Log: Mass Effect 3 – Citadel

Mass Effect 3 has that third act issue that plagues just about any serial work, in which the high stakes of the conclusion dominates, or entirely suppresses any of the quieter moments. I don’t mind this in single pieces, after all, a story has to come to a close. But a series seems to suffer from this when the individual segments are interlinked by a single story. Mass Effect 2 has this laid back, space faring adventure arc, where side stories more or less carry the bulk of the game. It follows the same structure as Star Trek, focusing more on characters and less on an encompassing, high stakes fight for the people of the galaxy.

Throughout my adventures on the Normandy SR2 I could spend time with the crew, go about quelling arguments and attending to personal matters. With Mass Effect 3, it’s all about how quickly we can save the galaxy. There’s this enormous pressure put on you — by the environments, characters, and plot — to fight off the apocalypse. My issue here is that the entire third chapter of this brilliant series focuses on the needs of everyone else, and not so much on your crew and their personalities. It’s all about urgency, about this universal genocide. I particularly enjoyed Citadel over the other DLCs because of how it reunites you with simpler times, where saving the galaxy came second, and loyalty to crew members came first.

The story that carries this short romp through the Citadel is inane, but it’s executed with confidence, and over-dramatized characters to complement it. In short, a clone of Shepard’s is out to steal his identity and replace him, with hopes to establish humanity’s dominance over the galaxy in cooperation with pro-human terrorist group, Cerberus. A new character, Brooks, is a Cerberus officer who plays a role parallel to that of Miranda Lawson’s in Mass Effect 2. She starts off as a nervous and clumsy Alliance officer — an ally, who sets up a lot of jokes with her behaviour but eventually reveals herself as the obnoxious, soap opera mistress she really is. It is as crazy as it sounds, but the game makes up for it with an emphasis on camaraderie and humour. Just about every chunk of dialogue involves some joking around and poking fun at some of the designers’ decisions, such as Shepard’s robotic speech in saying “I should go” to exit conversations.

Mass Effect 3's Silversun Strip in its DLC: Citadel.

Gameplay in this bit is largely the same as other DLCs, simply adding variations to enemies and gun modifications to suit your fancy. The story takes you through corridors as the series always does, but the environments are fleshed out with lurid architecture and interesting NPCs. The spaces range from the austere to the affluent, containing areas to free roam at your leisure once you complete the story. Silversun Strip is the nucleus of this side of the Citadel, taking notes from the hazy, beaming art style of Bladerunner. Neon lights flood your vision with every turn, people chatting about their enthusiasm for the next Elcor adaptation of Shakespeare. There’s this gaudy casino where you’ll find sleazy lawyers and patronizing rich folk, rapt with silly mini-games to boot. It doesn’t end there, there’s an arcade with even more mini-games, and a combat simulator which plays like a single-player mode for what’s offered in the game’s multiplayer; the basic mode in which you’re to defeat all enemies in the arena.

The best part of this adventure lies at the tail end of things, where you get some closure with your crew before you head back to saving the galaxy (again). Like the core story, you get emails from the crew members asking you to join them in various activities, which really play into short cutscenes that discuss their deeper personalities or explore what they do for recreation. You adopt this fancy apartment, throw a party — a last, intimate, hurrah with your team. It’s not just with the characters from this game, you get to spend time with old friends from the dog days of prior escapades. People like Samara and even Wrex. While I’ve been spoiled by games like The Last of Us, the stiff animation doesn’t do much to degrade the quality of the dialogue; the characters are still a joy to watch play off one another, from aggression and embarrassment to remorse and sentimentality. Everyone jokes around, get’s drunk, butt heads and show their true colours, one last time. Of course, they pay the price the next morning.

I was pretty nonplussed with the ending for this trilogy. There were a lot of lofty themes on technological progression, ontology, and divine intervention — which is fine and all but I also wanted to see what became of the story told between my avatar and my crew. I wanted to know how everyone was dealing with the threat of genocide by synthetics, and even more, I wanted to know how everyone was just plain doing. I got that. That’s what this DLC was: pure fan service. It was written knowing that the people playing must’ve finished the actual campaign, completing this sendoff with an evening among friends. In the final cutscene Tali’Zorah, who I romanced in my playthrough, draws the penultimate line of the trilogy by claiming that “We’ve had a good ride.” And after that last get together with the crew, I couldn’t agree more.

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Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons Review

The video game industry has seen its fair share of crossovers by the illustrious members of the film industry; titles as successful as Steven Spielberg’s Boom Blox to more ambitious projects perpetually caught in development hell, like Guillermo del Toro’s shot at survival horror, InsaneBrothers: A Tale of Two Sons, is a smaller, quieter, more poignant title by Starbreeze Studios, in collaboration with Swedish film director Josef Fares. Here’s someone who’s done a remarkable job at coalescing the stipulations of film with the interactive essence of video games, all during his maiden foray into game design.

Set in a village straight out of a Brothers Grimm story, Brothers chronicles the adventures of two boys, trekking across forests, mines and mountains to find a cure for their father’s ailment. The characters in the game speak in gibberish, conveying feelings and instructions through gestures akin to the stars of the golden age of animation, but with a subdued elasticity. Like every mute narrative that came after them, similarities will be drawn between Brothers, and Team Ico’s games: Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, but while there are some commonalities between two — with a minimal set of controls and a narrative conveyed through implication rather than vocalization — Brothers succeeds in holding its own dais.

A puzzle in which the two brothers distract a dog for each other and escape its bite.

The aforementioned games are designed to express solidarity*, even in their most intimate scenes. Life for these two brothers never quite feels that way; the world is riddled with colourful denizens, elaborate creatures and even when they’re in the most forlorn of venues they still have each other — which is structured as the crux of the gameplay. The analogue sticks control a brother each, with the triggers on their respective sides executing an interaction with an object of interest. Think of this as a tongue twister for your thumbs, forcing you to grasp this binary disposition and for the most part, control the brothers simultaneously. As perplexing as this may sound, you’ll find yourself accomplishing this with ease, your thumbs only seizing when you think about the feat they’re performing.

Simple environmental puzzles ply the majority of the voyage, never quite challenging in terms of arriving to a solution but immensely satisfying when you learn to work your thumbs in congruity. The solutions themselves aren’t vexing or require any time sensitive inputs but instead rely on your patience and dexterity. There’s a pittance of coordination in relation to the brothers themselves, because along with their unique personalities, they also have unique abilities. For instance, the younger brother is able to maneuver his way around bars, while the older sibling can pull large levers. It’s in these situations that the brothers’ teamwork really comes into play, tasking you with dichotomous thinking and absolute harmony between controlling each brother.

