Browsing all articles tagged with Assassin’s Creed

Assassin's-Creed-4Assassin’s Creed 4: Pirates go Purse Shopping

I know this review is late, and we’re probably closer to the release of the next iteration of the Assassin’s Creed franchise than we are to launch date of Black Flag, but I’ve just bought a Playstation 4 and was holding off playing this as it looks like the only game I’m really bovved about.

Anyway, you can probably consider this piece a historical document, which seems quite apt for a series dealing with time. In fact, time is undoubtedly the over-arching theme of the Assassin’s Creed series. Each game hops swiftly through time from the Middle Ages to the birth of the America via the Renaissance like its nimble-limbed protagonists, clambering from rooftop to rooftop whilst wearing white bathrobes and hiding cutlery above their cuffs.

Time is presumably also a factor for the developers, who are tasked with introducing a brand new entry into the ‘white hooded historical murderer’ genre each year lest something terrible happen, like an eclipse of the sun, or a visitation from strange alien ghosts from the past – or whatever the series is actually ‘about’ once you move away from the historical timeframe and chat to an enormously punch-able digital facsimile of Danny Wallace.

It’s safe the say that this slavish need to have a new iteration in the hands of gamers each year has halted real development in the series. Each update has been incremental with most games being almost identical to the one before. Even in this first next-gen update you still divide your time between soaring over the rooftops like a greased up ninja with cats strapped to his feet when not struggling to climb over a small log because there’s no ‘step over small log’ animation.

Combat, too hasn’t changed. You still wait for your aggressors to waggle a sword before pressing circle and square and watching a gruesome, protracted death sequence play out. It’s an oddly disconnected experience that gels with the idea of you being a virtual participant in history, but still feels oddly discordant with the steps that have been taken to progress the series.

Following on from its introduction in part III, aka ‘Native American Wood-Trading Simulator 2012’, ship exploration is undoubtedly the biggest new ‘thing’ in part 4. This will come as some relief to those who were worried that the pirates in this iteration would spend most of their time wheeling cowhides through a forest or delivering mystical pearls of wisdom in the kind of deep monotonous voice that would send a tree to sleep.

It should, however, come as no surprise to anyone to discover that being a pirate is a barrel of laughs and manages to overcome the limitations that hinder the on-land portions of the game. Simply put, exploring the oceans is more fun than being trapped with a host of salt-caked bearded men in a small, enclosed space should be. Pretty much every pirate staple is catered for – beyond scurvy, owning a parrot and being Johnny Depp, embarrassing yourself in exchange for a new Caribbean island. You can board ships, sing shanties, dig for treasure, dive and hunt sea beasts whilst avoiding attacks from the Spanish and adverse weather conditions (not unlike a trip I took to Lanzarote in ’03 – lollers).

Back on land, however, and it’s back to the usual business. One of my most abiding memories of the Assassin’s Creed series is the fact that even the most challenging and arduous tasks can be completed by pressing a single button. Your basic aim is to navigate your avatar in to an appropriate place before pressing the ‘Fun Button’ and watching an animated sequence play out. The fact that Ubisoft now stuffs each of its games to the gills with repetitive tasks doesn’t help and that’s without considering the fact that they seem to have an unhealthy fascination with making you turn crocodiles into purses.

It’s this curtailing of fun with a single button press that has always stopped the Assassin’s Creed series from scaling the heights of greatness. It still feels like something of an accomplishment to climb a huge tower like a ninja in a white dressing gown, but when the pay-off is a single press of a button, I feel like I’m the obstacle preventing the game from reaching its full potential. Missions that involve following people so you can hear perfunctory dialogue that advances the plot are equally familiar and even less fun.

On water it’s a different story, with ship controls and the mechanics of piracy being simple, fun and intuitive. There are odd quirks when it comes to letting go of the wheel and engaging in hand to hand combat, but it’s forgivable when the returns in amusement are so great. The trading element has also been improved and is much better suited to the life of a pirate than it was to the life of whatever he was called in the last game.

Thankfully, sea-based fun is the abiding memory I’m going to take from Black Flag, but that’s conditional on at least one of this year’s fourteen Assassin’s Creed games making genuine advances in game-play. If they can avoid me accidentally taking a few steps up a non-interactive tree whilst supposedly in pursuit of someone from history who needs ventilating then I’ll consider getting my next review out with a little more haste. Until then, I’ll probably make a few more journeys upon the seas with my smelly bearded compatriots singing heartily.

