Final Thoughts on Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One

If you’ve played on a PlayStation system since the PS2 era, you’ve probably heard of the Ratchet & Clank series. They’ve had a number of titles out over the course of the PS2 and the PS3. They are some of the characters that would come closest to mascots of the PlayStation. I’ve played most of the games, and today I’ll be looking at Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One.

Story

Ratchet and Clank All 4 OneThe story isn’t all that different in basic structure from other Ratchet and Clank adventure. The game starts with Ratchet and Clank escorting Captain (err… President) Quark to an awards ceremony. The ceremony turns out to be a trap laid by Dr. Nefarious, but the trap backfires and all four are caught up in the trap. Upon getting out of the trap all four characters are caught by someone collecting powerful alien life forms across the galaxy.

This predicament requires all four characters, despite their former antagonism, to work together, figure out how to get home, who captured them, and maybe even save a planet or universe in the process.

Gameplay

The Ratchet and Clank games have all been action based 3D platforming games and All 4 One does not change that. The bulk of the game will be about running, jumping, and using gadgets to get through the level while blasting any enemies that get in your way.

The most significant difference between All 4 One and other Ratchet & Clank game is that All 4 One focuses on being a co-op game above all else. The majority of the other games in the series have been single player experiences, but All 4 One allows for up to four players to fill the shoes of Ratchet, Clank, President Quark, and Dr. Nefarious. Even if you play alone the computer will play as a second character for areas where you need another player to proceed.

While this does change a little of the Ratchet and Clank formula, it doesn’t change that much. You still get cool weapons that you get to level up and cause lots of damage with. Only with the co-op you get a damage bonus if you’re both using the same weapon on the same enemies. Also certain gadgets will require both characters in order to solve certain puzzles in order to proceed.

Other stalwarts of the Ratchet and Clank series also make an appearance. The regular bolts as currency that allows you to buy weapons and weapon upgrades. There are large collectible bolts that are color coded for each of the characters you play. These unlock different costumes for the characters. You will also discover critters that you can suck up with one of your new gadgets. Critters allow you to unlock test chambers. The test chambers are tests that upon completion will unlock a part of the RYNO VI, which in this iteration is a giant robotic armor.

Themes

The obvious theme throughout the game is teamwork. You can find this theme both in the story of the game and in the game play. Teamwork has really always been a part of the Ratchet and Clank games, focused largely on the teamwork between Ratchet and Clank. All 4 One expands on that a bit added the need to work with the sometimes villain, sometimes hero, but constantly bumbling Captain Quark and the super villain Dr. Nefarious. This adds a different layer to the teamwork theme, as it is not just friends working together, but friends and enemies who have to put aside past animosity and work together.

Teamwork is also evident in the gameplay. The game is much easier when you work together well with those you play with. While not a particularly hard game, working together and communicating well will make the game easier and more fun.

Other than teamwork, there aren’t any other major themes that I remember. It’s a fairly lighthearted game, with a few exceptions, built around the ideas of saving the world and battling villains.

Positives

  • Personal Favorites – I’ll be honest, Ratchet and Clank are probably my favorite mascot duo from the PS2 era. I’ve always enjoyed the banter between the two characters, the gameplay, and the varied and unique weapons. This game is more of that even with the different gameplay elements.
  • Intergalactic Humor Award- Ratchet & Clank games have always had a decent amount of humor and this game continues in that vein. I’ve always enjoyed the humor and this game provides more of the same.
  • Fun with Friends – The co-op is fairly well done and was enjoyable to play with other players. While I do think there were some things that detracted from the choice to go co-op, as a co-op experience it was a lot of fun.

Mixed

  • Paper Weapons – While the weapons came in a fun variety of styles for this game, I felt that many of them lacked the power of previous installments. I wondered in part if this was due to the co-op focus. It seemed that the weapons on their own were not as powerful due to the need to use them in tandem with your co-op partners. I could be wrong, but that is how it seemed to me.
  • Weaponized Clank – While Clank has punched and smacked people with a staff in previous games, I don’t remember him ever packing heat too often. If he had the ability to use Ratchet’s weapons all this time, why is he just now getting in on it?
  • Willing to Try Something New – While I have mixed feelings on the turn to co-op, I have to say that it’s nice to see them try something new. Not that I’m particularly thinking they needed to mix things up, but still instead of following the formula they were trying to branch out in different directions which can be a good thing.

Negatives

  • Doesn’t Quite Live Up to Previous Titles – While I enjoy Ratchet & Clank and even enjoyed this game, it still wasn’t quite as good as most of the other games in the series. It reminds be a bit of Deadlocked in the PS2 era. A good game that simply isn’t as good compared to previous installments.

