Thoughts on Crysis, Bioshock, Mass Effect, and Assassin's Creed

Matt Barton's picture

I've been slogging through a lot of games lately and thought it was time to try to post some thoughts on them. Instead of posting about them individually, I thought I'd discuss them together, comparing and contrasting.

Off the top, Mass Effect and Assassin's Creed are third-person; you actually see the character running around a la Tomb Raider. This setup works well when the main character has a pre-defined personality or interacts a lot with other characters. Crysis tried to get around this by showing the character in third-person during cut scenes, but you also heard a disembodied voice from time to time. Bioshock simply didn't ever have the character speak, which was also pretty weird. Which one's better? It's hard to say. The pure first-person is probably best for that "I'm there" sensation, but you lose the ability to see what's immediately behind the character. It's also much harder to do platform-action like jumping around rooftops (Assassin's Creed). In any case, Crysis switched to 3rd-person for vehicles, which I suppose would simply be too hard to control in first-person (though that was an option). Okay, anyway, on to the games.

Crysis is the most standard shooter of the lot. If you've played Far Cry, you've already played this game. The only real differences are the greatly improved graphics, which are immensely detailed. Another gimmick is the nanosuit, which basically turns you into a superhero with one of three powers (speed, strength, or stealth). Unfortunately, even these powers are limited when you start taking fire, so they are really necessary. I greatly enjoyed this game, mostly because of all the outdoor settings (being in the woods is nice for a change), and playing with the suit was cool. The story and characters are limited, though there are some decent performances from Nomad's (your character's) comrades. The most interesting of these (Psycho) is now in his own game, so you might want to play that instead. Nomad reminded me a lot of Jack from Far Cry. I'd give Crysis 4/5 stars, with an emphasis on audiovisuals and gameplay. It's definitely worth checking out.

Bioshock is essentially a mix of Fallout and a game like Doom 3. Your character is trapped inside some giant underwater city called Rapture, which is swarming with mutants that highly resemble zombies. As you blast your way through the levels, your character gets all sorts of powers and abilities. The system is a bit complicated, but basically you can either focus on weaponry or what amounts to magical abilities (shooting fire from your hand, affecting gravity, etc.) The setting is very creepy and disturbing, and mostly dark, which I dislike because it never seems to show up well on my monitor. Still, there are lots of nice touches, and this game is really more about atmosphere than gameplay. It makes excellent use of music and sound effects to really create some disturbing moments--the kind where you're always jerking around to see if something is behind you. The storyline here is also pretty interesting, though you're usually so busy killing the mutants or flying security bots to worry much about it. Annoyingly, the mutants reappear even if you've cleared an area, so it's pretty much constant slogging. This greatly reduced the thrill for me, since you could never really just explore an area in peace. I also thought they got carried away with the gore; I mean, does every room have to be littered with decomposing bodies? I think someone got seriously carried away in that department. Bioshock isn't a bad game, but it's not something I'd ever care to play again, so I'm giving this one 2/5. However, raise that to 4/5 if you love Fallout *and* Doom 3.

Mass Effect is by far the best of the lot. What makes it the best is the great story and truly memorable characters. I liken it somewhat to Knights of the Old Republic, but this game feels fresher somehow. The shooting segments are probably the weakest; you don't get the tight control of something like Crysis, but it's still fun. I prefer shooting games with "real" guns versus pulse or laser rifles, but this game did a good job of making these fictional weapons seem realistic. What was really fun about this game was riding around in the ATV, exploring the solar systems, and, above all, interacting with the characters. Bioware did a great job making you feel that what you did in the game really had an impact; it wasn't just fighting to the next waypoint to watch a cutscene. I also liked that you could customize your character and even your party if you so desired, and it was fun playing through levels with the "wrong" characters just for the sake of variety. The only negatives about this game are the cumbersome inventory system and a bit of backtracking in some parts. Otherwise, though, it's the best bet for your money and a must-have. 5/5.