Altogether now,

To me, Way-ay-ay Yah!
We’ll pay Paddy Doyle for his boots!
To me, Way-ay-ay Yah!
We’ll all drink brandy and gin!
  

"I prefer San Andreas"

I prefer San Andreas

Videogames in the news don’t really get much positive coverage, if it’s not the Daily Mail thrashing itself with a birch to ensure it doesn’t get any enjoyment/ miss any of the sordid details contained within Pokemon Beige, it’s Alan Titchmarch mistaking Julie Peasgood for an encyclopedia (note: minus the section on ‘Toleration’), as she joins his audience in ripping an unsuspecting videogames journalist apart. So when I saw a recent piece on videogames in the Observer I expected a bit more than a fairly self-absorbed (is there any other kind) story of addiction: both of cocaine and Grand Theft Auto 4.

The author says that he discovered an amazing kinship with Niko Belic, GTA 4’s protagonist, in his 30 hours of cocaine-fuelled playtime, which should be taken with about as much salt as an acid casualty telling you about this incredible dragon he just met. I felt pity for Niko for another reason, and not just because he resembled a sculpture of the Iranian president made from misshapen potatoes.

Niko moved to the US for a better life but found something far worse: relatives and people he’d just met who begin to harass him every hour of the day. Do a job with someone and the next thing you know they’re contacting you every few minutes asking if you want to go and play darts or watch the same Ricky Gervais stand-up routine over and over again. I’d argue that the developer’s greatest achievement isn’t recreating a thinly veiled New York City, it’s making the player feel trapped by it. What’s more the GTA games are not renowned for their likeable characters, so what this social interaction amounts to is essentially having to spend your social time entertaining a parade of complete pricks in order to get access to cheaper machine guns. It’s a credible approximation of real-life (perhaps minus the machine guns) and exactly the reason you don’t play videogames.

If Niko is the victim of unending social harassment from unlikable characters then surely, as with the article’s author, it should be easy to empathise right? Wrong. The biggest problem with GTA 4 and pretty much any other game of its ilk is that once the scripted scenes are over you’re left to go about your own devices without any real consequence to the narrative. In real terms this basically means causing masses of destruction in increasingly creative and unpleasant ways.

In the predetermined cut-scenes, Niko is a fairly sympathetic character (or a complete sweetheart depending on your intake of cocaine and/or sleep levels) but when he moves away and the player takes charge then he’s more than likely to lose those appealing character traits. And that’s when the open-world of GTA 4, and many other games in the genre, starts to unravel.

Assassin’s Creed 2 had the same issues. As much as people hated the repetitious trudging of part 1, the blank canvas of, erm, whatever he was called, allowed the player to project their own personality. In 2 however, he’s replaced by Ezio. With an easygoing demeanour and an eye for the ladies, Ezio is basically Fonzie dressed in period finery. But again, move him away from pre-scripted interactions and into the player’s hands and in no time he’s killing everything above head height and a significant amount of things at ground level.

Ezio robs hard working Venetians, punches minstrels in the face and pays people to kick tramps to death, at least when I’m playing him. And the only repercussions faced are being chased for a few metres and even then all you have to do is hide in a big plant pot before ripping up a few flyers and and you’re back to square one.

In case you haven’t gathered, the problem with these games is that your lead character is more often than not a psychopath with serious personality issues. This would help to explain some of wacky plot developments in Assassin’s Creed 2, not to mention the lead’s ability to listen to Danny Wallace without removing his thorax through his mouth.

But how do you fix this narrative issue if suspension of disbelief is increasingly hard to do? Well for a start they could try open-world games where the lead isn’t a sociopath. Anyone for ready for ‘HULK: Ultimate Shoe Salesman’? Didn’t think so. Alternatively they could openly write the protagonist’s mental issues into the storyline – although the last game I recall that attempted that feat was ‘Second Sight’ on the PS2, which featured a small bald man crying on the cover. It sold like ‘Free Mandela’ t-shirts in 1991.

Perhaps it’s not really an issue. After all, Rockstar Games’ next big foray into the open-world genre is set in the Wild West, when people’s morals seemed to be at an all-time low, at least according to Deadwood (a show which even turned grannie-fave Lovejoy into a swearing cocksucker). And if it isn’t then maybe I should just resign the fact that I have way too much time on my hands. Maybe I should get some drugs and dive back in to Liberty City to see if my feelings towards Niko have changed? Then I could maybe write a fairly self-absorbed and unnecessarily lengthy diatribe. Oops.