Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut is all sorts of awesome. He made a series of videos while at the international space station, the final one was a music video for David Bowie’s Space Oddity.
In this, the fifth chapter of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, the setting moves across the ocean to North America and focuses on a brand new hero, Connor, an American Indian. While the character and the environment will be new to fans of the franchise, Ubisoft have created an engaging journey into the American Indian culture in the backdrop of one of the tumultuous times in their history: the American Revolution.
The story once again focuses on the series protagonist, Desmond who enters a machine called the ‘animus’ to relive the lives of his assassin ancestors. Through accessing their memories, Desmond tries to fulfill his destiny of fighting the evil Templars and ultimately, saving the world.
The story now moves to the native-American, Connor, as he attempts to find the location of an ancient technology that will help Desmond save the world. Connor’s journey takes place in the late 1700’s in Boston and New York at the start of the American Revolution. While he has enemies on both sides, Connor finds himself on the side of rebels doing everything he can to protect his people and culture. The story and dialogue is well written, with an incredible amount of effort put into historical accuracy of the American Indian culture.
Each chapter of the story focuses on Connor as he stalks and then kills a high profile Templar target with the aim of getting closer to the truth. In between these story missions Connor can recruit new assassins to his cause, chase down collectables, build up his homestead and even partake in naval battles.
The game provides a sense of freedom and ability to explore a massive open world environment. The one criticism I have is that once Connor is engaged in a mission, the game is quite limiting and places very tight boundaries on the objective. Straying too far immediately ends the game.
Gameplay remains largely the same. The strength of game lies in the parkour style movement and combat which this has been improved significantly from the previous game. Connor can easily scale large buildings and leap seamlessly between rooftops. In combat, baddies attack one at a time and are easily dispatched using a parry-and-counter combat style. While there are new weapons in form of an axe and more guns, those familiar with controls from the previous game should pick up this up easily.
The multiplayer has also seen slight improvements. Wolf Pack, a cooperative mode requires a team of assassins to work together to kill targeted NPCs. Also, the traditional Assassinate mode asks you to search for and stalk a victim in a crowd, while being stalked yourself. The game is incredible tense and very enjoyable. It also unlocks a separate Animus story and definitely worth the time.
Overall, this game plays and feels like a typical Assassin’s Creed title. The story is deeply engaging and the change of environment and main character keeps the story feeling fresh. Finally, refinements and additions to the gameplay are just enough to keep fans interested. It is a worthy successor to the franchise.
Pros: Keeps the core of Assassin’s Creed gameplay, engaging story, Return of Assassination mode
Cons: Framerate issues, missions are slightly too prescriptive
(As first published on ITWeb)
Dance Central 3 is the next in the line of successful dance games from Harmonix, the creators of the popular Rock Band franchise. With the latest iteration, they have been able create a game that is not only a good dancing game but also a great advert for the functionality of the Kinect.
As with the previous games, players have follow on screen prompts or flash cards as part of a dance routine. These represent a single move in the dance sequence and stringing them together with a relative amount of fluidity, is the key to success in this game.
The song list is exceptional with a number of current titles and classic pop hits, from oldies like YMCA and Ice Ice Baby all the way to current tracks like LMFAO’s Sexy and I know it and the Black Eyed Peas’ Boom Boom Pow. In addition each song has three difficulty levels that have to be unlocked in turn. The songs list will keep any party going for ages.
The Kinect motion control is probably the best of any game on the market. I was able to perform movements where I’m folding backward or forward, with the Kinect still keeping track of my body. Even though, the point scoring is relatively forgiving, the game is designed to make sure the player is actually doing the movements correctly and not faking it.
There are a variety of modes. These range from a single player mode to a party mode where an unlimited number of players can enjoy the game, two at a time. Here the smartglass functionality comes into play, where the DJ can add songs to the playlist using any iPhone/iPad or Android device. It keeps the game going without annoyingly having to go back into the menu.
For uncoordinated dancers like myself, the game has a ‘Rehearse’mode, to replay the routine one step at a time and even slow down the moves. Unfortunately, it is very structured and there is no way to practice one specific section of a song. There is also a workout mode which keeps a track of calories, though I hardly used it.
Dance Central is a brilliant Kinect gaming title. Harmonix have been able to create a title that is fun, addictive and a great party game.
Pros: brilliant motion detection, great song list, smartglass integration
Cons: No story mode or unlocks, only two players at a time, not four
(As first published on ITWeb)
Once again the fate of all humanity falls on the shoulders of the Master Chief, the iconic green armoured super soldier and hero of the Halo series. With new developers 343 Industries, Halo 4 represents not only a reboot of the franchise, but a giant leap forward for Microsoft.
