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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

More Cake, More Zombies, and a Little Altaïr Too!

Although I was planning on finishing up Half-Life 2 before picking up any new games, I broke down on Sunday and bought myself Assassin's Creed. After reading glowing review after glowing review, I couldn't take it any longer: I had to try it for myself. In a nutshell, I think it's great!

For now, let's take a look at the achievements I picked up for Half-Life 2, Portal, and Assassin's Creed.

My weekend started off with a bang! After being stuck on the Level 17 advanced map in Portal, I finally beat it. It seems that my brain has difficulties comprehending the physics involved with bouncing energy balls off angled walls. Once I realized what I was doing wrong, I had Level 17 finished in no time!

The Level 18 advanced map was also a little tricky but not too bad when all was said and done. There was one really nasty part that involved making my way across a room filled with turrets. I ended up bypassing that damned room, for the most part. Instead, I used a wall-camera to prop open a certain door that I needed to get through: a little under-handed but quite effective.

In any case, for my "mastery" of the advanced portal levels, I picked up the Vanilla Crazy Cake achievement worth a well-deserved 40 GamerPoint. I'm still not done with Portal yet. I've still got the following achievements that I'd like to pick up before I'll be satisfied with my level of Portal comprehension:

  • Camera Shy: There are 33 cameras attached to the walls throughout the Aperture Science Laboratories testing rooms. I'll need to detach all of these cameras before I can consider myself Camera Shy...
  • Long Jump: I'll need to find a way to jump 300 feet. It doesn't sound that tricky but I've been dead wrong about these "easy" achievements in the past (see the Gunslinger and Bringing People Together achievements for The Darkness).
  • Basic Science: In addition to the advanced maps for each of the levels 13 through 18, these maps also have three associated challenges: Least Steps (make your way through the level taking the least number of footsteps), Least Portals (clear the level using the fewest portals possible), and Least Time (get from the start line to the finish line in as few seconds as possible). Each of these mini-challenges are graded on a Gold, Silver or Bronze scale. If I can pick up a Bronze in each of these game variants for each of the six maps, I'll get my Basic Science achievement. At that point, I'll decided whether I want to try to obtain Silver medals for each event (Rocket Science achievement) or if I should try for the elusive Gold medal standings (Aperture Science achievement). In all honesty, I highly doubt I'll get past Basic Science any time in the near future.


After finishing up the Portal Advanced Challenges on Friday, I didn't get the chance to play anything until I loaded up Half-Life 2 on Sunday afternoon. When I last left Gordon Freeman, he was knee-deep in zombies in Half-Life 2's Ravenholm. Unfortunately, he was still there when I returned to the game. I was hoping he'd managed to work his way out of the city on his own while I'd been away from my Xbox 360.

In any case, I managed to make it through most of Ravenholm and finally met up with Father Gregori. The kind (and totally nutso) Father (think "priest" and not "who's your daddy?") was quick to realize that Gordon Freeman wanted out of Ravenholm.

We quickly set off to cut a swath through the graveyard. What ensued was a crazy battle of man versus zombie amidst the crumbling and derelict graves of former Ravenholm residents. I wasn't sure that the good Father was going to make it when I happened to turn around and saw that he was being attacked by four zombies and countless head-crabs. Luckily for him, Mr. Freeman is a walking arsenal and a crack shot with all number of different guns.

After a couple more close calls for Father Gregori and a number of unfortunate mishaps involving a gravity gun and exploding barrels, we made it through the graveyard more or less unscathed. I was awarded with the Hallowed Grounds achievement worth an underwhelming 5 GamerPoint and Father Gregori was rewarded with a nice little bonfire and the company of old friends. All's well that ends well, right?

I finished my Half-Life 2 session a couple minutes later as Gordon Freeman was tasked with making his way down a dark mine shaft into the bowels of Ravenholm. Truth be told, I'll be glad to get as far away as possible from Ravenholm. Valve did a good job of making this city creepy and it really starts to wear on your nerves over time. Besides, I've seen enough zombies and poisonous head-crabs to last me a while: it'll be nice to butt heads with those good 'ole Combine troopers again.


Although I plan on returning to Half-Life 2 soon, I've got to say that I've really enjoyed my initial time with Assassin's Creed. The game is pretty awesome! Although I'll save a full discussion of my first impressions for another post (check back tomorrow), I did want to touch on some of the achievements that I've picked up in the early-goings. By the way, there may be a some very minor spoilers ahead though I'll do my best to keep hidden what I can.

Welcome to the Animus [20 GamerPoint]: I love it when games give you points for making it through a tutorial! Not only do you learn the skills necessary to survive once the game starts: you're also rewarded with achievements! I'm pretty embarrassed to say that I got stuck for a good ten minutes during the tutorial. There is one test that sees Altaïr trying to make his way through a gaggle of women holding water jugs on their heads.