The mechanics of the game clearly work as metaphor, with the very mode of thought and control acting as an analogue for the brothers’ cooperation. However, there’s a dissonance between what this game dictates as cooperation between two entities, and what the player assumes as control. While this method of input is refreshing, and demands full mental and physical attention, it doesn’t come into confluence with anything above the agency of the player; the game serves more of test of mind and body than the connection between two beings. Gameplay persists as entertaining despite this detachment but undermines the themes of teamwork and brotherly love, leaving one to imagine how this game would’ve fared as a cooperative title, with a multiplayer akin to that of That Game Company’s Journey**, or an offline multiplayer with the controls split between two inputs.

The brothers navigating a dexterous climbing puzzle.

Players can interact with the inhabitants of this fairy-tale, each brother expressing their personality in their interactions. Where the older one asks for directions from a gardener, the younger one will hit him from behind. Where the older brother looks down a well, the younger one spits down it. It’s these short moments that exhume their personalities, reflected even in the most dire of situations and haunting of environments. You can see these brothers enjoying their time together, laughing and yelling during their escapades, making the most of all they have left: each other. By virtue of their dependence on each other comes their progression as characters also; as they suffer loss and gain they learn from each other, strengthening, and in some facets completely changing their composure. The only splinter to this approach is that a certain brother evolves substantially more than the other, abandoning one to begin and end his journey as the same character.

Fares and Starbreeze use isometric camera angles to show you the beautifully arranged world of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons through their revolving pans and wordless narrative. The fairy-tale is flatly lit to give a psuedo-cel-shaded appearance, a veneer that pulls shadows from even the smallest of objects, giving dimension and detail to every polygon that adorns the game. Dual stick navigation has been done before, but not quite like this. The controls of this game serve a purpose, and that purpose is camaraderie and osmosis, a concept that gradually develops into full effect by the game’s conclusion. The best of moments are the brothers’ time in repose. There are benches scattered across the game where they just sit. The camera pans and tilts to into a fixed outlook, letting you bask in the game’s resplendent scenery and be carried away by the Scandinavian flutes and vocals. The visuals, music, and the very silence between the brothers converge with the zephyr to create an ambient cliff top gaze. They’re relaxed, and at peace, to simply have each other’s company.

* I mentioned Ico as a solitary adventure in terms of interaction. Yorda may be Ico’s companion, and she does eliminate solidarity in the diegesis, but as far as interaction goes her progression is contingent on Ico’s interaction with the environment, with her acting more as a companion cube for puzzles.
** Journey used a continuous anonymous multiplayer, in which two players’ games converge (in accordance to their location, and without disrupting their point in the game). They inhabit the same world, unable to hinder each other’s progress or communicate beyond simple chirping noises; the multiplayer exists purely for the sake of providing company during the adventure.

Antiestablishment in Dead Space

George A. Romero, of Dawn of the Dead fame, read the zombie genre as being about “revolution, one generation consuming the next.” The idea of the living dead stems from social change, people fearing the downfall of one culture as another consumes it. The conservatives — or the survivors — are the ones refusing said change, as they attempt to quell the revolt. The dissent from the impeding social mores are then nullified by a shot to the head, or some miraculous concoction that cures the walking dead of their ailment — a subversion of one opinion for traditional norms.

The spice Dead Space peppers on its decaying entrée is similar to the former, but varied by a focus on dismembering multiple limbs to subdue a hostile, rather than the trite mechanic of aiming for the head. This may be considered a simple gimmick to add nuance to a tried scenario, however given the importance of organizations within the series’ narrative, this new convention actually manifests itself as a metaphor.

In the average zombie story the undead serve as obstacles for the survivors, merely trifles to be disposed of for the advancement of the narrative, and enforce the protagonists’ persistence in preserving their ideals. Though the unimportance given to each zombie is utilized to express how the threat is social change as whole, across a body of shambling corpses rather than something unique to an individual. But in this syndicate’s tangible manifestation, the rising trend exists in an array of individuals, each brought to naught with a coupe de grace to the cerebrum.

Isaac severing the limbs of a necromorph.

Severance through severing.

But what if these individuals — these zombies, represented something less than themselves, or the sum of their combined efforts? That’s exactly the case with the Dead Space series as the necromorphs don’t represent a change in the tides of society, but rather the consumption of society by organizations. In this case, the objective of the individual’s malevolence is replaced by subservience to a cause greater than it — a future it doesn’t necessarily see itself a part of, but rather a reason it can’t question or understand, leaving it in a state of blind obedience.

Necromorphs are therefore used as pawns, tools, or cannon fodder. Their sovereigns are earthly organizations that are familiar to players, yet hyperbolic nonetheless. Government, military, science, religion — all the major institutions of civilized society attempt to harness the power of these brutes as means to their insidious ends. Naturally, their modus operandi is pure hostility, slashing and corroding everything in their path to impel a state of vulnerability in their prey. Consider this a breaking point, a place for the organization to employ the target when it’s at its weakest. What follows is recruitment, or, indoctrination if you choose to be cynical about the matter. In the most literal sense, this is the conversion process following the subjugation of the quarry, transforming the human into a necromorph. It parallels with how social inequities impel people to join particular groups. For example, the recruitment of the poor for military purposes, or the absolving sins and instilling hope by means of religion — the diegetic counterparts being EarthGov and Unitology, respectively.

Though the blind submission to organizations is coupled with a blind persistence, in which Dead Space uses mechanics to shimmer in its dingy halls by using dismemberment as metaphor. Isaac may be an engineer by trade, though ironically, he spends the majority of his escapades destroying everything in his path. Thusly, he is quite anarchic in nature by not only neglecting the conventions of his profession, but by disestablishing the puppets and constituents of organizations.

The Church of Unitology.

Unitology represents the dangers of religious fundamentalism.

Disestablishing, is putting it lightly — Isaac brutally tears apart necromorphs using the myriad weapons at his disposal. Decapitation does little to hinder a necromorph’s intent as it relentlessly uses the resources it has left to inflict harm. Only by mutilating its limbs can the threat be put to rest. From the point of the game’s narrative, the monster is made immobile by the lack of appendages. However, to look at the underlying imagery would show that Isaac destroying necromorphs in said manner, is actually an allegory for disassembling an organization.

The destruction of an organization is a feat difficult to accomplish, but that’s exactly what’s exhibited in a necromorph’s struggle: the attempt to survive without all of its limbs. Like a necromorph, companies will do everything in their power to survive despite the loss of their constituents. Though only though the disablement of significant partitions can an organization be rendered non-functional. The panned out view of the entire story reflects this core principle, as Isaac’s strife in fending off the various organizations of the Dead Space universe are never enough to keep him out of harm’s way, because as he cuts of one arm of organization, the other still swings.

