What’s Next for Assassin’s Creed?

(Sorry for the brief hiatus; I was inadvertently and unintentionally off the grid last week.)

1. I finished AssCat last week.  I don’t know how many hours I put into it, but I finished with an 84% completion rate; there are a few side missions (Dickens, Darwin, Doyle) yet to do, and I suppose I could go out and hunt down every last collectible though there’s really no point now – I’m level 10 and more or less completely maxed out, and so a slight uptick in weaponry effectiveness as a reward for finding every single chest isn’t going to make that much of a difference at this stage, and I certainly don’t lack for money or crafting materials – nor do I have anything left to craft).  As a whole, I can comfortably say that it would fit somewhere in my top 3 AC games, alongside AssBro and BlackAss; whatever faults it has – and there are plenty – are more than mitigated by Evie Frye, my favorite of all the AC protagonists.  The larger question, though, is this:  even if AssCat is one of the best games in the franchise, what does that even mean anymore?

Let me back up, though, because while I certainly enjoyed my time with the game, I have a rather lengthy list of problems that I have to address.  And at the very top of this list is Evie’s brother Jacob.  As awesome as Evie is – and she’s awesome, and I could easily spend 1000+ words talking about it – Jacob is, unquestionably, the worst protagonist in the franchise, and one of the only playable characters in my entire history of gaming that I’ve ever wanted to repeatedly punch in the face.  I find his entire character arc bewilderingly stupid, and find it impossible to accept that his current form was the result of focus testing and deliberate design choices.  He is a stupid, brutish asshole, and he does stupid, brutish things, and he makes incredibly stupid and brutish mistakes, and I dreaded having to play his missions because I didn’t want to spend any more time with him than I had to.  Sequence 8 in particular is more or less entirely a Jacob sequence, where he does one stupid thing after another and then has the temerity to be outraged that the villain he was knowingly helping ends up turning on him – which is doubly stupid because it’s not like Jacob cares about the sanctity of human life either, given that he is, you know, a fucking Assassin – and the whole sequence was, on a narrative level, so incredibly stupid that I couldn’t even appreciate the mechanics of the sequence’s final assassination (which, in retrospect, is actually kind of neat). Every time I fucked up and Jacob died, or every time the controls didn’t respond to me and Jacob died, a part of me smiled inside, because that stupid asshole had it coming.

Speaking of which – yeah, the controls.  Oy.  Kotaku’s Kirk Hamilton says it better than I could; I only wish I’d beaten him to it with the rant that the controls deserve.  I seem to recall that when the very first game was announced, the thing that the developers wanted us to focus on – more than the climbing or the combat – was the quality of the animation.  And there’s no question that the animation is still, for the most part, astonishingly good and believable (even as our heroes do impossible things).  But it’s 2015 now, and this is the, what, eighth iteration of these games?  The simple act of moving forward shouldn’t require the pressing of more than two buttons.  And if the on-screen prompt tells me that pressing certain buttons means I’m going to drop down, then that’s exactly and only what I want to do.  Even though AssCat is mostly good about this, especially when compared to other AC games, “mostly good” shouldn’t be the standard we’re aiming for.

I could go on, but it’s actually been a few days since I last fired up the game, and I’m having a hard time remembering some of the more specific nits I could pick.  I suppose part of the problem is that, unlike other open-world adventure games I could name, I have literally no desire to go back and get 100% in this one.  I’d maxed out Jacob and Evie’s stats and gadgetry long before I’d finished the main story, and at this point doing stupid errands for famous people feels like a waste of time.

So, then, let’s get back to my original question:  even if AssCat ranks as one of the three best games in the franchise, and completely wipes away the bad taste that AssUnit left behind, what does that mean anymore?  There’s going to be a new one of these games next year, and I already don’t care about it.  The gameplay of AssCat is still more or less the same as it was in the original game; there’s only been iteration upon iteration, rather than any sense of evolution.  (Black Flag certainly feels like an aberration at this point, doesn’t it?)  The AC game we’re going to get next November will take place in another unique place and time, but it will also most likely be the exact same thing we’ve already done 8 or 9 times already, and it’s hard to care about it anymore – especially as those things we keep doing are still retaining the original game’s jankiness.  I beg you, Ubisoft – take a year or two off.  Let people miss these games again.  Take however much time you need to fix the controls, and get your narrative shit together.

