Level Up! An All Review Edition! (Mania.com)

By:Tim Janson
Date: Thursday, November 29, 2012
Source: Mania.com

Well we used the long holiday weekend to get caught up on several reviews so presented this week is the Level Up all review edition covering Assassin’s Creed III, WWE 13, Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Zone of Enders HD Collection, and Trash Pack.

Assassin’s Creed III (Ubisoft) Rated M  PS3, Xbox 360  

The latest entry in the Assassin’s Creed story brings the action to the new world, circa the American Revolutionary period.  Assassin’s Creed III is a huge game…HUGE!  It’s a sprawling open world for you to explore but its vast size also tends to work against it. A convoluted storyline doesn’t help matters.

Part of what ails ACIII is what has always ailed it…that is a sense that its goals seem to grand for its own good.  I’ll not go into the whole business of the Animus other than to say that the modern day series protagonist Desmond Miles must once again make use of the Animus to access the memories of another ancestor, English nobleman Haytham Kenway.  Haytham is sent on a mission to the colonies in America where he falls in love with a Native American woman.  Their union produces a son they name Ratonhnhaké:ton, or Connor for short (thank God!).  You takeover Connor as a boy and guide him through years of training into manhood.  Connor must protect his village from those that would destroy it.

Ultimately he begins hunting down Colonial members of the Templars although later he questions this mission when he comes in contact with his father who is also a Templar.  This complexity makes things far less black and white compared to earlier Assassin’s Creed games.  This ultimately ends up playing out as Connor decides to ally with the colonists against the oppressive British rule and you have to wonder why you need to traverse the roads between assassin and Templar to get to this point.

Connor ultimately finds himself caught up in several keep moments of the Revolutionary period such as the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere’s ride, and Valley Forge with George Washington.  These are very cool on one hand from the standpoint of being a part of history but also come off as contrived.

You’ll love the free-movement and parkour abilities that make you an equivalent to an early American Spider-Man.  The ability to run, jump, climb, bounce between walls is simple to perform and combines with the usual solid stealth elements.  ACIII also lets you take part in large scale battles both at sea and on land and these battles are truly a spectacle to behold.  You’ll also get to play as Desmond a lot in this entry possibly foreshadowing a future more modern day entry in the series.  Desmond’s story is often even more compelling than Connor’s.  But there are so many plot twists and so much to do an see that it’s often hard to see where everything fits.  There’s also a tendency for the game to drag at certain points in the game and takes a number of hours to really get moving.

One of the major additions to the game is the inclusion of Homestead missions.  The homestead is your base and offers an element of world building.  You can do various side missions for NPCs in order to recruit them to your cause.  You can recruit different types of craftsmen who can produces goods which can be sold to increase your wealth.  AC III features new weather simulations such as snow, fog, and rain. Depending on the seasons, weather determines how enemies/players will move around. Adverse weather makes it more difficult to travel.  Combat has been changed to allow for more options during battle with a slow motion effect.  The simple system draws parallels to Batman: Arkham City with its simple fluidity.  Combat is capped by some fantastic animation.

Out on the frontier Connor can use his skills to hunt and kill animals for their hides.  It’s another neat skill although one that’s more interesting in concept than in practical usage.  There’s a lot to locate throughout the immense areas that will keep you busy for many hours.

Multiplayer features some one dozen game modes including the returning Assassinate mode and the new 'Wolf Pack'. This mode allows players to form teams of up to 4 people and work collectively to eliminate NPC assassination targets, known as 'Moles'.

AC III suffers from some graphical glitches, some of which are merely amusing in their silliness such as animals or characters getting stuck on walls but others are far more sloppy and annoying and not something you generally saw in earlier entries in the series.  Despite its flaws Assassin’s Creed III is another strong entry in the series.  Grade B

WWE 13 (THQ) Rated T Xbox 360, PS3

For the record let me just say that I cannot stand C.M. Punk…that out of the way, WWE 13 refines last year’s WWE 12, particularly in regards to the campaign part of the game.  The campaign segment of WWE 13 lets you replay arguably the most important era in the history of the WWF/WWE, the Attitude era of the mid to late 1990s.  A narrated video prologue covers the Monday Night Wars between the WWE and rival WCW and how WCW controlled the ratings for two year.  Then the WWE ushered in the Attitue Era and changed the face of the game.  

The Attitude Era campaign lets you relive the rise of many of the WWE’s top stars and some of its greatest matches.  This is broken up into several different storylines including Rise of DX, Austin 3:16, the Brothers of Destruction, The Great One, Mankind, and WrestleMania XV.  Each of these storylines has multiple parts/matches, 65 in all.  You will play through Shawn Michaels and HHH first joining forces during the Rise of DX.  These matches include the debut of Kane during the Hell in the Cell match pitting Michaels against the Undertaker.  

