Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
So, I dunno if you heard, but Assassin’s Creed III was a bummer. Gameplay systems piled on each other for no real reason, a stupid story, an unlikable main character, and some pretty piss-poor mission design. I finished it, because… well, I don’t know? I wasn’t really having fun. But I pushed through, and lo and behold, the ending was garbage too. I sighed, and decided on a wait and see approach for the next one. Better safe than sorry.
By rights I should be sorry, because I definitely didn’t play it safe. Day two of release, I snagged ACIV on a whim, and flew up the black flag for a quick shakedown run. My comeuppance hasn’t come yet, though- thus far, the game is delightful. The story is, again, pretty stupid- I really couldn’t care less about the Assassins or the Templars at this point. The open world, though, is deeply enjoyable, and I love just wandering the high seas in my ship, listening to my crew sing shanties. A delightful experience.
Call of Duty: Ghosts
A few years ago, I used to play games like I was showcasing the latest build for the press. Having cumulatively watched hours of reveals and walkthroughs, I always knew exactly where a developer would want me to look or go at any given time. The specific beats were wired to my hands; I never missed an explosion, intricately-modeled animation or Setpiece Moment because I was determined to play how they wanted me to play. When I wasn’t forced onto rails by the developer, I instinctively laid my own.
After 30 minutes of Call of Duty: Ghosts’ campaign, I noticed something odd; I was clearly acting in ways that the developer didn’t intend, or strongly discouraged. I wasn’t standing in the right place for a scripted conversation, so my fellow Ghost addressed the air. I even followed the wrong group of soldiers for a 30 second span, prompting the game to kill me as its game over screen informed me of my mistake. I was only an actor in their play, and deviating from the screenplay earned me a shrill “CUT!” as it started from the top.
Had this happened in, say, 2010, I would be flustered with my inability to play the game right and take great strides to follow every cue to the letter. But years of playing games like Ghosts finally broke me, and I doubt I’ll ever try to emulate the perfect designer vision again unless I want to amuse myself. I’d rather focus on having a good time than act in a show that wouldn’t stand a chance on primetime TV.
Candy Box 2
Which is a good word, actually, for the whole experience. It was interesting. Moment to moment, it wasn’t that thrilling, and no element- gameplay, writing, story, presentation- ever really wowed me, but I was constantly curious about the next challenge, the next corner. So little of it is predictable, its chain of logic so often whimsical and unexpected that you ride along just to see where the track will go. I didn’t play Candy Box 1 for more than a few minutes, and I don’t have any desire to play a game like this ever again. The Candy Box-shaped hole in my mind has been filled, and I have zero interest in more. The time I had with it was nice, though.
Race the Sun
Daily challenges are all the rage in recent games, and for good reason; refreshing the playing field with new levels and leaderboards entices wannabe champions to return at least once every day, duking it out for the chance to immortalize themselves at the top of a list that becomes permanent after 24 hours. By giving every player the same level to work with for a set amount of time, the developer ensures that everyone is competing in the same conditions and has an equal opportunity for success. Dividing playtime into compartmentalized chunks also discourages sinking too many hours into one session, preventing burnout and prolonging the lifespan of the game for the average player.
Race the Sun isn’t exactly the latest game to build itself around the daily challenge, but it’s slowly grown over time, picking up more and more players. I picked it up earlier in the week during a sale, and it’s quite the novel take on the endless runner! As I fly great distances in my solar-powered plane, the sun constantly ticks down to my plane’s demise. Even if I collect a few power-ups to raise it a few inches higher in the sky, loss is inevitable; it’s all about collecting the most triangles, dodging every obstacle and working hard to travel the longest distance before the glider powers down and crashes into the darkness.
Even though I’m only a few days in, I can already tell that I’ll be returning for quite some time. It makes a big show of being darkly cynical in its tips and upgrade descriptions, but soaring past toppling rectangles and jumping great distances over the blocky landscape fills me with excitement (which is quickly dashed to the wind after an errant nudge sends me spinning into the side of a building). With the typical, multi-hour adventures I immerse myself in, it feels great to play something that only asks for 5-10 minutes of your time per day, but always leaves room for more if you’re up for it.
Thanks to a particularly cheap friend who wasn’t ready to buy the expansions, I ended up playing some multiplayer vanilla Civ V this week. Here’s a quick tip: mother of god, buy the expansions. I had forgotten how much the two expansions changed for the far, far better. Religion, the World Congress, the AI changes, there’s a lot to miss, and it’s just a straight up inferior experience. After the third time of Genghis Khan saying “Please, let us end this war,” then telling me to piss off when I offered peace, I was pretty well done.
When, a few days later, I was again invited to a multiplayer game, there was a moment of trepidation before my friend informed me that this game would be with the expansions. Thank goodness!
Rayman Origins was a true gem of a platformer, with absolutely stunning, playful art and a sense of control that even rivaled the great Super Meat Boy and Mario. Rayman Legends takes everything that Origins nailed and creates more of it, along with a few additions to spice up the formula. I could give or take the levels that required me to control the environment and my character at the same time, but the daily/weekly challenges have sunk their hooks into me, and the few musical levels reach a new level of sublime bliss.
If you have any appreciation for platformers or cheerfully imaginative cartoon worlds, Rayman Legends is a no-brainer. Until Super Mario 3D World hits in a few weeks, you won’t find a game this year that hits the same wonderful notes.