Tag Archives: stealth

In Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, you fight ideas with bombs

I’m continuing to work through the Assassin’s Creed games…well, the ones I have anyways. Left to go in my current collection are the topic du jour (psst, that’s French for Assassin’s Creed: Revelations), Assassin’s Creed III, and two entries from the Assassin’s Creed Chronicles sub-series, which I’m lead to believe are a bit different in structure and style. I’ve already played the first game, the second game, the sequel to the second game, and the one featuring pirates and battles at sea. I like each of them to varying degrees.

All right, here we go. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is the third and final chapter in the so-called Ezio trilogy. It picks up right after Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, which, I had completely forgotten, ended with a big ol’ killer twist. Anyways, spoiler alert for a 2011 game…in three, two, one. Desmond Miles has fallen into a coma due to the stress of being forced to kill his ally Lucy Stillman while being controlled by Juno, the hologram attached to the Apple of Eden. In an effort to save Desmond’s mind, Rebecca Crane places him back in the Animus, in the machine’s safe mode called the “Black Room”. Alas, the only way to repair his mind is by reliving his ancestors’ memories until there is nothing left for them to show Desmond, at which point the Animus can separate Desmond from Ezio and Altaïr and awaken him from his coma. Er, yeah–it’s not at all confusing. And so, you jump back into the perspective of the still suave but older Ezio Auditore. Four years after ending the life of Cesare Borgia, Ezio has traveled to the former Assassins’ fortress in Masyaf to discover the secrets Altaïr had previously unearthed and find the true purpose of the assassins.

Phew. Look, at this point, I’m not really paying all that much attention to the plot, especially since I’ve already heard that, despite the game’s boasting subtitle, there are very few revelations to learn in Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. I’m here for the running around, rooftop climbing, knife throwing, stealth stabbing, hay jumping, bomb tossing, collectible finding antics. Also, buying different dyes for Ezio’s outfit always makes me happy, especially the green-themed ones, and watching Constantinople grow due to his influence and the money roll into your bank account in larger amounts is extremely satisfying.

As far as I can tell, this plays just as well as Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. I think by this point in the series Ubisoft tightened the controls and really made everything feel both good and natural. I’m finding myself not making as many  jumping mistakes when climbing up tall towers, and the hookblade upgrade really helps move things along quicker, with Ezio now able to leap higher and use ziplines conveniently placed around the city. Otherwise, it’s an Assassin’s Creed game, and so you probably already know what you do in these games, generally. Strangely, there’s some optional first-person platforming sections when playing as comatose Desmond, and they are about as fun as you might initially expect. I’m going to finish them all for the sake of Achievements only. Also, if the Templars become too aware of your actions, they will attack one of your dens, and the only way to get it back is through a tower defense minigame, which I do not like one bit.

As of this writing, I’m somewhere in…sequence 5 (of 9) for Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. I’ve only seen two or three instances of tailing missions so far, and they honestly weren’t that bad compared to others. Otherwise, everything has been par for the course, with some fetch quests, some platforming challenges, some hidden murdering, some open murdering, and a whole lot of collecting treasure, purchasing shops, and completing challenges. For some reason, I really like these kinds of games because there is always something to do, a goal to go after, not just the main quests. Even standing around idle will eventually help, with money being deposited in your bank account every twenty minutes.

Perhaps the thing that separates Assassin’s Creed: Revelations from others in the series, at this point in its release, is its focus on bombs. For those that don’t know, bombs are explosive weapons used by assassins from as early as the High Middle Ages, and they can be employed for a variety of tactics, including escape, assault, and distraction. Ezio can craft his own bombs by looting dead soldiers for materials or he can purchase them from illusive shopkeepers, and I have found myself using them more than expected; if anything, they are great distraction items, especially if you need to make a quick getaway. Still, the controls for them can be fiddly, and trying to use them effectively in the middle of an eight-on-one sword fight does not always work out right. It does add some variety and options to the missions though.

I don’t expect to learn much by the end of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, but coming to it many years later, and not right after the previous game, wherein many were beginning to suffer from Ubisoft fatigue, I’m having a fine ol’ time. I also have to wonder how many, if any, are even playing this game’s multiplayer; I’ll give it a try after credits scroll, but I won’t hold my breath.

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A tale of my most hated tailing missions in videogames

gd post worst tailing missions in videogames

Gather round, dear Grinding Down readers, and I’ll tell you a mighty fine tale…all about tailing. Whatever you do, don’t look up the urban dictionary definition for it.

