Month: October 2015

Assassin’s Creed Unity


Expose the true powers behind the French Revolution.

PC Release: November 11, 2014

By Ian Coppock

Alright, so… the reason why this review is even happening is because I’m a completionist, and because I wanted to explore for myself just how bad this game is alleged to be. A curiosity that was about 75% shits and giggles and 25% Steam discount, both of which compelled me to give Assassin’s Creed Unity a fair shot. Much as I enjoy sharpening my claws on bad games that deserve it, we’re going to take a critical look at everything that Unity did right, and that it did wrong.

And then break out the claws if need be.


Assassin’s Creed Unity was released last fall on current-gen consoles and PC, and takes the Assassin’s Creed mythos to the French Revolution. Arno Dorian, a young Frenchman whose Assassin father was murdered when he was a child, is unwittingly raised by an affluent Templar family living in Versailles. Arno is the spitting image of Ezio Auditore; young, handsome, with little care in the world save alcohol, gambling and girls. Again… just like Ezio… Arno’s next of kin are brutally murdered and he flees into the European underground, where he joins up with the Assassins.

Each Assassin’s Creed game also features a modern-day protagonist, and rather than being another Abstergo analyst, you are instead a silent gamer exploring Arno’s experiences via a Templar-made console. The modern Assassins contact you and recruit you into a hacking collective called the Initiates, in order to gather data to help bring down Abstergo.

Alrighty, we have our lead man, I am on the job.

Alrighty, we have our lead man.

Arno joins the Brotherhood at a critical moment in French history. The French crown’s sagging debt and indifference to its subjects launches the French Revolution, plunging Paris and all of France into chaos. Amid a city rolling over in its rapidly-deepening grave, Arno is tasked with investigating the murder of his adoptive Templar father, since the Assassins, for once, had nothing to do with it.

If the words you’re reading right now sound familiar and faded, that’s because they are. This is the same goddamn plot premise used in almost every AC game to date. Unity is only the latest game to execute it, but for Christ’s sake, Ubisoft, I’m nine games into this series. Can’t we start things off with something besides avenging the death of a loved one?

If you've played Assassin's Creed games before, Unity will have little new story material for you.

If you’ve played Assassin’s Creed games before, Unity will have little new story material for you.

For all its re-hashing of exhausted concepts, Unity does introduce a new story idea: inter-faction conflict. Arno suspects that his adoptive family’s demise was an inside job, and discovers that the Templars are locked in a brutal civil war between “the old guard” who want to continue relying on the monarchy and nobility to attain power, and a new faction who recognizes the growing importance of capitalism and think this a greater means to glory. The French Assassins are also shown to be divided, between those seeking peace with the Templars and others who think such a thing is impossible.

The discovery of this story element was a pleasant one. Another way in which the Assassin’s Creed series has become rote is the single viewpoint shared by all followers of each faction. Introducing competing viewpoints turns Unity (ironic, considering the name) into a five or six-way war instead of the weary two-sided conflict we’ve now seen eight times before. Does it save the game’s story? Maybe not. But it did keep me playing a lot longer.

The Templars have descended into a chaos of their own accord.

The Templars have descended into a chaos of their own accord.

Apart from this one narrative element, there’s nothing in Unity‘s story that we haven’t seen in previous Assassin’s Creed games. In addition to the standard revenge-driven plot, we have the standard boy-to-man character evolution, the standard side missions with wacky objectives, and the standard all-important hunt for more mother-flipping Pieces of Eden. The pre-human artifacts with magical powers have become less an intrigue of the series and more a yawn.

The characters in Assassin’s Creed Unity change very little. Arno is basically a carbon-copy of Ezio Auditore with half the charm, a move that I suspect Ubisoft made to recapture the glory of days long gone. Even after he witnesses his family get murdered, he remains a pretentious little shit whose jokes fall flat and his arrogance even flatter. Whereas Ezio’s humor felt natural and well-placed, Arno’s just feels forced. The other characters in this game occupy worn-down niches that we’ve, again, seen before. We have the protagonist’s gruff practice instructor, and the Templars, despite their division, are just the latest iteration of greedy old men. Nobody in this game is really that likable.

Arno is the French Ezio knockoff you want to punch more than play as.

Arno is the French Ezio knockoff you want to punch more than play as.

The other thing I don’t understand about the characters in Unity is that they’re all voiced by British actors, which I’m sure amused the Brits and offended the French to no end. Nothing made me laugh like hearing a guy with a Cockney accent trying to pronounce “sacre bleu”. To make matters more amusing, the voice actors use British vernacular as well as accents. No French person on this planet says “Oy, I’ll rip yer bloody cockles off, you pillock!”

Goddamn ridiculous. You hired Italian accents for Assassin’s Creed II, Ubisoft. What’s wrong with the French? YOU’RE French, for Christ’s sake.

Choosing Brits to voice Frenchmen was a curious choice.

Choosing Brits to voice Frenchmen was an… interesting… choice.

Unity shares a lot more with players than the aspirations of its character creation. The entire game is set in revolutionary-era Paris, as Brotherhood was Renaissance Rome. Though the city itself is gorgeous, and the area map is huge, Unity is still on a much smaller scale than Black Flag or Rogue. Unity also gets rid of the ass-kicking ship navigation mechanics we’ve seen these last few games. No boats for you, you Frenchie landlubber.

And though Paris is gorgeous to look at, the in-game map is decidedly less so. The game’s main story is but a twig in the match pile of side activities, collectibles and other doodads that your map hopelessly drowns in. Treasure chests return, as we’d all expect, as well as over 100 side missions that, despite all being relatively similar, are grouped into like four different categories. Unity introduces Arkham Asylum-style murder mysteries, which I really enjoyed, but everything else is, again, nothing new. The same old go-kill-this-random-guy, the same old tail-that-lady, the same old find-this-artifact…

Same old.. same old…

Jesus Christ, who the hell has this kind of time???

Holy shit… that’s a lot of icons!

