Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Game Review: Assassin's Creed: Revelations (PS3)

The saga of Ezio Auditore da Firenze concludes in Assassin's Creed: Revelations, a game that continues the Ezio Trilogy's fine tradition of climbing, stabbing, shooting, and earning far too much money. As ever, assassinations barely need to be sneaky, but that doesn't stop the gameplay from being entertaining or the soundtrack from being effective--alternating between ominous, rollicking, and soaring. Heck yeah.

There are three main differences in AC: Revelations: (1) Ezio, who is now about 50 and much more serious, (2) the locale has shifted to Constantinople, where the Ottoman Empire holds sway, and (3) there's more Altaïr, that dude from the original Assassin's Creed. Oh, and this time Ezio can craft bombs. They're...diverting.

Like AC: BrotherhoodAC: Revelations has a ton of sidequests to distract from its ludicrous plot, this time involving retrieving the Masyaf keys (Masyaf being the Assassin's ancient castle/headquarters) to unlock Altaïr's library, which he needs to do because reasons. So off he gallivants to Constantine the Great's old stomping grounds to find 'em. No less than Marco Polo's dad, Niccolò Polo, has hidden them throughout the city, because of course he would. Also, there is a young Italian lady with great big brains and cleavage who helps Ezio with his inquiries, which is what actually happens, rather than a euphemism.

While Ezio pursues his latest MacGuffin, players can recruit citizens to join the Assassins and send them out on missions to level them up. The missions are plentiful, repetitive, and not terribly interesting. What is fun is choosing one of your new Assassins to be a Den Master, meaning they get two extra tiny missions to push them over the edge. And speaking of edge, this time there isn't a cut scene every single time someone gets promoted to full Assassin and celebrates by leaping off a building. Nope, they just get the Assassin symbol next to their name. Nice and simple.

Ubisoft tried to spice it up this time by adding bomb crafting, which is pretty fun. You can make cherry bombs, smoke screen bombs, sticky bombs, and all sorts of other explosives to distract or kill. Ezio can also now use zip lines to speed across the sprawling city's rooftops. To compensate for all the new bomb-tossing, zipping, and Assassin training, the developers minimized the role of the factions (Thief, Mercenary, and Roma instead of courtesans). Did I miss them? Nope.

Alas, despite all the new features, much faster loading times, and smoother controls, AC: Revelations manages to be less fun and less beautiful than AC: Brotherhood. The den defense missions bugged a lot of players, but that wasn't true in my case. I only ever had to do one (the tutorial) because I regularly bribed heralds and killed officials to lower my notoriety. My beef was with the truly terrible side quests in the Animus where Desmond (Ezio's descendant)--or his consciousness, whatever--has to navigate through annoying puzzles while Desmond boringly recounts his boring life, which is boring. They were so bad that I, an obsessive completionist player, stopped in the middle of the second one (there are five) and moved on with my life.

I think the crux of the problem is that the entire time, while Ezio and Altaïr live their lives and fight fiercely for their Creed ("Nothing is true. Everything is permitted," which is actually a call for awareness and discipline), Desmond is apparently The One. Everything his ancestors went through was for the purpose of moving Desmond closer to The Truth. Except Desmond has the personality of a pancake. The game developers had three entire games to make him even mildly interesting, and they failed.

So while my three-part journey through various time periods and historical locations was entertaining, the payoff was disappointing. Especially since the "revelations" in AC: Revelations were cheesy. Here, let me spoil it for you: the First Civilization blah blah Apple of Eden la dee da solar flare munya munya (that's Japanese for "blah blah") planetary doom. Which begs the question: if our beloved star was the real villain all along, why focus on the unending battle between the Assassins and Templars? Will Desmond somehow unite the order-obsessed Templars with the freedom-loving Assassins so they can, I don't know, create sunblock for the earth or develop space shuttles so we can colonize other planets while ours fries? More importantly: do I care?

The answer is no. I really wish Assassin's Creed just stuck to the historical fiction genre. AC: Liberation on the PS Vita comes closest to that ideal, and yeah, it's light and fluffy, but I'll take that over convoluted and exasperating. Yeesh.