For those that are lucky and have never played a game involving a tailing mission, you are basically tasked with following a non-player character to a designated area. This is either done on foot or in a vehicle. However, more often than not, your target cannot be alerted to your presence; if they are, that means your mission to be like a ninja failed, and you’ll have to start it all over. Like many, I do not enjoy these missions, despite being full of patience, and some are more loathsome than others, especially when silly things like artificial intelligence, geometry glitches, and randomness are actively working against each other. They are lengthy, generally due to the fact that you are often following someone moving at a leisurely pace, and checkpoints are usually non-existent.

Many bad tailing missions stick out in my mind after all these years of gaming, and below are a few that I’d like to highlight as particularly bad. In fact, I might even say I hated them.

“The Siege of Charles-Towne” from Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

This is the one that got this nugget of an idea about a list of tailing missions started, way back when I was actively playing it. Sorry, I’m sometimes slow with these posts or lose interest only to come back to them much later with renewed vigor. I generally enjoyed my time with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag or, as my girlfriend calls it, “the turtle game.” See, one time she saw me playing it, and I was running around a beach area looking at the turtles scooting their way to the ocean, and thus the game will forever now be known as such. That’s fine, because this series is now 10+ games deep, and we need a better way to recognize them than just their generic subtitles. Honestly, I’m surprised it took us so long to use the word origins.

I know these games are pretty hit and miss with consumers, with ones like Assassin’s Creed III and Assassin’s Creed: Unity definitely in the miss column, but I liked a lot of what Kenway could do and even patiently dealt with the handful of tailing missions thrown at the man throughout the game. Still, they all got rated one or two stars when completed, but they weren’t too bad, all in all. Not when you compare them with Sequence 6’s “The Siege of Charles-Towne”, which literally has you in a boat…stealthily following another boat. Ugh. I don’t really even know how that is possible, but I guess if you sail smoothly enough and don’t startle any dolphins, anything can happen.

To start, you are steering a large boat around a small swampy location, at night, with lots of things to smash into. It’s like threading the needle with the lights out. Also, not sure if any of you have every tried to quickly course correct and shift directions in a boat, but it’s not a fast affair. Throw in the fact that you must be cognizant of both red and yellow circles on the mini-map while trying to steer, and you’ve got the recipe for one bad tailing mission. On a related note, I’m currently playing Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, at about 25% synchronization for those curious, and have not found too many troubling tailing missions…yet. I’m sure one will rear its ugly head soon enough.

“The Set Up” from L.A. Noire

la-noire-the-set-up

Ah, L.A. Noire, you big, gorgeous, empty-as-heck modern adventure game. About midway through “The Set Up” mission, Cole must remain incognito while tailing a woman named Candy Edwards. See, she might have information about why the professional boxer Albert Hammond won a fight that he was supposed to throw, which angered a lot of bookies and people betting on the event. For those that don’t know, incognito means things like, sitting on a park bench and pretending to read the newspaper, as well as avoiding getting spotted when she turns around to examine her surroundings.

As Phelps is tailing Candy on foot, he has to keep his distance and maintain good cover. If he gets too close, she’ll stop and turn around. Phelps will also comment if he is about to lose Candy’s. It’s pretty straightforward, but it’s a whole bag of boredom and constantly worrying about being too far or too near the target. There are invisible meters and vision cones at work here, and I still don’t know if seeing them would be better or not. There’s also an Achievement for tailing Candy without using any incognito or cover…which I’ve not popped.

In the end, it’s a tailing mission, where your movement is dictated by the target’s movement, and I’d rather spend my time closely examining matchbooks or pieces of fruit or interrogating suspects. Or even searching for those well-hidden golden film reel collectibles.

“Act 3” from Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

This one is still pretty fresh, seeing as I only just played Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots for the first time back in autumnal 2015. Earlier in the game, you had to track someone by their footprints out in the wild, and that was honestly fine. However, the streets of Eastern Europe are a whole different bag of messy worms, and Old Snake must tail a member of the resistance in hopes of him leading you to the hidden resistance HQ.

Now, if you follow him without being detected, he’ll lead you directly to the resistance HQ, which is where you can hopefully meet Big Momma. However, you need to keep a good distance away from him in order to avoid being detected, which means letting him get a decent head start and running into trouble. So, you not only have to follow this whistling fool without being spotted, but you also have to protect him from enemy soldiers piqued by all that whistling and various roadblocks. Frustratingly, he can’t witness you helping him either, otherwise he’ll get scared and run away.

