Sunday, January 31, 2010

Video Game Review: Assassin's Creed 2

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Genre: Third person action adventure
ESRB: M - Mature
System Played on: Xbox 360

Be warned, thar be spoilers ahead...

Assassin's Creed 2 starts off right where the first game left off, with Desmond Miles held captive by Abstergo Industries who are using his DNA memory to learn where his ancestors have hidden mysterious artifacts known as Pieces of Eden. Abstergo plans to use the power of these artifacts to save humanity, by enslaving the entire planet. After being rescued, by undercover assassin Lucy, Desmond joins a small group of assassins who plan to use the Absergo Animus, the device that allows Desmond to relive the memories of his ancestors, to train Desmond in the deadly arts of the assassin. During his training Desmond learns more about the Pieces of Eden, the ancient feud between the Assassins and Templars, and ultimately of an event that is an even greater threat to mankind, one in which he is destined to play a pivotal role...

The second installment of Assassin's Creed is improved in every way from the original; whereas in AC the game play became tediously repetitive and boring, AC2 has greatly increased the variety of missions, weapons, tactics, enemies, and goals. AC2 thankfully also removed the pointless "find the 500 hidden flags" side quest and instead had several smaller collections to find, each with a reward that is actually useful in the game. The storyline feels much less contrived this time around with a main character, Ezio Auditore da Firenze, on a good old fashioned blood vendetta to even the score with the men who killed his father and brothers. The big reveal at the end is a bit "out there," but I still cannot wait for the third installment to wrap everything up.

Game play is solid and smooth, and there is enough variety of scenery and environments to keep me entertained throughout. However, they could have cut down on the number of missions in each town just a little; by the last three or four side quests in each section of the cities I had become bored and was "just trying to finish." I was very thankful that Ubisoft avoided the mistake of forcing the player to start over from scratch with the character. Immediately upon starting the game you are climbing buildings and fighting street thugs with the same techniques you spent the entire game of AC to learn. The game definitely earns the M rating with foul language, spurting blood, and graphic fighting (although, pulling out the warhammer and bashing in a few heads is quite satisfying.) My only quibble is with the camera angles in several of the interior locations; usually you have control over the free flying camera, but in several locations the camera will suddenly snap to a fixed location, often during one of the timed Parkour runs. This lead the character control to suddenly change orientation and was very frustrating when trying to make difficult jumps. This was the only time I would lose my immersion in the AC world, thankfully it was rare. I would also have liked the ability to change the button layout; I really wanted to move the 'free-run' button to one of the front bumpers as it was difficult to manipulate the camera and hold the A button at the same time.

The bottom line: I highly recommend this game; I was captivated from the start and had to be forced to put down the controller each night and I couldn't wait for the kids to go to bed to start again the next. While playing the original Assassin's Creed is strictly not necessary, it really helps to understand much of the story and gives the player a head start on the controls.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Weekly Weigh-In

I know, I know... I said I would update every Monday with my current weight loss and here it is, Thursday. Although I didn't update my blog as much as I wanted to, I did manage to get to the gym four times last week. I wasn't able to do as much as I had hoped to but, I am willing to cut myself a little slack since it was my first week. According to my bathroom scale I weighed 166.0 lbs on Monday morning, a bit shy of my two pound goal but, not a bad start. This week I plan to hit the gym hard and get below the 165 mark by Monday.

I haven't mentioned it before, but part of the whole reason I am trying to get more active is because of my kids. I have two boys, 6 and 5, and a 3 year old daughter. I became aware a few months ago that even though we have over two acres of land with plenty of lawn for playing soccer and some great hiding places for hide-and-seek, my kids spend almost no time outside. Some of my favorite memories as a kid revolve around playing with the other kids in my neighborhood; tag, handball, dodge ball, racing bikes, you name it. I feel that I have done my kids a great disservice by not exposing them to the outdoors more.

So, I have updated my goals to include at least two major outdoor activities each weekend. This week I plan on taking the kids for a short day hike around the wildlife refuge. I can't believe I have lived in the middle of the wilds for three and a half years and haven't gone on a single hike. That is something I definitely plan on changing this year.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Apple Tablet Madness is Catching

This is me jumping on the Apple Tablet rumormongering bandwagon. Few devices in the past year have generated the kind of excitement and wild-eyed speculation as the fabled Apple Tablet. Several major publication houses are even staking their future on such a device. While I am not a member of the Cult of Apple even I am not immune to the excitement created by the mere possibility such a device exists. Let me explain.

As I said, there is a plethora of rumors concerning the features of the fabled tablet and there is plenty of debate over which ones will actually be in the device. However, there is absolutely no argument that if done right Apple has the ability to completely change the way we think of personal computers with this device.

For those self proclaimed 'computer geeks' who are constantly tweaking their rig a desktop will always be the best way to go, but 90% of the users out there want something that is simple, functional, and just works. The popularity of the iPhone is a perfect testament to this philosophy; there are no folders to navigate, no esoteric configuration settings, yet with thousands of apps available it can do just about anything you want it to.

The Apple Tablet is poised to take this paradigm to the next level. This device will be designed from the ground up to perform all the functions the casual home user will want; reading magazines, newspapers, books, and blogs, watching streaming videos ala NetFlix and Hulu, surfing the web, social networking, and email as well as being able to take advantage of all the apps your heart desires. Additionally, if I am correct, the device will have a very intuitive interface similar to the iPhone so the average person can pick it up and use it without any training. Combine this with wifi and 3G "always on" internet connectivity and we could very well see, if not the death of the home desktop, at least a very capable replacement.

I can't wait for the January 27th Apple event to see exactly how much of my soul I will have to sell for one.

Update: Jebus over at Gizmodo stole my idea and wrote this article.
Double Update: Bwahahaha!
Triple Update: I love Bossy

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Weekly Weigh-In

Ok, so one of my New Years resolutions was to get down to a 30" waist (or better) from my current 34ish" stature. Thus, 'cause I know you really care, every Monday I will post my progress in my continuing battle of the bulge.

To start things off; my current weight is 167.2lbs (75.84kg for those in countries without antiquated measurement systems) and my waist is, as stated previously, 34ish". My goal for this week is to lose approx 2lbs (.9kg).

My plan is to go to the gym at least five times a week, not an easy task with three young kids and a wife with a busy social schedule. My workout schedule for the next two months goes like this: half hour of cardio, 10 minutes of stretching ('cause, oy vey, I can barely reach my shins much less my toes!) followed by

Day 1: Dumbbell bench press, Incline bench press, Triceps dips, Skull crushers, two ab exercises, and two lower back exercises.

Day 2: Wide grip pull-ups, Seated row, One arm dumbbell row, Standing barbell curl, two ab exercises, and two lower back exercises.

Day 3: 45 degree leg press, Leg extension, Leg curl, Military press, Dumbbell lateral raise, two ab exercises, and two lower back exercises.

Lather, rinse, and repeat.

Typically there are few people at my gym at any given time so I can do two exercises at once with different muscle groups, interleaving reps, so I can keep my heart rate up. Of course since I am tyring to lose weight and I am not looking to really bulk up I will be going for more reps (12-15 in 3 sets) with lower weight.

Oh, and because I am a computer geek by profession, and not an athelete by any streach of the imagination, I am open to suggestions or tips from any gym-rats out there who may be reading. Wish me luck!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Welcome to the Rosebush

I would like to welcome everyone to my new blog. Due to some problems with my Live Space blog I have decided to move shop over to Blogger. I will begin regular posting soon, for now I leave you with this.