The game starts off with the remains of the Forward unto Dawn drifting through space. Cortana, the Master Chief’s AI companion, wakes him up from stasis. Soon afterwards they land on a Requiem, a planet in the midst of battle between the series traditional baddies, the Covenant, and a new enemy, the Prometheans.
While trying to save the world he has to deal with a more pressing crisis – Cortana is dying. The tension between fighting the greater cause and saving his companion plays out brilliantly and sees you delve into the humanity of the Master Chief like never before.
The story is a mix between epic on foot battles, longer vehicle sections and dialogue and video sequences that push the story on. While it brings in many elements of the previous titles, it gives enough context for those new to the franchise. There are large chunks of the story that can only be activated through hidden terminals splayed across the campaign. Unfortunately, I missed a few of them and lost out on large sections of the story.
Halo 4 still looks and plays like a typical Halo game. Most of the core first-person shooter gameplay remains the same, with only minor tweaks to the core combat dynamics. Though these minor changes significantly improve your enjoyment of the game – guns are well suited for every situation, the graphics are jaw dropping and sound is bar-raising for the FPS genre.
Outside of the campaign, there are new 4-man co-operative Spartan Ops missions. These are mini-stages that are released every week via Xbox live and are designed to keep players interested long after the end of the campaign.
The competitive multiplayer, War Games, is a master stroke. There are nine game modes, including old favourites like Team Slayer and Oddball, and newer modes like Flood and Regicide. Multiplayer now also incorporates a levelling system that unlocks upgrades and perks to your weapons and skills as you gain experience. The gunplay is well balanced and the maps are brilliantly constructed – it offers just enough to help a newer player level quickly, while veterans will still find the gameplay challenging.
Overall, Halo is brilliant. The combat is excellent, the visuals and sound is almost perfect and the story is deeply engaging. Halo 4 is one of the best games of the year.
Pros: Brilliant multiplayer, great gameplay, brilliant story, graphics and sound are excellent, spartan missions are fun
Cons: Some sections of the story are missable
RRP: R599 (XBOX only)
(As first published on ITWeb)
Xcom: Enemy Unknown is a reboot of a 20 year old PC franchise. 2K, the new publishers announced the game in early 2010 and left diehard fans salivating at the thought of the new game – and they haven’t disappointed.
The story of Xcom follows an alien invasion of earth. You play the commander of the newly formed XCOM organization tasked to eliminate the alien threat. You oversee the XCOM command center and send troops out to locations all over the globe to fight the alien invasion.
There are two completely separate aspects to the gameplay. The first is a resource management game. As the commander, you have to manage the resources at your disposal to strengthen and expand the Xcom headquarters. This isn’t as simple as it sounds.
You have to balance cash, engineering personal and power requirements against the need to build satellites, hire more troops and develop better weapons and armour. You also have to manage the panic level of every allied country by responding to alien incursions with limited set of soldiers. The game is finely balanced and always makes you feel like there aren’t enough resources to do what you need.
Once you’re ready, you scan the planet for alien activity to find a mission and send your troops to eliminate the threat. In typical turn-based gameplay, the combat take place on a grid. You start off with four soldiers and you move each soldier in turn. Once you engage with the baddies, you can either fire your weapon or perform a special class based move. At the end of your round, the baddies have the same opportunity to move or attack you directly. Combat ends with either party completely eliminated.
As your soldiers gain experience, they unlock promotions that customise their in-combat skills. Some skills are designed to well together. For example, an Assault soldier has the ability to fire a shot that forces a baddy out from behind cover, while another soldier can be set to fire a reaction shot if anyone moves. I used this combination to successfully flush out baddies.
The combat is tactical and there are two components to victory: selecting the right mix of soldiers, skills and experience level and adapting your strategy to the situation. One of the best dynamics of the game is how dependent you become on your experienced soldiers and how feel a real sense of loss if they perish in battle. In fact, I found myself constantly reloading if either I lost a critical soldier or if I got my strategy completely wrong. Combat is tough but winning a massive skirmish is hugely satisfying.
There is little focus on graphics or even story but the game more than compensates with great turn based gameplay. While some might find the lack of fluid action a huge deterrent, I found the difficulty of the combat and the high of etching out a victory move by move, quite exhilarating. It is by far, one of the most additive games of the year.
Pros: Extreme difficult – but satisfying, balanced combat, resource management is fun, varied soldier skills
Cons: Terrible graphics and repetitive in-game videos, weak storyline
Time to completions: 25 hours
How impressive is this dive? The part when he opens the pod doors and you can see the horizon of the planet…. Wow!