It’s by this metaphor for dissolving companies that Dead Space truly sets itself apart from the rest of the zombie stories littered across the medium. Instead of relying on the lumbering, pedestrian trope of acute gameplay through shooting someone or something in head, Visceral Games focused on delivering unique and varied gameplay that gave deeper meaning to the story, and efficaciously added depth to the antagonists through the absence of character in its pawns.

Spec Ops Crossed the Line, But the Player Could Not

Wait until you’re growing ashen hair and wearing wrinkled skin. By that time, you’ll be looking back at Spec Ops: The Line as one of the most important games in the medium’s history. Something we lack in our world — in our preferred story telling medium, is a concept that’s been experimented with in every art but videogames: subtle reflexivity. Our ability to look inwards, to criticize, evaluate and properly understand this art through its own constituents, is minimal at best. However with the past generation, developers have dipped their toes into the reflexive waters of the interactive arts. Reflexivity’s been excellently touted by the Bioshock series, and most recently, by Spec Ops: The Line.

The game serves as a comment on military interventions, post-traumatic stress disorder and an incredibly dark satire of the modern military shooter. Although, while Yager Development wrote an exceptional story, they bit off more than they could chew. Amongst the themes of violence, heroism and the absurdity of military shooters, Yager interlaces the subject of player responsibility. I can’t say it was shoehorned in — it’s a theme that’s enforced as the game progresses — only it doesn’t coalesce with the entire story.

Responsibility entails agency. It’s an idea that’s affixed to a person who has the ability to make a decision in a given context. Though for this concept to take any actual effect, the decision can’t be the inherent playing of the game. In other words, the player can’t be held responsible for decisions they didn’t make, but were instead scripted by the direction of the narrative.

John Walker, treading through the remains of the civilians of Dubai.

A ghastly vista, though the horrors seen across the ashes are not a result of the player’s actions.

Spoilers follow.

Yager wrote some truly gut-wrenching scenarios and for that I applaud them. There’s a barrier where the player is forced to choose between the lives of two men to progress. I did feel responsible when I learnt that I could circumvent murder. There’s a scene where the player has to shoot a civilian, enticing a crowd to disperse — wrong again, I could’ve simply shot into the air. These were decisions I made, through stipulations I assumed, because that’s the kind of rote thinking I had learnt from other shooters, and before playing this devilishly brilliant game.

But these moments, as astute as they may be, are in fact few and far in between. Therefore, decisions, and by that virtue responsibilities, are seldom burdened. I’d leave this minor dissonance between choices and overarching plot unscathed, however I began to reach points where the game would accuse me of actions the player has no control over.

There’s a heavy emphasis placed on the gruesome mass execution of civilians by means of white phosphorus. It’s a powerful scene enforcing once again, the absurdity of military shooters and the atrocities of war. It’s an action played out by the protagonist, Martin Walker, however it’s the only option the player has. When the player first reaches the white phosphorous, one squad-mate, John Lugo, proposes that another method must be available — he claims “there is always a choice.” To which Walker responds, “there’s really not.” So I spent about twenty minutes continually repeating the checkpoint as I scrounged about for a less deranged means to complete the objective. Unfortunately, this time spent looking for another avenue was in vain, as Walker was right, there was no other option. As horrifying as this scene was, I took my failure with a grain of salt as the narrative is clearly trying to convey a criticism of war and the videogames it influences.

But Spec Ops loses its balance as it begins to criticize the player through rhetorical censure sprawled across its loading screens. They try to divulge a reaction from the player, by taunting them for decisions that they can’t be held accountable for. Upon loading a particular level, the player is asked: “How many Americans have you killed today?” This somewhat disrupts the overall goal of the narrative, by interweaving responsibility for ironclad plot points. The player had no choice in the matter; Americans were killed because they shot at the protagonist and retaliation was the only means to progress. In this situation, the label of “American” is stripped because the label of “hostile” takes precedence. It’s a quick, simple, and cheap manner to evoke emotion, though it falls flat on its face. The player has no way to bypass killing “Americans” and thusly can’t be held responsible for eliminating hostiles. These loading screens prove to be inimical to the rhythm of the game’s narrative, and merely condemn the player for playing the game, lessening Yager’s core intentions.

Hostile loading screen.

A cluttered attempt to look inwards in a game already filled to the brim with reflexivity.

Another loading screen alludes to the alleged actions of the player in the aforementioned white phosphorus mission. The bottom of the screen holds text stating that the US military does not condone the killing of unarmed combatants, but the player shouldn’t care because they’re not real. The entire statement is an excellent shot at war casualties — more specifically, in military shooters. But the problem with this statement is once again, the lack of control the player had in said situation.

Rebuking the player like this doesn’t fit with the overall flow of the narrative and its aims. For the player to accept responsibility, the game needs to have consistent occurrences for the player to be held accountable. This is best exemplified by games like Dishonored, where non-violence is an option, or in Telltale’s The Walking Dead, where the narrative has certain plot twists set in stone, but the player is wholly responsible for the protagonist’s decisions. It may sound like I’m getting defensive about what the game accused me of, but my issues are actually along the lines of how the game — for the most part — failed to engage responsibility and therefore diluted its key objectives by suggesting the very idea.

In a reflexive title like Spec Ops: The Line, any occasion that plainly communicates with the player must be handled with absolute prudence. By continually trying to interweave responsibility within a game already saturated with reflexivity, Yager slightly harms the cadence of the narrative. Though despite any miscalculations that cloud its core intentions, Spec Ops: The Line is still an excellent example of how games can be used to study themselves, and at the same time, make a comment about the world we live in.

The Empty Heart of Max Payne

Upon loading Max Payne 3, the violins of the ominous menu music sent a chill down my spine. My mood was dragged down with each note as I began to speculate where this story could go. I was lost in the music, enamoured by imagination, by all the possible manners in which this foreboding score may complement the narrative. Max lost his wife, his child and years later when he opened his heart again, his newfound romance was quickly added to his list of tribulations. Broken and vulnerable; Max had nothing to live for.

Which is exactly what coated my thoughts: where could this story go? Max Payne is dead. He’s lost everything he cared about, and is left as the shell of a man, in every sense the cliché entails. The ex-detective’s an alcoholic and a drug addict, living life as a slug about his apartment. Which is sad, of course, but this state of depression culls the game’s most glaring issue: it goes absolutely nowhere.