So does Unity actually make any changes to this tired old formula? Actually, yes it does, and one of the best ones is the combat. I’ve mocked Assassin’s Creed combat in the past for being far too easy. You wait for a guy to swing his sword, counter-kill him, and then chain-kill all his buddies without skipping a beat. Combat in Unity is much tougher; you have a very slim window for counter-attacking and your enemies are far more dangerous. Some are able to kill you in just a few hits.

This was a change I commend Unity for making, and not just because it makes the combat more of a challenge. It also forces players to actually play stealth, which is something the Assassin’s Creed series, even in its heyday, never did very well. Arno can crouch and take cover behind objects, and you’ll need it. You can no longer just waltz in and kill everyone without breaking a sweat, and that’s a good thing, because a game about assassins should have stealth be its main focus. I never tried the co-op mode, because my Steam friends are too smart to buy this game and the randoms would probably have bumbled their way into my assassination path.

Unity may have been rote or re-hashed in most gameplay areas, but the shift in combat difficulty was a refreshing and badly needed change. It only took Ubisoft nine games to fix that. Well done.

Unity's combat is much more difficult, forcing players to be stealthier in their approach.

Unity’s enemies are much tougher, forcing players to be stealthier in their approach.

Unity‘s introduction of a more interesting backstory and better combat does not justify the state this game was released in. Gamers the world over reported endless slews of bugs, from character model errors to random crashes.

Does the game work now? Yes, it works, but I wouldn’t say it works well. Five patches later, Assassin’s Creed Unity still suffers from occasional framerate drops, especially during cutscenes, which makes absolutely no sense. I was able to lift the framerate lock, but Unity‘s focus on creating hundreds of people throughout the streets of Paris makes the game hard to chug. I appreciate the attempt at realism, but realism should not compromise game performance. This all happened on a machine that costs as much as four PlayStation 4s and is equipped with the best gaming tech out there. You shouldn’t need a machine that powerful to get a video game to just barely run.

Unity's large crowds are impressive and make the city feel larger, but they exact too high a toll on your machine.

Unity’s large crowds are impressive and make the city feel more alive, but they exact too high a toll on your machine.

Apart from that, I encountered a lot of bugs that had me shaking my head. I regularly saw people walking four feet above the ground. Characters popped in and out of existence, sometimes just in time for me to crash into while fleeing angry guards. Objects floating in the breeze would suddenly freeze and fall as if they’d been transmuted into lead. The game crashed twice while loading up cutscenes. All of this I encountered after Ubisoft released five patches to fix things up.

The patches did manage to fix a few things that Ubisoft actually did on purpose, like introducing a companion app that you need to open treasure chests. That app is no longer required, but the need for a companion app is perhaps the most obnoxious design choice I’ve ever seen. The other interfaces in this game are hidden in a bewildering array of menus that are not much more intuitive.

Didn't encounter this one, luckily.

Didn’t encounter this bug, luckily. The fewer night terrors I have, the better.

Assassin’s Creed Unity is not as much a disaster as when it first launched, but it’s still a disaster. I don’t know why the series took such a huge step back from the clever writing and refreshing simplicity of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. I have no idea how the hell Ubisoft allowed itself to disrespect its fans and its biggest series so completely. I also don’t know how to describe Unity as anything other than a bug-ridden rehash that offers one plus for every ten minuses, and almost no new story concepts. Even the Dead Kings campaign, a DLC that Ubisoft included with Unity for free as a peace offering, is as rote and mediocre as the main portion of the game.

Even if you’re a hardcore fan of this series (a title I bear with a mixture of pride and shame), Assassin’s Creed Unity is simply not worth it. I do not recommend this title.


You can buy Assassin’s Creed Unity here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

The Beginner’s Guide


Explore the process of video game development, as narrated by the co-creator of The Stanley Parable.

PC Release: October 1, 2015

By Ian Coppock

I’ve played a lot of video games in my time, but I’ve never played a video game about video games. Davey Wreden, the guy who envisioned The Stanley Parable, decided to create a game about the video game design process. It’s an intriguing look at video game crafting, accompanied by a personal narrative. Whereas The Stanley Parable was built on absurdity, The Beginner’s Guide takes a more critical look at how such wacky ideas are born… and implemented.


The Beginner’s Guide is a 90-minute series of demos and half-finished games explored from a first-person perspective. Wreden, who also narrates the game, starts things off by explaining that everything we’re about to see is the work of “Coda”, a game developer that he greatly admires. Wreden also says that Coda’s works were a major influence on his own game design, and hopes that, by sharing them with other people, Coda will be inspired to create more of them. He apparently hasn’t made anything since 2011.

Wreden dumps us into the first mod, an old Counter-Strike map adorned with floating boxes, and things only get more surreal from there. Whoever this Coda person is, he has an active imagination and some truly novel concepts for game design. We see 15-minute demos of such concepts as: a game where you can only walk backwards, a game solely about cleaning your house and many others. The Beginner’s Guide allows you to experience each demo before whisking you away to the next one. Wreden accompanies each area with a discussion of how it affected him and his own work.

This game gets twisty-turnsy pretty fast.

From build-it-yourself prisons to floating forests, Coda’s designs are… interesting, to say the least.

All of The Beginner’s Guide‘s concepts are arranged chronologically, and interconnected with either a repeating door puzzle or a lamp post that spirits you to the next demo. The narrative setup is the same for each level: Wreden greets you upon your arrival, explains what you’re seeing and perhaps a few hints on how to navigate it, and closes with how the concept you’ve just explored works for a video game. It makes for some fascinating listening to hear a game designer tear down and build back up each facet of a game concept, as well as airing some ideas on how these concepts can be applied or tweaked to suit a finished product.

It also helps that what we’re seeing is not conventional fare, by any means. Coda’s levels explore such themes as choice, human interaction and the real world’s impact on video games. He takes a particular fancy to the idea that choice is meaningless, mostly in conversations with the occasional robot, but also when you play game demos that allow you to build up the world yourself. Though each level explores a unique idea, they’re each a wide, beautiful world with ambient music. Wreden chimes in with some additional insight on Coda’s penchant for calming music and environments, and also takes some time to discuss the rudimentary elements of game design, such as which engine to use.

In addition to original concepts, Coda also takes existing genres and turns them on their heads.