Each match involves one of more objectives including historical objectives which help you unlock extras in the form of new playable superstars, arenas, titles, etc…Often times the objectives do NOT include actually winning the match.  These may be things like hitting your opponent with a chair while the ref is distracted or getting your opponents health knocked down to the point where it triggers a cutscene such as another superstar interfering in the match.  The matches are all take from actual matches that took place on Monday Night RAW or during PPV events.  it even features the infamous Montreal Screw job match featuring Michaels Vs. Bret Hart.  Interestingly, a cutscene is added before the match in which we see Michaels, Vince McMahon, and HHH in the locker room discussing the match as HHH utters “F Bret Hart.  If he won’t do the job we’ll do it for him!”  I’ll bet Hart is happy about that!

You can’t move on to the next part of the storyline until you complete the main objective although you can move on without completing all of the historical objectives.   The Attitude Era is a blast to play and relive.  It’s a stroke of genius for developer Yukes to go this route in the latest game because let’s face it…even die hard WWE fans have to admit that this is not a great era, hence the reason that guys like The Rock and Mick Foley are being brought in to generate interest.

Besides the Attitude Era, Universe Mode returns and create a completely different experience for the player.  While Attitude Era follows a set script, Universe Mode puts you in full control of…everything.  Think of it like the owner or GM modes in MLB The Show or Madden Football.  You control everything from the rosters to storylines, TV shows, PPV Events, even creating your own arenas.  There’s so much to do that it can be daunting but a lot of fun to explore.

WWE 13’s look is a mixed bag.  The TV style presentation with authentic ring entrances, pyrotechnics, cutscenes all jump off the screen and are fabulous.  Less impressive are the character models.  Some of the superstars like The Undertaker and Stone Cold Steve Austin have fabulous likenesses.  Others look like they were created by someone who had had only seen an out of focus picture of the wrestler.  The in-ring action is generally quite smooth but not without its glitches.  

You climb a ring post by pushing the stick toward the corner and hitting L1.  In tag teams you tag in your partner by going to the corner and hitting L1.  This clunky design can find your wrestler climbing the turnbuckle when you are trying to tag in.  L1 is also used to enter/leave the ring but also to pickup obects like chairs or the ring stairs.  Again you can find yourself doing one action when trying to do the other.  

WWE utilizes the same Predator Technology as last year’s game with some refinements, particularly to the reversal system which is a bit more forgiving.  The weight detection system has been improved as well.  The AI in the game can be problematic, however.  In tag matches, one of your goals might be that you have to pin a certain member of the other team.  However you can often beat the snot out of his partner and yet he will make no effort to tag out.

The sound/play-by-play broadcasts are also inconsistent.  The Attitude Era uses actual commentary by Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler from the original matches and lends an authentic feel of excitement to the action.  But the non-Attitude Era commentary sounds canned and repetitive.  The crowd noise also fluctuates from “blow the roof off” cheers to resounding boos in a heartbeat.

WWE 13 gets a nod over WWE 12 for the inclusion of the outstanding Attitude Era mode.  Grade B+

Need for Speed: Most Wanted (Electronic Arts) PS3, PC, Xbox 360

The latest entry in the Need for Speed series is Need for Speed: Most Wanted (hereafter referred to as NFS:MW) and was produced by British developer Criterion Games.  The game is an improvement in just about every area over last year’s Need for Speed: The Run.  Welcome to the city of Fairhaven, and what a city it is!  Huge and gorgeously detailed, Fairhaven’s scope and beauty make you want to jump in and just immerse yourself into its many layers.  
  
It’s the little things that catch your eye right off the bat.  Then incredible lighting effects both during the daytime and nighttime; the construction and design of the roads, buildings; even the billboards seem to bring this city to life and invite you inside.  There are so many subtle little touches to the look of the game that you can’t help but applaud the designers. 
  
There are a variety of race types including Sprint races, where you race from one point of the city to another, three lap Circuit races, and Speed runs, which involve racing through a course at the highest average speed possible.  Also on the gameplay menu are Ambush races, which has you trying to evade heavy police pursuit.  The arm of the law is something you’ll have to face not just in the Ambush races but most of the other modes as well.  As your heat level increases the pursuit will amp up with more cops in faster vehicles.  
  
Car modification is a snap with the slick Easy Drive menu.  Give your vehicle the extras it needs with better tires, reinforced chassis, nitrous bursts, and countless other options.  Freedom of choice is key in NFS:MW.  Most of the game’s vehicles (some 40 in all) are available to use right off the bat.  You don’t have to gain them by unlocking them through challenges.  They are hidden throughout Fairhaven, often right there on the streets.  
  
You earn speed points (essentially the game’s XP) by competing and doing well in races.  Your goal is to become the Most Wanted drive in the city but to do so you need to accumulate the speed points in order to challenge and defeat the current Top 10 Most Wanted drivers.  You can earn points by either breaking the law and getting caught on camera or ramming through billboards but the best bet to get points fastest is by winning street races. 
  
