iPhone 4S: US carriers unable to keep up with demand

More than a month after its launch, demand for Apple's iPhone 4S shows no sign of abating, with US carriers unable to keep up with demand.
When it was unveiled more than a month ago, the iPhone 4S was met with disappointment in some quarters, largely because it wasn’t an iPhone 5. Many people had been hoping for a design overhaul, but were given something that looked the same. This time, all the changes were under the hood. While some said it wouldn’t sell, others went out and started buying it. And they’re still buying it.
The Wall Street Journal’s Greg Bensinger reported on Thursday that, more than a month since the 4S was released, the major wireless carriers in the US are having difficulty keeping pace with demand.
Those entering Verizon and AT&T stores on the hunt for Apple’s latest mobile phone device are being told they’ll have to wait around three weeks. Sprint’s wait time is only marginally better, currently at around two weeks.
In what will be music to the ears of Apple executives, AT&T’s president of emerging devices, Glenn Lurie, told the WSJ, “We are having some supply issues in the sense that demand’s huge,” adding, “We have had just record-breaking sales on it.”
Verizon’s Brenda Raney noted that demand for the 4S shows no sign of abating. “Not only was the iPhone 4S popular when it was introduced, but the popularity continues to build,” she said.
Apple’s new chief executive Tim Cook said recently that he believes the current quarter will see a new record set for iPhone sales. That’s not hard to believe, considering in its first weekend alonemore than four million units were sold.
The news that US carriers are struggling to keep up with demand comes in the same week that a survey showed the iPhone had replaced the BlackBerry as the phone of choice among business users.
The apparent healthy sales of the 4S does beg the question though – if an all-new iPhone 5 does come out next year, how many 4S owners would seriously be tempted to dump their phone for the new model after such a short time? Only then will Apple’s pulling power be truly put to the test.

Hands on with iTunes Match: A step in the right direction, with a few downsides

Apple's new iTunes Match service aims to give users access to their entire music libraries on their iOS devices and other computers running iTunes, all for just $24.99 per year. Does it live up to all the hype or is it a misstep for Apple?

It’s been a long wait, but Apple’s music-in-the-cloud service is finally here with the introduction of iTunes Match. Like Google Music and Amazon’s Cloud Player, the service aims to give users access to their entire music libraries on any of their iOS devices or computers running iTunes.

The new service will cost you $24.99 each year, but with that users can upload up to 25,000 tracks (downloaded from iTunes or otherwise) to the cloud and then access those tracks from up to 10 devices, which is pretty generous in our opinion. Songs that were purchased through iTunes don’t count towards the 25,000 song limit, which makes that number a little more bearable, and also gives users incentive to get their music through iTunes.

One of the huge pluses of the new Apple service is that iTunes already has a catalog of more than 20 million songs, meaning that the process is a lot easier and faster than, say, uploading every single track you own to Google Music. Instead, any songs found in your music library that can also be found in the iTunes catalog (whether they were purchased through iTunes or not) will be matched up, meaning that the service only has to fully upload songs that aren’t found in the iTunes catalog. Those songs take a longer time to get into the cloud, but most songs that most people own will have a match within iTunes, making the process significantly speedier than its competitors.

The service is available now to all users; after you’ve updated your iTunes to version 10.5.1, you’ll be able to purchase a year of iTunes Match. We went hands-on with the new service to see if it’s really all it’s cracked up to be.

Getting music in the cloud

The process to actually get all of your music from your home-based music library (likely your home computer or laptop) has three different steps after you’ve purchased and launched iTunes Match. To purchase it, make sure you’ve updated your iTunes to version 10.5.1, then go into the iTunes Store and on the right hand side you will see a link to iTunes Match. Purchase the service with your Apple ID account and you can begin the process of getting your library up into the cloud.

First, iTunes Match will spend some time getting all the information it needs about your library. The library that we used has just about 12,000 songs in it, making it no small feat for the service. After about 20 minutes of that first step, iTunes Match will move on to matching up your songs with songs in the iTunes catalog. For us, this step took the longest, at just about three hours. The final step is for the service to upload album artwork and any remaining songs that couldn’t be found in the iTunes catalog. The service had to upload 1,119 songs from our library that weren’t found in the massive iTunes catalog. Uploading each song during this step takes significantly longer, and it took at least another hour for iTunes Match to complete the process.