In addition to original concepts, Coda also takes existing genres and turns them on their heads.

As we go on this mini-journey through game development, Wreden starts talking about how Coda’s mood changed. Over time, his friend began withdrawing from the people in his life, and the video games that he created became darker and more disturbing. This is where Coda’s designs focus instead on raw emotion instead of novel concepts; we start to see demos that revolve around impending disasters and locking oneself away from the world at large. One very somber concept demo has you walking away from a stage as iron bars close over the hallway behind you, while another is a 30-second glimpse into a giant black hole.

Understandably, Wreden becomes worried for Coda’s mental health, and elaborates on these concerns during these later, darker demos.

Coda's later games become darker, more frustrated, and no less surreal.

Coda’s later games become darker, more frustrated, and no less surreal.

It is because of Coda’s apparent depression, according to Wreden, that he’s taken the liberty of sharing his work with other people. Wreden has arrived to the conclusion that Coda’s hiatus stems as much from insecurity as any depression, and has packaged almost all of his work into The Beginner’s Guide in the hopes of inspiring his friend to start making games again. That, apparently, is the purpose of exploring these demos and looking at some new perspectives on video games.

While certainly a noble mission in and of itself, I’m not convinced that “Coda” is an actual person. The Beginner’s Guide has spawned a riot of interpretations since it hit Steam about 3 weeks ago, but because its later demos hint at the burdens of success and expectations, I believe that Coda is actually a metaphor for Wreden’s own sense of creativity.


We’re getting surreal now, buddy.

My theory is based on a couple of things. The first is that Wreden  admits that Coda made games for himself and maybe a few other people, and not for mass commercialization. On top of that, we later learn in the game that Coda doesn’t want a ton of people looking at his work. Wreden would be opening himself up for a massive lawsuit if he was selling someone else’s work.

Additionally, Wreden’s own struggles with social validation and the success of The Stanley Parable are mirrored almost perfectly in the demos that come up during this discussion. When Wreden talks about everyone having high expectations, we play a demo about chatting to a massive crowd of reporter robots. Social validation is talked about at the same time we’re navigating a massive cave. It became obvious to me that we weren’t talking about another person at all. The Beginner’s Guide is Wreden’s own journal, and I think the point is to think about how success and being told you’re good all the time can have a dampening effect on your creativity.

Juxtaposing personal crises onto HOLY SHIT moments within the game was a huge giveaway.

Juxtaposing personal crises onto HOLY SHIT moments within the game was a huge giveaway.

Having suffered from depression myself, I can sympathize with Wreden’s points about a loss of creativity. There have been times when I abandon this blog, sometimes for over a month, simply because I don’t feel it. But though I identify with Wreden’s point about that type of frustration, the fact that he chose to use an ethereal person as a springboard for these emotions came off as pretentious.

I don’t see why he didn’t just talk about himself instead of projecting his fears and his insecurities onto another person. It robbed The Beginner’s Guide of some potential intimacy, and it also made Wreden come off as either too self-important or too scared to discuss these themes directly. I get that opening up about yourself can be intimidating, even terrifying, but the game’s already obviously about your emotional journey, dude. It’s only made more obvious when you punctuate your narrative about Coda with your own stories about how being told you’re good all the time gets exhausting.

The final piece of the puzzle? Wreden mentions that Coda’s creative hiatus began in 2011… the same year that the first iteration of The Stanley Parable was released.

Are these levels? Or states of mind?

Are these levels? Or states of mind?

Still, despite its lofty and ham-handed approach to getting personal, The Beginner’s Guide is worth your time and money for two primary reasons. One: the game is an excellent and fascinating look at the video game design process, and the fact that it’s interactive makes it better than any documentary. Two: despite Wreden’s clumsiness when it comes to talking about emotions, The Beginner’s Guide is a good example of how emotion influences your creative work. It could’ve been a lot better, in this regard, but it’s still serviceable. Some of the levels you’ll explore embody certain themes, like anxiety and depression, quite well. The narrative about Coda was definitely a questionable design choice, but the levels you’ll explore are linked together fluidly and are fun to look around.

Go to Steam and get The Beginner’s Guide. Its storytelling might be a bit pretentious, but its raw look at video game design and how emotion can influence it makes for a worthwhile gaming experience.


You can buy The Beginner’s Guide here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Assassin’s Creed Rogue


Hunt down and kill the Assassins you once called brothers and bring glory to the Templar Order.

PC Release: March 10, 2015

By Ian Coppock

I realize that that release date might be confusing to some of you, but I’d like to remind everyone that I only review PC games. The release date up there refers to the day this game was released on Steam, and it was released on PC a great deal more functional than Assassin’s Creed Unity. At first, I was incredulous that Ubisoft would release two console Assassin’s Creed games at once. However, when Unity failed, we PC gamers suddenly had a Plan B. Rogue is that Plan B. Is it an effective Plan B? Let’s find out.


Rogue and Unity were both released last fall for last and current-gen hardware, respectively. Rogue was meant to be a sort of consolation prize for people who had no money for (or no interest in) the Xbox One or PS4, and a means by which Ubisoft could still net a neat profit on the entire gaming market. People with fancy machines would get the fancy French setting, while peasant-class gamers would be stuck with the rugged, muddy terrain of the Americas.

Ironically, Assassin’s Creed Rogue proved the stronger of the two games when Unity ran about as well as pixelated diarrhea. Oh, the bugs: character faces gone missing, people popping in and out of existence, and a slow framerate driven by ridiculous system requirements and piss-poor optimization. Typically, such bugs only occur on PC ports, but the game’s inability to run on any system made Ubisoft the laughingstock of the gaming world and caused their stock to plunge 10%.

Indeed, it is because of Unity‘s abysmal launch that so many gamers are looking to the upcoming Assassin’s Creed Syndicate with trepidation rather than excitement.

This infamous screenshot of a horrific model bug has become the legacy of Assassin's Creed Unity.

This infamous screenshot of a hideous character bug has become Unity’s unwanted legacy.

Assassin’s Creed Rogue released on PC six months later, and our community was surprised to find a game excellently optimized for the PC (but not without some bugs) and a style of gameplay that faithfully replicates Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, the best game this series has yet produced.