2.  I’ve been dabbling in Halo 5, for some reason.  I have zero interest in the multiplayer, which means I’m playing the campaign, and holy shit the campaign is so dumb.  I’ve decided that I’m only playing the campaign in online co-op with my buddy Greg, because that’s the only way I can get through it without beating my head against the coffee table.  The mission designs are so antiquated and unoriginal that it’s actually a little hard to believe that this game was intended to come out this year; the end of Mission 2 has you defending your position while your escape ship prepares itself for lift-off, which is only a thing I’ve done several thousand times before.  I pity the poor voice actor who plays Governor Sloan in Mission 3; he has some of the dumbest lines of dialogue this side of a Metal Gear Solid game, and he delivers them with all the gravitas of an over-baked ham sandwich.  Luckily, I’m about to be heavily distracted by this week’s new releases.

3.  And speaking of those new releases… well, look.  I’ve got a lot of things going on all of a sudden; I’m very much re-engaged with this music project that I’d put on the back-burner for the last few months, and free time is at a premium.  To that end, I’m going to be playing Rise of the Tomb Raider first, because that’s definitely more my speed at the moment, and by the time I finish that, hopefully Fallout 4 will have received some of the necessary patches that it apparently needs.  (Also, it should be noted that I’m not even sure where my Pip-Boy edition even is; I haven’t heard anything from Bethesda since October 22.)

3a.  (I also ordered a Steam Link and a Steam Controller a while ago, and those are similarly lost in the FedEx ether.

4.  I was gonna whine a little bit about the Xbox One backwards compatibility list and how none of the games I was hoping to see made it on this initial reveal – no Portal 1/2, no Red Dead (or really anything by Rockstar for that matter), etc.  But it’s OK, really; even if I can play Fallout 3 again, there’s no way I’m actually going to.

5.  I’ve been remiss in talking about books lately.  I’ve been working my way very slowly through “City on Fire“, which I’m not enjoying as much as I’d hoped I would.  It’s not that it’s bad; it’s just not really hitting any of my buttons.  In fairness, I didn’t pick it up at all last week, and so whatever momentum I might’ve had has been lost.  But it also should be noted that I’m not particularly filled with any nostalgic yearning for the dirty, grimy NYC of the 70s.  Yes, it would’ve been cool to have seen Television or the Talking Heads at CBGBs, but I was not a punk, and I would’ve been beaten to death had I set foot anywhere east of Broadway.  (Hell, when I was at NYU in the early 90s, anything east of 2nd Avenue was considered dangerous and sketchy; when I lived on East Houston Street after I graduated, Ludlow Street was still somewhat dirty.  Now there’s a fucking Whole Foods two blocks away from my old apartment.)

Backwards Compatibility

The Gameological Society has a brilliant column today in which the games industry is shooting itself in the foot by not embracing its past and enabling backwards compatibility on the next generation of consoles.

As far as I’m concerned, there are only two arguments against backwards compatibility that make any sense:

  1. The technology and methodology required to make old software work on new/different hardware is too expensive to justify; and
  2. Old games – even the best of them – can look and feel incredibly dated.

I don’t know enough about #1 to make any sort of coherent argument for or against it; I’m probably only repeating it here since it’s pretty much what the console manufacturers have said about it.

#2 is something I can understand, I suppose.  If you play GTA3 right after playing GTA4, the differences between the two games are so profound that GTA3 becomes almost unplayable.  Similarly, while System Shock 2 might be an incredible game, it’s also incredibly archaic and unintuitive in terms of its mechanics; there’s a reason why those older games had lengthy tutorials that explicitly showed you how everything worked.

But to throw out an entire generation’s worth of content simply because the format has changed?

Imagine if you couldn’t listen to the Beatles anymore simply because the world had moved on from vinyl to CD and the record companies found it too cost-prohibitive to transfer their libraries over.   Or if movie companies decided that transferring VHS movies to DVD was, to paraphrase Microsoft’s Don Mattrick, “backwards-thinking”.

