Wednesday, August 25, 2010


This classic blast from the past has lost some of its flare.

Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System, Game Boy Advance
Published by: Hudson Soft
Developed by: Hudson Soft
Genre: Action
Players: 1
US Release Date: 1987
ESRB Rating: Everyone - Mild Cartoon Violence

Story: As with many early video games, Bomberman lacks any form of deep, significant storyline, instead focusing on addicting, arcade-style gameplay. Bomberman is a robot worker who has tired of his monotonous existence in an underground bomb factory. He decides to throw away his old life to pursue a rumor that robots who escape the factory are transformed into humans upon reaching the surface. Unfortunately for Bomberman, he must first navigate a 50 floor maze of bricks, swarming with enemies he must blast into oblivion with his trusty bombs (which I assume are stolen company property).

The story doesn't deviate beyond these basic building blocks. To be honest, back in the '80s, no one really cared - they just wanted to blow shit up.

Escaping: You're doin' it wrong.

Graphics: Anyone expecting Bomberman to include hyper-realistic graphics, saturated in a lush color palette obviously missed out on the NES, and maybe shouldn't be reading my articles without parental consent. For those of you who are old enough to have enjoyed what the NES had to offer, you already know that there isn't a lot to Bomberman's visual presentation, beyond endless walls of drab bricks, goofy-looking enemies in various basic shades, and the frequent, cross-shaped blast of fiery, bomb-spawned destruction. Basic animations deliver exactly what they're intended to: enemies (and Bomberman) die with cartoony anguish etched into their faces, bricks disintegrate into nonexistence upon being blasted, and Bomberman waddles across the screen with all the finesse of a burnt-out, middle-aged, workaholic spending his lunch break at the company gym.

Despite the lack of any mind-blowing contributions to video game graphics, there is one major feature that sticks out about Bomberman: the eponymous character of the game, Bomberman established his signature look early on. Bomberman's classic appearance has remained, for the most part, unaltered, despite his jump from the NES onto almost every major gaming system since 1987. Without this introduction, perhaps the Bomberman of today would be without his unmistakable anime-inspired eyes, ball hands, white helmet, and stupid-looking antenna.

Despite his most genuine efforts to enforce justice, Bomberman's destruction of his underground factory made him an easy target for Homeland Security.

Sound/Music: Not much here, to be honest. Music is a standard, NES, bleeps-and-bloops fanfare, with little variety and surprisingly little staying power, despite the maddening repetition. The sound of Bomberman's detonating bombs is appropriate, and the "bling" noise when you acquire a power-up is cheerful and bright. However, the incessant tapping of Bomberman's footsteps might drive you to the point of intentionally killing the little bastard, which will leave you scratching your head in confusion when he lets out a death cry that can only be described as a mix between a duck call and a Japanese dirt bike.

Listen around 4:00. You'll get what I mean.

Gameplay: Bomberman is built on a user-friendly, action-oriented, arcadey gameplay style. As Bomberman, you must blast your way through a gauntlet of 50 brick mazes, teeming with various monsters, all possessing the ability to inexplicably kill you with a single touch. You may defend yourself by dropping bombs, which will explode after a set amount of time, destroying any bricks or enemies within their blast radius. However, each stage also has a 200 second time limit; if the timer reaches zero, then swarms of difficult enemies invade the screen to kill you. Fortunately for Bomberman, power-ups are randomly hidden within bricks in each stage, capable of giving him new abilities to fight off his enemies. Eventually, Bomberman is able to walk through brick walls, detonate bombs when he pleases, and strategically place up to ten explosives on the screen. Constantly upgrading Bomberman's abilities is a surprisingly satisfying journey.

Unfortunately, by the time you've collected enough power-ups to obtain all the available abilities, the game has lost most of its challenge, and therefore most of its fun. On top of the disappointing challenge curve is the absolutely atrocious enemy AI (or lack thereof). Although some of the more "challenging" enemies of the later game will give chase to Bomberman if they see him, most will still mindlessly charge into the path of an exploding bomb; this, paired with the giant mess of power-ups already accumulated by this point in the game, almost completely eliminates any need to fear death from your enemies. Essentially, enemies will begin to serve only as a minor annoyance, rushing ahead of each other with an idiotic determination to become bomb fodder. Even the ghosts of Pac-Man had the sense to flee once Pac-Man had eaten a special dot. In fact, the biggest challenges you'll probably face are: (a) accidentally trapping yourself in between a wall and a bomb in the early stages; (b) accidentally bombing a doorway, which will release new hordes of annoying enemies in your direction; and (c) keeping yourself interested enough to plod through all 50, quasi-identical levels. Players are given the opportunity to play a "bonus" stage after every five normal levels, but these also grow old, as their only purpose is to allow the player to go on a murderous rampage in hopes of earning extra lives, which are completely unneeded. Yawn.

