Steam is cool, but its support…

The year was 2011. AD.

It was the first weeks of August and I was trying deeper waters inside “Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood”. I was enthusiastic about the game, its story line and its music. Oh, I was so happy I bought the Deluxe edition with all songs in MP3 format, so I could legally hear them whenever I want, without having to resort to PirateBay or anything.

But… Where did Steam put those songs?

A quick search on the interpipes pointed the directory (on Macs), which I eagerly tried to find, without success. Variations, searching for partial names, all in vain. The files would nowhere to be found.

“Maybe I’m doing something wrong”, I thought, and launched myself into the Steam forums for the game. A quick exchange with some other “forumer” pointed that the initial information was really correct and that, for some reason, I didn’t get the files. Time for a ticket.

August 9th, 2011. That’s the date the ticket was open. They reckoned the problem and would “look further into it”.

Almost two months later, I checked the ticket and it was closed. I reopened it, asking if there was something it could be done. The answer was “no answer at this time”.

And then I resorted to the dirty, black way of getting things on the internet. I was not proud of it, but I was pissed that I paid for something and never got it.

Fast forward a bit more than 4 months later. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is for a long time already, a memory; its story completed and done. Other long games came and gone (Skyrim, for example). And what happens? Steam finally found the problem and I can get the Deluxe content if I install the game again.

Thing is, do I even care at this point? The answer is no. Worse: If Steam kept their month shut, I’d even forget about it. But they answer, 5 months after the initial problem was reported, it’s a black stain in our somewhat nice relationship so far.

Steam, I really love the easiness I can get my games and such, but goddamit, fix your support.

Prototype

About a week ago I got a copy of “Prototype” as a late birthday gift. It was the perfect gift after completing Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.

What’s Prototype?

Prototype, in a way, it’s Assassin’s Creed without the subtly. I know there are other games that offered free roaming and an open world way before those two titles I just mentioned, but I couldn’t stop relating both, since they offered the same concept: You can climb buildings, jump form high points and, even if you want, you can go stealth — and I completed Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood just before I started playing this, so the memory was still fresh on my memory.

Up up and away!

Leap of Faith, version 2009.

"This old lady, on the rooftop, probably isn't the shapeshifter we are looking for."

But the thing that jumped most in my eyes to make the correlation between those two titles is the fact that the main character also wears a hood, in all occasions.

Is he Enzio or Altaïr?

But what is Prototype about?

Even with the open world and the free roaming, there is a story behind Prototype. Actually, the story is starts near the end and then you start discovering what it’s happening — which is a damn cool way to tell a story.

When you start, you start with a bunch of powers, destroying everything on your way, taking very little damage and, in a general way, kicking ass. Once you complete this part, you see Alex Mercer — your character — on a rooftop talking to another person. Alex starts telling this other person his story, which he remembers only from the moment he tried to escape a morgue, was shot in the chest and still survived. That’s when your story begins.

As it happened in Assassin’s Creed, the game you play is actually a past event, but without the synchronization stuff. As any other game, when you die, you die; then you have to start over from a save point or last checkpoint — which isn’t that bad, it’s just a different way of saying the same thing.

Basically, Alex’s story happens in Manhattan, when an outbreak of some virus start turning people into zombie-like creatures, while the military try to contain them and Alex, seen, initially, as the worst case of all — later you find out why the military are really after Alex, in a well written plot twist — a rare case in most games, I must say.

Gameplay

As I said, Prototype is a free roam, open world game. You see your powers at work at the very beginning and then “restart” the game without none. Those powers are gaining by either completing missions or buying upgrades — which I’ll explain in a minute.

You take no fall damage but any attack will consume your health. To regain health, you “consume” other humanoids, infected or not, military or normal citizens.

Consumed citizen says: "Alex, I AM IN YOU!"

You can consume several humanoids in a row, creating a really fuzzy image of yourself.

On nom nom nom.

Consuming people also give you access to two things: First, their appearance, so you can, for example, consume a soldier in one street, disappear for some time and then use his appearance to get inside a military base. Second, you have access to Devastator attacks, which consume your health; but the trick is, they are only available once you consume more health than you’re capable of holding — it basically works like a mana bar, which can only be filled once you fill your health bar.

Spike Devastator is just another way of saying "I HATE YOU ALL!"