During those three steps, we had to stop and restart the service twice because it seemed to get stuck. Luckily, both times the service picked up where it left off after we canceled and restarted the Match process. We weren’t too surprised by a few glitches since we were dealing with a rather large library of songs. After the process was finished, we got a notification that all of our songs were now in the cloud and would be accessible from iOS devices or other computers running iTunes.

Accessing your library from iOS devices

For most people, one of the biggest perks about iTunes match will be being able to access, play, and download songs from their cloud library to their iOS devices. We tested out the service from both our iPhone 4S and our original iPad. We ran into a few glitches along the way, but once those disappeared we got a pretty good look at just how Match works with your music in the cloud.

To get access to your music library from your iPhone or iPad, all you have to do is go to music settings and slide iTunes Match and Show All Music to “On.” Once you do that, your cloud-based music should show up in your music library on your iPhone or iPad with a small grey cloud next to each song. When you select a song to play, the cloud will disappear and you’ll see a circle that documents the downloading process of the song. We noticed that there was about a 5-second delay in playing a song when it hadn’t been downloaded to our device already. Once you play a song, like it or not, that song will now take up space on your device’s storage. You can also easily select songs, artists, or albums to add to your device’s onboard (non-cloud) library by selecting “download all” next to that artist or album.

To download songs to your device from the cloud, you’ll need a strong Wi-Fi connection, or if you’re using your iPhone, you can allow your device to use cellular data to download by sliding Use Cellular Data to “On” in your App Store settings. For users with unlimited data plans, this means that they should be able to download music from their cloud library anywhere and anytime. But for users who have limited data, we’d warn against turning that feature on if you don’t want to go over your limit.

Our biggest problem accessing our music from our iOS devices was that a bug of some kind kept prompting us to enter our Apple ID password over and over again whenever we requested to play and download a song. No matter how many times we entered our password, the notification kept popping up. The service has no doubt had heavy traffic in the past few days, so maybe we can chalk it up to that. When we tried again after giving the service a rest for a night, the problem seemed to have disappeared.

Users can also enable Automatic Downloads for music in the App Store settings of their iOS device. When enabled, this means that any time you purchase music through iTunes on any of your iTunes Match devices, that song or album will automatically be downloaded to all of your other devices. If you get all of your music from iTunes or like to purchase music on-the-go but want it to also be accessible from your home computer, this feature will be invaluable.

For iOS devices, iTunes Match works almost like your own personal music store, instead of a purely music-in-the-cloud service. You can’t stream songs from your library from your iPhone or iPad without downloading them to your device. This could become a problem if you have a large music library, but only have a 16GB iOS device. It would probably take quite a while for that problem to occur, but when it does, you’ll be confronted with the pre-cloud problem of having to select which music you want on your device and what songs have to be exiled. A perfect cloud system would include a solution to this problem, in our opinion.

Accessing your library from other computers

While this feature might not be the most buzzed-about, it’s definitely the most seamless when it comes to our iTunes Match testing. We put the music library from our home laptop computer into the cloud for this iTunes Match testing, then added our work desktop to our iTunes Match account to see how it worked to have access to our whole home music library from work.

When on another computer (after your original matching process has completed), running iTunes, as long as you are signed in with your same Apple ID, a screen will appear after you select the iTunes Match link within the iTunes store that says “Add this computer” instead of “Subscribe $24.99.” Click “Add this computer,” and after iTunes shows you a page like the one you started with (“Gathering information about your library,” etc.) for a minute or so, your music from the cloud will start showing up in your iTunes library, with the same little grey cloud next to each not-downloaded song.

This is where iTunes Match functions the most seamlessly, and lives up to the music-in-the-cloud name. Once your cloud music shows up in your iTunes library on another computer, you can play songs or albums easily without having to download them, just as you would with a streaming service. We found that we could play whole albums without any delay, even though they weren’t downloaded to our work computer. This is the kind of functionality that we would ideally like to see for iOS devices as well.