Overall Impressions

I enjoyed Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One. While it had its flaws, my family had a lot of fun playing it together. While it was not a game I could recommend at a full retail price of $60, at its current price (which is around $20 as of writing) I would. It is a very competent co-op platformer. The main downside is that it isn’t as good compared to previous installments. It doesn’t make this a bad game, it may just leave you wanting a bit more than you received.

Final Thoughts on The Princess Bride

We all have movies that we’ve watched either growing up or even recently that become favorites. Sometimes when we revisit these movies they don’t live up to the memories we had of them. Other times they do live up to the memories and are just as enjoyable now, if not more enjoyable. The Princess Bride is one of my personal favorite movies, and continues to live up to memories I have of it.

The Princess BrideFor those who haven’t seen it or heard anything about it, The Princess Bride is a story within a story. The story you begin with is that of a boy staying home sick from school. His Grandfather comes over to read him a book. That book is the bulk of the story, although you do sometimes cut back to the boy and his grandfather at certain parts of the story.

The main story focuses on the love between Buttercup and Westley. While love is definitely the uniting theme the story has a bit of everything. There is comedy, action, fantasy, and of course romance. Over the course of the movie the idea is that true love will conquer everything this is in the way. Which is good as there are a number of things that get in the way of Buttercup and Westley; one of them believed to be death, arranged marriage to the prince, a kidnapping, the fire swamp, and even being mostly dead.

The Princess Bride is one of my favorite movies, but to be honest it’s not because it is a particularly deep movie. It is just a fun movie with memorable characters, quotable lines, and a mostly lighthearted storyline. I’m sure you can nitpick the movie’s view of “true love” and everything, but a lot of the fun of the movie is that it’s not particularly serious. It is basically a modern (however modern 1987 might be considered today) fairy tale with a happy ending.

This movie has been one I enjoyed watching growing up and in all honesty is still just as enjoyable today. I’ve watched other movies that I had good memories of growing up that just didn’t really hold up to the memory upon re-watch. I’m happy to say that The Princess Bride wasn’t one of them. It will be a movie that I’ll enjoy showing to my kids when they get a little older and hope they’ll enjoy as much as their parents do.

Final Thoughts on Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2

Marvel is quite a popular brand these days due to the popular movies they have been producing lately. Before that rise in popularity, Marvel’s characters were used fairly often in video games. Now not all of them were good, and it didn’t gain them the level of popularity they seem to be enjoying now, but they were still there. One such game that didn’t come out that long ago (2009) was Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2.

Story

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2From what I understand Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 largely follows the Civil War storyline that happens in the comic books. I know that the ending of the game is quite different from the ending of the comics, but I’m not sure how much beyond that is different between the two.

Basically, because of the number of incidents involving superhumans, like the strike on Latveria that you take part of at the start of the game, the United States government has decided that all super powered individuals need to register with the government. This decision divides the super hero community into two camps. One group is against the registration and is led by Captain America. The other group is supportive of the registration and led by Iron Man.

You get to choose which side you want to join and for the middle of the game fight against the opposing group of heroes and villains. The ending part has you dealing with a threat that arises due to the nanites the pro-registration group used in some of the super-villains to control them. It creates an enemy that unites both groups once more and gives them an enemy to combat. It’s not an exceptionally deep story, but it was entertaining enough.

Gameplay

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 employs a top down style of gameplay. You get to choose a squad of four heroes to make your way through levels fighting enemies, accomplishing goals (like destroying certain objects or finding a certain person), and usually defeating a boss or two in the process.

This is basically the same style of gameplay as earlier entries took starting with X-Men Legends and continuing with X-Men Legends II:Rise of Apocalypse and Marvel Ultimate Alliance. So if you’ve played any of these games, the style of gameplay should be familiar.

The game controls largely like a beat-em up. Your buttons attack, jump, and grab/pick up. Each hero also comes with four powers that use a combination of two buttons. There are also team up powers that allow you and one of your allies do a combination attack to do larger damage.

The levels you travel through contain collectibles that will unlock artwork, bonus simulator missions, information about characters, bonus attributes, or new characters.  So exploring the various levels and environments are encouraged. I think that should take care of most of the aspects of gameplay.

The only other thing that I can mention is that the game does support co-op. A second player can drop in and out as a member of your team and fight alongside of you. I didn’t really use it, but I imagine it could be fun to do.

Themes

While the game doesn’t really treat it with the gravity it could, the major theme is about power and how those who wield it are monitored. This is at the center of the civil war, but also comes into play both at the beginning and end of the game as well.

It happens in the beginning when Nick Fury leads an unsanctioned attack on Latveria after gaining intelligence that the country is not as peaceful as it is appearing to be. Is this use of power proper? Is the governments ignoring of a legitimate threat okay, because everything seems okay on the surface?

It is as I’ve said at the center of the whole civil war. Do superheroes need someone to monitor them? If they do, who watches those in control of that monitoring? Is it quite power that unmonitored power and power monitored and controlled too much can both be bad things?