Assassin's Creed is a very interesting game, something of a cross between Tomb Raider and...Damn, I don't really know! The setting is the Middle East during the Crusades, and you play an Assassin who seems to be something of an atheist or agnostic. Most of the game consists of riding to a city on horseback (very cool), gathering evidence, assassinating a boss; lather, rinse, repeat. Indeed, this game does get repetitive, and I was definitely ready for it to end when it did. The biggest draw here is the amazing rooftop sequences; you can really run, jump, cling, and climb like no game I've ever seen before. The fighting scenes are also good and visually exciting, though there seems to be an issue sometimes with recognizing inputs; I frequently countered or dodged and got hit anyway, though for all I know it's bad timing on my part. There is a quasi-RPG element here in that the character (Altair) gets new weapons and abilities as the game progresses. The story here is very interesting as well, though sadly Altair is very dry, to say the least. The people Altair must assassinate are actually much more interesting, and it's a shame you couldn't interact with them more. I really liked the setup here and the graphics and controls are amazing, but the sheer level of repetition keeps this game from being a true winner. You will face the same scenarios and hear the same lines of dialog over, and over, and over again, even when it's supposedly a different character (and even a different voice actor!!) talking. It might have helped if there were more variation in the different cities, or at least different kinds of missions. Another quibble--for a supposed assassin, Altair is about as stupid as you can possibly be. Yeah, let me assassinate this guy by challenging him in front of all his guards. These encounters were mostly staged, so it was either do it the hard way or not at all. Hello, Altair--why not get a friggin' bow?? 3/5.

All in all, if I were going to ever replay any of these, it'd be Mass Effect followed by Crysis. I doubt I'd ever play the other two again, though I certainly don't regret playing them. Assassin's Creed is supposed to be the first of a trilogy, so I'm going to keep my eye on this series and see if the reviews indicate the next game will be less repetitive. If it is, forget it. As far as Bioshock goes, I would've liked it much better if the gore had been toned down and a little more variety introduced in the settings. I don't want to spend 6-8 hours trapped in a goreflick, no matter how clever.

I've ordered Fallout 3, which will probably arrive in the next few days. In the meantime, I've gone back to trying to finish up Age of Empires III and the War Chiefs expansion, so that ought to be keep me pretty busy.

Comments

Bill Loguidice
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Must not give in...
Mark Vergeer wrote:

I'll probably get it when it's in the bargain bin! Or I'll get persuaded by your review! ;-)

I'm going to show some much needed discipline and just get that and Fable 2 at a later date since I have a massive backlog of games to get to. I think I would get Fable 2 first though, because I still have to play through games like Oblivion and Mass Effect, which are similarly heavy duty RPGs like Fallout 3. Fable 2 seems to be a bit of refreshing change of pace and I like all the relationship dynamics and possibilities.

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Matt Barton
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Well, I should be working on

Well, I should be working on stuff but I'll share a few tidbits about what makes it so good.

First, the world they've created is amazing. I'm not just talking about a good-looking place; this is a world you can't wait to explore. I know some have played Oblivion or Morrowind, so take that degree of detail but put it in Fallout's post-apocalyptic world. I've always been fascinated by that whole concept, and it REALLY works well here. If you enjoy movies like Dawn of the Dead, The Postman, Mad Max, etc., this one will really resonate with you.

Two, they've done a masterful job adapting the interface from Fallout, with all its quirky "vintage" style graphics and music. That really worked well before, and it's working great here. The aesthetics are wonderful.

Three, it's not a pure shooter. If you want to play it as a shooter, you can, or you can play it more like an RPG by using "VATS." This basically pauses the action and lets you aim at an opponent like in the original (body parts). The perks system is also here, which I loved. You can really create a character that plays much differently than another, and it's always exciting to see what new perk is just around the corner. I'm talking perks that really change how you play the character, not just stat boosts.

Four, there is an emphasis here on resource management, just like in RPGs and the original Fallout. You can't just go around shooting stuff or taking damage, because you'll run out of ammo and armor pretty fast. This means you have to pick your fights carefully and use more tactics. For instance, I'm finding mines very useful; just lay one, get the attention of an ant or rat, and then lead it over the mine. Boom. I'm also very excited about the things you can make; I haven't played long enough to acquire enough funds for this, but already have a house of my own in a shanty town and have options to put in things like a science station or a workbench. I'm psyched.

Five, the story is actually interesting. The first part of the game is a tutorial, but also takes you through your character's early days. There is good drama there, but also hints at why your father left the vault. There is some depth here that I've found sorely lacking in most new games.

Six, I haven't even gotten far with the main plot because the subplots are so intriguing that you just can't pass them up. You come to care about characters and want to help them out. Heck, I was even feeling patriotic towards my shantytown!

I really don't see why anyone would pass on this, save for the money and obnoxious copy protection (securom). Even though I have a legit copy, it won't load or crashes on exit sometimes because it thinks it's an illegal copy. Sigh.

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Calibrator
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Copy protection
Matt Barton wrote:

I really don't see why anyone would pass on this, save for the money and obnoxious copy protection (securom). Even though I have a legit copy, it won't load or crashes on exit sometimes because it thinks it's an illegal copy. Sigh.