Here’s the key section from the GS article linked to above:

…Sony’s PlayStation 3 launched in 2006 with full backward compatibility for all previous PlayStation formats. PS2 compatibility was achieved through specialized hardware on the PS3 circuit board. 2008 saw the removal of PS2 compatibility from all future PS3 revisions as a cost-cutting measure, with a cheaper software-only solution being deemed [unfeasible] by Sony. Yet in 2011 Sony began selling PS2 games digitally on PS3. Hackers have since discovered that these games are running via a surprisingly robust backward compatibility solution that could be applied to old PS2 discs, but is not.

I have to surmise from all of this that backward compatibility for games would be possible but expensive. Sony and Microsoft could have been faced with a choice between two expensive forms of backward compatibility, and they chose to support one medium, video, but not the other, games.

This sends a clear message that these companies consider the medium of film and television to be more important than the medium of games. Why would two companies with such enormous investments in games make such a seemingly skewed judgment call? Well, they would probably argue that the culture has made it for them, by giving film and television pride of place in society, and relegating games as a lesser medium. And this may be the case. But when gaming’s industry leaders buy into that broader belief, it hurts the long-term health of the art form.

I hate to keep bringing up Red Dead Redemption – I feel like it’s been in every post I’ve written lately – but it’s a key example of the legacy we’d be losing without backwards compatibility.  I’ve been starting to work on my BEST GAMES OF THIS GENERATION post, and RDR is most likely right up at the top of my Top 10 list.  For me, RDR is Rockstar’s finest hour – a masterpiece top to bottom, and one of the finest games ever made.  And once the new consoles arrive, there will only be two ways I can continue to play it – either Rockstar re-releases it to work on the XB1 and the PS4 (which seems unlikely, given that they never even gave it a PC port), or I continue to hold on to my dying 360 and hope it doesn’t completely break (since I wouldn’t be able to replace it).

 

 

XboxOne reveal impressions

It’s hard to not be a little disappointed that there weren’t more games announced at today’s XboxOne reveal, even though I think we all knew, deep down, that today’s reveal was about the actual box itself, and that if they blew their wad on game announcements today, there’d be nothing left to surprise us at E3.  Even the vague announcement of 15 exclusive games, including 8 all-new franchises, doesn’t necessarily inspire confidence – those 8 all-new franchises could very easily be new Kinect titles, which nobody will care about.

And it’s also just been revealed, via The Verge, that XboxOne will not feature backwards compatibility.  Not necessarily that big a surprise, but still.  The PS4 won’t feature back-compat either, but they will offer PS3 games via their cloud; it’s unclear if Microsoft will offer something similar.  (I bring this up specifically because the lack of a PC version of Red Dead Redemption means that the 360 is the last place I’ll be able to play one of my favorite games of all time.)

Still, though – it’s a good-looking device, and that new controller is sexy as all get-out.   If I’m less-than-crazy about the name, it’s because I already refer to the original Xbox as Xbox1.  But then again, I have no idea how to refer to my 3rd generation iPad, either.

The TV stuff – eh.  If it helps me to eventually be able to get rid of Time Warner Cable, I’ll be thrilled.  The snappiness of the Kinect functionality was impressive, though it’s unclear if that was real or not.  (I speak as someone who’s been using Kinect voice functionality to watch HBO with a baby in the room, and while it’s very nice to be able to say “Xbox Pause” when the baby needs attending to and I can’t find the remote, it’s also a little annoying when I say something to my wife and my Xbox starts fast-forwarding for no apparent reason.)

It’s too soon to pick a winner between PS4 and XboxOne until they start revealing games and release dates and prices.  Watch Dogs, which accompanied the PS4 reveal, has been confirmed to be an XboxOne title (as well as Assassin’s Creed 4); the Call of Duty stuff that closed out the show doesn’t interest me in the slightest.   And I’m not that big a fan of any of the 4 EA Sports titles they talked about (although, if they can introduce some of that new tech in Tiger Woods 16, I’ll be happy for the year delay.)  When they talked about the new cloud service and the 300,000 servers that will be powering this thing, they also seemed to imply that XboxOne would be able to handle MMO experiences; this bodes well for stuff like Bungie’s Destiny, but I wonder if they they are also ultimately talking about games like Dota and League of Legends.

(It’s also too soon to pick a winner, because we’ve yet to see the Steam Box.  And if I had to pick one, it’s entirely possible that’s the one I’d pick.)

What did you think?