This also comes at the end, but it is reduced. It is perhaps even an answer to some of the potential questions raised earlier. The actions of those who tried to control power by questionable means created a new problem that was maybe even greater than the first. If the beginning showed the potential danger of power outside of any control, the end showed the danger of misuse of power by the ones in control.

As I said though, the themes are there, but aren’t really dealt with in any serious fashion. I mean part of this could simply be the fact that we’re dealing with superheroes with fantastic powers so it just reduces the impact a bit. Regardless, I think it is an interesting theme to come across.

Positives

  • Playing a Comic Book – You get to basically take up a group of your favorite Marvel heroes and fight your way through a story pulled from the comics. It’s a pretty enjoyable setup for the game really.
  • Heroes Fighting Heroes – The downside of these kind of games is that after you’ve fought a good portion of the villains in the first game, where do you go? Did you think have the heroes fight each other? If so, you weren’t the only one. It certainly adds a different spin on things.

Mixed

  • A Button Masher – The game’s controls are pretty simple. While I think this is a pretty good thing for accessibility, it can tend to make the game rather repetitive after awhile.
  • An Interesting Mix – I feel that the character roster does a pretty good job at hitting some of the most popular Marvel characters, but the roster is actually smaller than the previous entry in the series (not counting system exclusive heroes). This doesn’t matter that much, as you may just stick with your favorites, but it also seems strange to downgrade the roster too.
  • Different, But Not That Different, Paths – Part way through the game you can choose to be either pro-registration or anti-registration. While this is made out to be a pretty big decision, it really isn’t. It changes some of the characters you can use for some missions, and gives you slightly different missions that aren’t really too different.

Negatives

  • Who Invited Mr. Freeze – While not a huge issues, I did experience a fair number of freezing during my playtime with the game. It wasn’t like it was every time I played, but it was often enough to make an impression.
  • Limited Time and Place – As I said above it Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 didn’t have as many characters as the previous entry, but it did continue a practice from it that was highly annoying. They had characters who were only available for certain systems or as DLC. While the DLC may not seem bad, this game had some messed up DLC due to licensing. The DLC disappeared for awhile, came back for a bit again, and then disappeared for good. I think console exclusive characters have no place, and they handled the DLC horribly for this game.

Overall Impressions

To be honest I’m not sure if I can recommend Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 or not. I had fun with it and enjoyed it despite some negatives and shortcomings the game had. Those who enjoy Marvel or have played the earlier games that are like it would enjoy it. It’s not a horribly deep game, but is an enjoyable button masher to play through. The only thing that holds me back from even a tentative endorsement is that the game seems to be a bit expensive these days. Amazon is out of stock, at least for the PlayStation 3 version, and the marketplace has it for over $100 for a new copy.

I guess my thoughts would be if you find a nice cheap copy, it would be worth it. However, I would not recommend spending the asking price for the remaining new copies out there. It is a fun game, but there is little groundbreaking about it. The fact that there is the potential for technical issues and that the DLC is completely unavailable also detract from my recommending it too highly.

Final Thoughts on the Lego Movie

For the last couple of years, basically since the birth of our youngest, we haven’t really been watching many movies. It isn’t even that we watch a lots of kids movies because both our kids tend to prefer watching a couple episodes of Dinosaur Train, Curious George, Clifford, or Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood than putting in a movie. There was a slight exception to this when Ryan found and subsequently memorized the trailer to The Lego Movie on Amazon Prime.

Lego MovieSince he went and did this we wound up buying it for his birthday and sitting down and watching it together. That was a little over a month ago, but I figured I would give my belated thoughts on The Lego Movie.

The main characters reminded me more than a little of The Matrix. You have the “the Special” aka “the One” (Emmett) who is supposedly the answer to a prophecy given by the mentor figure (Vitruvius) and the butt kicking female co-lead/love interest (Wyldsyle). So you basically have Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity in a LEGO world with some other supporting characters one of which is Batman.

In terms of antagonists though, this doesn’t quite parallel as nicely. The enemy is Lord Business who is seeking to use a mighty weapon called “The Kragle” to eliminate the chaos of the LEGO world and create order and stability. Along with right hand man, Bad Cop they seek to put an end to the resistance of Master Builders who are capable of building great things out of the Lego pieces around them.

So let’s start with the good stuff about The Lego Movie. I thought that many of the themes in the movie were pretty well done. Overall, I would say the main theme was the dual reality of individuality and the ability to work together as a team. There are not too many movies that I have seen that emphasize both of these aspects. The movies shows that both pure conformity to what is going on around you will only lead to destruction and that rampant individuality will lead to the same result.

