Video Games: ‘Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag’ is Awesome!

assassins-creed-ivMost game series that offer yearly releases suffer from a lack of vision due to short development times. However, the “Assassin’s Creed” series breaks that mold and offers compelling game play shrouded by interesting storylines. Just like the protagonist of the game, “Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag” sneaked into my life and blindsided me with an outstanding adventure.

Players assume the role of a ruthless pirate named Edward Kenway who searches for little more than fame and fortune in the Caribbean. He’s the captain of a mighty seafaring vessel called the Jackdaw, and this sturdy ship becomes indispensable in his self-serving quest. Like all games in the series, there’s a concurrent plot set in modern times, but I prefer playing in the early 18th century.

While this title offers similar game play to it’s predecessors, the main focus is the pirate lifestyle. In fact, Edward doesn’t even join the assassin’s order until late in the game. He does take on occasional assassin missions, but sailing to different islands, attacking rival ships and plundering booty takes precedence.

Sailing the open sea is peaceful and serene until players decide to inject violence into the situation. A handy spyglass lets players see far into the distance so they can decide where to go and what to do. Attacking convoys and exploring islands rewards the player with resources to upgrade both their ship and their own personal arsenal, and it’s even possible to explore wrecks at the bottom of the sea.

Fighting enemies in hand-to-hand combat can be overly simplistic because of easy counter-kills, but the addition of pistols changes things up a bit. On the other … err … hand, ship-to-ship combat is both varied and rewarding. I also enjoy the ability to choose whether to scuttle a damaged ship or board it for more substantial rewards.

Add an interesting online multiplayer component to the mix, and “Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag” emerges as my favorite chapter in the series.

DEVELOPER: UbiSoft

PUBLISHER: UbiSoft

SYSTEM: Sony PlayStation 3 (PC, Xbox 360)

PRICE: $59.99

ESRB RATING: Mature

REVIEW RATING: 5 stars (out of 5)

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Call of Duty: Ghosts: Excels Online, Single Player Not So Much

Call-of-Duty-GhostsEver since the “Call of Duty” franchise hit legendary status, people can count on three things; death, taxes, and a new “COD” game every November. With sequels being pumped out every year, even die-hard fans eventually begin to lose interest. That’s why the developers of “COD: Ghosts” tried to forge a new path, but the single-player campaign quickly falls into far-too-familiar territory.

In the near future, South American countries unite to form the Federation, and they hijack an American space station armed with a deadly new weapon. After bombarding the U.S. with devastating kinetic blasts, the Federation strips America of its global dominance, and a drawn-out war between the two powers ensues.

Players take on the role of two brothers who join a new resistance group and travel the globe shooting bad guys. On the surface, it feels like playing a big-budget action movie, but look a bit deeper and you’ll find an uninspired linear campaign with no ambition. Only the ability to control a trained dog named Riley offers any sort of ingenuity, but these segments are few and far between.

Fortunately, the online multiplayer modes are still filled with frenzied fighting and perks galore! One of my favorites is controlling the attack dog, sneaking up on enemies and sinking my … err … canine teeth into him or her. I also appreciate the complexity of each multiplayer map that offers multiple pathways and plenty of places to hide.

I was surprised to discover that the new Extinction online coop mode is such a blast to play. In this mode, players team up to defend their nests from continuous hordes of alien monsters. What’s really cool is the ability to level up and gain exclusive new skills and gadgets during the same match. The focus on actual cooperation and the game play variety makes Extinction my favorite part of the game.

“COD: Ghosts” has a forgettable single-player experience, but the online multiplayer modes make it worth playing!

DEVELOPER: Infinity Ward

PUBLISHER: Activision

SYSTEM: Microsoft Xbox 360 (PC, PS3)

PRICE: $59.99

ESRB RATING: Mature

REVIEW RATING: 3.5 stars (out of 5)

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Video Games: “Beyond: Two Souls” is Unique But Flawed

Beyond-Two-SouldVideo games have evolved to satisfy the short attention spans of their players by offering accelerated game play and little emotional attachment. Developers Quantic Dream prefers to go the opposite route and focus more on plot. However, the story of “Beyond: Two Souls” is rather convoluted, and the game play lacks excitement.

Jodie is a very troubled young girl whose invisible companion isn’t a figment of her imagination. In fact, it’s a spiritual entity that can interact with the physical world and it has a mind of its own. Jodie refers to it as “Aiden,” and she calls upon it to help her out of tough situations.

The story of “Beyond: Two Souls” spans fifteen years of Jodie’s life, and it jumps back and forth from her life as a young girl to teenager to young woman. I think the story would be more cohesive and that players would invest more emotion in Jodie’s plight if it were told in sequential order. On the other hand, choosing Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe as the main voice actors was brilliant!

Players have extremely limited control over Jodie’s actions as they guide her. She can only walk around and interact with items that have a white dot floating near them. During combat, players push the control stick in the direction her limbs are moving to block or attack, which is both simplistic and unsatisfying.