While we definitely had some headache-inducing glitches along the way, we think that Apple is on the right track with iTunes Match and its capabilities. Once we got it to function, it functioned well and we can certainly see the benefit of being able to access your entire music library from any of your own personal devices. However, we don’t think they’ve quite hit the home-run that they are looking for yet.

Apple definitely has the advantage when it comes to the original process of getting your music library into the cloud. The massive iTunes song catalog significantly speeds up the process, taking a total time of only a few hours for a large library instead of the solid week that it took when we tested Google Music Beta. It also benefits users by upgrading the quality of a matched song if iTunes offers a better-quality version than what was in the user’s library. From there, it is also pretty simple to activate the service on iOS devices or other computers.

Our biggest problem with the service lies in the inability to stream songs from iOS devices without downloading them. Eventually, we’d like to see iTunes Match function on iOS devices the same way that it currently does on other computers. Users should be able to stream any music from their cloud music library on their iOS devices without a hitch, and without having to download every played song to the device. Right now, that’s not the case. It may not be an issue for smaller users, but it will no doubt become a problem for anyone (like us) who has 60GB of music in the cloud and an iPhone with only 16GB of storage capacity. This doesn’t make the entire service a misstep, but it’s certainly something that Apple should be working towards if they want to blow past the competition and offer an easy-to-use and universally-liked service for Apple customers.

After putting iTunes Match through all the paces, we’d say that it’s a good solid start for Apple, but they aren’t anywhere close to finished yet. For users, iTunes match is still a great service that offers numerous benefits for what we think is a very reasonable price tag of only $25 each year. While we do have criticism of the service in its current form, we are very happy to be able to access and download any music from our home library onto our iOS devices, even if there are a few small glitches in the process. We think Apple users will have similar feelings and be pleased with the service despite its few significant downsides.

Facebook reveals how and what it tracks

Facebook offers a rare glimpse into its user tracking and management system.
In an exclusive interview with USA Today, Facebook has revealed some new insights into its tracking practices. The social network is constantly besieged by privacy complaints, and often enough rightly so. But for the first time, it’s revealing very specific details about how it gets your data and what it’s doing with it.
The report gets into some of why it’s hard being Facebook and the different pressures the company is under. While it’s all very interesting, we’re more concerned about what exactly it does with user data and how it tracks people.
  • Different cookies for different folks. Facebook determines what type of tracking cookie to insert in your browser depending on your activity. If you register for an account, you get a session cookie and a browser cookie. If not, you only get a browser cookie. Tracking begins the first time you ever visit Facebook’s site.
  • You’re in the network. After this, any time you’re on a third-party site that has any sort of Facebook plugin (a Share or Like button, for instance), the cookie is alerting Facebook of the time and site address you’re on. This includes: “unique characteristics of your PC and browser, such as your IP address, screen resolution, operating system and browser version.” Facebook keeps track of all your webpage visits for 90 days, deleting the older entries and adding new ones as it goes.
  • Facebook can but won’t track you when you aren’t logged in. According to Facebook engineering director Arturo Bejar, the site has the ability to find out where you are going on the Internet when you aren’t even logged into Facebook. However, he says Facebook “makes it a point not to do this.”
  • Who else does this? This is all typical for online ad networks, including the likes of Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. But just because it’s standard practice doesn’t mean it isn’t controversial. Furthermore, Facebook isn’t generally lumped in with these companies.
But maybe it should be. Is it time consumers start actually thinking about Facebook as part of the Internet advertising industry? The company’s candidness in the interview is commendable, but the we’d be prepared for some significant backlash. 

Mastretta MXT looks to spice up the competition with an Italian influenced Mexican sports car