Bomberman's Jesus Bomb crucifies another enemy.

Overall: While Bomberman is by no means a bad game, it really can't be called a great game either. Mediocre at best, Bomberman follows its formula almost too well, growing stale quickly and completely. While later iterations have added multiplayer, new upgrades, and boss battles, I feel that these areas were not where the critical flaws of the first game resided. Rather, instead of adding more, I feel Bomberman on NES should have offered less: cutting the number of levels in half, or even by a third would have made this experience far more enjoyable; offering players less power-ups would keep the challenge of the later enemies pertinent, and would require players to utilize some form of strategy to overcome adversaries.

While it may sound like I'm dishonoring and discrediting what Bomberman did for gaming (trust me, I'm not), I can't bring myself to call a game "great" simply for nostalgia's sake. However, I can confidently say that I'm glad Hudson Soft continued the Bomberman series after this incarnation: I consider some of this title's sequels and spin-offs among my favorite games of all time, and none of them would exist without Bomberman's foray onto the original Nintendo Entertainment System.

Score (out of 10): 6

Thursday, July 22, 2010

7/22/10 - What I'm Playing Update #2

Hey readers! Once again, I prove to everyone on the internetz (yes, with a "z") that I lack the focus, fortitude, and free time to post on a regular basis. I apologize that I'm so incredibly unreliable, but I can assure you that I'm doing plenty of "field work" in the area of video game review (i.e. sitting on my couch, playing Modern Warfare 2 in my PJs, and drinking hard liquor). Unfortunately, a couple of the titles I'm currently playing have got me caught up in some pretty intense grindfests and side quests - I will do my best to overcome my desire to level up 50 more times in Star Ocean: Second Evolution. I've recently completed a bunch of other games, and promise that reviews for them are on the way. In the meantime, I hit you all with another fistful of "What I'm Playing."

Keep in mind, I'm still working on some of the games from my last "What I'm Playing Update," but this is a list of titles that I'm concentrating on the most.

What I'm Playing:
-Fire Emblem (Game Boy Advance)
-Star Ocean: Second Evolution (PlayStation Portable)
-Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana (PlayStation 2)
-Mass Effect (Xbox 360)
-Fracture (Xbox 360)
-Bioshock 2 (Xbox 360)
-Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Xbox 360)
-Brütal Legend (Xbox 360)

I realize that this lackluster post can't fill the void in your heart, dear reader, but I promise once I'm less stressed, I will continue my review rampage through the video game kingdom. In the meantime, please continue to support my writing (or send me massive floods of hate mail...your call) and flex your patience muscle, as I prepare myself. Thanks again for reading!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Dissidia: Final Fantasy

The ultimate wet dream for any Final Fantasy fanboy.

Platform: PlayStation Portable
Published by: Square Enix
Developed by: Square Enix
Genre: Fighting/Action-RPG
Players: 1-2
US Release Date: August 25, 2009
ESRB Rating: Teen - Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Partial Nudity

Story: Dissidia's story can best be described as a unique amalgamation of some of the most beloved quests in Final Fantasy history. Serving as a mash-up of the first ten games, Dissidia finds our heroes mysteriously drawn together in a common universe. Early on, it's revealed that the goddess of harmony, Cosmos, has called upon each of the heroes to defeat the god of discord, Chaos. Consequently, Chaos has also summoned champions of his own - as a result, some of video gaming's most sinister badasses will go toe-to-toe with the series' coolest heroes. The game picks up with the forces of light fighting a losing battle against their dark counterpoints; Cosmos, in turn, begs the heroes to find ten crystals scattered throughout the realm. Each hero sets out on a "Destiny Odyssey" to find the only objects capable of repelling the advancing darkness.