The game also offers vehicles, which are easy to handle. You can only take military vehicles, like tanks and helicopters, even if there are plenty of cars in the city.

"Vroom, vroom!"

One fun thing about the combination of vehicles is that if you run over a car with a tank, you basically “pancake” the car into a flat piece of metal — and that happens even when the military are driving them.

Progress

To complete the story, you keep following missions. Every mission have a starting point, and end point and the game “resets” after you complete it. Which is kinda boring: move to the place with the yellow marker; do whatever it needs to be done, following the blue markers; do things till your screen turns red; victory. Although it works, it gets tiring very fast moving that way.

Another thing that annoyed me is that you talk to someone to get some mission and then, out of nowhere, they are removed from the game. Not removed in a reasonable way, like dying or having to run away, the missions suddenly are given by someone else. Did they run away? Did they died? Did the military took then? None of this is answered, you simply stop talking to them. Oh, and the new guys? I can remember just two of them making sense joining the story, but the others… no so much.

To break the monotony of such function, you have two additions: Events and the Web Of Intrigue.

Events

Explosive kick to the skull!

Events are small challenges marked in your map with green markers, each one with a different type of challenge: One could be a running challenge (reach some waypoints as fast as you can), help the military kill the infected people and some others. Every event have different thresholds to complete, with 3 levels of each, giving a different medal for it: gold, silver and bronze.

The problem I found with those events is that you can push as hard as you can, but without upgrades, they are incredible hard to beat, specially the running ones. As soon as the first events opened, I tried a running event, which consisted into running on rooftops around a certain area, about 7 different waypoints. I did the event as fast as I can, jumping on the right spots and only managed to get a bronze medal. That’s when I realized that you need better upgrades to complete the events and get a gold medal and, since it was the very start, I had basically none. So I left most of them untouched till I completed all missions — or better yet, till I managed to find a better way to get upgrades (which I will also get more into later).

Apparently, once you complete all events with a gold medal, a new series of platinum events will open. But, again, I left those almost untouched.

(And no, I didn’t get a gold in that “star” event. That’s the mission start point).

Web of Intrigues

This is one interesting concept, to add more story without adding more gameplay. Since Alex can consume humanoids, he can also consume people in other to “steal” their memories. Some special people, marked with an orange head over them, were involved in the infection — either before or in the aftermath. By consuming them, you get those memories, which are shown in broken collection of images and some voice over.

Intrigue A connects with Intrigue B.

Although there is a relation between the elements, it’s not really necessary: The video shows everything you need to know. Also, it doesn’t seem to have a special property for them to appear: They simply do.

One annoying thing about it is that, early in the game, those VIPs appeared in mid-mission, where I had no option to stop, consume them and then return.

Upgrades

By completing missions, acquiring memories for your web of intrigues, completing events or simply killing anything, destroying military vehicles or even some buildings, you receive what’s called “EP” (which probably is the acronym of something I can’t remember anymore). With EP you can buy upgrades, which enable faster/stronger attacks or completely new weapons (which are actually Alex hands shape-shifted into the proper form).

Upgrades.

So everything falls back into completing the events and missions to get more EP, right? Well, not if you can cheat the system.

Cheating the System, the Right Way

As I mentioned, I left the missions till later, accumulating EP from missions and some destruction. In one of the missions, I got an helicopter with infinite ammunition, so I kept flying around, destroying military vehicles and some infected people, ’cause I hate no time to complete said mission.

Later, in another mission — which I had a hard time trying to complete — I found out that one of my new abilities, a whip-like attack, also gave me a ranged grab ability. With that, one can grab humanoids somewhat far away. And seize helicopters that, although without infinite ammo, have more powerful weapons — and there are several of them flying around the city. Suddenly, I had the ability to easily destroy other helicopters for 10k EP, while in an event one get around 50k. Yes, it sounds like events are more profitable, except that flying an helicopter around is more fun ’cause you’re completely free to go wherever you are. Oh, and remember that some VIPs appeared mid-missions: Well, they seem to pop like cockroaches in the night when you’re flying your chopper around, so I got double “pros” for not completing events and just flying around.

Funny Stats

One thing I generally liked, and pushed forward for it, was the statistics the game shows once you get out of combat — as in “complete the mission” or simply “disappear” by moving into some non-watched corner and changing into the same of someone you consumed before.

