It's-a me, Ezio!

Saturday, November 21, 2009
All right, you primitive screwheads, listen up.

Assassin's Creed 2 defines what a sequel should be.

Ubisoft, in spite of this, (or, more likely, because of it) has done it again. Assassin's Creed 2 does everything a sequel should do and remits most of the stuff a sequel shouldn't do.

Assassin's Creed had a so-so story and a solitary archetypal hero.
Assassin's Creed 2 has a fleshed-out, grab-you-by-the-walnuts, pretty-typical-but-done-damn-well-anyway so-so story accompanied by a likable, interesting, layered hero and a full cast of excellent supporting characters.

Assassin's Creed had some pretty chunky maps with a lot of secrets.
Assassin's Creed 2 has some fatter-than-Godzilla's ass maps with a lot of secrets that actually give you shit.

Assassin's Creed had a handful of ways to get information about and then complete an assassination.
Assassin's Creed 2 has so goddamn many of them it gives me liquid stool to even think about completing them all.
(Note: I am tremendously sorry for that disgusting, disturbing image.)
(Note #2: I will still complete them all. Such is my masochism.)

Assassin's Creed had some cool weapons and fighting. They were cool enough, in fact, that customizing them and adding to them at your own pace never really crossed the player's mind.
Assassin's Creed 2 lets you add to them and customize them anyway, as well as adding money, items, maps, corpse looting (!!!!) and numerous other avenues for a player to customize their experience.
(Note #3: I was tempted to use the word "sphincterload" in that section, but I decided that my ass joke quota had been reached. Perhaps you are thankful.)

Assassin's Creed was a great game, in spite of its shortcomings.
Assassin's Creed 2 is an incredible game, in spite of Assassin's Creed's shortcomings.

Even if you thought the first game was boring, repetitive, underwhelming or overhyped, you need to try Assassin's Creed 2. I would only advise caution if you, in fact, found the first game irresistible, in-friggin-credible, totally radical or super bad-ass, because if that's the case, Assassin's Creed 2 will probably make your heart and/or junk explode. You have been warned.

Pandemic Studios closes doors. Our hearts break a little

Following the recent closure, one of the ex employees at Pandemic studios posted this on the neogaf forums:

I was one of the affected today.

Having worked at Pandemic for close to 5 years, it's a bittersweet moment. We literally just finished Saboteur and are extremely proud of the game it turned out to be, considering the amount of hardships we had during development. On the other hand, we now have no job and are forced to part our ways with people we hold dear to our hearts.

I can tell you one thing. The reason why the studio closed down has everything to do with the existing Pandemic management. From what we were told, Pandemic management was given free reign to do as they please. Time and time again, they dropped the ball with bad decisions (promoting/keeping people based on loyalty, no production accountability, misallocation of resources, poor milestone objectives, no mentoring, etc.). It's a true shame, as there was a lot of talent and passion at the studio.

I wouldn't necessarily hate on JR and EA's execs just yet. In my eyes, they probably made the right decision as Pandemic cost a lot to upkeep and, quite frankly, the last few products weren't up to snuff. I think many of you would be surprised how much a game like Saboteur costs to make (think ~100 people for 3 years + ~20 people for ~2 years). Add overhead cost to incompetence in management/direction and you have a pretty convincing case to cut your ties and call it a day. It probably doesn't look good for JR considering he made a cool 5 mil off of the sale of Pandemic/Bioware.

One more thing I will say: EA is totally sending Saboteur out to die. And it's a fucking shame. It's easily Pandemic's best game yet. Of course, I am a bit biased having worked on the game for so long. If you were disappointed with Mercs2 and LOTR (who wasn't) and enjoyed previous Pandemic games, give Saboteur a shot.

I don' t know which employee this was, or if it was even one of the folks we talked to at PAX. What I do know for certain is that the Saboteur is a great game and deserves as much press and admiration as it can get. We've been big on the Saboteur since our hands on time with it at PAX and seeing the latest screens and videos show the game has made great strides even since then.

I am sad to see this company go. On a more personal note, having met with the senior dev from The Saboteur and Pandemics head of PR while at PAX, this news of the closure hits a little closer to home. I saw first hand how proud the studio was of their latest game. I saw the glint in their eyes when we sat down to play. I could hear the excitement in Tom French's voice as he laid out the mission I was playing. It's a shame to lose that kind of enthusiasm.

I can think of few better swan songs for Pandemic than the Saboteur. From it's open game play to it's astonishing visual style to it's mature and honest handling of sex and nudity, The Saboteur is a game that excels on many fronts and deserves nothing but the highest respect and admiration. It would be a shame for this game to go unnoticed this season. Let's not let that happen. For the game and for the developers who loved it.

Oh My God, Literally

Friday, November 20, 2009
Having grown up in a catholic household I truly pray this is not real.

On second thought I hope it is. I can't wait to get my genuflect on.

Mass: We Pray

Heroes, Part 2

Wednesday, November 4, 2009
I remember the day I discovered Batman. I was still small; six years old at most and my mother and I were at the local Safeway for a grocery run. We had a system in place whereby I would park myself in front of the magazines and comic books until she would swing by the aisle and grab me when it was time to go.

Keep in mind, this was a time when you could still get decent comics at most major grocery stores. I acquired most of the issues of the Primordials there for Christ sakes. It was there that my father would find the limited edition covers for two of the best X-Men issues I've ever read, but that's besides the point.

I searched the low shelves as I usually did, skipping the Pokemon and Archie comics, peeking briefly at the Spawn issues, and finally pawing through the back shelves for the rare wild card comic that caught my eye. It was there I happened upon the Batman/Bloodlines crossover comic. It wasn't great by any means. The story involved some crystal thing that turned the Joker and Batman into giant, musclebound nightmare versions of themselves.

I was intrigued by this character I saw. A man without super powers, only an immense budget for gadgets and a singular (albeit a little insane) determination to root out evil and injustice wherever it may appear. A man who despite his high aspirations, had more in common with the villains he faced than perhaps he realized.

Batman is a curious mix of literary heroes. Both anti-hero and romantic hero, Batman occupies a strange place in today's pantheon of heroes. While he, like the Rookie in ODST bears the mantle of the everyman, Batman is more of a symbol than a man. This simple dichotomy exists (as far as I can tell) nowhere else in literature.

Batman's portrayal differs greatly depending on the source. The currently running TV shows portray more the Adam West, shark repellent Batman while the late 90's animated series Batman was far more serious and brooding. Don't get me started on the pre-Christian Bale films.

As far as games go, Arkham Asylum is the closest any game has come to the perfect Batman. Strong and determined, a stoic powerhouse yet tortured by a deeply damaged psyche. The encounters with Scarecrow in the bowels of the asylum offer far more candid look into the reality of why Batman is who he is.

Many say that Batman and Bruce Wayne are two completely different characters; the ideal man and the front. I would posit that while the two are very different people, there is a very specific unity within the more basic nature of the two. Both cover and compensate (though in very different ways) for the seriousness of the loss of "their" parents at a young age. In that guilt and psychological trauma, Batman and Bruce Wayne share common ground.

Batman, as much a symbol as he may be, as much training and as many gadgets as he may have shares the same mental frailties as any human being. That, at the core, is what makes Batman so unique amongst today's heroes. Triumph through adversity and the ability to use our own shortcomings to better ourselves are heroic traits indeed.