Mexican automaker Mastretta has been getting a lot of buzz with its independently developed high-performance sports car. Will the semi-local automaker warm the hearts of car American car enthusiast with the MXT?
You’d be forgiven for looking at the Mastretta logo and confusing it for an Italian car — what with the green, white and red adorning the Mexican flag, the Masretta badge and the Italian flag. It would seem though, that the Mastretta MXT high performance two-door sports car hailing from south of the border has more to share with Italy than the colors of its respective national banners.
Apparently the father of Carlos Mastretta (General Manager of Mastretta), attended the polytechnic university in Milan, Italy, in 1931 and ’32, and was taught by none other than engineering professor Enzo Ferrari. And the Italian influence found in the MXT clearly shows in its design.
Powered by a rear-mounted turbocharged 2.0-liter Ford Duratec four-cylinder engine, the Mastretta MXT pumps out a solid 247 horsepower, 257 pound-feet of torque, and will sprint to 60 in around 4 seconds, largely in part to its lightweight design. The Mastretta weighs in at just 2,100 pounds and features a body that is full composite construction with a ground-hugging frame.
The MXT is currently only available to Mexican and European markets with hopes of making it available to the rest of North American too. Right now it sells for the equivalent of $58,000 and the plan is to keep that price point intact when it finally does make its way north.
What do you think? Would you consider driving a Mexican-made sports car with an interesting pedigree? Sound off in the comments below.

Rolling Pico Camera Dolly brings Hollywood to your homemade movies

Now you can take that leap from home movies to Hollywood with this sturdy and easy to use camera dolly.
It might not be obvious, or maybe it is, but what truly separates your home movies from the likes of Hollywood’s finest isn’t expensive special effects, or big time movie stars. It’s all in the camera movement, of course.
So for all you would-be Scorseses out there, why not bump up your production value with this portable and compact Pico Dolly.
Now you can eliminate all the unwanted bumps, shakes, and otherwise nausea-inducing camera movements that have plagued home-movies for decades. Simply thread your camera or iPhone onto the dolly’s tripod and you’re ready to make movies. What’s more, the dolly comes equipped with two sets of rotating wheels under the camera arm and adjusts, so you can shoot up, down, or even in a smooth 360-degree motion.
You’re home movies may never be the same.

Internet titans fight SOPA with full-page NY Times ad

Internet giants have taken to the pages of The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and the Washington Times, to fight back against SOPA, the Internet censorship bill.

Nine giants of the Internet — Google, eBAy, AOL, Facebook, Yahoo, Zynga, LinkedIn, Mozilla and Twitter — placed a full-page ad in The New York Times as part of their efforts to fight back against the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) and the “PROTECT IP Act.”

Update: A Google spokesperson has just informed us that, in addition to The New York Times, this ad ran in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and the Washington Times.
These pieces of legislation, which have strong bipartisan support in Congress, as well as backing from the Motion Picture Association of America, a variety of Hollywood union organizations, and even Master Card and Pfizer, would require technology companies and Internet service providers to block access to any website that the entertainment industry believes “engages in, enables or facilitates” copyright infringement. In essence, these bills, if they become law, would allow for broad Internet censorship. And companies like those listed above would be required by law to do the censoring.

While those who wish for greater ways to fight copyright infringement say the legislation is good and necessary, opponents — who stretch far and wide — say the legislation will stifle innovation online by changing the entire nature of the Internet as we know it, and further warn that this could be the beginning of the “Great Firewall of America.”

iPhone overtakes BlackBerry to become top phone for business users

If the results of a new survey are to be believed, the BlackBerry is no longer the must-have mobile for the majority of business users.

There was a day not so long ago when the BlackBerry was the phone of choice among members of the business community. But according to the results of a new survey, this is no longer the case.

Questioning 2,300 mobile workers at more than 1,100 enterprises worldwide, the iPass survey found that Apple’s iPhone is now the leader among such users, with 45 percent of respondents saying they use one, compared to 32.2 percent who use a BlackBerry. A year ago, BlackBerry was marginally ahead of the iPhone, with 34.5 percent of the share to the iPhone’s 31.1 percent.

Notably, Android almost doubled its share over the past year, with 21.3 percent of those polled saying they use a phone running Google’s mobile operating system.

When asked about buying intentions over the next 12 months, the iPhone came out on top with 18 percent saying they intended to purchase Apple’s device. Android was the next most popular choice, with 11.2 percent planning to get a phone running the increasingly popular operating system.

The outlook appeared to be rather grim for BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIM), with only 2.3 percent thinking of buying one of its devices in the coming year. This can be explained in some part by the fact that the damaging service outage suffered by BlackBerry users in October happened during the month-long period when the survey was being conducted. How about that for bad timing.