I did not do well with this mission, and I felt like I stumbled the entire way through it, just barely surviving encounters and keeping the resistance man on track. It’s a major reason holding me back from ever revisiting the game.

“The Lost Pilgrimage” Korok trial from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Once you make your way through the Lost Woods and get to Hyrule Forest proper in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, you can attempt to complete four Korok trials. One is given to you by a Korok named Tasho, who tells you about friend Oaki, who set off to find a shrine alone. Oaki really wants to make it all the way to the shrine by himself, but Tasho is worried and wants Link to follow along after him to ensure he makes it there safely. Alas, this is an instant-fail stealth tailing mission, which means the moment you are spotted it is over and you have to restart from the beginning. It’s a severely outdated design and a fun-sucking vacuum cleaner if I ever saw one.

Okay, so, some issues. One, Oaki is dressed mostly in bland, gray clothing, which makes him hard to see in the foggy Lost Woods. You have to rely on sound more than anything due to all the gear he is carrying. Two, this is still the Lost Woods, and so if you veer off the main path too far, the fog sucks you up. A kind soul might imagine this simply plopping you back on the beaten path to continue forward, but no, it just fails the mission outright. Gee, thanks. Okay, so these issues took a couple attempts to figure out and get used to, but then I lost all hope when, without warning, Oaki turns around and runs straight at Link, spotting him instantly.

Ugh. I attempted this mission three or four times, wasting a bunch of my stealth potions too, before giving up on it entirely to focus instead on rebuilding Tarrey Town. Y’know, an easier, less punishing task.

Well, those are the tailing missions that stand out in my mind as bee aye dee. That’s bad, if you couldn’t figure it out. What ones have you not enjoyed over the years? Or, if you are in the mood to play the devil’s advocate, tell us all about how much you love closely and quietly following someone around a limited environment without ever getting spotted.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #62 – Hitman (2016): Prologue

Assassinations
Are easy, just follow prompts
47 knows

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #44 – Hitman: Absolution

2016 gd games completed Hitman Absolution

Hide Victoria
Hide Agent 47
Until plans go wrong

Here we go again. Another year of me attempting to produce quality Japanese poetry about the videogames I complete in three syllable-based phases of 5, 7, and 5. I hope you never tire of this because, as far as I can see into the murky darkness–and leap year–that is 2016, I’ll never tire of it either. Perhaps this’ll be the year I finally cross the one hundred mark. Buckle up–it’s sure to be a bumpy ride. Yoi ryokō o.

Forget pirating, there’s shanties to chase in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassins Creed IV Black Flag gd early impressions

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was given out to Xbox 360 players for free as part of the Games with Gold program back in…oh my, late April 2015. For some reason, I thought it had been sitting in my digital library for longer than that. At some point, it was also given out to peeps on the Xbox One, but I didn’t have the console yet and wasn’t smart enough then to know that I could still click download and tie it to my account for future use, which means I’m stuck playing the previous generation version. It is serviceable, though I’m sure facial expressions are a bit more lifelike on the newer consoles.

A reminder for any new readers here at Grinding Down on my history with the Assassin’s Creed series, which I enjoy from a somewhat casual perspective. Once I’m into one, I’m into it, unable to not climb to every rooftop and take care of each icon on the map until all that is left is a clutter-less picture. I got into the series like many did at the start, finding the first Assassin’s Creed impressive, but repetitive. Then, for some reason, I next played Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and absolutely loved it, both the single player campaign and the multiplayer, which is an aspect of gaming I generally steer clear of. Last year, I went back and played Assassin’s Creed II, which helped to make more sense of story details in Brotherhood though that’s on me for playing them out of order. And now here we are, skipping Assassin’s Creed: Revelations and Assassin’s Creed III to do some hardcore pirating. Fine by me.

Black Flag‘s main story is set in the 18th century Caribbean during the golden age of piracy, people being smarmy, and lots of ships sailing to and fro. The plot follows notorious pirate Edward Kenway, the grandfather and father of Assassin’s Creed III protagonists Ratonhnhaké:ton and Haytham Kenway, respectively, who stumbles into the conflict between assassins and Templars after he is shipwrecked. In the present day scenario, you are a new employee working at the Montreal offices of Abstergo Entertainment—a subsidiary of Abstergo Industries—exploring its cubicles, eavesdropping on conversations, and hacking computers to uncover secrets about the sinister company. To be honest, I don’t care a lick about the storyline so far, in both realms; thankfully, the gameplay provides plenty to draw enjoyment from, and never demands you get on with the ruddy campaign.