You’d think a man who’s had so much taken away from him — a man who harbours his own lethal take on justice, may hold some character beyond the stereotype. Well, that’s not the case. Max is the same hackneyed character you’d expect. Where the narrative abandoned Max in the second game was flawless. It was bleak, depressing, and perfectly conveyed Max’s ironclad fate: he was destined to live an unhappy life.

The self destructive state of Max Payne.

As sad as his situation may be, nothing interesting comes of it.

Spoilers follow.

Max Payne 3 beats a dead horse. Our protagonist has nothing to live for, no one to protect and no one to avenge. The game’s largest plot twist merely relies on his existence, as it establishes how Max’s addiction landed him in his current predicament: fighting another man’s war. The initial instalment in the series had him seeking revenge for the death of his family. In the second, he fought for his life, and the protection of his new love interest. The latest title strings Max as a fly who was too drunk to notice the web he landed in. Skin the narrative even further, and it’s simply the story of a middle aged man attaining sobriety in the most arduous way imaginable.

Without drive, without direction, Max Payne literally and merely serves as a means for the player to witness the story. The entire narrative has little to do with Max, besides the antagonist’s plot to use him as patsy for his crimes. Fabiana’s kidnapping is what carried half the plot, but only because it’s Max’s job to take care of her, and the rest of her affluent family. After her execution Max continues his rampage, seeking revenge for machinations he’s completely dislodged from.

Sad to say, but Max Payne becomes very similar to the infamously one-dimensional Kratos, from God of War. Both series began as tragedies, giving concrete reason and goals to their protagonists. However, by the third instalment they’re both angry bald men with nothing to live for, apart from their lust for violence and self-caused/justified desire for revenge.

Max's drinking problem proves to be the most important part of his character.

It’s unfortunate to see a character with so much depth have his history almost entirely neglected.

Stylistically the story is well told, but needless to say, it’s hindered by its impersonality. I assumed that this third piece would interlock with the original, that it may show an older Max Payne, trying to redeem himself by helping a family in need — a kind of karmic compensation for not being able to save his own. Instead, he’s left protecting a rich family with little to no compelling qualities beyond the inherent shock value of how self obsessed one can be. Furthermore, the plot quickly accents his own ineptitudes and inadequacies, straying away from any subplot that may symbolize or allude to his prior futility in saving his loved ones. We could have seen Max Payne in his own personal hell; reliving all the misery he endured, and trying to escape the cyclicality of his misfortunes. But while the score paints a menacing backdrop, the story fails to complement the atmosphere.

The whole Tony Scott vibe coupled with Rockstar’s finest shooting mechanics serve for an entertaining experience, only it puts little emphasis on Max Payne’s character. It doesn’t feel like it was a game written with him in mind, but rather the gameplay mechanics of previous titles in the series. Hopefully the next game will make appropriate use of this once-compelling character, instead of casting his husk into a dissolute and depraved setting.

How Limbo Made the Devil Cry

There’s this statement thrown around nowadays praising the setting of a game, over its inhabitants. I’ve often heard people refer to Grand Theft Auto IV as a game about Liberty City, not about Niko Bellic and his plights throughout the metropolis. The same claim is affixed to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. But my issue with this argument is the fact that these environments are static. The locale may operate as a toy, or, the setting may act as a canvas, the avatar as a paintbrush and the player as a painter. With this expressionist mentality in mind, there is one glaring problem with open world games: perception.

Dante looking towards Bob Barbas's tower.

Adjusting perspective becomes part of the gameplay.

Perception dominates the open world experience, shaping exactly what each player takes away from each game. This perception comes as a natural yield of the player’s decisions. To some people, Grand Theft Auto IV is about committing endless acts of theft and violence. To me, it’s about free will, the mindless futility of the American Dream and a general comment about Western culture. By allowing so much choice, the impact of particular aspects of open world titles are reduced. The setting becomes a toy (Grand Theft Auto), or a canvas (Elder Scrolls) to interact with.

DMC: Devil May Cry, takes these assumed roles, and flips them upside down. Limbo, the outré demonic dimension of DMC, takes the stage in this reboot of the revered action series. Although the game is as linear as they come, the narrow confines allowed Ninja Theory to appoint their creative talents towards the creation of this vivacious world. Thusly, the player has infinite freedom through the game’s manifold combo system, while lacking any interface with the environment. Instead the surroundings interact with the player, allowing for creative level design that hinges on its animosity for the protagonist. These conditions promote Limbo as the star of the show, while overshadowing the characters to a point of periphery.

Vibrant colours in Limbo.

DMC’s art direction places it amongst the most visually impressive games in history.

I know this is a trite complaint, but most games don’t take advantage of the colouration that contemporary hardware can provide. Once in a blue moon, big budget titles like Uncharted 3 and Halo 4 offer vibrant level design but are still restricted by the realism demanded via brusque consumers. Then there are titles like Viva Piñata, which modestly solicits candy coloured animals gallivanting about a brilliant garden. Though nothing can compare to the harlequin level design featured by Limbo, in DMC.

Ninja Theory fears no persecution; the game is drenched in colour. While other games continue to delineate warm and cold colours in favor of a harmonized aesthetic, DMC abolishes said pattern for a splatter of beauty in absolute dissonance. The forced collaboration of warm and cold is deeply ingrained in the philosophy of DMC‘s gameplay, by means of juxtaposition. Speed versus power, angel versus demon, good versus evil — it all comes down to using the collision of disagreeing elements to enrich the experience.

Dante in a demonic soda production factory.

Distorted platforms cause for nuanced navigation.

The architecture of Limbo uses the lack of harmony quite literally, as it skewers perception through disorienting the player. Many games use oblique camera angles as a means to shoehorn the player into a difficult position, while adding a cinematic exponent to the equation. Naturally, this would force the player to maneuver in irregular patterns, as an attempt to take control of the scenario. At the same this removes some of the agency the player once had in the given situation. However DMC is able to shake the player without pressuring them into any stipulated outlook, through the incongruent arrangement of its sets.

Upside-down, slanted, broken — Limbo’s architecture is off kilter in every conceivable manner. It’s for that reason that the player is at sea upon a level’s introduction. While navigating a chasm via floating rubble the player may land on a horizontal structure, then the apex of a vertical edifice, all while adjusting to the fact that the ground sits in one corner of the screen and the sun shines perpendicularly. To add to the utter confusion already at hand, the environment distracts and threatens the player through messages sprawled across its faces. Strange to say, but this literally gives the setting an ounce of character as it entices the player to “come closer,” or overtly expresses ire, stretching lines like “fuck you Dante” across its walls.