I'm the reason the military budget is higher than science.

Also, in infected zones, the desolation and destruction made a nice tapestry of what such event would look like in real life.

Bodies, bodies everywhere.

General Annoyances

There were some things that annoyed me — like those VIPs appearing mid-mission — that, although not ruining the game in any way, were, well, annoying.

First, a general problem with Steam. Once I installed the game, I launched it, only for it to crash/freeze during the game start. I launched it again and after the second mission, the game just closed. That’s when Steam decided it would download a patch. It’s not the first time I see Steam launching a game with a patch, and just later patch it.

Second, this is the quieter game I ever played — and not in the good sense. Although the settings the music and the sound effects were set on max, I still had to increase the computer volume in other to hear something.

Then you have linearity in the missions — and not just in the way of “You need to reach waypoint to start the mission, then you follow waypoints and then finish the mission”. In the first mission that I was given an helicopter, I realized the controls pretty fast, but the game still required me to move around with the mouse so the game finally gave me the waypoint to reach — even if I already reached half-way through the city.

Respawns were also a problem. The game feels its free to spawn whatever it wanted as long as I wasn’t watching. At some point, it spawned a full tank on my back, and I was on a narrow sidewalk near the ocean with a wall, and it barely fit there. Helicopters spawning right behind the one I was piloting also happened, more than once. And I won’t even start in trying to clear a street form the military, with more and more soldiers spawning every time I turned the camera, with more and more tanks with them.

The spawn problem didn’t affected just enemies. You can destroy some structures, like a military base or a “hive”, a construction taken by the virus. Those give a nice boost to your EP and are damn easy to take down with the choppers. The problem with those is that, upon destruction, the whole building falls down — but you go away from a few minutes and blam!, the whole building is there again, doing whatever it was doing before. I understand that this gives the player the opportunity to get more and more EP to get upgrades, but it feels like your actions on the world doesn’t really affect you.

Not that all spawns were bad. Some went hilariously wrong.

Due budget constraints, all military people should use civilian cars from now on.

Nice parking, moron.

Another problem I had was resolution. My monitor uses a native resolution of 1440×900, but the game only went to 1280×720 maximum. The game didn’t look bad, though, but still…

And last, but not least, I had to watch the same info screens every time the game loaded, even if I got the idea already.

It's mouse and keyboard. Why not save this at start and let me change it later, in the settings?.

Yes yes, spinning red thingy is "saving". For the 15th time, I got it.

Conclusion

Open world games offer a whole world to play with beyond the conclusion of the game. The thing is: Is there anything really interesting after you complete it? In the case of Prototype you still can complete the events till you open the platinum events and complete the web of intrigue — which require something around 172 VIPs to be consumed.

Beyond that, the story being told — which I hope I didn’t spoil it too much — is really interesting and probably the reason you will still try to complete the web of intrigue even after completing the game. The plot twist was somewhat expected but not in the way it’s shown. And some points don’t really appear till you’re deep down into the web.

And then there is mayhem and gore. Which seems to be one of the main points, as one of the upgrades pointed “more gore” while some of them had words like “destructive” and variants.

It kinda loses its charm when you get all the upgrades (which makes you think “Why am I still trying to complete those if I can’t get nothing with all that EP?”), but you have to go a bit beyond that.

Anyway, a fun game with a nice story.

Why Ubisoft Can Have DRM But Blizzard Can’t?

This last week I’ve been bashing Blizzard for adding some sort of DRM but pointing that I’m enjoying Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood a lot, which have the same sort of DRM. Sounds kinda hypocritical, doesn’t it?

Just to start, I’m not against this kind of DRM, as long as it makes sense. For example, it makes sense for World of Warcraft and Rift, on where things don’t work with a single person. A single person realm/shard won’t have an economy, you won’t be able to do all the things and the whole end-game is centered around the end game dungeon/raids (and expert rifts, in the case of Rift).

(I believe no MMO should have its end-game centered only on raids and dungeons — like Blizzard is doing with World of Warcraft and their belief that adding more will bring those 1 million players back — but that’s a whole different discussion for another time.)

For games like Assassin’s Creed and Diablo III, it isn’t bad if you will do something that involves other people. For example, for the Auction House on Diablo III, that’s ok; for the multiplayer combat in Assassin’s Creed, that’s ok. But on single player, when I don’t want to deal with other people, it makes absolutely no sense.

