Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Developer: Playdead
Publisher: Playdead
Platform - PC
HDD, 1 Save File
1 player
LIMBO is an indie 2D puzzle-platformer available in a lot of formats - PS3, XBox 360, PC, iOS, you name it. It sports a unique visual style, which mimics old black & white films, right down to the grainy textures and flickering. The aesthetic mirrors the ominous circumstances the game presents. The minimalistic audio enhances this mood.

You assume the role of an unnamed boy. There are no explanations, nor any cut-scenes. You simply wake up in a field, isolated and bewildered. As you begin to move, you encounter grisly scenes of danger and death. Your only goal: make it out alive.

The core of LIMBO is its minimalism. The audio/visual style creates an atmosphere that is that much more chilling. But it doesn't stop there. Your character only has a few possible actions. He can move left and right, jump, and has a single interaction button. My initial reaction was that it felt like a step backwards, given that most modern games utilize face buttons, multiple shoulder buttons and even dual analog sticks. But the limited abilities means that every challenge in the game is particularly designed. If you're stuck, it means you have to observe your environment more, interact with objects, and think about what you're trying to accomplish.  LIMBO makes things extremely handy by autosaving after each puzzle is solved, so the game encourages you to retry again and again if you need to.

I personally found the puzzles to be the right difficulty level. Some are obvious, while others had me stuck to the point where I had to come back to it weeks later. But after a fresh mind, I was able to figure it out. I don't think I had to resort to a walkthrough during my playtime.

LIMBO is artistically beautiful, environmentally eerie, but most of all, captivating to play. It's not a game that innovates or pushes the genre's boundaries forward.  What you have then is a well made puzzle game. Sometimes, that's enough.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Assassin's Creed 2

Assassin's Creed II
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Action/Adventure - PS3
1 Save Slot
1 player
Assassin's Creed II

My only previous experience with this stealth parkour series came in the form of Assassin's Creed Bloodlines, a PSP title. The original Assassin's Creed might have established the framework, but public opinion is decidedly mixed. Even its fans won't hesitate to call it a flawed experience. Luckily, Assassin's Creed II suffers no such criticism. It received accolades for figuring out how to make the formula work. How does it play? Exactly how I thought it'd be like.

What I enjoyed most about Bloodlines on PSP was the exploration and the combat. The exploration came in the form of traversing through cities, hopping on roofs, and slipping through alleys. By becoming familiar with the layout, you'll find treasures, discover secret entrances to new areas, and can start participating in some race "quests" that test your mastery of the land.  There were some cool interior sections where you do some Tomb Raider observation and platforming, which were really the highlight of exploration. I also thought that the combat of the PSP game was deeper than it needed to be. It utilized timing-based combos and counters, which made fights more interesting than simply button mashing.

Playing Assassin's Creed II offers the same positives, but with some caveats. Assassin's Creed II is bigger, deeper, and grander than anything the PSP could muster. Cities are now massive, without the need to segment each neighborhood through load screens. The enemies are more varied this time, and the game can handle upwards of 8-10 enemies on-screen simultaneously. But the problem is what makes it better also makes the game worse. Yes, the cities are now 5-10x as large as the PSP areas, but all that means is you don't really get to "know" the cities. Yes, there are now many more things to collect, but with 66 viewpoints, 30 codex pages, 100 feathers, 400 treasures, etc, it's just too much. The game throws so many things at you, most of which are inconsequential, that it's really difficult to care.

Plus Assassin's Creed II has some new irritations AC:Bloodlines never had. For instance, your armor requires upkeep. As you get hit by enemies or fall off buildings, your armor loses its potency requiring you to go to a Blacksmith to repair. My only question is... why? This game mechanic isn't additive - it doesn't make the game harder or more interesting. I just ended up repairing it every couple hours when I remembered, but it seemed to have little bearing on the game. I'm not even sure why it's implemented at all. The other irritation is load time. During the game, it's generally OK. But every time you boot up the game, there's loading. There's even a loading screen to boot up the Title. Then once you get to the Title Screen, you hit start only to have load time again!

None of these irritations are deal-breakers. They're somewhat nitpicky, and won't ruin the experience for anyone. It MIGHT be the pinnacle of the series, with more story-oriented quests, larger areas, more weapon variety, and multiple ways of preserving your stealth. But at the end of the day, these refinements amount mostly to fluff. Perhaps the only thing AC2 offered that Bloodlines didn't was boredom. Don't misunderstand me. I may prefer the pacing of Bloodlines more, but AC2 is better in other ways. Those improvements just couldn't make up for the fact that the game felt completely unnecessary.