I don't think this test was meant to be as hard as I found it! The on-screen instructions were telling me to "hold the B button" to allow Altaïr to make his way through the crowd by gentling pushing the water-jug women out of his way. By doing this correctly, Altaïr could make his way to the goal marker without hurting either the women or the water jugs.

When I tried to ease Altaïr through the crowd, I kept knocking the women around, ultimately causing all of the water jugs to break. I tried looking for gaps in the crowd that I could manoeuvre through; I tried walking even more slowly by using the "blend" command; I tried timing my button presses differently. Nothing worked.

And then I noticed what I'd been doing wrong: I was supposed to press and hold the B button. I'd been tapping the B button. Five seconds later, I'd passed the tutorial session, earned my 20 gamer points, and felt like a honest-to-God video game n00b.

Hero of Masyaf [20 GamerPoint]: Altaïr's quest starts off with a bang as the Assasins Guild in Masyaf is attacked by the Templars. The Templars are real pricks and Altaïr eventually teaches them a lesson. You know what they say: don't mess with assassins who have blades concealed up their sleeves, swords on their belts, giant knives on their backs, a pouch filled with throwing daggers, and bad attitudes to boot. Altaïr's a pretty bad dude and the Templars learned that lesson all too well. I, on the other hand, picked up 20 GamerPoint for putting Altaïr through the paces.

The Punishment for Treason [20 GamerPoint]: Why did the Templars attack the Assassins? Could there be a traitor in the Assassins' midsts? Or did the treason happen in the Templars' camp? I don't want to spoil anything for anyone here so I'll say no more on this subject.

The Blood of a ... [25 GamerPoint]: (UPDATE: I've removed some information from this achievement's title to avoid passing along potential spoilers to my readers.) I took Altaïr on a journey from Masyaf to Damascus. Once I made it to Damascus after a rather nail biting ride through the "wilds" of the Middle East (I'm not being sarcastic here, by the way), Altaïr began to perform various information gathering tasks.

After a number of side-missions, Altaïr was permitted to complete a hit on the assassination target. After watching a cut-scene starring the eventual victim and one of his underlings, I felt quite justified (as Altaïr) to deal out a little bit of punishment. Unfortunately, I was still getting used to the controls and gameplay of Assassin's Creed and royally screwed everything up. The target saw me coming from a mile away and put a stop to my "insert-wrist-blade-into-neck" move when I thought I'd found my opening. What followed was a tense five or six minutes of Altaïr fighting for his life while attempting to take down his prey.

In the end, the target lay dead, his bodyguards were dead, and quite a few water jugs lay broken on the ground. But what's a few water jugs compared the 25 GamerPoint I was awarded for the whole bloody affair?

Eagle's Will [20 GamerPoint]: A lot's been said about the combat system in Assassin's Creed. In fact, I've said quite a number of bad things myself in the past. Well, all that changes now! In truth, it's not that difficult to defeat your enemies as Altaïr, clearly proven by the fact that I managed to remain undefeated in combat for over 100 battles so early in my career as an assassin. However, the one thing missing from the discussion thus far is the "fun" factor.

The combat in Assassin's Creed is challenging without being "too" challenging. Altaïr looks great as he slices and dices his way through his enemies. He even looks great when his enemies grab hold of him and throw him to the ground - which happens a surprising number of times given how "easy" the fighting system is supposed to be. In fact, combat is all about reading the rhythm of your enemies' movements. If you think of Assassin's Creed combat system as lying somewhat closer to Guitar Hero than to the system used in Virtua Fighter or Dead or Alive, you'll start to appreciate it all the more.

I also wanted to briefly touch on the whole "soldiers waiting their turn to attack Altaïr" issue that everyone and their brother have brought up over the past few months. First off, if you haven't played Assassin's Creed, please hold off on your judgment. And secondly, when you're playing the game, it sure doesn't feel like the guards are waiting their turn.

Instead, the guards prefer a tactic of letting one guard initiate combat to draw your attention. Once Altaïr is engaged with one guard or soldier, the other guards enjoy launching the old rear-admiral attack. If Altaïr fails to notice and compensate for these new attacks, he gets hit. And when Altaïr gets hit, things get ugly very quickly. Imagine playing Guitar Hero and you're in your groove. Suddenly you get distracted and miss a note, then another, then another, and so on until you fail the song: take a hit as Altaïr and you'll come dangerously close to a similar fate if you're not careful.


In closing: The Orange Box is great and Assassin's Creed is fantastic! Two great games and so little time!

Mind you, I have been looking to pick up Mass Effect as well...