In terms of gameplay, there’s all the usual elements from previous Assassin’s Creed games here: climbing, stealth assassinating, syncing, looting, running, hiring groups of people to hide among, trailing guards, and so on. The new stuff is mostly ocean-bound, with Kenway able to sail a ship, plunder and loot other ships, and explore numerous islands on the map that may house treasure and other goodies, like rare animals to murder for your fancy pouches and outfits. By far, my favorite advancement in this series is that everything is now available on your map after syncing a high view point, and then you can spend the next hour or so collecting each and every thing before moving on to do the actual story mission. Or collecting more from another synced view point. There’s little hand-holding, with the game treating you as an actual, capable adult–these decisions are yours to make. Plus, to catch shanties for your pirate crew to sing while sailing the ocean blue, you have to chase them down in the environment, which is way more fun than simply chasing a dude down in a race or for a few coins.

Still, it’s another Assassin’s Creed game from Ubisoft, and some stuff never changes. Like having your character leap from a building’s rooftop and lose half his health when really you meant for him to move a little to the left and travel along that rope tied to another rooftop. Also, and I want to do some more research into this, but the subtitles follow a strange style related to capitalization, where most words in a sentence are uppercase, but not all of them. Like so: “Avast, Kenway! Do you have Time to Make your crew a Large Plate of Scrambled eggs? We are Totes Hungry.” I don’t know, it’s very strange and hard to not notice since I enjoy reading words. Missions where you trail dudes and have to maintain a specific distance with them, but not be spotted return, though at least you can rate them one star at the end through Abstergo’s feedback forms. I still think combat is fairly button mashy and annoying, which is why I try to go for the stealth kills if I can.

The stats screen at the start says I’ve completed 15% of Black Flag so far, and in terms of story, I’m somewhere in sequence 3. That’s fine. I’m in no rush, especially when there are so many glyphs, treasure chests, and shanties to grab, as well as assassination targets and pirates to rescue and kitty cats to pet. Did I not yet mention you can press a button to pet a cat as it moves between your legs? And that it purrs affectionately? The best Assassin’s Creed game yet.

Turn-based trial and error assassinating with Hitman GO

gd early impressions hitman go

The Hitman series and I have not exactly clicked over the years, which is strange, seeing as these are stealth-based games with multiple paths and ways to succeed, with one often using the environment or disguises to get jobs done than simply firing a bullet from a sniper rifle miles away. It’s that whole “this sounds better on paper” thing, seeing as I could barely get through the opening parts of Hitman: Blood Money and walked away from Hitman: Absolution fairly early on, though I’d still like to return to the latter eventually and give it a second shake.

Good news, everyone–Hitman GO rocks! In fact, it’s my favorite Hitman game so far. Yup, this turn-based, puzzle board game version of Agent 47’s stealth assassination missions is basically everything I do like about these games, but with a super strong aesthetic and enough challenge to get me scratching my head, but returning for more after every level. I bought it the other night for $0.10–that’s ten cents for those with eyesight problems–through Microsoft’s online store as part of their weekly sales for Black Friday, though I’m playing it on my laptop and not a tablet/phone as it is probably intended to be experienced. Too bad, so sad.

There’s no story in Hitman GO, and there doesn’t need to be. Instead, each world, represented by a vintage-looking board game box, collects a handful of themed levels together, with the main goal either being to reach the exit unnoticed and alive or kill a specific target, often draped in red attire. There are side objectives as well, such as collecting a briefcase or completing the level in a set number of turns, and those go towards acquiring stars, which will help you unlock future sets of levels. Every character is represented as a tiny figurine, even mimicking the “toppled over” effect of taken chess pieces when knocked down. I liked this in Crimson Shroud, and I like it once again here.

Truly, it’s the board game aesthetic that has me transfixed. Here’s a true fact about me: if you are ever looking for me in a bookstore, you can generally find me at the board games shelf, ogling just about everything, fascinated with all the games and possibilities, saddened over the fact that I don’t have anyone to play these things with. Recently, I gave Machi Koro a good hard look, amazed at the colorful, friendly artwork. If a real, tangible version of Hitman GO existed, I most assuredly would be staring at it for a while, as i do when I play. You can rotate the board around for a better view or to simply admire the small, off-to-the-side details.

