Gaming

Assassin’s Creed Origins Review: Steps back to leap forward

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After taking a year off from its annual release cycle, Assassin’s Creed is back. A newbie to the games swan dives into Assassin’s Creed Origins to see if the changes to the formula is enough to revitalize the franchise.
Assassin’s Creed is one of modern video games’ landmark series. It’s actually been a decade since the first game was released, which started off a hugely successful multimedia franchise spanning games, comics, novels, and even a Hollywood film.

Recent years haven’t been as kind to the brand, though. The annual releases on every platform eventually wore on critics and consumers, as review scores and sales dwindled after the peaks of the second and third main games. Ubisoft, the series creator, eventually gave Assassin’s Creed a one-year break before putting out this latest installment.

I mention all this because even as a games enthusiast, I went into Assassin’s Creed Origins having zero experience with the whole franchise.

Back to the beginning

For a series newbie, the setup is perfect. Origins basically tells how the Assassin Brotherhood, the secret organization that each protagonist from every game is part of, came to be. It takes place at the tail end of Ancient Egypt. The two pharaohs Ptolemy and Cleopatra are at odds over who should be the rightful ruler. Meanwhile, the threat of Roman imperial influence on the nation, spearheaded by Julius Caesar, hangs heavy over the embattled Egyptian monarchy.

Amid this political turmoil, you play as Bayek, the medjay of the province of Siwa, and the very last of Egypt’s ordained protectors. You are on a quest for revenge against a shadowy cabal planning on taking complete control of the country.

No other big budget game comes to mind that tackles this particular setting, so my interest was piqued, despite the rather messy intro. Fortunately, that interest blossomed into a mostly enjoyable 42-hour experience!

Gorgeous and gigantic

That enjoyment had a lot to do with how much I wanted to be in Origins‘ staggering simulation of Ancient Egypt. From the way sand blows in the desert winds to how sunlight gleams on the surface of the Nile; from the architectural apex of Greek and Egyptian antiquity in Alexandria to the fading beauty of Egypt’s capital Memphis; and from the artistic Hellenistic heights of Greco-Roman Cyrene to the ever-enduring mystery and majesty of the Pyramids of Giza, Origins renders it all in stunning fashion.

Even the depiction of life and culture in that age is impressive. Markets and ports bustle with merchants peddling wares and laborers working on galleys. Guards on horseback and chariots patrol cobblestone streets and escort traders across land and sea. A whole mountain village is dedicated to extracting salt for mummification, with the statue of Anubis, the jackal god of death, perched on a shrine overlooking the settlement.

So, even though I found the quests at the beginning to be worryingly banal, I sought them out just to learn more about the world. A good deal of them flesh out the overarching narrative, too, as they illustrate the villains’ tyranny manifesting in numerous, logical ways.

Likable leads

Bayek’s character shines through his interactions with the populace. I found that he could laugh at himself while still being fiercely passionate in his sense of justice and respect for tradition. Him being a father and a husband reflects on how good he is with kids and understanding of parents with family problems.

His relationship with his wife Aya is also refreshing. They are both extremely competent as warrior assassins and trust each other’s ability. While they share the goal of revenge, they each have distinct motivations that set their character arcs apart. Affection is something they don’t hesitate to show one another. They display moments of emotional vulnerability, but they deal with it maturely like you’d expect from a long-married, caring couple.

The rest of the cast doesn’t come close to this level of characterization, but this core pairing is solid enough that it made me want to see their story through to the end.

Gameplay is a grower

I’m grateful for being so drawn into the world and these two leads, as I wasn’t having a great time with Origins until I played way more of it. After unlocking more abilities, gaining more tools and weapons, and generally getting a hang of the mechanics, I eventually found the gameplay rewarding in itself.

While still having an action/stealth adventure foundation, Origins builds a light RPG structure a la Horizon Zero Dawn on top of it; you level up, get stronger, and gain access to more abilities. You can improve your gear with crafting materials you collect from hunting animals, dismantling equipment, or shopping at vendors. There’s a variety of weapons and shields with stats and unique perks, and they also have levels that determine their effectiveness.

Because Bayek’s capabilities are tied into hard numbers, I was frustrated on numerous occasions during fights and sneaking up on enemies that were just two or three levels higher than me in the early goings. I was still grasping the fundamentals of combat and stealth, so it wasn’t uncommon for me to get spotted while trying to sneak into a base, surrounded by multiple guards, and killed in the ensuing melee.