A fight in a dance club.

The dance floor pulses with fervor, as a distant radiance highlights Dante and his foe.

However, these frequent bursts of rage pave the road for Limbo’s most distinguishing feature: it’s alive. Palette and level design bind together to create beautiful environments but at the core, Limbo thrives on its abrasive heartbeat. It moves, transforms, and kills. Its only motivation for drawing breath is to see Dante die, and is relentless as a result. Earth crumbles beneath Dante’s feet, platforms in proximity tear themselves apart, hallways encroach personal space — the list goes on eternally. What’s to be noted is the fact that Limbo is dynamic and hostile, not only affecting the art direction, but the gameplay as well. These adversities construct Limbo as a domain to be overcome, rather than simply navigated.

Though the vigor of the level design’s doesn’t end with the reorganization of its constituents. Limbo’s colours dance to beat of combat, oscillating in harmony with the music. This is best exemplified by a location called Devil’s Dalliance, a nightclub where motionless textures do not exist. The veneer of the floors glow with movement akin to a lava lamp, while massive visualizers fluctuate in the background. Floors, walls, ceilings — every texture breathes in and out, booming to the beat of the music.

Colour, level design and animation, all twist together to shape Limbo as a beautiful monstrosity. I don’t mean to undercut the fidelity of open world games — I think they’re incredible feats of design. Though expansive worlds hinge upon the discretion of player, who might prioritize certain sections, but leave other territories uncharted. Therefore, focus is shifted to the interaction between the player and the world, instead of the world itself. In DMC: Devil May Cry, the world ambushes the player regardless of their compliance. This allows for Limbo to channel the flow of interaction, leaving the player to succumb to its mandates. It’s undeniable: the devil does cry. Though they aren’t tears of suffering. Given the magnificent design of Limbo, I can only assume they’re tears of joy.

Over-salting Assassin’s Creed

The early Assassin’s Creed games had a particular rhythm that allowed for the congruence of ancient science-fiction elements with the historical periods featured in each game. I’m not sure where this originated, but I first noticed the pattern with the Indiana Jones films. George Lucas carefully plotted the story to build the audience’s interest in Indiana’s fairly realistic goals, but then elevated the fiction to level that defies the audience’s presumptions of what the diegesis previously entailed.

For example, in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones is venturing to acquire the titular treasure before the Nazis do. During his escapade, he endures trials of strength and wit, both normal obstacles for the hero of an action-adventure film. Though when it comes to the third act, the preceding logic of the film no longer applies. A supernatural facet is introduced to stupefy the audience, and also heighten the momentousness of Indiana’s objectives. This introduction of the supernatural in the third act, is later reused to strong effect in The Last Crusade and Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls. The Uncharted series, Indiana Jones‘s videogame parallel, uses this plot structure for the exact same reasons.

 Ezio meeting Minerva for the first time.

Once part of background fiction, the Roman gods became integral to the plot of each game by Assassin’s Creed 3.

Spoilers follow.

The first three titles in the Assassin’s Creed series use this same concept to develop the overarching mythology, focusing on the historical narrative first and foremost. Though as the franchise met an annual release schedule, the writers began to apply the ancient-scifi lore much more liberally. There’s nothing wrong with expanding on the fiction of an established property, but issues arise with balancing the seclusion of the historical epoch from ancient science-fiction. By forcefully blurring the lines between actual history and the mythology of the series, the perplexity and impact of the reveals in the third act, simply dissipate. This is because of the frequency at which these reveals occur, to the point that they’re no longer reveals, and merely integral components of the game’s expected plot. Of course, the mitigating impact of the mythology is aggravated by an annual release cycle.

Assassin’s Creed Revelations is the point at which the series suddenly squandered any grounding in reality, by sewing the ancient-scifi elements with the historical narrative. Even worse, the story taking place outside of the historical narrative, now takes place in a computer. Consequently, any fan of the overarching narrative is fed too much information to remain in a consistent state of intrigue, and any player looking forward to the historical period, is impelled to sit through a marriage of historical-fiction and science-fiction.

Desmond and his entourage discuss plans.

As the series progressed, the scifi narrative was promoted from a means to explore a historical period, to the reason why the historical period is explored.

Essentially, Revelations is about a man locked in a computer, reliving the memories of his ancestor, who is searching for a scifi artifact, but must relive the life of another ancestor through different artifacts, to find the artifact he initially sought after. Yeah, seriously. To top it off, another Roman god (for three games in a row, a new god has been revealed during the third act) is introduced preceding an information dump during the conclusion. By Assassin’s Creed 3, the gods are peppered throughout both the historical narrative, and the setting outside the period, as it takes place in a futuristic temple that the gods created.

In the game that debuted the series, the ancient-scifi aspect of the narrative is mentioned once. The game immediately discloses its present day setting, but all that is known is that the scientists of the facility are searching for an artifact. The gods are only mentioned once, and are simply known as “those who came before”. At the end of the medieval narrative that the protagonist relives, an ancient-scifi element is introduced. Again, this reveal in the third act is tolerable to those who enjoy the historical setting, and maintains curiosity with those invested in the mythology. It’s a safe and effective means to tout the creativity of the studio, while appealing to those interested in history — and for that reason, the same tempo is plied in Assassin Creed 2 and Brotherhood.

It’s a shame to see a once compelling narrative lose its focus and become so inauspicious. By delineating the mythos from the historical period, Assassin’s Creed was able to cater to two distinct audiences. Even though the two narratives of the franchise have converged, the series continues to sell well enough to warrant annual releases. Thus, the plot structure is unlikely to change, and continue to weaken intrigue until the games become purely spectacle, and a hodgepodge of saturated lore.

The Choreography of Dead Space

Remember the first time you walked around The Deku Tree in Ocarina of Time? It taught you the ropes: sights, sounds and all the monster slaying in between. “Cobweb in the way? I can burn it. Strange flora? Must be dangerous. A change of music? I’m ready for a fight. Jovial chime? The room is clear.” You’re comfortable. You know what to expect because you’ve been taught that certain sounds and certain visuals, indicate the presence of, certain obstacles – and that’s fine, this is a fantastical action-adventure game.

However in a survival horror, like Dead Space 3, these audial and visual cues can be a detriment to the very fear the game is trying to instil. Dead Space 3 actually employs these qualities so well, you know what to expect from each area. A good horror game needs that haunted house feel; invoking a fear in the player that immediately causes dread, and in the process, removes any comfortability. This should come naturally from the congruence of audio, visuals and the interaction the player assumes.

