Ranking the Assassin’s Creed Franchise, Part 2

28 Jan

7. Assassin's Creed: Unity

Earlier this month I called Assassin’s Creed: Unity one of my favorite games of the year. I have since recanted those comments and redacted them from the site. It isn’t a terrible game, but my enjoyment of it petered out after a week, and it thus seems unfair to hold it to the same level as Shadow of Mordor or Dragon Age or even Destiny.

I wisely waited to play this game until after Ubisoft patched it to high heaven, so I rarely encountered any bugs and only experienced a freeze once. Releasing a broken game is a horrible thing to do to your fanbase and the consumer alike, and the way Ubi handled it, particularly the entitled, defensive attitude of many of their community managers, is equally indefensible, but it isn’t Unity’s biggest problem. The game’s biggest fault is that it simply isn’t very fun.

The Assassin’s Creed franchise has often been accused of being boring and repetitive; it’s received this criticism since its very first title. The first game was divisive because there was clearly something amazing hidden within its monotonous structure and lackluster gameplay, and in many ways that original game resembles Unity. Both feel more like proofs of concept than actual games; in both cases the tech came first, the game second. But where they differ most significantly, the difference that makes the original AC a good game and Unity a mediocre one, is story and character. (more...)

Ranking the Assassin’s Creed Franchise, Part 1

22 Jan

Enough about feelings and life and all that lame shit, let's get back to what really matters: arbitrary rankings of videogame franchises. Assassin's Creed is one of my all-time favorites, but I am not a rabid fanboy, which is to say I'm not a total idiot. Thus, my relationship with Assassin's Creed is a love-hate one, and ever since its third entry it has been very hit or miss, with an amazing game coming out every few years or so. Here, I rank all of the main seven games, plus the Templar-centric spinoff Rogue and HD-upgraded PS Vita game, Liberation, from worst to best.

9. Assassin's Creed: Liberation

Perhaps Liberation should be given a pass, seeing as it is an HD port of a PS Vita game. "It was pretty good for a handheld game!" they declare to which I say "bah!" Even in the palm of my hand this game would have been more boring than Connor's personality. New Orleans and the swamps of pre-revolutionary Louisiana are a great setting, but as with Assassin's Creed: Revelations' Constantinople, it just doesn't feel authentic. The colors are drab and muted and varying shades of grey and grey-green. It's an ugly game, even with its HD upgrade.

No matter how you slice it, the game feels like a handheld port. The music sounds like it was recorded on a Casio keyboard and it loops the same ten tracks or so over and over. Since Assassin's Creed is all about collecting random shit in an open world, this gets grating after a few hours. Voice acting is fine—Amber Goldfarb, who voices the main Assassin, is particularly good—but like the music and sound effects, it all sounds really cheap, like it was recorded using a laptop microphone. (more...)

An Ode to Self-Awareness

21 Jan

2014 was the year I attained self-awareness. This is no small feat for a privileged white man, for we are told the world is our oyster at a very young age, and everything from sports to finance to entertainment hammers this idea over our heads. But I did it, and it has been quite a relief.

Since I was little, all I have ever wanted is to be loved. The thing is, I have been loved, and am loved, but that was never enough for me. I wanted people to prove it to me, with grand gestures and pronouncements, a bad habit passed down from my parents. Last year was when I realized I no longer needed that; simply knowing there were people out there who cared about me was all the fulfillment I needed.

I've tried so hard to ignore it, but the fact is I don't like Los Angeles. I have used the word "hate" in the past but it is too strong, for there is very little in this world I truly loathe in the true sense of the word. There is a lot to like about Los Angeles. I like the tacos, the Asian cuisine, the food in general. I like the beach. I like driving down Venice Boulevard towards my apartment and seeing a mountain in the distance through the haze; it makes me feel like I'm living in some modern interpretation of Minas Tirith. I don't like driving, but I like cruising around at night, lights reflecting in my rearview as I listen to electronica, pretending I'm Ryan Gosling.

I adore the movie theaters. I love how clean and professional they are, the assigned seating and friendly staff. I think I will miss those theaters most of all, and not just the Arclight, but all the AMC chains as well. I like grittiness as much as the next New Yorker, but much prefer assigned seating at United Artists to the drudgery of Landmark Sunshine or the Quad.