Rogue is also unlike its companion game in its novel premise: you play as a Templar, not an Assassin.

Wait, WHAT?!?

Wait, WHAT?!?

Assassin’s Creed Rogue runs a parallel story between the modern day and a historical setting. In the modern world, players assume the role of yet another nameless Abstergo researcher, who is tasked with investigating the memories of Shay Cormac, an Irish-American Assassin from the 1750s. Shay’s story is of paramount interest to a psychotic Templar mercenary who’s taken command of your office, and at his “suggestion”, you step into the shoes of what appears to be a conventional protagonist.

Rogue‘s historical component takes place in the American colonies about 20 years before Assassin’s Creed III. Shay, a novice Assassin, is tasked by his masters with the retrieval of an ancient artifact stolen by the Templars. Along with his best friend Liam, Shay commandeers a ship called the Morrigan, and spends the first few missions of the game sailing up and down the North American coast in search of a tiny band of Templars.

Shay starts off as a young and brash Assassin prone to trouble.

Shay starts off as a young and brash Assassin prone to trouble.

Though young, Shay doesn’t lack for skill, and he’s able to easily dispatch the Templars and make off with what they stole: a map pointing to a powerful ancient artifact. To skim over the details, Shay accidentally messes with some shit that his bosses should’ve warned him about, and is basically responsible for the destruction of an entire city. To make matters worse, Shay’s mentors seemed to think that the death of a city was an acceptable risk for acquiring the aforementioned artifact.

Horrified that his actions cost so many lives, Shay tries to make off with the treasure and wakes up weeks later in New York City. From there, he switches sides, offering his services to the Templars in exchange for the chance to stop the Assassins from destroying more cities.

Now a Templar, Shay vows to make the Assassins pay for their crimes.

Now a Templar, Shay vows to make the Assassins pay for their crimes.

So, obviously, Rogue‘s story is headed in a different direction than what we’re used to seeing in Assassin’s Creed games. The opportunity to play as a Templar and see this massively long series from the other side is one that will sound appealing to core fans (I said SOUND, keep reading before you click over to Steam).

This story is also, of course, dark. Shay joining up with the Templars means that he now has to hunt down and kill his lifelong friends. You also see a few familiar faces from past games, including William Johnson, Charles Lee and Haytham Kenway, the Templar Grand Master and your new boss. To add to this cornucopia of chaos, the French and Indian War has begun, causing massive battles to break out across the continent.

Assassin’s Creed Rogue has the exact same gameplay as Black Flag, for better or worse. The story, the world and the side missions are scattered across three maps that demand a mix of naval and on-foot gameplay. Just like in Black Flag, players can use their vessel to sail from one locale to the next, and seamlessly abandon ship to explore the world around them. In stark contrast to Black Flag‘s tropical paradises, Rogue will have you navigating the frozen reaches of the north Atlantic, and the myriad waterways of the Hudson River Valley.

Shay reacquires the Morrigan and turns it to Templar missions.

Shay reacquires the Morrigan and turns it to Templar missions.

I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that Rogue plays exactly like Black Flag. Literally the only change is a palette swap; everything from the sea shanties to the Animus data fragments was copy/pasted from Black Flag and plonked down into a new game. In some ways this is good, because it means hours of adventuring fun as you traverse the land in a stylish new ship, but it also means an absolute void of innovation. You can raid enemy ships and forts just like the last game, which is still fun as hell, but all of this made Rogue feel more like a giant DLC for Black Flag than its own game. Of course, Assassin’s Creed‘s trademark broken combat comes back, complete with unbeatable kill-streaks.

In addition, for all the talk of changing sides, playing as a Templar is barely any different than as an Assassin. Sure, you’re intercepting assassination missions instead of conducting them, and you have to fend off the odd hidden blade attack from nearby rooftops, but there are no other activities that make you feel a Templar. No evil plots to kidnap people, no indoctrination of passerby, none of the stuff that we’ve seen being done by Templars in past games is really here. I suspect part of that is to make the player remain sympathetic to Shay’s situation, but let’s be honest, I don’t think Ubisoft is that clever. I certainly don’t believe that the identical gameplay is some sort of subtle commentary on how similar the two sides are, true as it is.

Rogue imports almost all of its gameplay from Black Flag, leaving seasoned AC players with little new material.

Rogue imports almost all of its gameplay from Black Flag, leaving seasoned Assassin’s Creed players with little new material.

What few changes Rogue does make to the Black Flag formula are questionably implemented. You can embark upon hunting challenges in which you have to slaughter so many innocent animals within a given time, but they’re not all that fun. The change in sailing terrain means a few new challenges, like sheets of ice, but you only need to use your ice ram in a handful of areas throughout the map. You can also shoot icebergs to release frozen cargo, which, while convenient, is completely nonsensical.

Rogue also brings back the banking system that was endemic to the Ezio trilogy of Assassin’s Creed games. You can buy up properties and make a healthy profit off of the rent, which dumps into your bank account every 20 minutes or so. Problem is, investing in even a small handful of houses will soon leave you swimming in more money than you’ll know what to do with. I was the ritziest bachelor you ever saw; barely a third of the way through the game and I’d already bought all the ship upgrades with money to spare for swallowing up more real estate. I was also able to buy all the character upgrades, rendering hunting and exploration useless. It’s a neat system but it completely breaks the game’s economy.

Oh, ten minutes have passed? Here's a gazillion dollars!

Oh shit, ten minutes have passed? Here’s a gazillion dollars!

And speaking of Shay’s situation, let’s return to the plot for a few paragraphs. Though the picture I painted up top makes for a thrilling-sounding adventure, the story of Assassin’s Creed Rogue is soundly underwhelming. Shay undergoes some character evolution, from a cocky young assassin to a moody Templar, but he constantly whines about how he only wants to save people and not have anything to do with Templar sinister-ness. Ubisoft lays on the pathos a little too thick; in some scenes Shay is so despondent over what his new friends are doing that he might as well look directly at the player and say “Oh, I just wear the cool clothes, I don’t actually want to be a Templar”. And then in the next goddamn scene, he’s suddenly the vicious assassin-hunter that his experiences should’ve shaped him into. This constant alteration between whiny uncertainly and cold murder was overdone and sticks out like a sore thumb.