I’m currently in the middle of the second world’s levels, which have introduced new, tricky mechanics like hiding in potted plants or using trapdoors to teleport around the screen at the cost of a turn. My biggest struggle right now is with the knife-wielding enemies in teal shirts that turn 180 degrees, as I still don’t grok when it is wise to move towards them. Strangely, it’s when they are already facing you. It’ll take some practice, though I’m sure there are other elements down the road that will be just as hard to figure out.

A negative, sadistic part of me wonders if I’ll hit a wall when I get to the Blood Money-themed levels–yup, I know they are forthcoming–and tasked with tossing coins to distract guards, but we’ll see what those ultimately look like when I cross that path. Until then, may all your puzzles be murder.

Trying to thieve as a master thief in Thief

gd early impressions Thief xbox 360

The Xbox One recently rolled out its list of backwards-compatible games, and, no, Thief is not one of them. Not yet, at least. I’ll get to the connection shortly, I promise. I’m a big fan of this function, and it honestly was one of the attributes that resulted in me picking up this current-gen console over the other, despite all the hubbub around the possibility of PlayStation 2 emulation on the PlayStation 4. Anyways, with the fact that some of my Xbox 360 games are ready to be played on the newest console, this meant deletion and freeing up hard-drive space was imminent.

Once I deleted Just Cause 2 and moved my save game profile to the cloud–which is a technology that I’m still scared to trust–my Xbox 360 began downloading the next game in my queue, which turned out to be Square Enix’s Thief, released back in February 2014. It’s a stealthy game I’ve been eyeing for some time, though it was immediately strange and revealing going from sneaking around the Commonwealth in Fallout 4 to sneaking around the less-imaginative, ultra dark, Victorian-themed, plague-riddled City.

Here’s the story: master thief Garrett teams up with his former apprentice, Erin, on the same job from their contact Basso. It’s clear that Garrett and Erin differ on what it means to be a thief, with Erin happily murdering guards to ensure no one follows after them while Garrett would prefer to be less violent. Along the way, he steals her claw weapon. As they arrive at the Baron Northcrest’s manor, they discover some ritual taking place. Garrett calls off the job, but Erin refuses to listen, falling into the center of the ritual, which was nearing its completion, becoming engulfed by some mystical energy. Garrett is knocked out trying to save her, and only awakens from unconsciousness a year later.

It’s not a great story so far–I’m past the prologue and somewhere into the second chapter, after visiting a church–and a lot of that falls on Garrett’s cloak-covered shoulders. He comes across as a self-righteous do-gooder, stealing from the rich and keeping it for himself, but also always has a snarky one-liner to say for every situation, often to the point of mockery. I get the sense that he lacks empathy and could care less about what happened to his friend Erin, but we’ll see where things go. It’s hard to get a lot of story when your main character spends the majority of his time slinking around houses in the dark, half-listening to conversations through keyholes, not letting a single footstep be heard.

The focus of Thief is to use stealth in order to overcome a number of challenges, with violence often left as a last resort. I’m all about that. “The stealthier, the better” would make an excellent bumper sticker. Early on, I ran into the same problem that turned me off of Dishonored, in that once you are spotted, there is little chance of survival, which only makes me want to do perfect stealth runs, with no room for error. That said, I don’t think Thief plays or looks all that great; it’s sluggish and murky, with nothing distinctive-looking about it. So far, the coolest move, in my mind, Garrett can do is distinguish candles to darken a room, and I’m eagerly awaiting popping an Achievement somehow related to doing this.

Heads up: there’s also a lot of pressing X. You hit this button to pick up loot, of which there’s a ton. I think there was over 70 pieces to grab in the first chapter alone, and this loot translate into money, which you can later then spend on skill tree upgrades, weapons, and miscellaneous items. however, when it comes to desks and drawers, plan to press X a bunch and be disappointed when you find nothing. Also, I think I had a similar gripe with Batman: Arkham Asylum, but mashing a button to open a window or grate is beyond tedious, there only to pad out what little gameplay already exists.

I’d really like to see Thief become backwards-compatible on the Xbox One, but not because it is some much treasured entry in the series and fans are eagerly looking to play it right now. It’s more out of laziness. The further forward I go with my new current console, the less interested I am in switching on the 360, changing inputs on my TV, and plugging a controller into the system. Yes, I’m the same dude who is still working away at Final Fantasy IX, a PlayStation 1 RPG of old on my still-kicking PlayStation 2, but that’s on a different television in my bedroom. Okay, I have to get back now to looting dead bodies and hanging cat portraits on my settlement’s structures…oh wait, wrong game.