That's exactly the kind of trouble I don't want from a game - especially not from a full price game. It's not that I have trouble playing for it - I did with Oblivion and got a lot of playtime out of it. The problem is that the game may run or not simply because I'm a Nero user!
Now, I know that there are people claiming that they haven't had any problems with that but others do and I don't like the risk of having to uninstall the Nero package and lose my settings - eventually several times until I'm done with the game as I'm not burning disks that often.

Apart from that the game is (as was to be expected) heavily censored in Germany as Bethesda wanted to be able to sell copies in the second largest market in Europe. No flying limbs, no blood splatter - and even then it's rated "18" - so for the discerning English-speaking credit card owner importing it from Britain would be a solution. But paying this kind of money and risking not being able to play it... let's just say that I'm not in the same financial position as a coke dealer.

What the game publishers need is a signal that they can't just employ any kind of protection. I have full sympathy for them to check if the disk or the install is legit - but none for them to scan my computer for applications and tools or -even worse- an online account which registers every time I play the game, feeding a profile of my person and so on.

I sometimes get the impression that the industry wants dumb users in front of dumb "console-like" PCs (as in "consoles that can play only games and have basic online capabilities to download patches"). I neither have the space nor the intention for a second PC as my retro systems take away whatever is left and they have a much higher priority.

Yeah, I miss out on lots of new games in the last months, but I'm too old (experienced) to get hyped beyond my self control and I'm mostly here for the retro things anyway ;-)

take care,
Calibrator

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Mark Vergeer
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Copy protection Woes -> go console

Yes, that is actually what made me go console. Insert the disc and you're off gaming. Of course the xbox/ps3 discs are heavily protected but at least it works with a uniform platform whereas PC's can have such hugely different set-ups that weird technology like copy protection schemes just won't work properly because they need to interact with different hardware & drivers, the registry and their root kit behaviours are not appreciated.
I am a loyal Nero user, great burning software, and software that interacts with this negatively has no place on my system.

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Editor / Pixelator - Armchair Arcade, Inc. | www.markvergeer.nl

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Matt Barton
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Well, they took a lot of

Well, they took a lot of heat for the copy protection already. I had the same issues with Assassin's Creed and even unlikely games like CSI, which frankly had no business being copy protected (who would care?) Bioshock was so bad I had to download a crack just to be able to play it!!

I'm guessing that it is NOT the developers themselves who are to blame, but most likely the publishers. They buy into securom's hype and think it will drive up sales and prevent pirates. Idiots. I could have easily, easily have downloaded this game via a torrent and never had to worry about copy protection. Instead, I actually bought the game, and then get stuck dealing with horrible copy protection bullshit.

However, I don't think we should respond to this by going out and buying a console, which is built from the ground-up to enforce copy protection. We should demand that publishers have more faith in its customers. They also argue (and bribe the right people to make it a law) that people who get a copy of something are people who would have otherwise bought the book. Bullshit. How many of us were really satisfied with those marker-labeled floppy disks with our favorite games on them? Who wouldn't have rather had the official versions in their sweet boxes with manuals, etc.? I can't think of anyone.

Historically, of course, book publishers have tried similar tactics, trying to forbid libraries from carrying their books, suing to stop the used book trade, etc. They also sued Kinko's and the like and basically created a chilling effect for copying any sort of material via copy machines (such as a chapter or poem for students). . So, instead of just getting a photocopy of a poem a student needs for a class, he or she should have to pay $25-$30 for a whole collection of poems they don't need. Of course, Kinko's and the like can try to get copyright permission for you, but that will drive up the cost, often beyond the price of a collection!

Still, even with all that, the book publishers have never actually found a way to punish or harm actual purchasers of the book (such as not being able to read it because it doesn't think you bought it). The software industry is really abusing the system with this nonsense.

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Bill Loguidice
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Not another PC versus console debate
Matt Barton wrote:

However, I don't think we should respond to this by going out and buying a console, which is built from the ground-up to enforce copy protection. We should demand that publishers have more faith in its customers.

I don't think anyone is suggesting that, but they are all pretty much console games converted to PC you're talking about that run far, far easier on the console platforms in question. There's no particular reason to own the game on PC except in the case of those games that support mods. If you only have a PC, by all means, it's an issue, but if you own both, there's no compelling reason other than the aforementioned one to ever deal with the PC versions...

Obviously copy protection and piracy IS an issue on the PC side, otherwise these publishers wouldn't be taking such extraordinary measures to deal with pirates, a la EA and the whole Spore fiasco. Of course there's piracy on the console side, but it's far less widespread and often not worth the trouble.