The Cars in NFS:MW handle with incredible precision.  Yes it takes a lot of practice to master its many elements and how the cars handle with mods added, but it can be done, even on the hardest play levels.  As such the game presents a healthy but not overwhelming challenge.  The game presents a well-written narrative to give it a true story feel as opposed to just being a series of disconnected racing events.  Negatives are few.  It can be disorienting at times and be hard to know where to go next.  Some races have multiple paths you can take which also tend to make it more difficult.  Also the persistent police pursuit can be annoying at times, especially when there is little punishment besides just having to start that race over. 

Great visuals, a well-designed narrative and brilliant game physics, not to mention a strong multi-player mode make this the best entry in Need for Speed in years.  Grade A-

Zone of Enders HD Collection (Konami) PS3, Xbox 360

Zone of the Enders HD collection packages the original PS2 classics Zone of the Enders and Zone of the Enders: 2nd Runner into one re-mastered collection with re-drawn art, HD resolution, improved audio and interfaces, as well as trophy support. 
  
The result is a bit of a mixed bag which is what the two original games were to begin with.  First off, while ZOE: 2nd Runner was definitely a classic and one that is great to see again as it’s a lost classic, the original game was only…ok.  The anime-inspired look and gameplay involves you (playing as Leo Stenbuck) piloting an Orbital Frame Mech called “Jehuty” and defending the Antilla Colony from the rampaging forces of BAHRAM.  While on the cheesy side the game does have its charm in the way of its characters and the good vs. evil narrative although the voice acting left a lot to be desired.  
  
The HD enhancements help out the original ZOE a great deal as we are talking about a game that is 11 years old.  The frame rate is vastly improved and the colors are more bold and standout.  However the enhancements do not change the gameplay which consists of repetitive mech battles and a very short campaign of about 6 hours. 
 
In ZOE: 2nd runner you play as new protagonist Dingo Egret, a former BAHRAM pilot who becomes the new pilot of Jehuty.  Leo Stenbuck makes an appearance as a NPC.  Dingo, aided by Ken Marinaris, another disgruntled BAHRAM pilot, takes up the battle against the evil forces.  The action in the sequel (released in 2003) is on a far bigger scale than the original game and is superior in every way, highlighted by some truly epic boss battles.  Like the original it suffers from weak voice acting and another all-too short length but more than makes up for it with its visuals, precision controls, and fantastic battles.  
  
The sequel features new material which previously had only been included in European and Asian Special Edition versions of the game.  The character models and textures which were already superior to the original look even better now in the HD version.  There are still some graphical issues here and there and some spotty long load times that have to be endured, however. 
  
The games both show definite improvement in HD.  The wider HD aspect gives the whole package a clear more polished look.  Zone of Enders features wonderful mid-air mech combat and at a $40 price tag compared to $60 or $70 for most new games, it’s a good value.  Grade B 

Trash Pack (Activision) Rated E  3DS 

Trash Pack is another entry in the line of collectible toys which present kids with a host of figures to try and collect and present moms and dads with the prospect of shelling out plenty of dollars to collect them all.  In this place the figures are referred to as “trashies”, figures who take on the forms of various bits of discard food, paper, and other bits of stuff, all with lives of their own.  The game has been adapted into a videogame by Activision for the Nintendo 3DS. 
  
There’s no story to the game at all.  It’s simply a series of four mini, arcade style games.  Essentially the goal is to do well in each game, level up, and gain new Trashies to add to your collection which you can then see on the digital poster.  There are 179 Trashies in all to unlock.  If you’re also a collector of the actual toys, you can use the poster as a kind of inventory board to check off which ones you own. 
  
Trash Catch has you moving a garbage truck back and forth along the bottom of the screen in an attempt to catch the falling trash.  This is a style of gameplay that has been around forever.  It’s quite easy and never gets too fast to present much of a challenge. 
  
Trash Toss has you utilizing your stylus to grab onto a Trashie and try to toss him into one of several garbage cans at various distances.  The further away the can the faster you want to move the stylus to give it more distance. 
  
In Trash Drop, you hold down a button for more power and then launch a Trashie from a garbage can lid in an attempt to hit one of several crane claws holding garbage which will then be dumped into cans below. It’s probably the most challenging of the four games. 
  
Finally, Trash Attack has you moving a Trashie around a garbage dump, picking up cans and avoiding the garbage being thrown at you.  And that’s the extent of Trash Pack.  Honestly there’s just not enough content here to keep even young fans of the toys interested for very long.  My 10 year old became bored in less than an hour.  On top of that, there’s just not enough here to warrant a full game release.  This would be something you might expect to download for $5 or $10 or so, not purchase for $25.  Grade C- 

Tim Janson is a columnist and reviewer for Mania Entertainment. He writes Level Up, the weekly look at videogames and the horror dedicated column, Tuesday Terrors. Tim has written for Fangoria, Newsarama, City Slab Magazine, Twitch Film, and Cinefantastique. He is a member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA). Be sure to follow him on Facebook and Twitter. 


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