L.A. is wonderful for a very specific type of person; the problem is, I have discovered, I don't tend to like that person. I have met many people here whose company I cherish, transplants and natives alike, but the culture is just one I can never get behind. It's hard to feel comfortable and make friends in a place that grates you at every turn, so while I could have been a more positive person, I don't think my curmudgeonly attitude is entirely of my own making. Growing up, many of my high school friends pined for an escape from New York, but I was not one of them. I bought into the myth of the City as a boy and it never left me. No matter where I die, I will die a New Yorker, and as a New Yorker, it's hard not to despise the City of Angels. (more...)

Top 10 TV Episodes of 2014, Part 4

15 Jan

1. Person of Interest- "The Cold War"

"Wars have burned in this world for thousands of years with no end in sight, because people rely so ardently on their so-called 'beliefs.' Now they will only need to believe in one thing: me. For I am a god."

Game of Thrones may have absorbed me last season, but my highest compliments go to Person of Interest, the smartest show on TV right now. If you're in my demographic, you probably haven't heard of it, and if you have, you probably regard it with derision. Every time I bring it up people scoff at me; I theorize this is due to its airing on America's #1 Geriatric Network, CBS, and because it started off its days as a wee procedural. It has the names Abrams and Nolan attached to it, both of which has diminished in respectability in recent years, and it stars Jim Caviezel, best known as Jesus from The Passion of the Christ. So there's that.

For the first season and a half, this was a guilty pleasure for me. It had a cool premise, it dealt with topics I'm interested in— surveillance, counterintelligence, government overreach, global conflict— and featured Nolan-style action set in my hometown. It was September 2011 and I was already homesick mere weeks after arriving in L.A. Unlike some shows (e.g. Gossip Girl- don't ask), the NYC locations characters say they're at match up with the shooting locations and I appreciated that. The show was largely shot in Greenpoint back then, where I used to live, so watching POI made me feel warm and fuzzy despite all the gun violence.

When Sarah Shahi's Sameen Shaw was introduced in season 2 in an episode that recalled Season 7 The X-Files ep "Hungry," the show transformed into something truly special, and in Season 3 it ditched its procedural framework for pure serialization. This may have scared away older CBS viewers and put it in danger of cancellation, but the story has benefited from the shift. Before it was just the tale of two vigilantes using a government surveillance program to stop violent crime; now it's about two warring artificial super-intelligences and their various human agents. It's the most realistic depiction of an A.I. I've ever seen, and regularly tackles deep philosophical and moral quandaries week to week. (more...)

Top 10 TV Episodes of 2014, Part 3

14 Jan

4. True Detective- "Who Goes There"

True Detective may have disappointed in the end, and it's certainly one of the more overrated series of the year, but that didn't stop "Who Goes There" from blowing me away. This is essentially my "Technical Achievement" award for the year, as while I never got emotionally involved in anything that happened to Matty or Woody, I was blown away by the acting, direction and most notably, the cinematography.

I'm a sucker for intense action scenes and particularly single-take sequences. I love Children of Men and am a Gravity apologist. The single-take concept doesn't work for every scenario, but when used correctly it can add extra vigor and intensity to a well-choreographed action scene. Almost all are faked to a certain degree, but when the transitions are seamless the viewer is tricked into thinking it's all just movie magic.

Honestly, I don't remember much about this episode except that Rust had to infiltrate a biker gang he once went undercover with so he could get information on the King in Yellow. In order to get that intel, he had to assist the gang with a stick-up job in one of Louisiana's predominantly black ghettos. It would have been nice if True Detective had addressed the racial politics of the region more directly, but that was never its focus and the closing action scene of the ep does do a good job of viscerally illustrating said tension. (more...)

Top 10 TV Episodes of 2014, Part 2

13 Jan

7. South Park- "The Cissy"

Who woulda thunk South Park would still be relevant in its 18th season? But it is, though as always it's an uneven animal. I think I liked this season more than most, due in large part to the mild serialization and the extra bit of heart. This episode was one that had some heart, with the message basically being "you're a dick if having a transgender person share a bathroom with you is really such a big deal." South Park is generally gross and silly and dumb, but it is progressive, and this was an ep that presented its progressive theme more elegantly than most.