More demanding mechanics

The fighting system has been revamped, too. It’s reminiscent of Dark Souls in that you’re throwing measured strikes with your weapon while dodging or blocking incoming blows, and every button press has Bayek committing to whatever action you take. If you throw out a strong attack and miss, you will likely get punished with a counter-attack. There is no stamina to worry about though, with only slight pauses in between attack and defend animations to keep you from chaining infinite combos. You do have an “Overpower meter” that gradually fills up in combat. Once it’s full, it allows you to either do a powerful one-hit super move or speed up your every attack for a set amount of time, depending on what weapon you have equipped.

It’s not as tight and responsive as the Souls games, though. I struggled at the sluggishness of striking and the skittery enemy movements.

Going into a heavily guarded fort or bandit hideout, you have one major advantage. You can take control of Senu, Bayek’s trusty eagle companion, to fly over the map and mark locations of your quest objectives, enemies, treasure, and other items you can interact with. It’s critical prep work before entering hostile territory, but even then it didn’t feel like enough for me to confidently clear out encampments without alerting everyone in them.

But once I got comfortable with the controls and earned more abilities, the gameplay started to click with me.

Slow but satisfying surprise

Around eight hours and 15 levels in, I was better at sneaking past enemies and smarter at fighting them with fire bombs and warrior bows. 20 hours and 25 levels in, I was silently headshotting guards and slaying lions and crocodiles. 40 hours and 35 levels in, I was clearing out fortresses and palaces using sleep darts and poison traps and brutally executing entire garrisons with my assortment of legendary dual blades, spears, sickle swords, and staves.

Assassin’s Creed Origins is the perfect example of a lovingly crafted virtual world with a strong sense of place that is truly captivating, so much so that it carried me to discovering joy in seemingly simple systems. It’s a slow starter, for sure, but it turned out to be the biggest surprise for me so far in this year of stellar video games, and I’m glad I took the leap on Assassin’s Creed at the right time.

SEE ALSO: Middle-earth: Shadow of War review — System overload

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Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! review: Catching ’em all once again

Isn’t Eevee absolutely adorable?

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Countless times, my friends have jokingly asked, “Where’s Mario?” My name — Luigi — has unwittingly cursed me into a lifetime of jokes associated with Mario’s green-suited brother. Ironically, my favorite Nintendo franchise isn’t even remotely related to the Super Mario Brothers series. Since childhood, the prestige has always gone to the Pokémon franchise.

During my Game Boy days, I played through the classics of the Pokémon franchise. Sadly, that streak ended with Pokémon Emerald, immediately before the arrival of the first Nintendo DS. Since then, the franchise’s Generation 4 ushered in a period of silence.

Thankfully, Pokémon’s decline was halted by the arrival of the mobile game, Pokémon GO. The pioneering AR game brought back a wave of nostalgia. Despite the initial popularity, the game’s novelty was short-lived, failing to measure up with the classic games. Of course, the game wasn’t from Nintendo.

Now, Nintendo has finally taken over the franchise’s modern renaissance. Weeks ago, Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! launched for the Nintendo Switch, promising a new world for the new generation. Besides ushering a generation, the nostalgic series revitalizes the old and creates a new ecosystem.

Generation 1.2 

Right on the tin, both games advertise a return to Kanto, home of the first Pokémon. Pikachu and Eevee are remasters of the original Pokémon Yellow. In the original, Pikachu replaced the traditional trio of Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle. Likewise, Pikachu and Eevee replaces the starter Pokémon based on the version you purchase.

Likewise, both games share the same story elements with Pokémon Yellow: Team Rocket’s antics, Lavender Town’s eerie story, Mewtwo’s appearance. Of course, because of the times, Nintendo updated some minor elements for a modern audience. For example, in-game television sets come with Nintendo Switch units. Characters talk about Alolan Pokémon, smartphone technology, and most importantly, Pokémon GO.

Cuter, cuddlier, livelier

After Pokémon GO’s initial wave of novelty, the franchise’s fans chided the game for depersonalizing their favorite creatures. In GO, Pokémon became collectibles, valuing quantity over quality. Completely contrasted to this, Pikachu and Eevee added a thick layer of personality to all 151 original Pokémon.