The vast majority of the people in the Lego world are conforming to the lifestyle presented by the corporations run by Lord Business, who is ultimately plotting against them. However, the Master Builders who have been attempting to resist Lord Business have failed to stop him. Over time you learn that they don’t really work together very well. They are all so uniquely talented that they have poor teamwork and any idea that has the notion of conformity is dismissed. While near the end it does trend towards the idea of everyone can build something, it seemed to be more presented as the ability to think outside of the box, or in this case the Lego instructions and to enjoy and let others enjoy the art of creating whether beginner or Master Builder.

Beyond themes that I thought were largely well done, the movie is pretty funny. Now honestly, I felt that many of the best parts were done in the trailer and that’s a bit of a shame, but there were still some fairly funny moments that weren’t included. There will be laughs for both kids and adults, although very little of the double entendre type that may make some parents a bit uneasy.

These are the good aspects of the film. There were some things I felt that were a bit disappointing. The story honestly feels a bit lacking. It starts off well enough, although it moves pretty fast with not a lot of setup. So looking back it is hard to tell if it is really the story or the frantic speed of the movie that hooks you. Now this isn’t a terrible thing, because regardless the story is fun and fast paced, with a fair amount of action. It’s just don’t go looking for too much character development or motivations for anyone besides a simple destroy/save the world kind of mentality.

While this is included in the story, I’d say the most disappointing aspect was near the end. The movie decides to throw in this twist about three quarters through the movie. Let’s just say our four year old didn’t really appreciate the twist and I have to admit that it seemed a bit out of place.

So what’s my final verdict on The Lego Movie? I’d say that it is a fun colorful, and action-packed movie that also presents some decent themes, but is packed in a rather thin story. It’s a fun ride, but a bit of an uneven one. I enjoyed it, but I don’t think it quite lived up to my expectations, which were admittedly high. I wasn’t the only one, as my son put it, “I like the trailer better.”

 

Final Thoughts on Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood

It has been quite some time since I’ve given my thoughts on a somewhat larger game. The truth is I complete less of these than I do the smaller “indie” or arcade titles, but today I’ll be talking about my thoughts on Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood which is a sequel to Assassin’s Creed II that I’ve given my thoughts on before. As usual some spoilers of the previous game will be given here although I’ll try to keep the spoilers for this game at a minimum. Of course this game is old enough now that many will have already played it.

Assassin's Creed BrotherhoodStory

Since it is a sequel to Assassin’s Creed II it should not be a surprise then that the story picks up right after the events of that game. This includes both the story of Desmond Miles in the present and Ezio Auditore da Firenze in 16th century Italy.

Desmond’s story focuses on his team’s continued effort to find the modern day resting place for the Apple of Eden. After escaping from the Templars at the end of the last game Desmond’s group sets up camp in the ruins of Ezio’s headquarters from Assassin’s Creed II. After setting up and gaining access to power they work at sending Desmond into the Animus to continue following the life of Ezio.

Ezio’s story starts after the last game as well. Ezio decides to spare the life of Rodrigo Borgia, now known as Pope Alexander VI, and escape the Vatican returning to Monteriggioni. After arriving home though, Monteriggioni is besieged by Cesare Borgia who kills Ezio’s uncle Mario Auditore, destroys Moneteriggioni, and recaptures the Apple of Eden that Ezio took possession of in the last game. So Ezio sets off to Rome in order to get revenge on Cesare and retrieve the apple for a second time.

Also with a story centered around Assassins, revenge, and a rather large conflict it should come as no surprise that this game is rated M and is meant for an older audience.

Gameplay

Really not too much has changed since Assassin’s Creed II. This is not a bad thing, just  understand that this is more of the same formula and if you’re expecting a large deviation from Assassin’s Creed II you aren’t going to find it here.

That’s not to say there aren’t some differences though. Instead of taking place at a number of cities and locations in Italy, this game takes place in Rome (Roma) almost exclusively. Due to this there is no separate location like Monteriggioni for you to upgrade like in Assassin’s Creed II, rather you are restoring Rome by freeing it from Borgia influence. You do this by destroying Borgia towers that are located throughout Rome and then opening shops, buying monuments, and repairing the city in these freed portions of the city. These upgrades to Rome provide you with money over time like Monteriggioni did in the previous game.

One other large change is the inclusion of using Assassin recruits to help you with your missions. As you free Rome from the influence of the Borgia, you wind up being able to recruit people into the Assassin Brotherhood. After this you can use them to help take out enemies or send them on their own missions to gain items, experience, and more money.

Another major addition is the inclusion of a multiplayer component to the game. This is the first Assassin’s Creed to include online multiplayer and it allows you to go head to head with other assassins. One could argue the necessity of such an inclusion, but it was a new feature anyhow. Otherwise most of the additions weren’t too different and could be easily adjusted to given a bit of time, like new enemies, added goals to missions for 100% completion, more combat abilities, etc.