The plot itself is also badly paced and filled with some ridiculous missions. You spend maybe the first two hours as an assassin, then like four hours as a freelancer, then the last hour or so as a true and vested Templar. The first mission you attempt after becoming a full-fledged Templar is the second-to-last set of missions! About half of the game is spent fighting bandits and organized criminals threatening New York, who, yeah, answer to the Assassins, but contain very few actual Assassins. Some plot points will have you chuckling in disbelief, like stopping a bandit plot to blow up New York with poison bombs. Most Assassin’s Creed games have 12-13 chapters of content. Assassin’s Creed Rogue only has six, so its story is noticeably stunted.

Benjamin Franklin is also shoehorned into the narrative as a convenient inventor archetype.

I can suspend my disbelief pretty well, but... a grenade launcher?

I can suspend my disbelief pretty well, but… a grenade launcher?

The other characters in this tale aren’t much to speak of. Your fellow Assassins are dicks to you even before you leave them, which I suspect was another attempt by the developer to make you mad enough to kill them, rather than to contribute to the plot, and the Templars have their assigned niches. Haytham is your no-nonsense boss, Jack Weeks is the black guy, and Christopher Gist is your comical sidekick.

The modern-day storyline of Assassin’s Creed continues to feel lost and floundering without Desmond and the crew to guide it, boring as Desmond was. The only noteworthy feature of the modern story is the aforementioned psychotic Templar and his musings on famous Templar antagonists we’ve seen throughout the series. It’s a cool look into the Templar workings and is somehow more revealing and satisfying than any information we glean from Shay’s story.

Uh... hi.

Uh… hi.

Anything else? Yes. Bugs. Lots of them. Strangely enough, all of them are in the sound department. Shay’s feet make no noise when you run in grass, which is either a commentary on the Irish’s affinity for green fauna, or a stupid bug that made me laugh (maybe both, probably the latter). Sound levels of character movement will vary wildly for no apparent reason, and when you get back on your ship, the sound of your first mate heralding your return layers itself twice. Apparently Christopher Gist had an identical, invisible twin.

So… yeah. Assassin’s Creed Rogue has a barely passable story, a broken in-game economy, and a lurching, unrefined attempt to portray this overblown saga from the enemy’s point of view. What few high points it has were almost all from the gameplay that Black Flag pioneered. Character writing and pacing is all over the place, so there’s little to be had with the new narrative, which, again, is half the length of a normal Assassin’s Creed game.

Give Rogue a miss.


You can buy Assassin’s Creed Rogue here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

1953: KGB Unleashed


Search for a way out of a Soviet bunker… and the dark secrets it hides.

PC Release: September 20, 2013

By Ian Coppock

Before the days of high-end graphics engines and 3D rendering, the point-and-click format was the primary means by which game designers created stunning environments. It’s a lot easier to render a picture that you can move about on, instead of a game world that you can move around in. The Myst series is the best-known example of these video games, but there are hundreds of other point-and-click games spanning all kinds of stories and genres. With that in mind, I wanted to review a modern point-and-click horror game. 1953: KGB Unleashed is a mysterious game inspired by true events and rooted in true fear, but whose execution of all of those things is perhaps more horrific than the subject matter.


1953: KGB Unleashed is a spooky point-and-click game set in the bowels of a Soviet-era bunker. You, an anonymous soldier, wake up in the basement with no memory of how you got there. Armed only with your wits and whatever is at hand around the bunker, it’s up to you to learn the truth behind the facility and escape it with your life.



To start things off, KGB Unleashed has gorgeous, chilling visuals. Each area that you click to is beautifully detailed, with photography-quality assets that look real. Again, the advantage to the point-and-click format is the ability to render jaw-dropping stills to move around in. Myst IV: Revelation had graphical power that is still admirable by today’s standards, despite having been released over a decade ago. KGB is able to take advantage of this format as well, with meticulous attention to detail. Cold concrete walls, rows of bottles, discarded power tools, everything is set to pop out and look real.

KGB also has some ambient sound design to back up its spooky visuals, with such sound effects as distant crashes, quiet drafts and the hum of generators. These, combined with the visuals, give KGB Unleashed an atmosphere on par with such horror greats as Outlast. You get the opportunity to move around this coldly beautiful bunker, fear and sounds effects being your only companion. The two elements work well together and were sufficient to give me chills. In a lot of ways it reminded me of Scratches, which is perhaps the premier point-and-click horror game in the medium, though KGB lacks the philosophical power of that game.

KGB has a strong atmosphere powered by detailed visuals and creepy sound effects.

KGB has a strong atmosphere powered by detailed visuals and creepy sound effects.

Unfortunately for 1953: KGB Unleashed, the visuals and the sound design are about the only redeeming qualities of the game. The sound design is not without its faults, either; the voice acting in this game is atrocious. Every character imagined or real is voiced by a group of nasally, high-pitched Americans whose attempts at fear and revulsion are laughable. I get that this game was probably made on a budget and that hiring Russian voice actors was beyond the books, but if you have to have American voice actors for a game set in Russia, at least make them sound like they care. You’re already fighting an uphill battle in the sound department if you have to use non-native voice actors.

The sad thing is that the other aspects of this game’s sound design are still excellent. It’s just a shame that the most important element of that part of the production was so awful. The eerie soundtrack and the haunting sound effects were absolutely spot-on, but the atmosphere and tension are broken when your character, who sounds like Justin from Dodgeball, chips in about how spooky things are down here.

The sound design becomes a mixed back when you add the voice-acting.

The sound design becomes a mixed bag when you add the voice acting.

Like the overwhelming majority of point-and-click adventures, KGB Unleashed is powered by puzzles. Everything from the narrative to moving about in the bunker hinges upon your ability to solve shit. Unfortunately, KGB‘s puzzles are not powered by logical deduction, but by nonsense and lucky guesses. This is not a great Cold War-era caper; this is one of those games where you have to furiously pixel-hunt all over the damn game to look for clues, and then try random combinations of every item in your inventory with every item in the game world to try to progress. There is little to no indication in this entire game of how to solve the puzzles you encounter, or even how they will help you progress.

