Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Microphone Check

Plug in your headsets and tune in to this week's column at

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Novel Graphics

This week's column is up. Video games and printing, like alcohol and night swimming, is a winning combination.

UPDATE: Pictures from the print edition are now included on the webpage. I'll provide more related images (including my Left 4 Dead card) if anyone's interested.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

New Year's Revolutions

The first column of the new year is up. Funny thing is, the delay of "Star Wars: The Old Republic" necessitated a rewrite.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Living by the "Creed'

It’s not every day that one is able to play as a playboy millionaire assassin in video games. Even rarer is the sequel that surpasses the original.

“Assassin’s Creed 2” was an after-holiday present to myself, and a steal at only $40. I haven’t had an engrossing single player experience since “Batman: Arkham Asylum”, so the break from multiplayer was a refreshing change of pace.

AC2 is fodder for the "video games as art" argument in a big way. The developers at Ubisoft obviously put a lot of time and research into the game, and it shows. Its quite possibly the most stylish and artistic real-world-style game since "Bioshock". You'll have as much fun just looking at the game as you will playing it.

Found in translation
Set in Renaissance Italy around 1480-1490s, AC2 has an abundance of authenticity. Granted, there are liberties taken with a few historical characters. And even if there were inaccuracies in historical facts and locations, only a Renaissance scholar could spot them.

The mixture of authentic Italian with English makes the dialogue understandable and flavorful at the same time. Thanks to my knowledge of Spanish, I was able to interpret much of the language without subtitles (Italian and Spanish are very similar).

The player character, Ezio Auditorre (Et-see-oh), shares many of the attributes of Altair from “Assassin’s Creed.” He has conversations with his dying victims, even when surrounded by guards. He scales any climbable surface with ease, and has a fondness for piles of hay and leaves.
Without giving away too much of the plot, Ezio’s road to vengeance is twisted and often baffling. The conspiracy against his family is lead by a cadre of Templars, the bad guys who seek to rule the world. Ezio is aided by – and eventually joins – the Assassins, the good guys.

For the life of me, I couldn’t tell the bad guys apart. Pretty much any jerk with a poofy shirt, robe, or big hat was a bad guy that needed to be killed. They didn’t even have to be a templar; maybe the poor shmuck raised taxes and pissed somebody off.

Another problem was the names. They were all Greek Italian to me. I didn’t care whether his name was Ravioli Linguini de Fettucini; if he wore a robe and had bodyguards, he was a target.

Places to go, people to kill
There are a half-dozen city-states to visit over the course of the game. While all beautifully realized and rendered, if you’ve seen one rooftop, you’ve seen ‘em all. There is a fast travel mechanic if you don’t feel like a five-minute horse ride. And you will be traveling a lot, if only to collect money and turn in items at the Auditorre villa.

The majority of movement is on foot. Ezio isn’t all full-tilt killing machine; several missions require stealth and hiding in plain sight. Often, simply alerting a guard will fail the mission. The movement while running, jumping, and swinging from surface to surface is fantastic… except when it isn’t.

Footraces and pursuits of targets across rooftops are the worst kind of mission. The computer controlled characters are always faster and know exactly where to go. You, on the other hand, have to make split second decisions just to keep up. One wrong move and you’ve either broken your neck from a fall or fallen too far behind. Be sure to have plenty of patience saved up for the Assassin’s tombs; they combine time limits AND jumping puzzles.

When in Rome…
Killing people is what Ezio does best and where the game mechanics excel. If you can suspend disbelief of a heavily armed and armored assassin waltzing around town killing people without much notice, the killings are great fun.

 Ezio Auditore: Lover, fighter, amateur chiropractor

Ezio is not a one-man army, however. While certain factions can be hired to fight for you or distract guards, Ezio kills best on a one-on-one basis. You’re better off running away from large groups of guards than standing your ground. If you have to fight, get to a rooftop where you can knock them off one-by-one. No matter how Errol Flynn you are, the armored dude with the axe will end you.

There are quite a few puzzles to solve and hidden items to collect. Even after completing the main quest, there’s plenty of excitement for you around Italy.

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