If RIM can turn a few heads with its new BBX operating system when it begins to appear in its mobile devices early next year, it would certainly have a more than decent chance of building on that measly 2.3 percent. Earlier this week an image was posted on the web of a new-look BlackBerry device that some are claiming will be RIM’s first phone running BBX, possibly set for a June 2012 launch. There’s been no official word from RIM on that though.

Apple will be pleased that its single phone looks to have been adopted by the business community, and is now more popular than all of the BlackBerry devices combined. Android phones, while still some way behind Apple in this poll, made a big gain in the past year and will be the one to watch.

Man sells diamond engagement ring to buy Master Chief armor

While getting over a nasty breakup with a cheating girlfiend is definitely tough, one man found a way to cope with his grief by disposing of the engagement ring to purchase the ultimate Halo accessory.

Recounted in full detail at the Bygone Bureau blog, Eric Smith found himself devastated after his long-time girlfriend confessed to cheating and broke up with him. At the time, Smith was prepared to propose to his now ex-girlfriend and had even obtained her perfect image of an engagement ring. Specific to her description of the perfect ring, the diamond was shaded canary yellow and set on a white gold band. After the breakup, the engagement ring remained in his closet for months. Due to the unpopular design, he was unable to sell the ring in-person to anyone, but did find a buyer on eBay and shipped off the unused jewelry.

chief02With a substantial amount of money sitting in his Paypal account, Smith decided to get rid of the cash to destroy any lingering memory of the ex-girlfriend. While Smith still had graduate school loans to take care of, he decided to spend the entire amount on a complete set of wearable Master Chief armor from the popular Halo series. According to Smith’s comment on Reddit, he hired a Detroit-based artist on Etsy before the site shut down the alchemy section during early 2011. The suit is mostly constructed out of steel as well as fiberglass and weighs approximately 40 pounds. Designed by an armor-builder based out of the Philippines that’s known for Stormtrooper designs, the helmet utilizes LED lights and has the shiny golden sheen typical of Master Chief’s armor. The various parts of the suit arrived in seven shipments over eight months.

Since the purchase of the armor, Smith likes to walk around as Master Chief at various conventions. It takes two people to help Smith put on the armor and he has to walk around slowly to avoid breaking any section of the armor. According to Smith, he identifies with Master Chief and doesn’t regret the decision to spend all proceeds from the sale of the engagement ring on the set of Halo-inspired armor.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 sells $775 million in five days

Is there a record that won't fall when it comes to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3?

Previous records keep falling by the wayside when it comes to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.

Activision released details of the five-day sales figures for the recently released best-selling entertainment product in history, and they continue to be the sort of numbers that establish Modern Warfare 3 as one for the ages (or at least until the next Call of Duty is released).

According to Activision, Modern Warfare 3 grossed over $775 million worldwide in the five days since it hit shelves, exceeding the $650 million record set last year by Call of Duty: Black Ops and the $550 million record set a year earlier by Modern Warfare 2. That tally marks the highest five-day sales for any movie, book, music album, or video game ever released to this point.

“Call of Duty has become the first entertainment property in history to set five-day launch records for three consecutive years across all forms of entertainment,” said Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick in a press release announcing the game’s five-day sales. “Life-to-date retail sales for the Call of Duty franchise have exceeded $6 billion worldwide, which makes Call of Duty one of the most valuable entertainment properties in the world.”

On top of all that, Modern Warfare 3 broke the online gaming record for Xbox Live with 3.3 million users simultaneously competing on November 8 — a record that was previously set by Call of Duty: Black Ops (2.6 million concurrent users).

Assassin’s Creed Revelations Review

Review: Ubisoft returns with the fourth iteration of the uber-popular series, as Ezio’s final adventure takes us to Constantinople, in Assassin’s Creed: Revelations.

I love the Assassin’s Creed series. It’s one of my favorites of this generation of consoles. I even have a slight man-crush on Ezio Auditore, who I have lovingly come to know as Captain McStabby. Knowing that Assassin’s Creed: Revelations would be his last ride left me with a bittersweet feeling, yet also a deep appreciation that Ubisoft Montreal was able to present a character that we could be with from a wild boy to a wise mentor of other plucky young assassins. It offered sense of completion few games could offer.

When Brotherhood came around, I did everything possible in that game. At the time, I did not realize that doing so was a mistake.