Themes

Honestly, the themes are pretty flimsy in this game, even compared to Assassin’s Creed II. The main motivation behind Ezio’s mission is revenge and reclamation. This time around though the revenge theme isn’t nearly as interesting. You know who killed your uncle and why from the beginning so it lacks the sense of mystery the previous game did. It also lacks the emotional impact as well. By now Ezio is a force to be reckoned with, not a young man who has to learn how to be an assassin to avenge his father and brothers.

Even the control versus freedom theme of the previous game seemed reduced and put off on the margins. If anything the major theme of the game seems to be about building up enough power and allies to effectively counter the templars. It just seemed to be a bit flat in terms of themes. The goal set before you was more important than anything else. Maybe it was because the story veered from the ideological war between the Assassin’s and the Templars to trying to stop the cataclysmic event that was mentioned at the end of Assassin’s Creed II that caused the themes to take a back seat, I’m not sure.

Positives

  • Is It Better to Have Loved and Lost? – The story of this game wasn’t the most engaging in my mind. However, a set of stories that were told through side missions relayed a rather tragic tale of Ezio’s old flame Christina Vespucci. This string of missions and the story surrounding it held the most emotional impact of any of the other missions in the game, at least for me.
  • Still an Assassin – I enjoyed the gameplay from Assassin’s Creed II, it was a lot of fun climbing, assassinating, exploring the beautiful locales. Brotherhood is more of this. It’s a solid formula that allows for an enjoyable experience.

Mixed

  • Virtual Assassins – For better or worse, Brotherhood ventured into online multiplayer. I did get to play it a little and it was pretty fun, but I also wondered if the story didn’t suffer from the inclusion of it. Maybe it didn’t, I don’t know, but I just had mixed feelings with the online multiplayer aspect of the game.
  • Look at What I Found – The Assassin’s Creed series of games has always been very collectible heavy and Brotherhood is no different. They are fun to collect, but reach a point where they become a bit tedious after awhile. On the plus side you can buy maps that give you the locations of many of the collectibles, but it can still be a bit much.
  • Improving the Present – While I was disappointed with Ezio’s story, I felt that Desmond’s storyline was actually a little better this time around. The group felt a bit more tight knit and I felt that the most significant developments between the two stories happened in the present storyline. Now, the story still isn’t all that strong, but I felt that it at least improved as opposed to Ezio’s story. Plus they end it on a massive cliffhanger, which can just drive you a bit nuts.

Negatives

  • Once More, This Time With Less Feeling – I was largely disappointed by Ezio’s story of Brotherhood. As I said earlier it felt like it revisited the story of the first too much by following the path of getting revenge on someone who killed a family member and trying to find the Apple of Eden again. It just felt like you weren’t much further along at the end of this game than you were the end of the previous. The only real accomplishment felt like the establishment of a stronger Brotherhood/Order of Assassins. Maybe it is just because I thought the story of the first game was well done.
  • Online for the Latecomer – With the inclusion of multiplayer comes the reality that those who pick this game up late are going to run into troubles enjoying the multiplayer aspect of the game. Particularly since there has been three other Assassin’s Creed games with multiplayer as I write this. I know that I’ve had issues connected to games while I was playing and I only imagine it is not much better at this point.

Overall Impressions

I enjoyed Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. While the story is a bit disappointing compared to Assassin’s Creed II, the game itself is still fun to play and there is plenty to do. Even with a bit of a lackluster story, there are things that happen here that you do not want to miss if you’re interested in the story of Assassin’s Creed. With that said I would recommend it, maybe not as much as Assassin’s Creed II, but it is still a fun game, I just hope the story gets a little better after this.

 

Final Thoughts on Lego Batman 2

If you’ve been reading my “Final Thoughts” on video games, you’ll notice that recently I’ve been doing a lot of indie games. Today I’ll be taking a break from that and doing a game that is a bit more popular, one of the Lego game, in particular Lego Batman 2.

Now if you’ve ever played any of the Lego themed games before Lego Batman 2 you know basically what to expect. While Lego Batman 2 does do a few things a bit differently, it is largely the same and you can probably stop reading here because you already know whether you like this game or not. If you haven’t played a Lego game before  or just enjoy reading people’s thoughts on video games continue on, I mean it’s not like I’m stopping here.

Lego Batman 2Story

Well let’s be honest. This is Batman geared for kids. The story is not going to be the greatest ever. However, it is worthwhile to say that I believe that this story is fairly original. Instead of seeming to loosely use frameworks of Tim Burton’s Batman, Batman Returns, and Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever we’re given something a bit different.

In other Lego games like Lego Star Wars or Lego Batman you have the game split into parts for each movie it is directly or loosely based off of. You can access these pieces of story from a hub location, or base where the levels are accessed. Lego Batman 2 changes this and moves to an open-world environment with a continual story. What this means is that instead of having a main base where you access levels (although this kind of does still exist), you get to travel around Gotham City and have to travel to a certain locations to start a level.

