Welcome, to everything. Everything that ever was, is, and will be. If you thought Skyrim, GTA V or The Witcher 3 were the biggest open-world games ever, you’d be mistaken. Well, technically Minecraft is, but from a theoretical standpoint, Universe Sandbox 2 ought to have the numero uno slot. It consists of literally everything in existence! This game can help you simulate your favourite scenes from Armageddon, Deep Impact, Melancholia or Interstellar (minus the wormhole), and make them come to life for you. It gives you a ‘space’ within space, where you can let your imagination run wild and get your inner child’s darker side to blow the Earth up over and over again.
Or if you’re a more constructive type, you could try your hand at terraforming a planet, or building a unique solar system of your own with habitable planets in it. From the moment you start off with the introductory tutorial, you feel like you’ve been given more power and responsibility that you’re meant to handle. Take for example, the way you can alter a planet’s properties. The developers spared no detail in this regard, and everything you can pretty much think of can be tinkered and toyed around with. Making the earth four times bigger than it normally is sends the orbital paths of every other planet askew. Change its velocity, and watch it shoot out of the solar system towards infinity and beyond! The simulator offers many simple as well as complex variables that you can manipulate – something that’d make pure science majors drool over all their keyboards.
There’s just so much…stuff
Giant army, the team behind Universe Sandbox 2, knew that gamers wouldn’t have only wanted to manipulate what exists in defined spaces. With literally fifty thousand objects in its database, there’s no running out of objects you can add to a custom system you’re trying to build. The only drawback is that the majority of such objects are listed by their technical names – so unless you know what you’re specifically looking for, you’d be limited by your own lack of knowledge here. The collection includes, but isn’t limited to stars, planets and black holes alone, and you’d find it surprisingly challenging to not let everything fall to pieces or go supernova.
Universe Sandbox 2 is still in early-access mode at this point of time. However, given the positive feedback it’s received from the gaming community, it may or may not develop further. The dev team actually consisted of an astrophysicist, a climate scientist and physics programmer.
Let’s not forget that we can toss around all sorts of objects at each other as well. Even bowling balls, basketballs and golf balls. Ever imagined a planet being orbited by teapots? You can now. Talk about a dev team with an excellent sense of humour. Though the simulator has a bit of a learning curve to it, it isn’t as difficult to use as one would imagine it to be. And when you compare it to the genre of simulators in general (I’m looking at you, Flight Simulator X), it certainly doesn’t take too much time to learn how to use it in its entirety. The game has tons of tutorials that come along with it, and by the time you’re done going through them, you’ll be redefining the universe as we know it.
The Big Crunch
It goes without saying that this simulator’s visuals would leave you in total awe. The effects that you’d see when you smash two suns into each other are quite likely to leave you squealing in glee. Crashing the Earth into gas giants, as I discovered, only makes the latter look prettier when their atmospheres are set on fire. And there’s no description that could do justice to a ‘fast-forwarded’ collision between two galaxies. Of course, using ungodly values for certain variables can make the game lag a wee bit – so try to be a little conservative unless you’re using a top-of-the-line rig.
Space, is crazy. As is this sim. There has to be a Uranus joke in there somewhere. And a lot of existential dread, no doubt. Universe Sandbox 2 certainly lives up to the hype, and is a worthy successor to the first version that came out in 2008.
Do not however, forget that this is still a video game. And that it by no means, possesses the kind of real-world details that even a basic astronomy-software like Stellarium or Starry Night would possess. My verdict? It could either be a hit or a miss. Where some people are concerned, it might grant them hours of endless gameplay. With other people, it might end up being a game that they just might play a few times before the novelty dies out for them. Either way, given how ethereal the game’s background music is, you’re bound to leak a tear or two in admiration of what you’d be seeing on your screen.
1526. Shao Jun, a member of the erstwhile Chinese Brotherhood of Assassins, must set out to hunt down a corrupt group of eunuchs known as the Tigers, who secretly control China, and consequently reinstate her order. Shao’s the first female assassin since Aveline in AC3: Liberation and she’s certainly made a mark for herself. Do watch Assassin’s Creed Embers if you haven’t already, It sets the tone for this tale of vengeance.
ZOMG IT LOOKS SO PRETTY!
Playing Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China is akin to watching an animated Chinese folk tale. Artwork’s always been one of Ubisoft’s strong points; recent games like Child of Light and Valiant Hearts: The Great War are a testament to this. The environments and characters look like they’ve been painted using watercolors – and the fact that the game is basically a side-scroller makes it feel like you’re panning across a gargantuan, brilliant piece of oriental art. You’ll notice splashes and dabs of watercolor over each other which give the impression that the environment has several “layers” to it – some of which might look like they’d been “painted” before, and are now fading away – and others which are a lot more noticeable. This integrates the visual elements of contrast and depth exceptionally well. The game’s soundtrack is subtle yet immersive at the same time, and the sound effects complement it well.
Na’vi-gashun and Kombat
Seeing how Shao Jun is a former concubine, her style of fighting is very athletic. It comes as no surprise that stealth is encouraged throughout the game. Disposing off corpses isn’t a feature that most of us would have used in any other AC game, though it’s vital here. Assassinations aren’t exactly silent, so you’ll need to be wary of alerting other guards in your vicinity. Alert them, and they can even pull you out of your hiding spots. Move into their line of sight, and you’ll have hell to pay for. It’s fairly easy to get killed in this game, even when the difficulty’s set to normal. Two bars of health would imply that you can only take two hits before you’re dead.
The game’s been simultaneously criticised and praised for its similarities to Microsoft’s highly acclaimed 2012 game, Mark of the Ninja. If you’re interested in its historical context, I’d recommend starting with the history of the Zhengde Emperor.
The game features the “traditional Assassins Creed” eagle vision, syncs and leaps of faith; however I found them pretty pointless given that the game is only 2.5D. They do deliver their signature dramatic effect as always, though. Where Shao’s weapons are concerned, her hidden shoe blade is seriously awesome. Other weapons include throwing knives, noise darts, firecrackers that can stun guards, a badass sword – and a rope-dart! Once you get the hang of Shao’s combat techniques, you’d find it difficult to resist charging at enemies now and then. The game consistently rates players on the approach they employ. These rating awards in turn, lead to upgrades for Shao.
Ezio looked exactly the way he did in Embers, and occasionally makes appearances to train Shao. As the game progresses and more of her abilities are unlocked, you’ll notice that she’s a lot faster than any other Assassin from before. The game does its best to provide secondary objectives in addition to the mission’s primary goals, and you’ll find familiar collectibles strewn across its maps. There’s a fair amount of variety in the kind of enemies you’ll get to encounter and the maps are diverse as well (Macau, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall). One of them in particular makes Ubisoft’s love for 16th century European ships very apparent.
Where it went Wrong
The game does however, have a few shortcomings. Like almost every side-scroller out there, it’s completely linear. And though the animus and the cutscenes give quite a few insights into Shao’s life, there isn’t much scope for NPC interaction or development in terms of Shao’s personality. You won’t get to “know” her like you would’ve gotten to know Altair, Ezio, Connor or Edward. To top it off, Shao’s accent sounds more English than Chinese. The second installment of this series, set in 1841, will be featuring Arbaaz Mir – an Indian assassin from the graphic novel Assassin’s Creed: Brahman, while the final episode would feature the Russian assassin Nikolai Orelov – from Assassin’s Creed: The Fall and The Chain – in 1918.