Vintage Games book!
Xbox 360: billlog | Wii: 1345 2773 2048 1586 | PS3: ArmchairArcade
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Calibrator
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No console war here!

To make myself clear: I have nothing against consoles - in fact I have several to prove that (otherwise I would be pretty schizo, wouldn't I? ;-)

I have also nothing against companies protecting their investments - and we all pretty well know how fast games spread if no action is taken. Consequently, I have nothing against heavily protected games for consoles which make sure that the disc is a genuine one.

What I have against publishers - and these are the guys I'm targetting, not the developers - is that some (some!) of them really give a shit about the trouble the honest consumer has to get through.

You can't believe the amount of flak I'm getting from family, friends and co-workers to help them solve their PC and games problems -- because I'm that dork that has knowledge about those arcane things.
And it's getting messier every damn year!

Of course I help. Of course I advise them to buy consoles which of course they don't as consoles are equally dubious as graphical novels in Germany. Kids territory. Adults with consoles? Dorks!
Lots of the people I know that play a PC game every now and then don't even have fast internet access for downloading those friggin large day-1-patches. ("Awww - can't you get this 'patch' and burn it for me? Please?")

If it wouldn't be for the censorship problems in Germany and the fact that this generation of consoles is either badly designed (thermal problems on the X360), loud (X360), expensive (PS3 & Wii) or power hungry (PS3 - 160 Watts for playing Blurays?) I would instantly go for them all the way!

Apart from these solvable technical problems there are only two things making me worry in the console world that are intended: Region codes preventing foreign games to run and online activation/registration which seems to emerge when what I read is true.

But if I would be an uninformed Joe Sixpack I wouldn't mind buying cut games, anyway.

As for the mods, Bill: How many mods do you really play with your massive backlog of new games you bought? Is you conscience knocking already at your door? ;-)

take care,
Calibrator

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Bill Loguidice
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PC/Console - Let's all get along
Calibrator wrote:

As for the mods, Bill: How many mods do you really play with your massive backlog of new games you bought? Is you conscience knocking already at your door? ;-)

take care,
Calibrator

I'm not quite sure I understand that. I play all of my games on console. I'm saying that if a person owns both a console (Xbox 360 or PS3 in this case, since Wii is a different animal) and a PC like I do, there's no reason to EVER struggle with the PC version of a game unless said PC version is one of those mod-friendly games and that kind of thing interested you. You're correct, in my case, I really only have the time to play through a game once.

Vintage Games book!
Xbox 360: billlog | Wii: 1345 2773 2048 1586 | PS3: ArmchairArcade
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Matt Barton
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Argh, again we get sucked

Argh, again we get sucked into the console/PC thing. I see no reason to belabor that, everybody has his own opinion there and it's not going to change, so forget it.

I will say this, though--it's not true that PC games are by necessity more difficult to get running than consoles. It was a cinch to get these games installed and running. The only problem is that the copy protection is making them unreliable. Thus, it's nothing to do with the PC itself--it's just lame-o copy protection stuff.

I betcha these guys are losing as much money as they would to piracy over this. Imagine how many people will simply return these games saying they don't work, tie up tech support lines, etc. Or how many more will be scared off because they hear about these issues and not buy the game. I compare it to the Sony rootkit fiasco. Consumers will only take so much before they get really pissed off, and the waves of negative publicity aren't anything to laugh or shrug off. Imagine if Sony had just said, "Well, if you don't like it, just buy our proprietary CD player." Yeah, right.

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Bill Loguidice
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No debate necessary
Matt Barton wrote:

Argh, again we get sucked into the console/PC thing. I see no reason to belabor that, everybody has his own opinion there and it's not going to change, so forget it.

I will say this, though--it's not true that PC games are by necessity more difficult to get running than consoles. It was a cinch to get these games installed and running. The only problem is that the copy protection is making them unreliable. Thus, it's nothing to do with the PC itself--it's just lame-o copy protection stuff.

Nobody wants to get into the PC versus console debate again, as most of us have both options anyway and could care less. The bottom line though was the idea that you never have an issue on the console side, only the PC side. And yes, having extra copy protection on the PC side IS a result of it being on PC. If it was on a closed console, you wouldn't have and you don't have the same protection requirements.

I think even you could agree with the premise Matt that considering all of these games are made for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC, and if you're not interested in user mods (as applicable to a specific game), then certainly getting it for the Xbox 360 or PS3 is a much better choice all things considered than for a PC. Again, if there's no other option, there's no reason not to get it for PC.

Vintage Games book!
Xbox 360: billlog | Wii: 1345 2773 2048 1586 | PS3: ArmchairArcade
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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