Revelations is a great game — as long as you haven’t already spent too much time with the series. The story is compelling and entertaining, and the missions are inventive and fun. The side quests, however, are a different story, as they are exactly the same as the previous game. In fact, Revelations is identical to Brotherhood in numerous ways, so much so that it is hard to really be totally immersed in it if you (like me) obsessively played the previous games.

There is more than enough to make this game worth playing, but it is also hard to shake the feeling that some of the design was lazy. Constantinople is beautiful, but it isn’t that different from Rome. The Brotherhood returns, but the leveling system is mostly the same as before.

Still, Ubisoft knew it had a winner with the series, and for good reason. There are plenty of nagging flaws that return in Revelations, but the good far outweighs the bad — just as it did in the last game, the game before that, and the game before that.
The last ride of Captain McStabby

If you have not played the previous Assassin’s Creed games, then this is not the game for you. Even putting aside the cliffhanger ending that left Desmond comatose, and even though Ezio’s story is mostly standalone, AC:R is a conclusion on multiple levels. Not only is it the last ride of a now aged Ezio, it also offers an epilogue to the original protagonist Altair, all while pushing the series in a new direction.

Revelations is somewhat more character driven than the previous games. Ezio is still not the guy you want to insult or steal his girlfriend, but he is also more reflective in his age. It’s rare that we see a character progress to the degree we have seen Ezio, and Revelations makes a fitting finale for him.

But before Ezio can hang up his hidden blade, he has one more major objective to complete. At the age of 52, Ezio sets out to reclaim the library of his ancestor Altair, located in the now Templar-occupied Masyaf. But before Ezio can give the Templars a what for with his steel, he needs to collect five keys hidden in Constantinople.

As he searches for the keys with the help of a beautiful Venetian ex-pat, Ezio is drawn into the politics of the Ottoman Empire, as he befriends a man kissed by destiny, who will grow up to be known as Suleiman the Magnificent — assuming they can stop the influence of the Templars.

As Ezio discovers each key, he also relives a moment from the life of Altair, spanning decades. It is an epilogue for the character, and while these moments are brief, they are engrossing. And what would an Assassin’s Creed be without Desmond, who also returns, albeit a tad brain damaged. Beyond a few interludes with him, you can also collect fragments in the game to unlock five moments from his past, which finally shed some light on the character.

The story is where this game will hook you. The gameplay is the same as ever, for better or worse, but the characters have been with us for several years now, and seeing Ezio wrestle with his attraction for a woman he knows he will only put in danger is compelling. It works partly because of the storytelling, but also because it is hard not to feel a connection with Ezio after so many hours spent controlling him. Mixing in the surprising incidents of Altair’s life, and the story alone is enough to keep you pushing towards the conclusion. Plus the story-driven missions are by far the most original use of the gameplay, and each one is original. The same is not true for the side quests.
Something old…

The gameplay in AC:R is identical to the other games in the series, and the Anvil Engine (with help in the particle physics department from the Havok Engine) is beginning to show its age. The city looks amazing, but it is very similar to Rome. There are a few other notable (and in one occasion jaw-dropping) locations in the game, but the vast majority of the time will be spent wandering through Constantinople. Beyond original look, the city is nearly identical to Rome, and not just in design.

Spread throughout Constantinople are Templar-controlled areas that you need to bring down by killing the captain and torching the tower in order to recruit assassins, and buy shops and landmarks, exactly as you did in Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood also returns, but with a more choices — sort of.

As with Brotherhood, you first recruit your assassin — although instead of just saving them, you now need to complete a mission. Once you have the assassin, you can send them out on missions in what is basically a stat-based mini game. You choose a European city, find a mission, then assign it to them. They return with money and experience. If they are in town, you can use them as a special attack. Beyond that, they are mostly unchanged.

The biggest issue with Revelations is that, with the exception of a few notable missions, all of the quests are identical to quests you have done before. You’ll get into races, follow people around, and stab the odd sucker. After three previous games (well, two, since AC 1′s missions were fairly limited), the shine is wearing off. You can help mercenaries if you like, or save a Romani (this game’s courtesans), but it is nothing new. The only real change is the assassination contracts, which have been replaced by master assassin missions. They play out the same, but you have a minion along for the ride.