The visuals are gruesome enough, but where Dead Space 3 really loses its focus is the music, or more specifically, the very presence of music at all. The series has some of the best sound editing in the industry, but for whatever reason Visceral Games felt that a score was also needed. Music can add or subtract from fear, through a chilling soundtrack like that of Silent Hill 2, or unsettling irony, like in Bioshock. But Dead Space 3 instead adds a triumphant score to complement vistas or chapter endings, removing all sense of danger. Sounds familiar? Sounds comforting? Because that’s the same effect used to plot accomplishments in Ocarina of Time‘s dungeons. In Dead Space 3, music that accompanies combat tides in before the threat is even present, and only recedes when said threat is eliminated, removing all tension and essentially composing the fight’s cadence for the player. I am well aware that the music can be turned off from the settings menu, but I feel like the music wasn’t even necessary. A lot of money would have been saved while contributing to the game’s atmosphere.

Link expectedly defeats a Deku Scrub.

Ducts in the Dead Space series are used the same way anomalous plants are in 3D Zelda games.

This predictability is further accentuated by the blatant enemy spawn points. While walking around a seemingly empty room, you’ll notice conspicuous ducts on the walls and ceiling. Guess what? Yeah, you’re right: these holes are the only places enemies emerge from. Not only does this ready you for combat, it strips the room of any jump scares. In later parts of the game, you run about structures that aren’t even manmade — but hey, the enemies have to spawn somewhere right? That’s why there are duct-like apertures everywhere.

Visceral does take advantage of the game’s more frigid vistas, and delivers genuine surprises by lessening the player’s vision; an effect reminiscent of Silent Hill‘s fog. Enemies may spring up from snow, or sprint through a blizzard. Though I’m bemused by how little this was used. Instead of having enemies spawn from the obvious locations, why not have them tear through a door, a wall, or the floor? This would have removed the anticipation of an attack, and therefore, mitigate any visual cues that were previously applicable. Apparently necromorphs have the strength to tear people apart limb from limb, but when it comes to walls they’re impotent.

I understand that these issues were prevalent in previous games in the series, but they are definitely most pronounced in this third instalment. These may not have been issues for some, but I believe that removing audial and visual cues from the game could have strengthened the caliber of horror found in the Dead Space series as a whole, but most primarily, in Dead Space 3.

Far Cry 3 Review


It’s easy to look at Far Cry 3 and see another generic shooter, another power fantasy, another desolate open world. But if you spend any time with the game you’ll realize there’s more to this book than its cover. Player choice dominates the journey — not in story, but in gameplay. With fluid shooting, RPG elements and a well designed world, Far Cry 3 defies expectations and delivers a genuinely unique experience. To say the industry has an interest in shooters is putting lightly. But there’s one conspicuous distinction in this title. This isn’t just a shooter, it’s your shooter.

The script isn’t subtle: you are a warrior. It’s going to tell you this more times than I had patience for, but with good reason. In this third instalment, you own these beautiful islands. Options are littered throughout the game, letting you accomplish any goal by any means necessary. Use guns, machetes, vehicles, the environment — use whatever you please. The world is your oyster.

Hang-gliding between islands.

The story revolves around Jason Brody, a naive college graduate who suffers enough to pick up a gun and demand revenge. While travelling across the Pacific Islands, Jason and his friends are kidnapped by deranged pirate lord Vaas. Narrowly escaping his fate, Jason unites with the rebels of the islands to rescue his friends and liberate the islands from oppression.

Far Cry 3 immediately depicts its vision of empowerment in its skill system. Finding collectables, completing side missions and clearing pirate encampments rewards you with experience that accumulates into skill points. These can be applied to three different skill trees which improve a selection of attributes, such as the potency of crafted medication or doubling the amount of flowers gathered from a single plant. Some even go as far as to grant you new attacks, allowing you more ways to execute foes, as quietly or as stylishly as you like. Unlike most games, you’ll be able to fill out every branch of every tree, eventually giving you absolute control during your escapades. 

Initially however, you’ll only have a handgun and a blade. Weapons can be purchased at stores, but is completely unnecessary. New weapons are acquired at no charge, by scaling radio towers across the islands. These light platforming sections are a breeze, but may test your patience further in the game. As you unlock new islands, climbing the towers demands more precise platforming, something this game wasn’t built for — you’ll find yourself jumping off a balcony more often than landing on it. Long bows, sniper rifles and flamethrowers, are but a few examples of the game’s extensive armoury, each weapon unique in upgrades, statistics and sound design. Weapon upgrades will cost you a penny or two — to be fair the currency has to have some worth. However, quantitative improvements are obtained by more enthralling means.

The lush scenery of the island has plenty of thrills to offer. But there are few things more intimidating than turning to a low growl to find a tiger stalking you. This is a threat you’ll be willing to face. Capacity upgrades are crafted by collecting specific animal parts across the islands. These range from creatures as docile as deer, to as vicious as leopards. Each animal has its own distinct animations, behaviours and attacks, forcing you to think on your feet at all times. You could be crouched in the grass silently inching closer to a deer, and have your leg bitten by Komodo dragon who decided to shadow your movement. It’s these moment to moment encounters that shape the experience. Diving for treasure only to find bull sharks surrounding you is startling and offers a welcome challenge to an otherwise ordinary endeavour. Animals also make firefights more compelling if they take place close to their nest. Some encampments even hold animals in cages, allowing chaos to ensue if you set them free. Watching an emu peck a pirate to death is spectacle you won’t catch elsewhere.

Wild dogs are set loose by many of the game's hostiles.

Danger lurks in every corner of the islands by form of both man and beast. By taking out all the enemies at one of the game’s many pirate encampments, you unlock the ability to fast travel there and also gain experience. An obvious move is to engage the enemy head on, but this isn’t advised. If you haven’t deactivated their alarms, reinforcements may be called in, leaving you with enemies so relentless, they may even resort to chasing you by helicopter. Silently clearing camps is most satisfying, netting you more experience if no alarms were rung, and even more if you weren’t detected. 

Enemies in the game are smart enough to spot you in their line of sight, flank and take cover when attacked. But you do have the ability to toss a rock in any direction, a distraction that apparently no pirate can resist. Besides this asinine behaviour, enemies are still a challenge in numbers. They become even more difficult as the game progresses since they acquire body armours, new weapons and armed vehicles.This calls for more attention to how you tackle groups of enemies, and encourages you to eliminate them in silence. But with the abilities you unlock this becomes a desirable effort. In time, you’ll be able to silently execute multiple enemies by a single action, entering and leaving a situation without making a sound.