The story focuses around Lex Luthor and the Joker as they team up to try to win Luthor the election for President of the United States. So it’s up to Batman, Robin, Superman, and other members of the Justice League to stop their plan. It’s a fun story, but remember this is a Batman story focused for a younger set. It’s going to be a little absurd. It has a weapon that destroys black bricks, a giant Joker robot, and maybe a Lex Luther that lacks a lot of confidence.

Gameplay

As I’ve said gameplay is pretty similar to other Lego games, but let me give you an overview. The basic concept behind the game is to get to the end of the level. To do this you’ll have to fight enemies, jump over obstacles, or use the particular skills of a character. Each character typically has at least one special ability or in the cases of Batman and Robin have suits that give them different special abilities. For example, Batman has a power suit that allows him to lift heavy objects (designated by orange handles), and shoot bombs that blow up shiny silver Lego blocks. Or take Superman who can fly, is super strong to allow him to lift heavy objects, has freezing breath that can freeze enemies or water, shoots lasers from his eyes that are used to melt gold Legos, and also has X-Ray vision which is used to see through certain walls.

If you’re expecting a game that is straight forward that only involves fighting bad guys and jumping over holes or something, this isn’t really what the Lego games deliver. They do have those things, but there is also a bit of a puzzle element to the games as well. These parts make you have to figure out what you need to do to get to the next area. Sometimes it is just destroying some Lego creations in order to uncover Legos you can use to proceed. Other times you have to figure out how to use a characters ability to get you past a segment. Maybe you need to blow up silver Legos with a bomb or melt some gold Legos to get to the next section.

This puzzle part of the Lego games is an even larger part of looking for the various hidden collectibles that are in the game. Because there are two ways to go through a particular level. The first is “Story Mode” which is how you have to play through first. This only involves the characters that are in the story, which is largely just Batman, Robin, and Superman, with some Justice League members joining much later. However, every level usually has puzzles and unlockables (like minikits which build a vehicle or item from the batman world, gold blocks which can be used to enable certain characters to be unlocked, or red bricks that unlock extra “cheats”) that can only be reached with abilities that the story characters do not possess. To get these unlockables you have to play in the mode called “Free Play” which allows you to play as any of the characters you have unlocked so far. This mode also allows you to rotate through a set number of characters that will include any character who have abilities you need to get the unlockables for a particular level.

There are three more random things that I want to note about gameplay. The first is that like any of the other Lego games this is a two player game, which is nice. You can have a second player join or leave the game at any time. Second, is that as I mentioned above the game now has an open world environment, this means that there is also a lot to find and unlock on the map itself and not just in the various levels. The third is that this is the first and only one of the few Lego games that actually includes voice acting. Maybe that’s more a point to place under the story, but I’ll stick it here. This means that instead of just pantomime you now have some pretty funny dialogue in the game.

Positives

  • More Lego fun – I’ve always enjoyed the Lego games. They aren’t exceptionally difficult games by any means, but they are loads of fun. Even more so they are games I can play that my young children can watch, and my son is now able to play.
  • Problem solving skills – I didn’t realize how puzzle centric the Lego games were until my wife and son started playing the first Lego Batman together. Watching them try to figure out what they needed to do made me realize how much this game really develops some problem solving skills. Admittedly, we’re talking video game problem solving skills, but still.
  • I Can Hear You – The voice acting being added to Lego Batman 2 was really well done and made the game even more funny than usual. The Lego games have always had a lot of humor in them, but adding the voices just added more character to it all. Whether it was Batman grunting answers back, Robin being the butt of jokes, or the news reports at the beginning of levels by Vicki Vale they all just accomplished things that previous games couldn’t.

Mixed

  • More Lego DC Than Lego Batman – In order to make the sequel even bigger and better, you know the character roster was going to increase. However, I really felt with both the direction of the story and the roster that this game was more of a Lego DC than it was a Lego Batman. In some ways it wasn’t, because Batman was still a front and center character throughout, but it neglected another element of Batman and that is his roster of villains. Besides the Joker they were more used as very minor characters than any sort of major players.
  • Who Needs Villains Anyway? – In connection with my previous point, I felt that compared to the first Lego Batman that the villains weren’t even all that useful to unlock in the game. The only ones that had purely unique abilities were the Joker, Lex Luthor, Poison Ivy, and the Riddler. I just felt it led to having more characters, but not really utilizing the characters very well or making them very unique in the process.
  • Rats in a Maze – There are some puzzles in the main map of Gotham City that require you to use particular Batman or Robin suits to obtain an unlockable. This makes it so that you have to use some of the costumes you might forgo when you can use some of the characters with flight to get anywhere. However, at the same time this really felt kind of awkward too. You have Superman who can do like tons of stuff, but then you have these puzzles that seem to be there simply as a counter to how badly Superman and characters like him skew the game.