Controlling Aiden is much more fun, but still oddly limiting. Players guide him around in astral form and interact with items that have a white dot near them. It’s cool to scare other characters by making items fly across the room or by messing with electronic devices, but it would be nice to have the freedom to interact with anything I choose.

“Beyond: Two Souls” is worth playing for the unique experience, but not everyone will appreciate the slow pace.

DEVELOPER: Quantic Dream

PUBLISHER: Sony

SYSTEM: Sony PlayStation 3

PRICE: $59.99

ESRB RATING: Mature

REVIEW RATING: 3.5 stars (out of 5)

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Video Games: Disney Infinity: Jack Sparrow, Sully, Mr. Incredible

Disney-InfinityMost kids adore Disney and Pixar characters, so it makes sense to let youngsters control loveable creatures from both companies in the same game. However, Disney took this a step further and added plastic figures to “Disney Infinity.” The result is entertainment in both, real life and cyberspace.

The “Disney Infinity” starter pack comes with the game, three plastic figures (Jack Sparrow, Sully, Mr. Incredible), and a game base. The base is used to transfer the figures into the game, and a small play set piece determines the world in which players will enter. Each of these worlds differs dramatically from the other, and only the appropriate character can enter their world.

This means that Jack Sparrow won’t be undertaking missions in Monster University, but it is fun to sail across the sea, hunt treasure, and battle enemies as the scurvy pirate. Performing pranks and bike stunts, as Sully, is more relaxing, but just as fun. Ironically, driving around Metroville and pummeling bad guys is the least exciting play set, but it’s still much more intricate than anything found in “Skylanders.”

Undertaking quests in Play Set mode is fun, but the real joy lies with Toy Box mode. Just as the name sounds, players are free to mix and match their characters, weapons, and set designs however they choose, and then explore their creations. For example, toss Sully and Jack Sparrow together and then drive around in Mr. Incredible’s car on a racetrack you built.

It’s also possible to build your own world and then share it/explore it with others online. Thankfully, this feature is limited to immediate friends that own “Disney Infinity,” so parents won’t have to worry about inappropriate behavior. Another fun feature is taking new figures (purchased separately) to a friend’s house and adding their features to Toy Box mode.

“Disney Infinity” offers a huge amount of game play out of the box, and children are sure to spend hours upon hours playing this fun game.

DEVELOPER: Disney

PUBLISHER: Disney

SYSTEM: Sony PlayStation 3 (Xbox 360)

PRICE: $74.99 (Starter Pack)

ESRB RATING: Everyone

REVIEW RATING: 3.5 stars (out of 5)

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Video Games: Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 Neck and Neck With FIFA

Pro Soccer RevolutionEA squashed 2K Sports when it bought the rights to the American football franchise, but not so with soccer. Konami’s “PES” series has managed to stay neck-in-neck with EA’s “Fifa” series through constant changes and upgrades. Now it seems like the only real disadvantage that “Pro Evolution Soccer 2014″ has is a lack of licensed teams and stadiums.

Playing cyber-soccer is now more realistic than ever thanks to a new gaming engine. While last year’s game had defensive players circling around, and even through offensive players at times, the new engine allows them to get much closer and jostle for the ball. It’s also possible for offensive players to shoulder barge opponents or build up momentum to speed past them.

Another new addition is Heart, which is a computer representation of each player’s morale. Playing at home, with fans cheering, slightly boosts the home team’s ability, but achieving the same boost during away games requires building momentum by playing well. I rarely noticed an obvious effect that Heart had on game play, but during some games it did seem like luck was on my side.

It seems much easier to handle the ball thanks to a slower pace and more robust offensive controls. Beginners will pick up the auto-feint rather quickly, but it may take a while to learn more intricate moves like shimmies and advanced goal shots. In addition, a new physics system makes events seem less scripted and allows for more opportunity to foil the offense.

Although there aren’t any new modes, the popular Master League has been expanded. Now players can, not only manage a professional league over several years, but also simultaneously manage a national team! This is where the lack of licensed material is most noticeable, but thankfully, it doesn’t ruin the fun.

The interface and commentary could use some improvements, but overall, “PES 2014” is a great soccer game!

DEVELOPER: Konami

PUBLISHER: Konami

SYSTEM: Microsoft Xbox 360 (PS3)

PRICE: $59.99

ESRB RATING: Everyone

REVIEW RATING: 4.0 stars (out of 5)

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Video Games: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Brothers-Tale-of-two-sonsMost siblings have an inseparable bond that isn’t easily explained. They may intentionally annoy each other one minute and then team up against a common foe the next. This strong relationship is the basis for the unusual puzzle/adventure game “Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.”

It’s heart wrenching to see a young lad sitting at his mother’s grave, and even worse when he reminisces about watching her drown. This sad event reveals the motivation as to why he and his older brother will do anything to save their ailing father. When they discover that only the sap from an enchanted tree can save him, they embark on a dangerous quest to retrieve it.