It’s horseshit, to be frank. My jaw kept dropping with every puzzle I had to solve. I had one window on my machine devoted solely to the walkthrough. Using a blowtorch to warm up a machine? Opening a secret passageway by lining up pencils on a desk at the same time a propaganda film is playing? Are you serious?

This type of puzzlecraft is NOT good game design. It is lazy, pretentious bullshit.

Games powered by nonsense logic are not fun; they're a pain in the ass.

Games powered by nonsense are not fun; they’re a pain in the ass.

So the puzzles are a little too vague, you might say. Well, is the narrative compelling enough to help you power through them?

Nope. Basically, your guy is looking for a way out of this bunker, someone made a brick wall over the front door, and a man over a loudspeaker is whispering surreal gibberish to you as you faff about. There are hints as to some sort of chemical disaster or mutation experiment, but you have to dig through tomes of dry scientific literature from the 50s to get any inkling of what’s going on behind the scenes. Like I said before, you can only advance the narrative by solving the puzzles, which is much, much easier said than done.

Somehow I don't feel bad for not thinking to lay a book upside-down inside a cabinet to restore power.

Somehow I don’t feel bad for not thinking to lay a book upside-down inside a cabinet to restore power.

I wish I could tell you more about this game, but I lost my goddamn mind after I learned that in order to open a power junction, I had to insert random cigarette cases into hard-to-see grooves on a desk in the executive wing. I read that very text on a walkthrough, screamed some obscenities at my computer, exited out of the game, and hit that Steam Refund button like it was a cure for cancer. Who has the kind of time needed to engage in the pixel-hunting and lucky guessing this game requires? Playing KGB Unleashed is like sitting at your desk all day, putting in random combinations on a safe that you’re trying to open.

The real tragedy of KGB Unleashed, as with many bad games, is what it could’ve been. The design team behind this game knew fuckall when it came to competent puzzle design, but it’s clear that they poured their heart and soul into the visuals. They really are beautiful, and there’s a treasure trove of assets and literature from the Soviet era that’s fascinating to look at. It’s just a shame that your ability to see and experience all of this hinges upon the worst puzzle design I’ve ever seen.



Typically I like to talk about the features of a game and then let you, the reader, decide for yourself whether it’s worth your time. But I’m putting my foot down in this review. 1953: KGB Unleashed is a terrible game. It could’ve been a great mystery-horror game, and it has the visual and sound design makings of the next great point-and-click caper.

All of that is brought down by the worst puzzle design I have ever seen. Point-and-click does not mean spending 50 hours pointing and clicking on everything around you in the hopes of making progress. Puzzles are challenges that are solved by logic, not by nonsense. Based on what I endured, I can only assume the developers thought otherwise.


You can buy 1953: KGB Unleashed here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.


Assassin’s Creed Freedom Cry


Ignite a bloody slave rebellion and strike a blow for freedom.

PC Release: December 18, 2013

By Ian Coppock

I need a palette cleanser after Assassin’s Creed Liberation, so I’ve returned to the kick-ass fold of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag for our next murder-stabby adventure. For today’s selection, we’re going to take a look at a story-driven DLC that takes place long after but not far away from the swashbuckling of Black Flag. For some reason Freedom Cry was also released in a standalone version, but I know not why any sane person would play only Freedom Cry and not Black Flag, which, as I’ve said a million times by now, kicks ass. We are, however, going to borrow the standalone version’s title of Assassin’s Creed Freedom Cry, since Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag: Freedom Cry is a few colons too many.


Like the main game (ass-kickery all up in there, by the way), Freedom Cry takes place in the Caribbean in the early 1700s. You control Adewale, a slave-turned-pirate-turned-Assassin who served as Edward Kenway’s first mate in Black Flag. Adewale is now in service to the Brotherhood, with a ship and crew of his own. Freedom Cry begins fifteen years after Black Flag‘s conclusion and follows Adewale on a two-year mission to aid the Maroon communities in modern-day Haiti. The DLC adds Hispaniola to Black Flag‘s Caribbean map, and the French Empire as foes.

Our story opens with Adewale chasing after a Templar vessel, using the same ship and boarding mechanics introduced in Black Flag. A terrible storm casts him and his ship awry, and he washes up on the shores of Haiti, by far the most brutal plantation colony of the colonial era. At first resolute to find a new ship and continue on his original mission, Adewale witnesses some surprisingly uncensored brutality being inflicted upon the slaves. Reminded of his own upbringing as a slave in Trinidad, Adewale decides to put aside his mission as an Assassin to free some slaves.

Adewale decides to aid Haiti's slaves against their brutal European masters.

Adewale decides to aid Haiti’s slaves against their brutal European masters.

To find Adewale on such a mission came as little surprise to me. In Black Flag, Adewale was always the empathetic foil to Edward Kenway’s selfishness and indifference to others, and a far more perfect fit for the Assassins’ mission of freedom. The character is instantly likeable, if a bit boring, and he’s also one of a very seldom few black protagonists in story-driven video games. I don’t think we’ve seen a black male protagonist since… Lee? In The Walking Dead? Which came out in 2011, I think.

In Freedom Cry, your focus has shifted from robbing ships and plantations to freeing their enslaved workers. As Adewale, your job is to infiltrate everything from slave auctions to torture chambers and free their captives from hell on earth. You can also sneak onto plantations, kill their overseers, and send slaves packing for the hills and the Maroon communities hidden in the jungle. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a video game tackle the issue of slavery before, much less with such raw visual power. True, it relies on the same rote ideas of freedom and liberty that we’ve seen in all Assassin’s Creed games, but Freedom Cry isn’t afraid to get graphic with what slaves had to put up with in colonial America. It’s unpleasant, but important. Just like most truths out there.

To Freedom Cry's credit, the sights and sounds of slave auctions makes your skin crawl and creates an oppressive atmosphere.

To Freedom Cry’s credit, the sights and sounds of slave auctions makes your skin crawl and creates an oppressive atmosphere, adding to the game’s design value.