Themes from the original games make themselves pertinent throughout Dissidia's epic yarn, providing this game with an almost unlimited source of fan service. While this is enough to make any fanboy (and I use this term as endearingly as possible) wet his pants with delight, the game's storyline lacks any standalone "oomph" of its own; in truth, Dissidia's original plot is pretty bare-bones and rarely strays outside the established cliché "good vs. evil" of yesteryear. Along with this, the pacing, as well as the overall coherency of the story don't really satisfy until several chapters have been completed. While this certainly isn't horrible in any way, shape, or form, it would have been refreshing to experience an original, well-constructed story as deep as any of the games Dissidia is based off of. That being said, Square Enix was sure to pack in plenty of extras, providing an incredibly wealthy treasure trove of backstory for those die-hard and patient enough to unlock them all.

This is a game all about men who love flowers! Kind of.

Graphics: If the PlayStation Portable was the United States during World War II, then Dissidia would be its CG cutscene nuke. Bad historical metaphors aside, Dissidia is arguably the best looking game on the system: event graphics are beautifully-rendered, character models react and flow realistically, and environments are each alive with their own energy. I can't count the number of times this game took my breath away or awed me into a speechless stupor - from the moment the UMD loaded and the opening cutscene assaulted my senses, to any of the countless, gravity-defying standard enemy battles, Dissidia had me marveling at the capabilities of the tiny machine in my hands. Far more than mere eye candy, Dissidia wows with supreme technical prowess and as much attention to detail as any of Square Enix's console titles.

Garland and Cloud in one of their regular "Whose sword is bigger?" battles (i.e. "Who's overcompensating more?").

Sound/Music: Dissidia boasts a soundtrack of massive proportions, ranging from the nostalgic anthems of the great Nobuo Uematsu, to the wound-up, high-energy rock offerings of "Your Favorite Enemies." Classic Nobuo Uematsu tracks are prevalent throughout most of the game, with some transforming into hyper-intense battle remixes - mere ghosts of their former melodies haunting the interludes and choruses of the synthesized fanfares. Not necessarily a bad thing, Dissidia's soundtrack comes across as a hefty helping of the familiar, served up with a dash of innovation; a balancing act that should satisfy both the new and old camps.

The sheer amount of spoken dialogue in Dissidia is also quite impressive, as every cutscene in the game contains some form of voice acting. The voice actors chosen for each character are all pretty fitting, and do a decent job (with several mediocre exceptions) of portraying their roles as agents of harmony and discord. Nothing stellar, but definitely appropriate for what the title is.

Ah, the backhand: the core of any father-son relationship.

Gameplay: Part fighting game, part action-RPG, Dissidia plays a lot like an episode of Dragon Ball Z: spells fly through the air at breakneck speed, explosions destroy parts of the environment, and attacks are swung so viciously that the opposing character is knocked clear across the stage. There is even a "chase" mechanic in Dissidia that allows you to catch up to and smash your opponent's falling body over and over again - if that doesn't scream "anime fight scene," then nothing does. Battles also seem reminiscent of the Struggle Battles of Kingdom Hearts II, but instead of balls, each player has a "bravery gauge" that can be drained through the use of "bravery attacks," and an "HP gauge" that can be drained by landing "HP attacks." It may sound strange, but in practice it's a wonderfully-constructed battle system that sets up the player for some really great strategic plans of attack. Implementing a theme common in many later additions to the Final Fantasy franchise, Dissidia allows characters to execute stat-boosting transformations, similar to "Limit Breaks," upon collecting enough "EX gauge" points; many times, these transformations can alter the course of a battle or offer an opportunity for a one-hit kill on your opponent. For those unfamiliar with the high-speed world of fighting games, Dissidia even offers a "command input mode" that makes the game play out more like a traditional action-RPG, and keeps Dissidia from pigeonholing itself purely as a fighting game.

The action-RPG elements of Dissidia are perfectly woven into the customization and battle systems of the game: attacks are techniques and abilities your character learns over time, equipment offers boosts to your primary stats, experience points are awarded for attacking and defeating opponents (sometimes during battle), and exploration occurs on a chessboard-like overworld. New equipment can be purchased with the money you collect from fights (as long as you meet the level prerequisites), and, like many action-RPGs, abilities can be "mastered" with repeated use. Even better yet, the game keeps track of your stats in real-time, granting bonuses (like extra money or experience points) on certain days of the month, and awarding you with special prizes for meeting certain preset criteria, offering the player a rewarding and entertaining achievement system. The overworld element of the game can get tedious and dry at times, but Dissidia serves up its battles with an extra-large helping of awesome sauce. For those who can't be satiated by the campaign, Dissidia offers a plethora of modes, as well as system-to-system linking for some of the best head-to-head multiplayer battles the PSP has to offer. With over 20 characters to choose from, each with their own fighting styles and attacks, solving the epic question of "Who would win in a fight: Cloud or Squall?" is made that much easier.

