The Backlog: Winter Blues edition

Is it the holidays again yet? And we thought last week was a struggle; if last week was like wiping sleep from your eye, this week is how you feel before you're fully awake in the morning. Hand me my coffee and the newspaper, please, I'm still groggy from the holiday break. As Doug and Nick see their free time chopped away by returning to the grind (but still get some gaming in!), Aaron provides some detailed impressions after finally digging into one of the holiday season's biggest releases. Without further ado, onto the Backlog...

Aaron

After my glowing account of Ghostbusters: The Video Game in last week's backlog, I quickly kicked Slimer and company to the curb after opening the neon green eco-case containing Assassin's Creed II. For an entire week, Ubisoft's much-improved sequel has remained in my Xbox 360's disc drive, lodged in the retracting plastic mouth like a popcorn kernel. However, unlike an actual pesky and potentially gingiva-damaging kernel, Assassin's Creed II is a-freakin'-mazing, and part of a balanced gaming diet.

This is the game that the first Assassin's Creed wanted to be, and the team at Ubisoft Montreal worked hard to make it feel that way. They've made missions bigger, more fun and decimated any trace of the original's tedium. Ezio Auditore da Firenze, the protagonist, is a realistic character with a distinct personality and unique motives; he's a digitized Renaissance ladies' man that I can't help but find likable. The weapon selection is genius in its variety and detailed attack animations, and the less blatant aspects, like hiring mercenaries, prostitutes or thieves to distract a city's hired goons who guard a precious stash of treasure chests, make a memorable impact. Assassin's Creed II is a game with so many moments I won't ever forget, and, perhaps unfortunate for other action adventure titles, I'll be using those to judge future titles' value. Oh, and I still haven't finished the game as of this writing.

One complaint, though: Leonardo da Vinci's flying machine segment. It was pretty lame. Of course that's my opinion, but really: After all the hype the flying machine garnered back in the spring during the game's slow unveiling, I was expecting more than an annoying checkpoint-to-checkpoint ordeal via multiple bonfires lit across Venice to help propel your glider back into the air as you float ever closer to your assassination target. The very brief mission played like it was designed by the mentally handicapped cousin of a designer from Pilotwings 64.

Favorite Italian phrase of the week: Requiescat in pace.

Nick

I've been a bit deprived of my regular gaming habits lately, but I have managed to sneak in a bit more time with Dragon Age: Origins and Bayonetta. I still haven't finished either, but there's little doubt in my mind that they represent the absolute best in their respective genres.

I'm also only about five songs away from having five-starred every song on expert in DJ Hero, which just goes to show how dangerously addicted I become when a great rhythm game comes along.

Finally, I caught up on some Rock Band songs, including the White Stripes and Paul McCartney packs. Harmonix has maintained a constant stream of great new songs over the last two-plus years. Now, if only Rock Band Network would hurry up and launch...

Doug

I'm not going to lie: much like Nick, I've had very little time to game this week. Having something going every night for school this week has crushed my free time, but I'm really hoping to have some more time to myself next week.

However, I did spend some good time with one of the usual suspects, Forza Motorsport 3, including spending a couple hours on Tuesday night. Friend of the site Peter is far from a diehard racer, but he rented Forza 3 on something of a whim; first he calls to see if it's something he'd like, then he caught me on Xbox Live and told me he'd just poured three hours into the game...and was loving the experience. We spent some time racing online against the computer for a while, discussing progression from sim-racing newbie to veteran, and Peter left convinced this was a great game. I'm just glad to help!

I've also been sneaking in games of the original NBA Jam in the mornings before leaving for class. Inspired by the recent confirmation of the series' return, I've been revisiting the original (as well as the Tournament Edition follow-up that's basically NBA Jam 1.5), and really trying to break apart what made the game fun. This might pop up later as the center of an editorial, but NBA Jam succeeds so well because it's such a simple, focused experience — there's no fat and no unneeded difficulty or complexity. As well, the controls and game engine both feel very taut; the game responds quickly to your inputs and you're rarely caught fighting the game for control.

Because I need the rest, I'm going to spend the weekend stapled to the couch, so I may very well finally beat Batman: Arkham Asylum, and get to spend some time with other games.