Mostly, this dynamic personality applies to your chosen partner, Pikachu or Eevee. Like Yellow, your partner Pokémon follows you around. However, instead of just a few pixelated frames, both have their own new sets of animations and moves. For example, Pikachu hangs out on your shoulder as you walk. Eevee perches atop your head. In combat, both have exclusive move sets. Eevee, for example, uses Veevee Volley, an extremely strong Normal move that activates only occasionally. Cutely, you can interact with both partners outside of combat, petting them or playing patty-cake using the Switch’s touchscreen.

Additionally, you can take a Pokémon out of its Poké Ball, acting as a secondary companion. Also, their animation depends on their build. Mew floats ahead of you. Kangaskhan carries you in its pouch. Charizard flies and carries you on its back. It creates a much more dynamic world compared to the original games.

Speaking of, wild Pokémon encounters are no longer completely random. Instead, you can see the wild Pokémon wandering around, letting you choose which to catch. Catching them is also different. Instead of going into combat, the games adapt the same system as Pokémon GO, using catch rings and berries.

Creating a Pokémon ecosystem

Along with the games, Nintendo also launched a new controller, the Poké Ball Plus, specifically made for the new Pokémon games. Unfortunately, the optional controller, shaped like a Poké Ball, is pricey, costing US$ 49.99 on its own. The bundle — the game plus the ball — costs US$ 99.99, reducing the price by 10 bucks. That said, why should you buy a Poké Ball Plus?

Firstly, the ball comes with a free Mew. Traditionally, this mythical Pokémon was obtainable only through Nintendo-exclusive events or hacks. The Ball finally provides an easily accessible way to obtain one of the franchise’s most elusive Pokémon.

Secondly, it creates a new experience for the franchise. While it has only two buttons, you can use the ball in a throwing motion to catch Pokémon. Instead of just pressing A, the new mechanic simulates the feeling of actually throwing a Poké Ball. It’s unique and strangely gratifying. Additionally, you can take a Pokémon (housed inside the Poké Ball) with you on your daily commute. As you walk, it gets experience, similar to GO’s buddy system.

Thirdly, the ball acts as a Pokémon GO Plus, connecting the Switch games with GO’s world. To those who still play GO, the Poké Ball is a welcome arsenal, especially in crowded cityscapes. Similarly, you can transfer Pokémon from GO to Switch, making it easier to fill a Pokédex.

Finally, the Poké Ball Plus is a clear indication of the Pokémon franchise’s future. Next year, Nintendo will launch a fresher addition to the franchise, marking the console’s first full-fledged Pokémon game. By then, the future game will fully integrate the Ball into its mechanics, making the controller a worthy investment.

With Pikachu and Eevee, the Pokémon franchise heralds a new generation for both old and beginning players. For old players, they create a refreshed wave of nostalgia. For beginning players, both games are a good start to the new generation.

SEE ALSO: Pokémon: Let’s Go gets its own Nintendo Switch bundles

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GadgetMatch Awards: Best Video Games of 2018

The tough ten plus honorable mentions

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2018 wasn’t a good year for anyone’s wallets, and here are thirteen reasons why! Yes, thirteen because we felt having only ten games wouldn’t be enough to encapsulate what a year 2018 has been. 

Here they are in no particular order, starting with…

Honorable Mentions

Fortnite: Battle Royale

Fortnite: Battle Royale made huge waves in 2018, both as a game and cultural phenomenon. The game’s popularity skyrocketed through its use of familiar dance crazes, character skins, and creative challenges and features. Apart from intense build battles and storm-chasing fun, Epic Games has done an incredible job of bringing the game into mainstream media. Who else remembers that one time you could play as Thanos and score a Victory Royale?

Spyro: Reignited Trilogy

The latest PlayStation classic to receive a remaster took a while to arrive due to added fine tuning. Nonetheless, Spyro: Reignited Trilogy featured the lovable purple dragon and his adventures through the Dragon Worlds in HD perfection. From charging at enemies to completing speedway levels and collecting gems, it is a great introduction to the basics of video game platforming. You even have a chance to play Spyro’s friends in Spyro: Year of the Dragon for more head-bashing action. The game is slated for a Nintendo Switch release some time next year, so be sure to watch out for that.