Negative

  • Not Stronger than a Camera Angle – Some of Superman’s (or any other flying character’s) flying is just painful. Especially trying to get some of the Gold Bricks. You need to go into some crevice while flying with Superman only to be met with Superman veering off or the camera going nuts.
  • I Choose You Joker Goon – One of the things I’ve always wondered about the Lego series of games is the inclusion of fairly useless characters. These are characters that have no abilities and aren’t even characters with any real place in the universe other than nameless thug. So I wonder why they’re included. Are there that many people who want to be Joker Goon rather than the Joker or Poison Ivy Goon over Poison Ivy? They just feel like fluff. Characters to pad a roster in order to say that you have x many characters to unlock. I write this, but also have to admit that my three year old was at one point very excited about being able to be a random henchman, but if you’re going to have them at least make them be able to do more than just attack people. Otherwise to me it’s just a waste of space.

Overall Impressions

I’ve already said that I’ve enjoyed the Lego series of games. I’ve played both the Lego Stars Wars series and the first Lego Batman before playing Lego Batman 2 so it should come as no surprise that I enjoy and recommend Lego Batman 2. Is it taking the Lego series of games in a radically different direction? No, but it is a fun little game that can be enjoyed by old and young alike at the same time since it allows for two players to play at once. It’s not a game that has deep themes or anything like that, but it does work out your mind a bit as you try to figure out how to get through levels and try to find all the unlockables (if you so desire). It does have its annoying moments, but overall it’s a solid experience that I think most anyone could enjoy, although fans of the DC universe (or at least those with knowledge of it) will have a leg up.

These thoughts are based on the PS3 version, but it is also available for pretty much any current system out there however their may be some differences between these versions particularly between console and handheld versions.

Final Thoughts on Assassin’s Creed II

Assassin's Creed IISeeing this title you can tell how far behind I am on my video game playing. I just recently finished Assassin’s Creed II on the Playstation 3.  There have been three Assassin’s Creed games released since this game, and a fourth one announced for later this year,  so yeah I’m behind. I don’t entirely care, but it does cut the relevance of giving my thoughts on a game like this, especially since the Assassin’s Creed games are a bit more mainstream than the Atelier games that I reviewed a couple weeks ago. Anyhow, I’m not about to let that stop me, so here we go.

Story

First off, just to set the tone. The game is rated M. That means the story and game play involves violence, blood, swearing, and some sexual content. In other words this isn’t a game targeted at kids, but targeted for adult audiences, know this from the outset.

The story of Assassin’s Creed II may sound a bit complicated to those not familiar with the Assassin’s Creed world. This is mainly because the Assassin’s Creed games use a story within a story narrative. What I mean by that is that there are really two stories going on at the same time. There is one that takes place in present time where you are Desmond Miles is caught between the ongoing battle between two secret groups, the Assassins and the Templars.

Desmond is a descendant of the Assassin line, which makes him valuable in the modern day battle between the two groups. In the game a machine called the Animus, which allows people to re-live the memories of their descendants, has been developed. Since part of the story is that the memories of ancestors live on through DNA, and because Desmond is related to a long line of Assassins, he can access the memories of his ancestors.

In the first game you were a prisoner of the Templars who were looking for information about an artifact of power called a Piece of Eden. At the end of the first game you are freed by the Assassins, but yet again are put in their Animus, the Animus 2.0. In part this seems to be to develop Desmond’s abilities as an Assassin, since a side effect of the Animus is that you begin to gain the abilities of those whose memories you visit.  The other reason for this is to seek out more information about the Pieces of Eden from the past. As well as learn more about the mysterious message left to you by Subject 16 in the first game. You don’t get to spend too much time with Desmond, but this aspect of the story is there and is really the backdrop of why you’re playing the other story at all.

In the main story of the game you play as Desmond’s ancestor Ezio Auditore da Firenze in Renaissance Italy. His story begins as a revenge/justice story as his family is the victim of a plot that results in the death of Ezio’s father and brothers. Only his mother and sister were able to survive it. This event begins Ezio’s quest to find and kill these conspirators with the help of his uncle and other friends like Leonardo Da Vinci. In the process of making those responsible pay, Ezio learns that what happened to his family is only the surface and that the plot behind all this goes much deeper than he could imagine.

Gameplay

The Assassin’s Creed games are open-world action/adventure games. In these type of games you are able to explore and interact with the world in ways that do not actively progress the story or are necessarily even connected to the story. For Assassin’s Creed II you are able to explore cities from Renaissance Italy, like Forli, Venice, and Florence. One of the ways to explore which is a hallmark of the Assassin’s Creed series is the ability to free climb buildings which enables you to travel not just on the ground of these cities but from rooftop to rooftop. This ability is used often in the various missions of the game. Having to scale over walls, following people by surveying them from the rooftops, or chase people from rooftop to rooftop.