Squall: "Bang, bang! You're dead!"
Tidus: ":("

Overall: To be honest, flying through a 3-D arena, blasting spells and dodging sword swipes is the sweetest combination of intensity and fun I've ever experienced on the PSP, and I'm not the least bit embarrassed to admit I've invested dozens upon dozens of hours into this game. Equal parts fighting bonanza and action-RPG paradise, topped with a spoonful of addictive, hardcore level-grinding incentive, Dissidia delivers on all fronts. This isn't to say that Dissidia is for everyone, or that it is totally devoid of some truly frustrating moments (final boss battle, anyone?), but Dissidia is easily one of the most technically-sound and polished products I've ever laid my hands on. Old-school fans and curious fighting/action-RPG enthusiasts should definitely give it a try - adding it to your collection won't be too far behind.

Score (out of 10): 9

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Follow my blog with Bloglovin'!

If you haven't become a Blogger follower of New Game Smell (or even if you have), then use Bloglovin' to keep up to date with it conveniently and easily! New posts coming soon!

Follow my blog with bloglovin

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Puyo Pop

A puzzle game that will have you addicted before you can say "campy."

Platform: Game Boy Advance, Neo Geo Pocket Color, N-Gage
Version Reviewed: Game Boy Advance
Published by: THQ/Sega
Developed by: Sonic Team
Genre: Puzzle
Players: 1-4
US Release Date: October 5, 1999
ESRB Rating: Everyone

Story: Puzzle games, as a whole, have come a long way in terms of story. Normally heavily-steeped in the realm of science-fiction or fantasy, we find ourselves chaining together multicolored gems to blast our enemies with fireballs or jumping through walls via space-time portals. While character development might still take a backseat to gameplay, it can safely be said that puzzle games now primarily utilize protagonists undergoing some sort of conflict or quest. This, in itself, is a gigantic step away from the impersonal falling, gray blocks of yesteryear - finally, we puzzle fans are able to take control (to a degree) of a hero with a purpose. No matter how kitschy many of these so-called "stories" may seem, it's at least something.

With this being said, the story of Puyo Pop is as kitschy as they come. Apparently, Puyo Pop is part of the Puyo Puyo series of puzzle games, all starring a young sorceress Arle and her fat, bunny-ish pet named Carbuncle - this being the first Puyo Puyo game I've played, I had no preexisting connection with these characters. Arle and Carbuncle travel their fantasy setting in complete, oblivious glee, and are randomly challenged to puzzle battles by a plethora of insane characters that would fit in with the cast of any teen anime series. In fact, Puyo Pop's story is most easily-digested if you play it expecting just that: an extremely campy, goofy, sugar-coated anime show. This is a Japanese game, and Sonic Team does not want you to forget it. Since there really isn't much in terms of deep story or character development, forgetting might prove easier than they anticipated.

...a wild Pokémon appeared! What? Wrong game? Damn.

Graphics: Drawing heavily from the pool of easily-accessible anime artist talent in Japan, Puyo Pop is a festival of bright, explosive colors and gigantic, glimmering eyeballs. While by no means impressive, the static "cutscenes" still make great use of the Game Boy Advance's extensive color palette. Battle screens come alive with a multitude of little details and animations that any puzzle fan can appreciate. Don't prepare to be dazzled, but Puyo Pop certainly knows how to keep things bright and fun.

Wait until you see Arle's REAL excited face.

Sound/Music: Puyo Pop's soundtrack consists of all that is bouncy and light-hearted, wreaking absolute havoc on the Game Boy Advance's horns and chime synthesizers. Regardless of its bubblegum-sweet sensibilities, I found myself unintentionally bobbing my head along to some of the tracks each time I booted up Puyo Pop. High-energy, and never dark or sinister in any way, Puyo Pop's music is a fitting addition to this game's cotton candy theme.