Pokémon Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee!

The Pokémon gaming franchise finally got a Switch game, and it’s taken the world by storm. Whichever game you pick gives you the same enhanced experience in the Kanto region, from catching your first Pokémon to beating Team Rocket. A lot of the game’s mechanics are totally different from the past games, like simpler catching and leveling up systems, plus two-versus-one Pokémon battles. Add its integration with Pokémon GO into the mix, and completing your Pokédex doesn’t get any easier.

The Tough Ten

Detroit: Become Human

Detroit: Become Human goes for the old-school third-person adventure aesthetic, but allows you to control the narrative. Quantum Dream’s most successful game features three robot characters, each with their own set of challenges and decisions that ultimately control the story. It puts you in the center of all the storytelling, heightening the level of emotional instability with each decision you make. While you can finish the whole game in about 10 hours, it will lengthen or shorten depending on how much you want to explore.

Although, the game doesn’t come without its own shortcomings. Some storylines get pretty boring or have less action than others, plus dialogues tend to break the whole “show, don’t tell” aspect. Despite some plot holes and bland dialogues, the game still achieves the heart-wrenching emotion it wants to evoke.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

To some degree, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey serves as a good historical look into ancient Greece. Set during the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, it brings together the elements of warfare and fantastic Greek scenery that immediately descend into chaos. Gameplay is pegged as a decent mix of good and bad, although some things just made the game a little less enjoyable.

Combat is more of the same compared to previous titles, but the addition of naval battles is a welcomed change. Moreso, getting through the main story is an enjoyable task, even if there were times when things just felt painstakingly long. Overall, it’s a great open-world game hinging on rich graphical work.

Monster Hunter: World

Capcom made the interesting move of shifting its latest title, Monster Hunter: World to more powerful consoles, and it paid off well. The game feels so different visually, while retaining the structure of familiar gameplay that fans enjoyed over the years. Through these changes, it made itself more accessible to a wider audience — particularly, newcomers to the franchise.

The storyline in itself feels a bit lacking, but the game more than makes up for it through the series of endless challenges and upgrades along the way. Because mechanics are simplified, getting through it all doesn’t feel like a total drag. And with more side quests to finish, it simply keeps you coming back and playing them all.

Dragon Ball FighterZ

If you have a list of the top fighting games ever, this game would be there, if not the top one. An easy to learn control system matched with some intense graphics highlight key upsides for Dragon Ball FighterZ. Add 24 of the Dragon Ball series’ unique fighters, each with their own easy-to-learn move sets, and you have a recipe for success.

Of course, the game also received some fair criticism towards several game features — particularly online gameplay. Even queuing up for online gameplay seems to be a literal slug-fest at times. Not to mention, there are moments when players are mismatched with higher-level, more skilled players instead of their equal. For what it’s worth, it’s a great fighting experience from start to finish, and a good fighting game for beginners.

Marvel’s Spider-Man

Marvel’s Spider-Man wasn’t intended to reflect any of the plots you knew as a kid, and that’s a good thing. A superhero game that provides new insights into the character of Peter Parker is always a delight to have. Yet, what most people rave about is the fact that you get to be Spider-Man; one that allows you to swing from building to building effortlessly. It’s that element of kiddie-nostalgia that makes the game great.

Despite the fluid gameplay the game possesses, it serves up a decent plot for both Parker and his Spider-Man persona. The stories in between shape up at the right pace, giving much more attention to how Parker relates with the different villains. Although, it really doesn’t help much that side quests stemming from them get repetitive. Nonetheless, it brings forth an original experience of Spider-Man, especially for the young-at-heart.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4

2018 became the year battle royale games took things over the top. But outside PUBG and Fortnite, your options for consoles are very limited. Enter Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, or at least their version of battle royale in Blackout. It retains the core of the battle royale mechanic, using the franchise’s set of weaponry and Specialists at your disposal.

Don’t let a battle royale mode stop you from exploring every other multiplayer mode in the game, however. Multiplayer and Zombies offer the same hard-hitting, gunslinging action the series has been known for. The removal of key features such as automatic health regeneration made the game a little more challenging than before. Some people rip the game for the lack of a solo campaign, but it still incorporated its essence through tutorials. With limited selections for maps yet a wide range of characters and weapons, Black Ops 4 shows its versatility at the core.