Adewale is not alone in his fight to free the slaves, finding allies in a disheveled Maroon leader and the madame of a local brothel. These two are your primary points of contact for new missions, though Freedom Cry is also happy to let you roam the streets of Port-Au-Prince, fighting Frenchmen and freeing their reluctant “charges”. The gameplay in Freedom Cry is identical to the main game, with a nice balance between land and ship-based missions. Adewale gets a new ship, the Experto Crede, that you can deck out in a manner similar to the Jackdaw, and his own gallery of weapons for dealing some pain to the slavers.

Freeing slaves also brings its own reward as a game mechanic. Whereas you previously had to skin animals and harpoon sharks to make your gear, Adewale gets upgrades every time he frees a certain number of slaves. Every tier of newly minted Maroons brings you newly minted pouches, armor and weapons. I suppose the slaves were hiding these things in the sugarcane fields, or something. Upgrades to your ship are still made by gathering supplies, be that through raiding enemy camps or relieving hostile vessels of their cargo. You can also liberate slave ships.

No Templars, no problem. Adewale finds plenty of ass to kick in the brutal world of slavery.

No Templars, no problem. Adewale and his allies find plenty of ass to kick in the brutal world of slavery.

Despite some of Freedom Cry’s drawbacks, like a bug that made guards occasionally run in circles, or a very small map with perhaps 10 discoverable locales, it was nice to play an Assassin’s Creed game that sets aside the whole Assassin-Templar war for a moment. Freedom Cry remembers that the Assassins’ main mission is freedom for all of mankind, and Templars are certainly not the only people seeking to keep that out of people’s reach. Adewale descends into the hazardous dark of the colonial underworld, where the motivations of his enemies are bloodthirst and plunder instead of abstract philosophy.

That doesn’t save Freedom Cry‘s story from getting staler as we approach the end. It’s about four hours of content, plus a few more if you explore the map, but most of the missions are side quest-style fetching and sabotaging dressed up with a few lines of dialogue (which, by the way, I recommend using subtitles for if you’re not good with Caribbean accents). The plot has an unfortunate tendency to get lost in irrelevant tangents, like a few missions that you spend helping an expedition prepare to circumnavigate the globe, only to end with “well, that will be neat, okay, back to liberating.”

Freedom Cry's story isn't terrible, but it's not amazing.

Freedom Cry’s story isn’t terrible, but it gets sucked up its own ass more than once.

So what is the value of Freedom Cry? What enjoyable experience is to be gleaned if the game’s mechanics are identical to Black Flag‘s and the story is less than compelling?

I think the biggest value this game brings to the table is being unafraid to portray the brutality of slavery. The entire suite of Black Flag game mechanics is tweaked to reflect the fight for freedom rather than the fight for booty. Plus, it adds to the open-world, swashbuckling fun that we experienced with the main game. Adewale doesn’t undergo much evolution as a character but he’s enjoyably noble, and one of the most Assassin-y Assassins that we’ve yet encountered in any of the games.

Before airplanes, people flew with blunderbusses.

Before airplanes, people flew with blunderbusses.

The most emotional moments of the narrative were typically the ones not involving talking. There was one scene where you’re running through a burning slave ship that had me breathing heavily long after the mission had concluded. There were a few scenes in which condescending Europeans casually discuss the supposed superiority of white people, in such a manner as to cause chills. Ubisoft deserves props for writing dialogue that pulls no punches on sticking to the conventions of the times.

This punch-pulling is part of a wider debate on how media tackles historical matter. George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, while by no means historical, has gotten a lot of flak over the years for how it portrays women and girls. While anyone who’s read the books or seen the show can agree that the treatment of women in the world of Westoros is pretty horrific, that’s how things were in the Medieval times upon which such portrayals are based. It wasn’t pleasant, but it was the truth, and those who seek to portray the truth should not sanitize it for fear of causing offense. The emotional gut-punch associated with the truth doesn’t feel good, but we owe it to ourselves and the ones who have suffered misfortunes to be in touch with the reality of cruelty, and that’s what Freedom Cry does in its portrayal of slavery. We need to know the crimes of the past to prevent them happening again in the future.

Sorry, got a bit off-track there. Anyway, that’s why Freedom Cry is important and it’s fun enough for me to recommend. Ten bucks for the DLC version, $15 for the standalone version. Go get it.


You can buy Assassin’s Creed Freedom Cry here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD


Foil a Templar plot and learn crucial secrets from the past.

PC Release: January 15, 2014

By Ian Coppock

Gamer convention says that mobile ports to PC are very hit-and-miss, and it wouldn’t be convention without a few kernels of truth. Deus Ex: The Fall was a piece of garbage. There’s just no way to get around it. I got all of ten minutes into that game before the bugs and the nonexistent hit boxes had me screaming obscenities at my monitor. My trepidation with Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD, an “HD” port of a PlayStation Vita game from years ago, was thus high. Despite its repetitive storytelling and penchant for bugs, I enjoy the Assassin’s Creed series, and was willing to take a hit if it meant finding some more stories within the mythos. Let’s see if my gambit paid off.


Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD was originally a tie-in to Assassin’s Creed III, released on the PlayStation Vita as a companion to the mainline game. The events of Liberation run parallel to the story of AC III, but features New Orleans as its setting instead of the Thirteen Colonies, and a black woman as a protagonist instead of Connor.

Holy shit, for real? Someone who’s black, and someone who’s a woman, and someone who’s both of those things at the same time, is actually a strong character and the PROTAGONIST of a video game? Someone pinch me, because this is only the second time I’ve ever run across a black female protagonist in over a decade of video gaming.

And that’s sad.

Aveline de Grandpre is our leading lady. And a badass.

Aveline de Grandpre is our leading lady. And a badass.

While Connor is busy fighting redcoats in the Revolutionary War, Aveline spends her days running her wealthy father’s shipping business… and her nights killing Templars. My typical repertoire of activities as Aveline included gutting French guards with the hidden blade, and freeing slaves from the plantations around New Orleans. This simple routine is upset when the French are forced to give New Orleans to the Spanish, ushering in some chaos that those dastardly Templars happily take advantage of.