TL; DR: A disappointing end to an otherwise fun action/adventure trilogy.

This post brought to you by sweet lassi.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Savannah, GA: The hot hostess city

Fresh from a brief wedding-related soujourn on Hilton Head Island, SC--lovely spot, by the way, especially if you're an avid golfer, or like being smashed by warm waves on the beach--Fragrant Husband and I hung out in Downtown Savannah before the drive back to the city's li'l airport. According to Wikipedia, Savannah is the oldest city in the state of Georgia, and its port is a Big Deal. It is also quite tiny. Here's a picture of its petite city hall:

Naturally, our main goal was to feed me and little Cthulu. We found free parking at the Visitor's Center (also a good place for a bathroom break) and hopped onto the free shuttle. It's a bus, not a trolly, so the upside to not seeing all the cute squares is not dying of heat. Savannah is hot, y'all. We're talking 102 degrees in the shade. I about passed out walking 200 feet (about a city block), no joke. 

We had lunch at Barracuda Bob's, where I had a patty melt and my meng had Guinness Chicken Wings and a beer flight. I now firmly believe that all burgers should be on Texas toast, because buns are annoying and require esoteric Japanese techniques to consume neatly. 

Thus fortified, we decided to walk back to our rental car. It was imperative that I arm myself with a slushy, milky drink, so we went into a coffee shop that promised smoothies and frappes, which Fragrant Husband assured me was like a milkshake. Since we were in Georgia, which grows delicious, delicious peaches, I opted for the peach smoothie. Fragrant Husband was surprised at my choice, because I'd expressly stated my desire for a milkshake, but he stayed silent, foolishly thinking that my brain had retained the following information: milkshake = frappe, not smoothie. So I was a sad panda when I got handed basically crushed ice with peach flavoring. I honestly thought I would get fresh peaches blended with ice-cold milk. My first world problems, they are overwhelming. 

We had to hop back on the shuttle because it was way too hot to walk any sort of distance. Fragrant Hubby confessed later that the heat made him nauseous, but was too manly to say anything, which is probably why we ladies live longer. Endless complaining: it saves lives!

TL; DR: Eat Georgia peaches and stay in the airconditioning!

This post brought to you by my birthday! :-D

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the summer movie we deserve. It's well-written, well-acted, features spectacular digital effects, and has a soundtrack that hints, rather than manipulates. It's a sequel that's superior to the first film, 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Dawn continues the saga of Caesar (Andy Serkis), a chimp with vastly superior intelligence who has gathered other primates around him after their dramatic escape from San Francisco. The undisputed alpha, Caesar's leadership is put to the test as humans stumble into their forest home. Led by engineer-type Malcolm (Jason Clarke), the small group seeks to reactivate a nearby dam so they can power their headquarters and hopefully connect with other survivors of the virus unleashed during the end of the first movie.

Caesar allows the humans to return to San Francisco to their leader, Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) whose initial instinct is containment. Back in the forest, Caesar's right hand, Koba (Toby Kebbell), agitates for action. Caesar's decision leads to intimidating visuals, and for the rest of the movie, he continues to demonstrate excellent executive ability until [SPOILERS REDACTED].

Dawn's main lesson is one that resonates because it's so true: in every group, there's always that one asshole who ruins it for everyone. When tensions are high and territories and ways of life are on the line, the cooler heads often don't prevail. That leads to the second lesson, declared by Caesar's son: people follow because of fear. As political commentary, this sci-fi flick nails it. Bonus: primatologist Prof. Frans de Waal says the film is true-to-life in many aspects (read full BBC article).

There are a ton of standout scenes in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: apes on horseback, the epic man versus ape battle, smaller fights to establish dominance, apes hunting in formation, and so on. I would say Caesar's face is its own standout--it's very expressive, and the character's wisdom, compassion, and strength shine through, thanks to Serkis and the teams at Weta Digital. Caesar is basically ape Jesus.

TL; DR: Best action/sci-fi film this year so far.

This post brought to you by the American Heart Association's CPR/AED class. I'm certified!

Movie Review: Hereditary (2018)