  There’s simply no consistency as far as the controls are concerned, and that’s troublesome.  Sometimes they’re very ‘arcade-racer’ like, and other times they’re a bit too realistic to have the amount of fun you SHOULD be having.  Fortunately, Need for Speed: Rivals seems to nudge itself between both styles of gameplay quite comfortably.  The car you start with is an impressive little machine, for sure, but you’ll have to be careful going around turns or when making last second decisions to go this way instead of that way.  As you race however, you accumulate points which allow you to purchase upgrades and make your vehicle stronger, faster and more responsive.  Although you’re faster and can handle turns with a bit of drifting (by tapping the brakes), you never feel unstoppable.  The ‘heat level’ from the cops keeps ramping up and soon there are choppers keeping tabs on you, and the police with even use electromagnetic gadgets to slow you down so they can hit you and damage your vehicle to the point of no return.  It’s a lot of fun trying to escape from the cops, and there are occasional checkpoints – posing as gas station/garages on the side of the road – that you’ll drive through to make your vehicle as good as new and keep the chase on.

But before I get ahead of myself, there’s something worth noting – The single player and multiplayer is rolled into a single package.  You’ll join a server with multiple other racers – although I typically get the feeling that they should allow more people per server – and you can challenge anyone you pass just by tapping a button.  You can even do certain objectives together as long as you’re both close enough to start around the same time.  Because you can begin any given challenge – be it from another racer or from an actual objective listed on the map – at any time, that means you can ramp up the fun by racing others while the heat is already on at the start… and this is where things really get interesting.

You have your own set of gadgets at your disposal.  You can use a small shockwave to make someone nudging your door to lose control of their car, blast the back of a car with an electromagnetic pulse (much like the cops), drop land mines that also deliver a temporary debilitating blast, and more.  Do I even need to explain how much fun this amounts to?  These tactics will slow your opponents down, thus making the cops thirstier for their capture.  Hell, performing a move at the right time could actually crash your opponents car, getting them busted since their car won’t be able to move.

Anyway, there are essentially two ‘campaigns’ you can play through – One as a racer, and the other as a cop.  You’re able to choose between which shortlist of objectives you’d like to complete next, and once you do, you’ll earn the right to buy a new car as well as additional upgrades.  This adds longevity to the gameplay while also providing you with two very different experiences.

That said, as fun as Need For Speed: Rivals is, I’m not sure how long it’s worth playing.  After a while, you get the sense that all you’re doing is the same old thing time and time again, and there just aren’t enough racers from the ‘real world’ at any given moment to add a sense of meaningful population.  I guess that’s just the nature of any open-world racing game, but regardless, I’m pretty sure this won’t be able to withstand the test of time.  If you’re an arcade racer fan however, by all means, this is a solid title.

Honorable Mentions:

Resogun:  Mix the gameplay of Gradius with the insane graphical style of Geometry Wars, and that’s Resogun in a nutshell… and yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds.  I put a lot of time into this game near launch – mainly when I didn’t have enough time to sit down and actually invest in another game’s single player campaign – and it was some of the most fun I’ve had with a free indie title in quite some time.  That said, I haven’t touched it in a while, because the experience is largely the same from one level to the next… just with a semi-modified layout as well as an increase in difficulty.  Each level doesn’t make itself feel diverse enough from the last, which is a shame.  I guess the ‘turntable’ game design makes this an inherent flaw as opposed to one made by laziness, but it’s still worth noting.  Also, it may be difficult to figure out what is going on at first, as the game doesn’t explain some of its subtle, yet oh so important gameplay elements.  Make sure you grab this for free before it goes away for good, because it’s still one of the best ways to kill time there is.

Escape Plan:  This was an unexpected surprise.  It wasn’t free, but if you’re into puzzle solving, it’s worth the coin.  You take control over two nearly-faceless ‘things’ in a world of black and white, and essentially have to get them from point A, to point B without succumbing to the dangers that await them.  I wasn’t sure how well it would hold up, but man, it’s addicting.

One is a skinny little dude while the other is something of a blob, and you have to use their strengths and weaknesses when planning a strategy.  The big guy is often used for turning big wheels or standing on pressure plate switches, while the little guy can fill himself up with air and then be controlled by tilting the DS4 in any given direction… although my favorite is when he drinks a gallon of coffee and tweaks across the screen at high speed.

The controls are hard to get used to at first, but it all seems to make perfect sense after a while.  Draw circles with your finger on the DS4’s touchpad, and fans will rotate to clear the room of a deadly gas or even to lift/lower platforms.  You can tap on a wall to lure enemies into a trap, or scare sheep into running where you need them to be.  You’re also able to push things in and out of the environment, and many of these objects will only stay that way for a certain amount of time… so whatever you plan on doing after you’ve moved them, you better do it quick.

I haven’t completed the game just yet, but every stage adds new complexities and subtly bumps the difficulty.  If you’re looking for something that’s challenging in a puzzle-solving sort of way, give this a go.

Trine 2:  Another one I didn’t have the chance to finish just yet… or, actually play that much, but that’s because I’ve spent most of my time dealing with all the other games that came out since launch.  It’s a stunner in almost every way from what I can tell though… the gameplay mechanics are intelligent and require platform puzzle-solving, and wow, everything is beautifully rendered.  This game made its debut on the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360, but Trine 2 looks better than ever on the PS4.

I’d like to give mention to some other titles, like Warframe or Contrast, but I just haven’t gotten around to playing them yet.  As you can see, I’ve been busy in the last month, month-and-a-half.  J

But then there’s the Wii-U… and once I’m able to delve into some games other than the New Super Mario Bros. U / Super Luigi U, I’ll discuss them.

Oh, and since I started writing this blog post… we’ve acquired a Nintendo 3DS XL… so expect some updates in regards to my experience with that (which thus far, is generally positive).