Using plants gathered on the islands, you can create syringes that range from restoring health to improving shooting skills. New recipes unlock with narrative progression but the most interesting concoctions are acquired by gathering collectibles scattered across the islands. Of course your most common fix will be to restore health, but there is an annoyance that couples with the action. Quick healing and quickly swapping weapons is mapped to the same button, the difference depends on whether it was held down. This can lead to some frustrating scenarios where you’re in need of medication, but Jason feels that cycling through weapons takes priority.

Side missions are limited in variety, though are challenging enough to make each experience different. Aside from your typical open-world mini-games like poker and races, the game asks you to execute targets while adhering to specific conditions. When your target’s a high-ranking pirate, the game demands that you finish them by machete. Not much variance there. However, some side missions ask you to hunt animals within a certain time limit or with a specific weapon. Some of these hunting missions even ask you to prey on a variants of animals, beasts that are tougher and smarter than their relatives.

Pirates by a decaying ship.

Now, you may have noticed that I’ve hardly spoke of the storyline. Right… About that…

Thematically, Far Cry 3 is a mess — lost, confused and suffering from its own insanity. Not far into the story you’ll realize the narrative doesn’t know what it wants to express. One mission you’re hallucinating as Vaas comments on your sociopathy, the next, Flight of the Valkyries plays as you gun down enemies. Inspired by works such as Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the game vainly attempts to make a comment on the insanity that accompanies the consumption of violence. But cringeworthy dialogue and a lack of cohesion prevents the story from affecting the player. You might recognize quotations from Lewis Caroll’s Through the Looking Glass during the loading screens and imagine the plot will make great use of the brilliant citations. Unfortunately that’s your imagination — the game’s ambivalence proves them worthless.

From delinquent students to mad scientists, stereotypes fill the roles of characters in the game, often disposed of following a few conversations. Vaas being the game’s antagonist and most fascinating character, is hardly developed at all. Beyond a monologue on insanity, he’s used to deliver quick plot points and swear profusely. Jason himself will spew some lines that attempt to harmonize with the theme of madness, but they’re so blatant and mundane that it makes you uncomfortable.

Sneak kills allow for chain kills.

The art direction bleeds potential. Menus and loading screens are striking and resemble Rorschach tests, though fail in showing any cohesion with the plot. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some great moments in this game as far set pieces go. But that’s all they are, set pieces, holding little value with the narrative. Even beautifully designed hallucinations are merely spectacles — they make no comment on Jason’s psychological state. It’s sad to see the lost opportunity. How we could’ve been told an unconventional tale, attacking the player for their every sin. What you get instead is a theme and art style that lack any congruence with the adventure. However, the game is able to keep you on the edge of your seat the whole ride through because of its gripping gameplay.


Anyone looking for a fresh take on first person shooters should look no further. Far Cry 3 throws you into a unique environment with a great sense of progression, and a variety of objectives to complete at your leisure. It does have its imperfections with some anti-aliasing issues, but they aren’t pronounced enough to cloud your enjoyment. If you’re looking for a well-defined, interesting story then I advise you to spend your time elsewhere. But however pedestrian the game’s narrative may be, the gameplay makes for an experience you shouldn’t overlook.

Assassin’s Creed III Review


Concealment. Corruption. A blade in a crowd. The imagery has become synonymous with the Assassin’s Creed franchise, continually intriguing yet ultimately familiar. Pieced together as a travelogue in time, the series provides the player with the beauty of what used to be and allowing them to participate in the events that shaped the world we live in today. Ironically however, with the most recent titles set in an era of renaissance, the series has stagnated and lost its ambition for innovation.

Assassin’s Creed III takes you on a journey through Colonial America in which immersion is brought to a height previous instalments aspired to achieve. In Desmond Miles’s final chapter, you’re thrown into the American Revolution. This odyssey takes place in an open world in its purest form, allowing you to do what you want, how you want, across eightieth-century Boston and New York. The usual story missions prevail but there’s also an abundance of side missions, that include building a community in homestead missions and battling foes and the ocean itself in naval missions. Furthermore, opportunities arise at every turn, whether it’s hunting, thieving, fighting, or simply exploring the grand frontier between cities. Though much like the American Revolution, issues carried over from preceding projects are hardly improved upon or entirely disregarded.

Sunsets in Colonial America.

The American Revolution unfolds through the eyes of Connor Kenway: a Mohawk assassin of tired origin. After his village was decimated by Charles Lee, Connor seeks the aid of American revolutionaries, namely, Sam Adams and George Washington, as he becomes a symbol of liberty, safeguarding the vox populi and struggling for new order. However, this amplitude of historical figures and events were not enough to develop characters or weave an interesting narrative past the first act. Thematically, there’s not much comment on liberty beyond the actual historical implications; the game simply glances over the issues behind the conflicts of the time. None of the roles are fully realized either. You’re simply guided from one quest to another never settling on a single character long enough to develop a connection or a comment on their disposition. Even Connor represents nothing of his culture further than his appearance and introduction. He’s a plot device himself: revolutionaries simply ask him to perform various tasks so their goals may be satisfied, since Connor blindly complies to their every demand.

Contrarily, characters residing in the homestead are quite charming. Their missions are mere fetch quests and combat scenarios but are often a joy to complete. Seeing this aptly labeled community grow is a delight, as not only do they respect Connor’s company, they begin to socialize and build relationships amongst one another. These interactions are coupled with the script’s poorest writing, but still a pleasure. A sense of endearment accompanies these brief occurrences that portray a simpler time, when humble, hardworking families would move to the new world and share a modest life with their neighbours.

Variety is the spice of life. And Assassin’s Creed III. But not its mission structure. You’ll find yourself in different situations: a mixed bag of stealth, traversal and combat oriented objectives. At face value, it seems like you’re carrying out a different assignment each time with the freedom to go about your own ways of accomplishing the task. In actuality, you’ll be placed in unique situations with every sequence, though the game pressures you to complete tasks by its restrictions. For instance, missions often asks that you remain undetected, but the level design forces you to go in a specific direction because any other path results in detection. For a story that holds so much promise of liberty, it’s quite restrictive in how it’s executed. Although I should mention that the historical events that occur are thrilling nonetheless. Running around Breed Hill while bullets fire from every direction and terrain is torn apart by cannon fire, is a vigorous scene that outdoes any set piece from previous games.These gripping scenarios are plentiful and make great use of the gorgeous scenery, though they lack the options offered outside the narrative.

Stalking prey through the trees.