It’s amazing how much emotion the developers can convey using no spoken or written words. Everyone in this fairytale land speaks gibberish, but their actions speak much louder. For example, the younger brother has a phobia of water brought on by his mother’s tragic accident, so he rides on his older brother’s back across rivers and streams.

This type of cooperation is the basis for the unusual game play. You see, players control both brothers simultaneously, and only through cooperation can they save their father. Familiar puzzles found in two-player coop games, such as one brother activating a switch to lower a bridge for the other brother to cross, are solved with one person controlling two characters.

It can be both simple and confusing, but the confusion is due to limitations of human brains. Each brother is controlled by one analog stick, and they each have one context-sensitive activation button. The only control problems arise when I move both brothers at the same time and they switch sides.

“Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons” could be longer and more challenging, but it’s still a great experience!

DEVELOPER: Starbreeze Studios

PUBLISHER: 505 Games

SYSTEM: Sony PlayStation 3 (Xbox 360, PC)

PRICE: $14.99 Download

ESRB RATING: Teen

REVIEW RATING: 4.0 stars (out of 5)

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Video Games: Lost Planet 3 is Disappointing

Lost-Planet-3It’s disappointing when sequels don’t live up to expectations, and even worse when they aren’t even as good as the original. I love the original “Lost Planet: Extreme Condition,” and part two focused too much on long fights against giant enemies. Sadly, “Lost Planet 3,” has stripped the series of its personality, and the result is a mediocre shooter.

Although the story begins in the future, the game is actually a prequel that takes place when colonists first arrived at planet E.D.N. III. It tells the tale of everyman Jim Peyton as he slowly changes from a law-abiding citizen to an outlaw fighting against the insidious machinations of the company he works for.

While this game takes place on the same frozen planet as the first iteration, the game play pales in comparison. I really enjoyed how the original game let players choose to hop into giant mechs and fight or stay on foot and fight. It was also extremely cool to yank a giant mini-gun or rocket launcher off of a mech and lumber around blasting enemies!

I know this game is a prequel, but why are the mechs limited to only using mining equipment as weapons? It’s not nearly as exciting to engage in melee battles against aliens as it is to blast them to smithereens! I also think that turning thermal energy into currency instead of required life support is a bad decision.

Another poor decision was limiting the grappling hook to so few attach points. This removes the sense of freedom the original evoked, and it now has practically no use in single-player combat. Now the grappling hook is only effective in online multiplayer matches, but they’ve been toned-down as much as the story mode.

“Lost Planet 3” had plenty of potential, but poor design decisions make it forgettable.

DEVELOPER: Spark Unlimited

PUBLISHER: Capcom

SYSTEM: Windows PC (PS3, Xbox 360)

PRICE: $59.99

ESRB RATING: Mature

REVIEW RATING: 3.0 stars (out of 5)

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Splinter Cell Blacklist Features a Welcome Return to Stealth

Splinter-Cell-BlacklistSolid Snake may have introduced the world to stealth game play, but Sam Fisher makes it exciting! In “Splinter Cell Blacklist,” the infamous operative returns to save the world, and the series, by focusing on stealth more than action. However, players can still “run-and-gun” through missions if they choose.

The USA is on high alert after a group of underground terrorists known as “The Engineers” announce that they’ll execute large-scale attacks every week unless U.S. forces are pulled out of foreign countries. Only Sam Fisher and the 4th Echelon can stop these deadly terrorists and bring relative peace to our country.

I appreciate the ability to customize Sam’s loadout before each mission because the default loadout isn’t always to my liking. In addition, additional items such as a crossbow and sleeping gas grenades can be unlocked and/or upgraded with points earned in both single and multiplayer modes.

What’s cool is that lethal items like regular grenades and silencers can also be used depending on what method is desired. This is one of the few stealth games where the actual gunplay is good enough to use as a main option instead of just a last resort. This means that most missions can be attacked head-on, using stealth or with an effective mix of the two.

The mark and execute mode that lets players mark up to four enemies and then take them out quickly returns, but it seems like less of a cheat now. It’s also possible to equip the crossbow with sticky shocker ammo and use mark and execute to eliminate enemies in a non-lethal manner.

Online multiplayer modes run the gamut from tackling missions cooperatively to the return of the popular “Spies vs. Mercs.” This mode is a really fun twist on standard competitive modes as one side assumes the roles of stealthy spies while the other side patrol areas as mercs. Both sides have different loadouts, which forces each to play the game very differently.

“Splinter Cell Blacklist” is a great return to the roots of the series.

DEVELOPER: UbiSoft Toronto

PUBLISHER: UbiSoft

SYSTEM: Sony PlayStation 3 (Xbox 360, PC)

PRICE: $59.99

ESRB RATING: Mature

REVIEW RATING: 4.5 stars (out of 5)

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

More Posts - Website