But what I really loved about the episode was the Randy subplot, and the clever way the show responded to some of the more bizarre criticism it's ever received. By now everyone who follows pop culture knows about "Lorde ya ya ya," so I won't go into too much detail, I just want to point out how shrewd it was. Spin Magazine made unfounded critique and rather than let them get away with it, Parker and Stone decided to rub it in by turning their weird interpretation of the previous episode—that Randy is actually Lorde—into an actual plotline. This culminates in an amazing montage set to a Lorde-esque jam performed by Sia, using Randy's actual dumb "feeling good on a Wednesday lyrics." Topical, serialized and absurdist? I approve. (more...)

Top 10 TV Episodes of 2014- Part 1

12 Jan

10. The Walking Dead- "No Sanctuary"


Oh, The Walking Dead, you fickle bitch, you. I probably shouldn't even be talking about you since I used to work as an intern for AMC but a) YOLO b) fuck it and c) this is a Best of the Year list so I'm actually praising you.

Well, kinda. Like I said, you're a fickle bitch, Ms. Dead. Do you mind if I call you Walking? Listen, Walking I and a former friend both agreed you were probably gonna be the Best Show of All Time when you first premiered back in 2010. This was hot off the failure of LOST, so we were searching for answers in a cold, dark world that had none to give. We needed hope, assurance that every single TV show wouldn't disappoint when it came time to wrap it all up. (more...)

Favorite Videogames of 2014, Part 4

9 Jan

1. The Last of Us: Remastered

Technically, this was released in 2013, so while Shadow of Mordor was the best game of 2014, this is my favorite. I never regretted my decision to get an Xbox 360, but I was always jealous of PS3 owners for one franchise and one franchise alone: Uncharted. The adventures of Nathan Drake looked like everything I love in games: cinematic, rollicking third person action adventure set in lush locales and starring a brash rogue.

The Last of Us is none of those things, but it uses Uncharted's engine and controls to create what is arguably the best and certainly the most emotional story ever told in the history of the medium. That being said, this game isn't particularly innovative, and I could see someone putting something like Grand Theft Auto V above it for its technical accomplishments. There are lengthy cutscenes in Last of Us, and the player has no control over the narrative; you're strapped in and along for the ride. But most games (Grand Theft Auto V included) have terrible stories and don't leave you feeling anything other than a visceral thrill, so credit must be given where credit is due. (more...)

Assorted Musings on 2014 TV

8 Jan

Don't ask why Mike from Breaking Bad is on this now cause I still don't know.

Well, nothing will ever disappoint me as much as the ending of LOST, so with that being said, 2014 was a pretty good year for television. Dan Harmon came back to Community, and while it still wasn't as good as its first three seasons, at least it felt like the same show and not the horrible Frankenstein monster it was in 2012. Hey, who knows, maybe they'll be able to swear now that they're on Yahoo! (more...)

Favorite Games of 2014, Part 3

8 Jan

I decided to change this blog from "Best Videogames of 2014" to "Favorite" because I realized "Best" implies these are what I think were the most awesomest, bestest games of the year, which a lot aren't. When it comes to gaming, my tastes are even more populist than my movie taste, and gaming is a very fractured and divided community right now. Of all the games that were released in 2014, I only played 15 of them. Of those 15, I didn't actually complete the main campaign of two of them. These are simply my favorites from the games I played.

And I can see how it would be insulting to people to put something like Assassin's Creed: Unity on this list when it was released broken and in a lot of ways, is a step backwards for the franchise. The more I play it the more problems I have with it, despite enjoying my time with it. The below title is arguably even more divisive, and so I just wanted to preface that while I am a mild expert in gaming, I am in no way a professional critic (though I wish I was!).

3. Destiny

Like I said, this is another title with a lot of baggage. People hate on this guy even more than they hate on Call of Duty. Hell, its own fans hate on it. Been to the Bungie forums? That's all it is, just pure hatred, which I guess are the two words I'd use to summarize gamer culture in general. Destiny fans are walking talking stereotypes, so entitled that even a free gift makes their blood vessels burst.

Anyway, I was one of those calling for this game's failure before it even released. I just didn't get it. First off, I've never played an MMO and never understood their appeal beyond the obvious social element (I prefer socializing IRL). I also didn't appreciate Destiny's art style, since it seemed so similar to Halo's. The game was hyped before it was even revealed, simply because of Bungie's pedigree, but nothing about it seemed unique or new, making the fervor unwarranted. (more...)