Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Pirate's Life For Me...

You know, the one real danger with video games, especially very immersive ones, is LOSING yourself in them!

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

I know, I know... It seems contradictory to why anyone would ever want to play games in the first place. We all know that people play the games they play to immerse themselves in this virtual world, often, to forget some of the crap going on in real life... Such as being unemployed, and getting countless rejection letters; or even having bad days at work, or in their personal lives.

I won't lie to you folks, I started honest to goodness GAMING when I was trying to heal the wounds of my divorce; something I did not ask for, but was saddled with nonetheless. Playing Star Wars Galaxies way back then allowed me to put myself in the world I loved, and forget about living in a crappy basement studio apartment, where if I would have died, no one would have found me for weeks. Through that game, I met so many new people who turned out to be real flesh and blood humans with emotions and needs (fancy that), and some of them are among my best friends to this day. That community of people almost literally kept me alive, just by being there for me, and engaging in virtual tasks in a fictitious universe that built real memories and lasting friendships. I cannot thank them enough, and they know who they are.

Over the years, gaming has supplanted art and music as my number one hobby. It may be argued that in some cases, writing as well, though the fact that I am finding time to write this blog should indicate not entirely. It's an addiction, to be sure, but one I am happy to have. In my eyes, it is far better for me than smoking, though I have yet to get rid of that addiction. I do, however, realize that I spend an extraordinary amount of time gaming... as evidenced by my Raptr account, and the number of "Elite" rankings I have amassed. Case in point: Assassin's Creed IV- Black Flag.

Good thing Cubans never look up... They won't find me here.

This game just came out on November 19th (the day after my birthday), and I got it on the 20th. Since then I have played 71 hours! Do you think I love this game? Haha.

Hmm, I wonder if this is from Sting?

I have never played any of the Assassin's Creed series of games before, but something about this one resonates with me. Maybe it is the pirate theme, or perhaps the fact that the story is well written, with a protagonist that feels believable to me. I have certainly gotten a kick seeing Kingston, Jamaica portrayed as the bustling colonial town it probably was back in those days. Oddly enough, the buildings still look similar today, from my understanding... well... in the older areas of town.

Sing that sea shanty again mates, this time with FEELING!

I think another good term for this game would be "Ship Simulator 3000". I have never played a game that actually allowed somewhat realistic LOOKING control over a water vehicle. As you may or may not know,  I am no stranger to simulators, having spent years in Microsoft Flight Simulator, in various versions. I will readily admit, I have never played a ship simulator at all... The closest I have come was building and piloting hovercraft in Second Life. All the same, Assassin's Creed has presented this to me in a way that feels comfortable, and a whole lot of just pure FUN! Watching your ship ride the crests and troughs of the Caribbean, and reacting to the doldrums or gale force winds, is that extra bit of icing on a very polished vehicular cake. The only keys you even need to remember are  W, A, S, and D... then your two mouse buttons, and occasionally E. 

Brace yourselves! Killer wave bearing down!!

Another damned water spout. That's it, we're out of here!

Side quests abound in this game, and the completionist in me is going nuts trying to capture every fort, hunt every animal at least once, or even harpoon Moby Dick's ancestor. I will say that they certainly put a lot of things to do when NOT doing the story, in this game. I would be lying if I said I did not try to complete at least everything in a given area of the map, before going through the next piece of the tale.

Herman Melville would be proud of me.

One minor letdown though, is the fact that you only ever get ONE ship. While there is a fleet of ships you can "own", you won't be pimping about the tropics in a "borrowed" Spanish galleon. You can however command your fleet to visit various parts of the new world, or old, in order to trade and build your wealth. Along the way, you can have turn-based battles with enemy ships, as illustrated below. It's not quite as appealing as watching 32 cannonballs smash through the deck, but it is a mildly amusing little side game.

Monopoly with ships?

If there is a downside to the game, it is going to be in the controls, while playing as Edward Kenway on land. As a PC player, controllers are simply not something I am used to using on my computer. With this game, I do feel like I am penalized for this. The keyboard commands have my fingers doing the tango all over the keyboard, and I have actually had to rebind a few keys to my mouse side buttons, just to ease the pain. It is not game-breaking enough for me to go out and buy a USB game controller... Aside from which, who has money for that kind of upgrade right now. One thing I will say though: After going hours on end in AC4, switching back to Guild Wars 2, I find myself pushing the wrong keys to try and do things.

Oh yes, and a side order of boobies please...

You know I love a good story, and with this game, you get two for the price of one (which I understand is a common theme in all AC games). First, there is the story of YOU, an unnamed employee at Abstergo Industries; basically a new hire who is stumbling upon something far greater than just your average gamer geek type of job (I wish)... 

Oh really?


Oh... Ok...

Then there is the story of Edward Kenway, the pirate you portray while in the "Animus" (think virtual reality times ten). As of this blog post, I am only halfway through the story of Edward, but the plot twists thus far both in and out of the Animus have kept me riveted to my seat. Yes, this is a game I am finding hard to log out of... I want to SEE what happens next!

Not now Kidd, I am busy...

Where's Lara Croft when you need her?

Hmm, I wondered why this island smelled funny...

I have not tried out the player vs player aspect to this yet, because as I have stated before, I am not really that into it. This is funny because as an amusing sidenote, I have also been playing a lot of Planetside 2, and actually enjoy that game... And that is a game with literally NO story to speak of. Once I complete the story mode however, I may pop in a few times to see what all the hoopla is about. If I like it, more power to me, but I imagine I would play the game considerably less than I am now.

I'll drink to that.

One thing I am seriously thinking of doing though, is using FRAPS with it, and actually uploading gameplay videos to YouTube. Having enjoyed watching people like WoodenPotatoes, MattVisual, Sips, Jesse Cox, and others game, I think I could probably do the same thing... Though I don't think I am nearly as hillarious as the above mentioned guys. That is still in the planning stage however.

Awesome view... Now how the hell do I get down from here?

If nothing else, Assassin's Creed IV, like all the other games I play, is helping to keep me sane at a time when I see more and more friends struggle, and lose their own jobs. In case you have not noticed it... it is happening at an alarming rate lately. It is a wonder any of us are even still surviving! I certainly have not given up the search for the perfect job, and I am actively engaging in other projects that have potential (for example, I began writing articles for Elite Monster, about Guild Wars 2). I know good things are coming for me very soon, but I am really glad that I have a way to slip into another world and just forget my worries for a few hours. My problems do not disappear totally, but the key to losing oneself in a game, is to remember to balance one's life WITH gaming.

Look, we can do this the easy or hard way, either way, you are buying these girl scout cookies.

With that said me hearties, it be time for me to harass the Spanish and send 'em down to Davy Jones' locker! Arrrrr!