Going hand-in-hand with Puyo Pop's musical score is the game's sound effects, which sound like they were borrowed from an early Super Nintendo RPG; note that this isn't a bad thing. Sonic Team has even included tiny voice clips (in original Japanese!) during battle, breathing even more life into the already frantic fights. These vocal bits alone add another ten points to Puyo Pop's already appropriate placement on the "kitsch" scale.

Gameplay: The battle elements of Puyo Pop play almost exactly like a relatively-unknown Windows game, called Qwirks (from Tetris creator, Alexey Pajitnov) that I used to have as a kid. A set of two, colored blobs are dropped into the play area; matching four or more of these pieces, or making chains will remove them from the play field and drop clear "blocks" onto your opponents side, which will prevent them from creating sets or chains of their own. If you or your opponent's screen becomes too full to fit another block or blob, that person loses the match. It may sound basic (and in truth, the concept is), but each stage you unlock yields new enemies, who become progressively harder as the game goes on. The in-game tutorials are worked seamlessly into the experience and prove to be helpful practice for future opponents, giving the game a smooth learning curve. The whole gameplay experience is a prime example of the key elements true puzzle fans look for in a game: simplistic controls, pick-up-and-play concepts, and a gauntlet of intense, fast-paced challenges. Additional time with the story mode will unlock new obstacles and a bonus challenge mode, but the real fun is available if you have a link cable: a single game cartridge allows up to four players to duke it out, Puyo Pop style, giving this already addictive title some great replay value.

Forget swords and magic - you know it's on when the blobs start falling!

Overall: If you decide to take on Puyo Pop, I hope you have your tent and sleeping bag ready, because this title is beyond "campy." While many will be turned off early by the cutesy art style, bouncy music, and sickly-sweet dialogue, I urge you to stick around for what is, at its heart, one of the most entertaining puzzle games of the Game Boy Advance's time. The core gameplay is solid as a rock, and is sure to not disappoint those looking for an exciting, high-paced puzzle experience - even if it is drenched in an extra-large helping of kitsch-syrup.

Score (out of 10): 8.5

Monday, April 26, 2010

4/26/10 - What I'm Playing Update #1

Hey readers! I realize I haven't been posting a whole lot as of late. This is partially due to me being on vacation last week in Ocean City, MD, and not having much access to video games or writing time, and partially (mostly) due to me being incredibly anal and self-conscious about my writing; I refuse to post a review unless I feel it is my absolute best grammatically, content-wise, and otherwise. I also won't review games I haven't beaten recently (to help maintain accuracy in my writing); this combined with the fact that gaming time has been scarce as of late (mostly due to my job) makes the blog grind to a crawl at times - for this, I sincerely apologize. I also maintain a food blog, which demands some of my time to maintain, as well. Regardless, I know this is annoying (for you AND for me), and I promise more reviews are on the way!

In the meantime, I've decided to start posting "What I'm Playing Updates," which are exactly what they sound like: updates on what games I'm currently in the middle of (at the moment, it's A LOT). These will be posted in no particular interval, but at random when I feel the blog is slowing down.

Feel free to leave a list of the games you're currently playing in the comments section!

What I'm Playing:
-Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love (PlayStation 2)
-Need for Speed: Underground 2 (PlayStation 2)
-Phantasy Star (Sega Master System)
-Shining in the Darkness (Sega Genesis)
-Earthbound (Super Nintendo)
-Final Fantasy III/VI (Super Nintendo/PlayStation)
-Robotrek (Super Nintendo)
-Aaahh!!! Real Monsters (Super Nintendo)
-Final Fantasy VIII (PlayStation)
-Azure Dreams (Game Boy Color)
-Robopon: Sun Version (Game Boy Color)
-Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (Game Boy Advance)
-Lufia: The Ruins of Lore (Game Boy Advance)
-Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescure Team (Game Boy Advance)
-Yggdra Union: We'll Never Fight Alone (Game Boy Advance)
-Dissidia: Final Fantasy (PlayStation Portable)
-Final Fantasy XIII (Xbox 360)
-Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Xbox 360)
-Prey (Xbox 360)
-Lost Odyssey (Xbox 360)
-Gears of War (Xbox 360)
-Prototype (Xbox 360)
-Bioshock 2 (Xbox 360)
-BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger (Xbox 360)
-Sacred 2: Fallen Angel (Xbox 360)