As with all Assassin’s Creed games thus far, the story does have a modern-day component, but it’s so minimal as to be barely worth noting. Basically, you’re some anonymous dude playing an Aveline video game put out by Abstergo Industries. A group of hackers who’ve cut into your game chime in every so often with what really happened at pivotal moments in the story. They unmask censors that Abstergo has put in, but these have little bearing on the main plot of the game.

Aveline sets out to fight the Templars as the Spanish close in on her hometown.

Aveline sets out to fight the Templars as the Spanish close in on her hometown.

Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD introduces a new costume game mechanic that, while unbalanced, is rather entertaining. Aveline is a master of disguise, and can move about New Orleans in various garbs. The noble lady disguise grants her access to restricted areas and the ability to flirt with guards (rolls eyeballs), while the slave costume makes you unnoticeable, though vulnerable. You also have your assassin robes, but some genius at Ubisoft FINALLY figured out that outfit is attention-grabbing, and so you’ll always arouse suspicion if you go too close to guards. You have all your weapons on hand, though.

The mechanic is an interesting take on undercover work, but I spent almost all of the game in the slave garb. It’s incredibly easy to move about the city and even assassinate people as the slave without arousing suspicion. Because Assassin’s Creed‘s combat is incredibly easy, all you’ll ever really need in order to be dangerous are your hidden blades. The game told me “oh Ian, if you dress as a slave, you’ll have no sword!”

My response? “Okay.” And then I proceeded to slaughter the shit out of anything that moved, because again, combat in this series is easy as pie.

The costume concept is cool, but very unbalanced.

The costume concept is cool, but very unbalanced.

When I reviewed Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood a few years ago, I noted that the introduction of the crossbow broke the game’s difficulty. It was fast, it was quiet, and you could slaughter crowds of guards without anyone being the wiser. Ubisoft decided to break Liberation in the exact same way with the blowpipe. It is fast. It is quiet. And you can slaughter even more guards than with the crossbow! Okay, I kid on that last part, but Ubisoft’s incentivizes you to avoid combat by giving a higher score for being stealthy. If the higher score had any kind of tangible payoff, I might’ve been so inclined to not just kill everything with a few buttons, but the whole “full sync” bullshit either had no reward or one that was so bland I’ve forgotten what it was. Seriously, Ubisoft, get your shit together on combat mechanics.

The funny thing about Liberation’s combat problems is how the game prompts you to buy better weaponry whenever you get the chance. New Orleans is scattered with treasure chests and you can use Aveline’s shipping company to make money by trading with other cities. But you don’t ever really need better weapons, all you have to do is wait for the guards to attack you, initiate a fatal counter-attack, and then chain-kill all of his buddies in one-hit wonders of swordplay. To be fair, this is a problem endemic to all Assassin’s Creed games that I’ve played thus far, even the infinitely superior Black Flag.

You can kill everyone in this screenshot with the ease of a deep breath. Literally.

You can kill everyone in this screenshot with the ease of a deep breath. Literally.

Alright, so the combat is broken and the costume mechanic is unbalanced. What, pray tell, is the plot of this port-to-PC magnum opus? Well, to be honest, I can’t really remember, or at least I had to check the Assassin’s Creed wiki for details before remembering. And I only played this, what, two weeks ago?

Yeah, you’re probably going to have a hard time if you expect a thrilling tale from a mobile game. Some, like Infinity Blade, have great stories, but they’re all designed to be easily jumped in and out of. Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD. is no exception. You do what you’ve always done in Assassin’s Creed games: follow a trail of blood and conspiracy to a group of fat old Templars. There are some interesting bits, like getting a Spanish captain drunk and taking a trip to Mexico, but it’s the same old hat otherwise. Steal letters, follow people (though there are fewer tailing missions, thank Christ, than in Black Flag), and then kill their bosses.

Liberation's narrative is unremarkable. I don't remember most of it and I only played this like 10 days ago.

Liberation’s narrative is unremarkable. I don’t remember most of it and I only played this like 10 days ago.

The saving grace of Liberation is Aveline herself. Out of all the assassins we’ve played as so far, she was the funniest and most personable since Ezio Auditore. Definitely leaps and bounds ahead of Connor in terms of likability. She’s a strong, intelligent person with a dry sense of humor and a penchant for sarcastic remarks. I don’t remember the other characters in this tale, but Aveline I will remember for a while. The voice acting in Liberation is mediocre, but Aveline’s character deserves some notability for being a strong female protagonist in a medium full of anything but.

But, none of this saves Liberation from being rote, and the payoff is minimal. Spoiler ahead, skip to the bottom if you don’t want to see it, but you spend the entire damn game chasing a medallion, only to see a hologram of three random people talking at the very end of the game. It’s tied up in the series’ “precursor” lore. The game also features some laughable plot holes, like when Aveline catches up with a murderer she’s been chasing for six years, and finds that person’s clothing still smells of the poison they’d used six years ago. How in the holy shit does that make sense? Is that Ubisoft’s idea of realistic forensics?

As if aware of how much of a yawn-fest its story is, Liberation throws in a mission with Connor, but this too is dry fare.

As if aware of how much of a saggy yawn-fest its story is, Liberation throws in a mission with Connor, but this too is dry fare.

The most pressing problem with Liberation is that it’s simply not a good port. The framerate is locked at 30 FPS, and can be counted upon to dip well below that during combat and cutscenes. For all of Ubisoft’s assurance that this is an HD port, I can assure you that such a claim is bullshit. An up-close examination of any object in the game will reveal muddy textures that look awful. The game crashed once during a routine mission for no apparent reason. And the graphics options are… we’ll say primitive. You’re not left with a lot of recourse for fixing these issues up.

(sigh)... this game...

Don’t let Ubisoft’s marketing fool you. This game looks like crap.

I can only recommend Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD to you if you’re willing to put up with a boring story, routine game design, and a plethora of bugs and graphical issues. In other words, I can only recommend this game if you love Assassin’s Creed more than you love yourself.

If what I just wrote is music to your eyes, you can find this game for $20 on Steam, you sad fuck.


You can buy Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.