Besides the main story missions of the game, there are other missions and activities for you to do if you so choose.  Side missions that are not directly related to the story include assassinations, races, deliveries, or the random beating of an unfaithful man at the request of a scorned lover. There is also plenty to collect and discover. There are seals of previous Assassins hidden in certain locations behind elaborate climbing puzzles, glyphs that are hidden on certain landmarks that reveal puzzles and after finding them all unlock a mysterious movie, and for the meticulous there are also one hundred feathers to collect over the various cities. You are also able to upgrade and develop your base of operations which will earn you money over time.

Since the game is set in the 15th century combat is mostly done by way of swords and other melee weapons. The main unique weapon being the hidden blade of the Assassins. You are also able to purchase better weapons and armor as you progress through the game. As the story progresses even your hidden blade will be able to be upgraded. By the end you’ll have quite the arsenal of throwing knives, swords, hammers, daggers, smoke bombs, a double hidden blade, and even a hidden gun. So there is plenty of variety even if you may not use the whole lineup very often.

My Thoughts

Positives

  • Artistically I like the game. Being able to go through recreations, even if not exact, of Renaissance Italy is pretty cool.
  • I enjoyed the story for this game. It kept peeling off layers and would reveal a little more and make you want to continue to find out what was going on. The world of Assassin’s Creed is also a weird mix of historical fiction with a hint of science fiction so it’s pretty interesting.
  • I was able to connect with Ezio as a main character much more than Altair. He was likeable, yet very human. The whole motivation for Ezio’s actions were very personal and it made you a bit more invested in Ezio, at least it did for me.

Mixed

  • The climbing is mixed. Most of the time scaling buildings is no problem, but every once in awhile you’ll hit just one button wrong or something will just be off a bit and you’ll go careening to your death. This was very frustrating when it happened. As I said it isn’t something that happened often, but was still there.
  • This is more of a complaint against open world games, but since Assassin’s Creed is one it fits for this. Sometimes the scope of the world drags the story and pace of a game down. It can start to get a bit boring to have to travel all over just to get to the next mission or to have to find all of the viewpoints to be able to use your map. These things are kind of fun to start with, but for me at least they can start to drag a game down when overdone. I found myself thinking about this on some of assassination missions, and the viewpoints. I mean honestly you get treasure maps of the cities, wouldn’t you think they’d have maps you could use instead of having to climb and scout?
  • The present storyline. While Ezio’s story was intriguing, I found the storyline for the present day a bit underwhelming. I think this was primarily due to the characters. Lucy and Desmond are okay, but then you had Shaun and Rebecca.. and well I just didn’t like them much. Particularly Shaun, he just was so full of cynicism and snark that it was hard to like the guy. Add that to the amount of time really invested into the story in the present and it’s just kind of there.

Negatives

  • Missions that are game over if a person notices you. I hate these kind of missions. Especially when Assassin’s Creed isn’t really much of a stealth game. I got them done and there weren’t many, I’m thinking that most were even optional, but they’re still annoying. Especially when it wouldn’t let you be seen by someone you were going to immediately kill. What does that matter?
  • Knowing the future of the series. Since I’m behind I know that there has been a new Assassin’s Creed game every single year. To me this doesn’t speak well for any series. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong, but it just seems like the story could take a hit and that the gameplay could wear out its welcome with so many games so often. I guess we’ll see.

Notable Themes

While perhaps the themes of revenge and justice are put front and center as the motivation for Ezio’s story, these themes are not overly developed. It simply serves as the plot device used to have Ezio take down the list of conspirators who killed his father and brothers. You don’t really see him turning cold or distant due to his quest for revenge. Perhaps there is more development if you look at it from the point of justice. Justice is denied because those in power are corrupt and seeking to control too much. It is this angle that really leads into a more interesting theme underlying the Assassin’s Creed universe.

This angle is the idea of control versus freedom. This may be a theme that needs its own post to think through, but I’ll give you some introductory thoughts. The Templars believe that they need control and that control is the only way for the human race to survive. The Assassin’s seem to hold a belief in freedom and free will. It is this clash of ideology that encapsulates the Assassin’s Creed series. The Templars seek the Pieces of Eden for the power and the control that they enable, while the Assassins seek them so that they are able to be used against those who would seek to abuse power and control. So Ezio in his quest to seek true justice goes against the abuse of control and power of the Templars for much of the game not even really understanding the battle between the Assassins and the Templars very much. As I said it is a theme that interests me and may warrant another post, because I think power, control, and freedom are topics that are very relevant to today as well.

Bottom Line

I enjoyed Assassin’s Creed II. It definitely improved upon the first game quite a bit. It had an engaging story and was fun to play. Yes I did feel like some of the side quests and stuff became boring after awhile, but they are optional, so if you aren’t one who seeks full completion you’ll be good. Really, my complains are minor compared to where the game succeeds. I enjoyed playing it and am now playing the next game in the series, so we’ll see if that positive trend can continue.