And yes, I am playing them ALL to some degree - while I haven't touched some for months (I still plan on finishing them and remember where I am in the storylines), many of these games are actively accessed whenever I have time to play. My severe ADD keeps me jumping back and forth between them, but at the moment Sakura Wars, Final Fantasy XIII, and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance are consuming a majority of my game time. The fact that I have so many games going at once means that beating them takes a little longer than if I were to just concentrate on one and power through it, but I figure with this approach I'll eventually have more than enough to write about. Don't hate and remember to keep reading!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Assassin's Creed

Ubisoft puts a hit out on boring gameplay.

Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Version Reviewed: Xbox 360
Published by: Ubisoft
Developed by: Ubisoft Montreal
Genre: Action
Players: 1
US Release Date: November 13, 2007
ESRB Rating: Mature - Blood, Strong Language, Violence

Story: The year is 2012, and you are placed into the shoes of...Desmond Miles, a scrawny, weenie of a bartender, who can't even run. Desmond is kidnapped by Abstergo, a pharmaceutical company using cutting-edge technology in secretive, and most likely illegal research. Abstergo makes Desmond a guinea pig for a machine called the Animus - a piece of equipment reminiscent of the chairs used by Neo in The Matrix, and capable of letting an individual relive the memories of their ancestors via their genetic code, in a virtual reality/dream-like state. After Desmond is plugged into the Animus, the game shifts points of view, as well as time periods: enter Altaïr ibn La-Ahad (say that three times fast), an assassin from the year 1191, during the Third Crusade of the Holy Land. This viewpoint starts off with Altaïr's master and leader of the the Assassin's, Al Mualim, tasking the young assassin with finding an artifact known as the "Piece of Eden"; however, during the mission, Altaïr breaks the three rules of his sect's Creed, endangering the lives of his companions and failing the mission. Altaïr's rank is stripped, and it is up to the player to complete missions for Al Mualim, in turn restoring his honor within the clan. The primary targets of these missions are members of the crusading Knights Templar, all of whom are connected in some sort of secret plot.

As the player progresses through the game and the bodies start to pile up, the story develops from simple, badass assassination missions into something much more: the rabbit hole gets much deeper, twisting religion and mythology into a conspiracy that binds the past and the present together. Loyalties and ideologies are tested, but unfortunately so is player patience - there are moments during Assassin's Creed during which the story crawls to a snail's pace, bogging down an otherwise intense and action-packed experience. While these instances can be painfully boring at times, pushing through them will reward the player with some really deep, unique storytelling - with Ubisoft doing an amazing job of incorporating some historical accuracy into the mix - that is well worth the wait.

"Hello Face?"
"Yeah, Hidden Blade?"
"Let's meet up sometime. How about now?"

Graphics: Graphically, Assassin's Creed is a mixed bag: for every glaring jagged texture and moment of framerate lag, there is an equally impressive breathtaking environment or top-notch character animation. There were times during Assassin's Creed when I literally put down my Xbox controller and just stared at the beauty unfolding on my TV screen; Ubisoft did an excellent job of injecting real, vibrant life into the cities of Jerusalem, Acre, and Damascus. Lighting effects and impressive fabric movement effects are just some of the minor details the development team threw in that make this title really shine. The occasional poor framerate only seems to affect the game during intense action/chase sequences, or when new areas of a city are being loaded (and trust me, the cities are pretty much huge), and even then only minimally detracts from the experience.

The realism of the character models and details of the environments add some incredible emotion to each and every interaction, making it amazingly easy to get pulled into the world of the 12th century Holy Land. Blood splatters from felled guards, the flash of blades in the sunlight, and the wind blowing through Altaïr's cloak as he sprints across rooftops are all captured with the brilliance of a Hollywood movie. Even the menus are designed with aesthetic value in mind, coming up sharp, bright, and crisp.

Though at times flawed, Assassin's Creed is overall a very pretty game, and shows off some of the 360's finer graphical capabilities.

Views like this one made my jaw drop so far that it hit me in the crotch. So worth it.

Sound/Music: Assassin's Creed boasts an impressive score composed by Jesper Kyd, ranging in tone from dark and brooding, to majestic and epic, to high-paced and explosive. Chase scenes, battles, and story elements are all appropriately accompanied by Assassin's Creed's sweeping soundtrack. A Latin chorus and powerful orchestra add to the ominous and heavy tone already set by the game's storyline.