Malleable environments and freedom in traversal are stitched into the very fabrication of Assassin’s Creed games. As a result, free running has undergone the most heavy alteration in the series, accommodating for the woodlands and compact cities of Colonial America. Though the lacklustre towns are but a reminder of the grandiose Italian and Turkish architecture. To fill the void of verticality, focus is redirected towards horizontal traversal, permitting you to rush through untouched forestry, an experience nothing short of exhilarating. Fluid animation allows for Connor to effortlessly run and swing about trees, making the exertion require little work and yet still be invigorating. The action is subjugated by a single button which in its simplicity, lets Connor navigate trees with agility, but hinders his momentum while on solid ground. Much like in previous entries, sprinting is mapped to the same button as climbing, therefore demanding absolute precision in what Connor comes into contact with. For example, should you graze part of the scenery while sprinting, Connor will immediately attempt to climb it. This issue is most evident in the many chase sequences. Having to repeat the same sixty seconds a dozen times due to Connor’s obsession with climbing whatever seems to cross his path, is one of the most stressful vexations I’ve endured all year. Outside of these narrow situations, it isn’t difficult to recover from these impediments — though they may prove more than minor inconveniences for some.

Initially, new weapons such as the rope dart and longbow make open conflicts seem fresh. The truth is, combat has remained largely unchanged since Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood. There are new ways to stay on the offensive side, even a button dedicated to breaking defence. Be that as it may, as the plot progresses you fall back in that familiar sequence of: wait, block, counter, repeat. It feels like the game is trying to mimic Arkham City‘s measured fighting mechanics but doesn’t quite nail it — you’ll be hearing the clash of blades more often than actually securing an offensive strike. As realistic as they may be, firearms are somewhat of a bother to use. Shooting a bullet and waiting several seconds while Connor frantically reloads causes a gun to hardly be worth the trouble.

Hunting as seasons turn.

Comparisons to Red Dead Redemption will arise with any discussion of the game’s prolific wildlife. However, Assassin’s Creed III enhances the mechanic by the variety of ways in which you may hunt. Should you perform a clean kill with a tomahawk, the pelt recovered will increase in worth. But if your dark heart feels the need to tear apart a hare by means of a musket, expect to lose half the value. You can use bait, set snares, throw rope darts, or stalk your prey from a tree. Coming face to face with a predator delivers a less satisfying encounter, a mere quicktime event to determine success. These instances provide an exciting animation but get old quickly and lack proper engagement, leaving little sense of accomplishment. Working for the hunt by setting traps and hiding from prey is an ideal way to go about business, as watching Connor struggle to land a knife in a cougar’s neck isn’t as satisfying as diving off a tree to do so.

Unfortunately, this well designed hunting system provides little substance in the game itself. Viscera gathered from a kill can be sold to merchants or used in the reinvented crafting system. Recipes collected allow for animal parts to be combined with materials bought from artisans of the Homestead. Weapons, ammunition upgrades and decorations for Connor’s home are the only products of value output from crafting. Promising as it may sound, the entire arrangement is disappointing to put it lightly. A byzantine interface and demanding process leaves the system worth little experimentation. Even for these minor upgrades you must possess the proper recipe, a particular artisan in your homestead, a certain amount of their missions to be completed and the materials for the product itself. Other crafted items require the same amount of busywork and merely exist for the purpose of being shipped off on convoys as a source of income. Mind you there is also a limit to how many convoys you may possess, the amount of time before one can be sent out again and a risk of robbery that corresponds with the value of the goods. This whole setup is a step backwards and a tedious process for nothing more than subsidiary improvements.

Naval warfare by the Caribbean.

Needless to say, Ubisoft decided not to bring back real-time strategy — but I’m sure no one minds. Instead, a fresh route is taken with naval missions. In these escapades you’re tasked with protecting or destroying a particular vessel. The controls are accessible and the ship’s functions are as lucid as can be. Cannon fire requires you to sail parallel to your target, keeping in mind that the crew needs to reload with every shot fired. Speed is dictated by how much of the main sail is exposed. With that comes a challenge of its own, in how you must account for wind direction, pay attention to the the environment and keep guard from waves crashing onto the ship. Throw enemy boats into the mix and now you have to balance when to fire your cannons, as proximity influences the amount of damage dealt to your targets. There’s even a variety of upgrades to refine your craft. This may sound overwhelming, but honestly seems more complex than it really is. These voyages handle well, and the game does an excellent job of easing you into more difficult endeavours.

In the present day, Desmond and his pals are globetrotting, trying to find power cores to help them access a vault. These short adventures lack direction and mostly consist of moving from point A to point B. It’s clear that they exist merely for creating some kind of conflict in the present-day narrative.The conversations you partake in are well written, but some less frequently visited characters are poorly developed and leave the diegesis not too long after their introduction. The Assassin’s Creed fiction has lost a lot of the mystery and intrigue that it once had. Having abandoned much of the mystique and subtlety of the first two titles, this instalment relies on established lore. Except when it comes to the ending — which seemed a bit rushed, throwing in some plot twists and leaving some aspects entirely unexplained.

A side mission, treasure hunt.

Finding yourself in the animus with each iteration is always exciting. It’s particularly fascinating how the art direction always reinforces a sci-fi element, while maintaining the magnificence of the era. A new triangle-like web dominates most of the game’s onscreen indicators, reminiscent of the rhythmic verticality of Assassin’s Creed II. There are a lot of nesting menus, which may complicate things at first but are easy to adjust to. Watching transitions between chapters are even more stirring than before — environments falling apart and rebuilding piece by piece has never been as mesmerizing. 

The score is great, though not as memorable as previous titles, lacking much of the ominous electric undertones that were so well implemented in Jesper Kyd’s work. Although the main theme is jubilant and patriotic, something that you might catch yourself humming.

The eighteenth century is well detailed and beaming with colour. The cities, forestry, wildlife and characters all carry examples of impressive animations. Connor himself moves smoothly yet still depicts a weight to his walk with changes in environment adding further nuances. Even weather has an effect on characters, such as them commenting on the heat in the summer or trudging through snow in the winter. However there were some instances where bugs affected how enemies would traverse a blanketed field. The frame rate also slightly declines in high action sequences — doubtfully a problem on any platform besides Playstation 3.

Eagle diving in eighteenth century New York City.

The game is a well researched trek through Colonial America, filled with some clever concepts, though many of them miss the mark on execution. Missions in the game are compelling in subject matter but are limiting in choice and offer little reward for optional objectives. Fans of the series should enjoy the overall presentation, even with the third act being rather unsatisfying. However, audiences looking for major innovations may be disappointed — it’s simply a change in venue with some interesting ideas. Nevertheless it’s an entertaining experience and anyone who’s fascinated with the setting, invested in the series, or appreciates a well designed open world should be well at home.