God of War

I’m sorry, but the old Kratos can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Because the people over at the Santa Monica Studios resurrected him anew in a reimagined God of War. It’s set in a whole new world even with Kratos as the main guy driving the plot. Of course, shades of red will always appear when he is around, but the focus of the game isn’t so much on Kratos as an almighty being.

This game brings forth a new dimension in Kratos’ character arc: that of a father figure. Not only that, throughout the journey he has to deal with a son that feels estranged to him. We all know just how bloodthirsty he can get, but this game reveals a deeper side to an otherwise violent figure. It’s the kind of tension that breeds emotion, along with incredible music and a camera that sticks to Kratos 24/7. It’s a whole new flavor for a legacy title in video games!

Celeste

Independent game developer Matt Makes Games struck gold with Celeste. The quick-action platformer provides an inspiring plot, while orchestrating great audio and visual presentations. Playing as Madeline, a young woman battling depression and anxiety by climbing the Celeste Mountain, you are taken to worlds filled with challenges, secrets, obstacles, and supernatural events.

Beneath all of these elements lies the real challenge of timely jumps and insane platforming through each level. Every stage adds a fair spike of difficulty, and also comes with more elements to aid the player in accomplishing them. With enough patience and practice, these levels are doable at best.

Through simple controls and a rich yet emotional storyline, Celeste makes 8-bit-themed games feel like a sight to behold. Rightfully so, for the Best Independent Game by The Game Awards 2018.

Far Cry 5

The real secret to a great video game franchise is to keep things in an open world. Far Cry 5 was able to achieve that, while keeping itself entertaining and full of details to explore. There’s even several game features that make you carve out your own adventure, separate from the storyline. Add onto that an intense first-person shooter angle and cooperative play to complement the open world, and chaos ensues.

The strongest aspect of Far Cry 5 goes for the more political and religious route. Players often come across cultist leaders and personalities of a backwash Montana. Although the game doesn’t necessarily push any strong political ideologies, it still manages to show how backwash a society can get under a blind following. But, it doesn’t fully put the game over the top.

It deserves recognition for its use of the open-world setup, and a decent story with a powerful ending. But, it leaves you wondering if there’s a tad bit more that could have been done.

Red Dead Redemption 2

Red Dead Redemption 2 simply takes us back into a fictional America with a real-life Westernized movement. Picture the time of policemen as outlaws, seeking criminal gangs in the Old West despite devastating losses on their end. A 60-hour narrative of on-the-run bandits turn the open world into a chaotic scene of Cops and Robbers. This time, however, you’re the cop in a world filled with desperate robbers.

Rockstar Games presented a beautiful visual masterpiece, all down to the very last detail. From the high mountains to the lowly swamps, the game allows you to explore the entire open world even while a story is going on — and with good reason, too (mostly for side quests here and there). The game doesn’t even require you to finish it in a quick manner, which is all you need to take in the gorgeous visuals.

For what it’s truly worth, RDR2 gives back the fun in going through a slow adventure within the storyline. Take the time to relax and enjoy the view, before heading back to the stressful realities ahead!

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Crash Team Racing remaster announced for multiple consoles

Move over, Mario Kart. There’s a new racing game in town!

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Yes, you read that right! PlayStation’s lovable bandicoot returns to the race track for another hard-hitting, kart-smashing racing game! Announced earlier during The Game Awards 2018, Sony Interactive and Activision will release a remaster of Crash Team Racing (CTR) for major consoles next year.

Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled will feature the same elements and gameplay from the 1999 original, worked from the ground up. Beenox, the studio behind Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 spearheaded the HD remaster, retaining the core game modes the original CTR provided. The game will feature the main cast of Crash and Coco Bandicoot, Dr. Neo Cortex, Tiny Tiger, N. Gin, Dingodile, Polar, and Pura. Not only that, but the remastered CTR will also feature both offline and online play, something that deviates from the original.

The announcement came from a segment during The Game Awards 2018 in Los Angeles. A Crash Bandicoot mascot unveiled the trailer by presenting a crate that contained a trophy inside that you can find in the original CTR. This confirmed rumors from earlier this week.

Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled will come out on June 21, 2019 for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. Next year marks Crash Team Racing‘s 20th anniversary, and what a way to celebrate it through the remaster.

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