There is also the gameplay in this: For Assassin’s Creed, there is no way you can sit and play for 10 minutes. The story is complex, the controls require some fine graining that you can’t get with touchpads (maybe the “nipple mouse” on Thinkpads will work, but I’m still not quite sure about that either) and there are lots of cut-scenes (too many, I guess: I’m tired of seeing my character cutting recruits fingers when they reach the assassin level). So although it’s not ok to add DRM for single player in this, it still requires you to sit down, find a comfortable chair and be ready to stay sat for some good time. It’s not a quick fix for anything.

Diablo, on the other hand, is the “quick fix for RPG” type of game. Story is the least important thing in the game: All you want is a quick run to get some loot. Who can’t remember doing Mephisto runs in 7 minutes (or less) just to give a chance to get something of value. And Blizzard announced that Diablo III will be even more casual, which we know what it means: It will be easier to get good gear. It’s loot piñata galore! It doesn’t make sense that I have to run through a check list (Is my modem ok? Is my ISP ok? Is there anyone else downloading something? Am I downloading something? Is my OS downloading a patch?) just to play 5 minutes.

But none of this is a super high reason for being ok for some and not ok for some: When Ubisoft added DRM, they said there would be a DRM in the game that would require constant internet connection (and they later payed a high price for that). Blizzard, on the other hand, keeps claiming that the reason it’s in the game is because “when people reach level 20 or 30 or 40 and they want to play online, they will have to start over”. And they are saying that mantra over and over again instead of coming clean and saying it is DRM. If they came, right from start, saying “We had to add DRM to stop piracy ‘cause we found that there are [insert huge number here probably with 6 or more zeroes] pirated copies of Diablo II and we lost [take previous number, multiply by 100] dollars in revenue, so we are sorry we had to resort to this thing”, most people would say “Oh well” and buy it anyway. But weasel words wins nobody affection, and Blizzard screwed this up. Again.

Assassin’s Creed Is What I’ve Been Missing

Last week I bought “Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood” with only one thing in mind: Multiplayer. I’ve been watching some videos on the internets with people playing online and I thought it seemed fun enough to buy the game. As any other game, before jumping into multiplayer, I felt I needed to play the story more first to get used to the controls and such, just to be ready for the battle. I still didn’t join a single multiplayer game.

No, it’s not that the controls are that confusing. First, I’m hooked into the story. Obviously, over the years playing casual/indie games and MMOs, where story is a side element (sometimes even forgotten). Not that all MMOs ignore story — Rift, for example, have a full story line quests for every zone and every time you “warp” into the zone, the loading screen show your progress on that zone (something like “You freed the peasants from the oppressive goblins, but a deep terror still lurks in the shadows of Zone”, when you’re mid way through the story quests) — but it’s not the main focus of MMOs these days.

Second, it’s the number of side games and my obsessive compulsive idea that I need to complete all them. The main story line is that you’re trying to take revenge on the Borgia family, but during that you can do assassination contracts, remove the Borgia control over certain parts of Rome, which opens small business that couldn’t work due their oppression, which you can reform, which gives you money, which allows you to get better gear, which allows you to claim more towers and so on. I’m probably spending more time in those side games than in the main quests.

Honestly, I was kinda afraid of buying it. I saw a friend playing the first Assassin’s Creed and, although the movement was fluid (as Brotherhood is) and the parkour looked fun (again, Brotherhood doesn’t stay behind), the missions were really repetitive: Go there and kill this guy. Not that Brotherhood goes too far away from it, but there is a mix of the assassination mode, escape runs, stalking walks and such, with the breaks from time to time to tell a story (cinematic like, but using the in-game engine) and those side missions, gives enough variety to avoid the boredom of killing people over and over again.

If you’re looking for a quick summary of how this game works, all I can say is: Remember Tomb Raider 1 and 2 and how it was fun? Well, this is kinda like that, except with less puzzle solving (in general).

It may be somewhat strange that I’m burning Blizzard for it’s Diablo III “online only” play when Ubisoft added the same DRM on this game. Although they work the same, the game in question works in different ways. I’ll expand on this soon, don’t worry.

PS: I know it’s an old game — XBox players have been playing it since November 2010, but the OS X version was released only in May this year.