Assassins – Weekly Recommendations 09/05 – 15/05
Every week I give three gaming recommendations (very) loosely tied to something topical. These recommendations span platform, generation and genre and are all games that I have played, enjoyed and highly recommend. As always, comments are very welcome so please do chime in with any recommendations of your own. Check back each Monday for a new set, and click here for past entries.
Ubisoft have revealed that the next entry in their hugely successful Assassin’s Creed series will be Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. The final third of the AC2 trilogy, it is a continuation of Ezio’s story and will be set in Constantinople/Istanbul. It isn’t quite Assassin’s Creed 3 and is likely to cover similar ground with Ezio once again being the focus, but a new AC of any kind is good news in my book. Revelations is due this November.
With their impressive moves, killers like Ezio are a joy to control. Taking the role of a video game assassin is always fun, allowing the player to be both overpowered and outmanned, forced to use brain as much as brawn.
1. Assassin’s Creed II – PS3, Xbox 360, Windows, Mac (2009)
Since 2007, Ubisoft’s flagship franchise, Assassin’s Creed, has encouraged us to run rampant through the history books. Assassin’s Creed was an intriguing game, but repetition and a lack of direction meant it fell short of being great. Assassin’s Creed 2 made huge improvements in virtually every area, and last year’s AC Brotherhood added extra polish and depth.
Whilst AC Brotherhood may offer more features, including a low-key but innovative multiplayer, my preference remains AC2. Although Rome was beautifully realised in Brotherhood, the multiple smaller locations of its predecessor were more charming, with its stunning recreation of Venice being the standout. Although it was scaled down considerably, anyone who has been lucky enough to visit the real-life city will instantly recognize many of its monuments and attractions, brought to life at its cultural height. While honeymooning in Venice last year, on more than one occasion I used landmarks I recognized from the game to navigate the winding alleys of the city, whilst successfully avoiding being air-holed by a hooded local.
Protagonist Ezio Auditore da Firenze is a loveable rogue and his story is the best of the series thus far, as we witness his rise from lad about town to high ranking assassin – though the less said about the ending the better. Ubisoft succeeded in achieving the optimal balance between structured missions, and open world gameplay and non-linear activities, allowing it to flow in a way which the first game never could. Subject 16’s unique puzzles, hidden across Venice, Florence, Forli and Tuscany, offer-up a different challenge, including a thought provoking revelation which puts the whole narrative into perspective.
Whether clambering up walls, plunging from towers, scrambling across roofs, free-running through the streets, hiding in the shadows, pouncing on soldiers or wielding an array of blades, controlling Ezio is effortless. There is a poetry to his parkour, as he moves smoothly from one part of the city to the next, often without his feet touching the ground, and the image of our hooded hero, perched up high and surveying the city, is an enduring one.
2. No More Heroes – Wii (2007)
With graphics that harken back to the PS2 era and a thoroughly pointless open-world setting, No More Heroes is a little rough around the edges. However, its unique style, humour, insane story and memorable cast of characters make it one of the most refreshing games on the usually family-friendly Wii, not to mention one of the best.
Travis Touchdown is a wannabe assassin – a deadbeat otaku with far too much time on his hands. After buying a beam katana in an internet auction, he decides to turn his hand to the killing business in an effort to earn money for buying video games and wrestling videos. With some encouragement from the flirtatious and mysterious Sylvia Christel, he starts slaying the top assassins in Santa Destroy City, toppling the competition in a struggle to take pole position on the local assassin leader board.
The fast paced combat is a bloody blast, as you hack and slash with some of the best Wii motion control integration to date. The henchman and minions are rather forgettable and unlikely to cause you much grief, but the larger than life bosses crank it up a notch and are the best part of No More Heroes. The bizarre parade of bosses includes a delusional super hero, a karaoke loving detective, a high school ninja and even an encounter with an oversized foe that involves zero gameplay. These mighty foes come thick and fast, each being completely different to the next.
No More Heroes will keep you on your toes throughout. As soon as you think you’ve got it figured, it throws something new and brilliant at you, leaving you to wonder what exactly is going on in series creator Suda 51’s head. Three years on, and I still have no idea what Travis and Suda are going on about, but I’m happy to tag along for the ride.
3. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater – PS2 (2004)
Metal Gear Solid 3 is the defining moment of an outstanding series, boasting interesting characters, an over the top story, pseudo-history, excellent combat, memorable boss battles and even an outstanding theme tune. The first game to dip back into the life of Solid Snake’s father - Portable Ops and Peace Walker would later follow suit - Snake Eater is the creation myth and genesis of MGS. Sewn are the seeds for the rise of Big Boss, the foundation of the Patriots, the role of Ocelot and the Les Enfants Terribles project.
Assassin is perhaps not the first word that comes to mind when you think of Big Boss. However, in MGS3 his mission is quite simple; locate and eliminate his mentor, the Boss. A reluctant assassin, he must end their emotionally charged relationship with a bullet, saving the US from diplomatic disaster and preventing further escalation of Cold War hostilities. The eventual showdown between teacher and student, set amongst a blanket of white flowers, is perhaps the most poignant and memorable moment in a series that is full of them.
The Soviet jungles of MGS3 perfectly complement the series’ trademark stealth mechanics, as you become reliant upon your environment for survival, whether utilizing the camouflage system to crawl though grass unnoticed or hunting down a snake for a quick health boost. Although most of your movements through this setting are linear, Hideo Kojima did allow for more freedom than in previous instalments. The best example of this is The End, a 100 year old sniper and one of the Cobra unit bosses who loom large throughout. Set across a huge area and requiring a great deal of strategy, you are presented with numerous methods of besting him. The most unusual of which, and best representing the more open gameplay of MGS3, is the opportunity to snipe and kill him much earlier in the game, prematurely ending his part of the story and removing the need to fight him later on.
My favourite MGS, Snake Eater nails the balance between gameplay, dialogue and cut scenes, something with which the series struggles. Whether viewed through the carefully directed cut-scenes or seen through your actions in the jungle, Big Boss is the most enjoyable and sympathetic lead in the series, being a more complex, believable and human character than his offspring. Knowledge of his pre-determined destiny serves to make the unravelling events all the more engaging and tragic. The titular theme tune says it best when Cynthia Harrell croons – “In my time there'll be no one else”. Indeed.