Sound effects in this game are fitting for the settings and inevitable ensuing action: marketplaces are initially filled with quietly murmuring crowds, preaching holy men, and whimpering beggars; start a fight with a Templar guard, and the whole street will become a mess of screaming civilians and clanging swords. Ambient noise is an important part of the experience, with some missions requiring Altaïr to eavesdrop on conversations from nearby hiding places. Guards will also offer verbal cues that they are suspicious of your actions, making it easy to know when to duck into an alleyway or bale of hay to avoid detection.

As far as voice acting is concerned, Ubisoft did an excellent job of for one individual: Altaïr, our bold protagonist. While the rest of the cast does a great job of spicing up the dialogue with vibrant emotion and authentic-sounding accents, Altaïr's voice actor seems intent on draining all life out of his performance. I have trouble believing that Altaïr is committed to his mission or beliefs when he can't inflect beyond a plodding monotone.

Despite this solitary drawback, the audio of Assassin's Creed is as solid as it gets.

Gameplay: What is cooler than being an assassin? The answer should be "nothing"; however, Assassin's Creed suffers from several drawbacks that prevent it from achieving this idea. While the gameplay may feel varied during the first few hours of your quest - and believe me, the gameplay is incredibly solid - eventually the novelty begins to wear thin. Altaïr's action sequences are broken up by Desmond's interactions with members of Abstergo in the present, which end up being utterly forgettable at best. While it's a blast figuring out the most efficient strategy of assassinating a major target, the path to get to these too-few-and-far-between missions quickly becomes undeniably tedious. Assassin's Creed tries to remedy this by including a number of "side quests," but these ultimately end up being pointless (unless you REALLY want those achievement points). My biggest qualm is with the investigation quests: pickpocketing Templars or eavesdropping on two palace guards is entertaining for only so long before it becomes a mindless chore. Should you fail a timed assassination of Templar targets for one of your assassin brethren, you will be forced to listen to his full explanation of your mission, without an option to skip the dialogue. A flawed lock-on/camera system combo will occasionally impede some from successful combat encounters.

Fortunately, Assassin's Creed offers some great nonlinear gameplay to spice up the tedium of random guard fights, exploration, and investigation quests. The open world, Grand Theft Auto-style "kill anyone, at any time" ideal works well with this game, allowing the player to choose when to take on certain tasks essential to progressing the storyline. While the weapons roster is limited to only four different blades (longsword, short blade, hidden blade, and throwing knives), experimenting with each to find out its unique tactical advantage is guaranteed entertainment. Assassin's Creed also boasts one of the most fluid, user-friendly counter systems I've ever experienced, making devastating combos and reversals as easy as a single button-push, and allowing you to sit back and watch Altaïr's brutality unfold on screen.

In terms of gameplay, the strong points outweigh the weaker moments of Assassin's Creed, but unfortunately stepping into the shoes of an assassin feels far less badass than it should.

Altaïr is a master of disguise, capable of avoiding detection by any pursuer. Here he is using one of his favorite, most efficient disguises: Bench-sitting guy.

Overall: Without a doubt, Assassin's Creed does exactly what an action game should do: it gives the player the opportunity to take on the role of a hardass protagonist and embark on a quest of considerable proportion. Assassin's Creed does a great job of presenting its unique plot of conspiracy and mystery, while its soundtrack sets an appropriately ominous tone; a strong battle system, and some gorgeous graphics help flesh out an overall entertaining package. Unfortunately, this game falls victim to a handful of flaws not uncommon to this particular genre. In truth, the positive aspects of Assassin's Creed outdo most, if not all, of the negatives, leaving the player with a solid game definitely worth checking out. Unfortunately, the drawbacks that are present detract from an experience that should have otherwise been far more epic. Without ruining anything, the disappointing, cliffhanger ending of Assassin's Creed opens the doors wide for Assassin's Creed 2, a sequel so powerful that any downfalls of this game can be easily overlooked and forgotten. So, go ahead and take the plunge, and let Altaïr's 12th century world of secrecy and death consume you; you might walk away a little disappointed, but I guarantee you'll crave Ubisoft's second helping of this series.

Score (out of 10): 8
Site Meter