The combat system also returns mostly unchanged. There is now an instant kill combo, and a few enemies are tougher, but it is the same, much-maligned system as ever. When surrounded, it is usually easier just to run, but if you fight it is typically just holding block and waiting for a counter.

The parkour free running also remains mostly the same, for good and bad. Sometimes you will fly through the city, like a slick-dressed bird with a knife. Other times you will try to jump up, but instead jump off the wall to your death. Same old.
Something new…

There are a few new tricks that Ezio can use. He now has a hook and can use bombs. Hooray!

The hook is a good addition, but a minor one. You can use it in combat to disarm, or you can use it to jump higher than normal. The city is designed with this in mind though, so it ends up feeling like the previous games anyway.

The bombs are a tool that can be used mostly as a distraction rather than a weapon, although you can stun enemies. You collect pieces throughout the city — just as you did in Brotherhood with the merchant’s quests — and you build them at various workbenches.

While the bombs aren’t really all that necessary, they can make your life easier, and create new options. You can throw one to explode and distract guards, set one on a timed fuse to explode and shoot coins to frenzy a crowd, or — a personal fave — throw a blood bomb at enemies and make them think they may have been wounded as you sneak by. There are a lot of options.

The other slightly significant addition is the tower defense mini-game that occurs when you cause too much trouble and the Templars attack an assassins’ guild located throughout the city. You start with a few defensive tools and a limited number of points, then assign people and defenses on a street. As waves of enemies come after you, you add more troops, barricades etc. If you win, you get a respite and more defensive options. If you fail, the Templars take the area and you have to kill the captain and burn the tower again.

While these games are an interesting distraction, they are also insanely frustrating at times. They are optional, but you ignore them at your own peril and there is a Catch-22 at times. The defenses begin when you commit one too many crimes against the Templars — which is inevitable no matter what you do.

To begin the defense, you must get to the guild door undetected. To get there, you will almost always need to fight your way in, which in turn raises your Templar awareness. More than once while trying to get to the defense mission, I inadvertently caused another defense mission at a different location.

It is annoying and something that most will do because they have to, rather than want to.
Something borrowed…

The multiplayer from Brotherhood also returns with a handful of new game modes, and as you level up you will gain access to information that actually helps to fill in some of the details about the modern Templars and their Abstergo Corporation. This alone makes the multiplayer worth playing. The ten multiplayer modes, the customizable characters and the five new maps paired with four from Brotherhood also help.

Two particular highlights are a new capture-the-flag mode, and the changes to deathmatch (which take away your compass in favor of a line-of-sight gauge), which both make for an interesting diversion.

But as with the previous multiplayer, the online side is likely going to get a lot of love the first few weeks, then be forgotten about. The gameplay needs to be tightened up a bit, as even the best players will occasionally be at the mercy of an awkward wall climb or a mistimed jump. It’s inevitable. For a small group of hardcore fans, there might be a small cult following around this game’s multiplayer, but most will try it and move on after getting their money’s worth.

Still, it is fun and a refreshing change of pace from most online multiplayer modes. It’s worth a look — even if most will try it and forget it.

(As a side note, on the Xbox, the multiplayer occasionally, but consistently froze while loading the multiplayer. Hopefully this is a pre-launch bug that can be easily fixed, but there were large periods where the multiplayer was inaccessible.)

Ubisoft Montreal (with help from the other Ubisoft offices) knows how to tell a story. They also know that the foundation laid in the original Assassin’s Creed was a winner, and so it remains in full use now. Putting aside the story, AC:R is a slight step back for the series. Not counting the tower defense or the bombs and hook, there is nothing new at all in the game, and the few things you may think are new are actually old pieces with a new look. The story missions help with that though.

It is a testament to the property that it can still entertain, and seeing Ezio off is worth the price, but those that will suffer most are the ones that loved Brotherhood and spent the time to do everything they could. Unless you really, really loved the side quests, having to do them all over again with very little variation can quickly grow frustrating.

Fans of the series should rush out to buy Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. Even despite the been-there-done-that vibe you will quickly get, you will soon find yourself once again drawn into the world of our favorite assassin as we look forward to the future of the franchise, and bid a fond farewell to Captain McStabby.