Assassin’s Creed – why I still care

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My friends and I played a funny game the other day. We put together a list of, in our opinion, the most famous/successful video games of all time. The game was we each had to vote out a game we felt that the industry could do without. In the end, the one remaining game would be dubbed the most iconic and important video game of all time. It had the obvious titles: Pacman, Metal Gear, Tetris, and so on. It was a silly activity that we put together at the last minute. Some of the games included were throwaway titles so that there would be easy eliminations. If we were to do it again, I would compile the list more carefully, with economic and historical data to back up the claims of the game’s cultural influence, but it was fun nevertheless. What struck me, though, was that when someone called to vote out the Assassin’s Creed series, I immediately tried to veto it. Now, I’ll be the first to point out that the AC series is one of Ubisoft’s worst handled franchises. After a series of yearly disappointments, even Ubisoft decided to halt their practice of annual releases for the franchise. Yet, I still voted to keep it within the list. I knew it had no chance of winning the game, what with other juggernaut titles like Mario and Zelda in the list, but I felt the need to protect it. But why?

I loved Assassin’s Creed since the first game was announced in 2006. I remember following all the press releases and media coverage that the game had. I watched all the gameplay demos and exclusive interviews with the developers that led up to the game’s release. I loved the series even more when they came out with Assassin’s Creed 2. I loved them all until Black Flag, but by then, even I had started growing weary of their annual releases. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder and I can say that was something the AC series needed. Consumers need time to absorb the game and miss it before being given a sequel. If we always had a sequel every year, you reduce the importance of the series by making so many token releases.

Yearly releases also mean less time to work. Assassin’s Creed is notorious for releasing buggy, incomplete games. Who can forget the horrifying “disappearing face glitch” of AC Unity or the disappearing pirate ships of Black Flag? These are just minor issues when compared to the broken state of Unity’s multiplayer when it first came out. Players complained of the game’s inability to connect to servers or infinite queuing times when finding a game. Imagine buying full retail price for a game only to discover half of it doesn’t even work.

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Another problem the series has is that it began to lose sight of the story it was trying to say. 11 years and 9 (main) games down the line and we still don’t know where the plot is going. The whole Assassin-Templar plotline has just been reduced to an annoying and convoluted backdrop to a more fun sequence of parkour and action. Most of their recent games can be stripped of the Assassin’s Creed theme and it would hardly make a difference.Black Flag comes to mind. Remove the references to the Assassin-Templar war, replace the Observatory with some obscure Mayan treasure and you would still have the same swashbuckling story of adventure and redemption. Syndicate, too, when stripped of its AC elements, would remain hardly unchanged.

Knowing all this, I ask myself, why do I still defend the AC series? Why do I continue to stand by a franchise whose creators obviously have no respect for it and only regard it as their personal money printing machine? Why do I care for a series whose owners have no love for it at all?

The truth is, despite the mishandling of the product, I still care for the plot. I like the story of the beleaguered Assassins fighting for truth and freedom from the oppressive and tyrannical Templars. The struggle between freedom and control resonates with me.

The overarching theme is that though the human race may have been created by the Precursors to be slaves, within each of us lies an innate drive to be free. We saw this best in AC 3. Connor may not have been a very charismatic protagonist but he above all other Assassins best personified their Creed. The exchange between Charles Lee and Connor says it all.

“Why do you persist? You put us down. We rise again. You end one plot – we forge another. You try so hard. But it always ends the same. Those who know you think you mad and this is why… Even those men you sought to save have turned their backs on you. Yet you fight. You resist. Why?” asked Lee.

“Because no one else will!” exclaimed Connor.

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Because I love the story, because I want to see it handled well, and because I believe in its potential, do I continue to defend the series. Even though no one else will.

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Short Ones: The Multiplayer Bug

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I think I’ll start a series called “short ones” where I’ll post about random thoughts I’ve had during the day which may or may not actually have a point.

I have a number of cherished games that I played growing up, Star Wars Rogue Squadron, Disney’s Hercules, Prince of Persia The Sands of Time, Halo (the original trilogy), to name a few. One thing they all had in common was they were all single player games.

I love stories: Tales like The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Greek Mythology, Star Wars Legends books, and the Warhammer 40K lore;tragedy or comedy, classic or nouveau, stories were something I’ve always been fond of. Video games, to me, are another medium of storytelling for me to enjoy. So when I was growing up I never really understood the fascination my peers had for the multiplayer only experience. They would talk about Battle Realms, DOTA (1), Red Alert, and I just couldn’t relate. I just didn’t see what could be fun about repeating the same conflict over and over again with random people online or in a café.At least games like Ragnarok Online and World of Warcraft had lore to fall back on while you meandered through your 10th forest of the day collecting that quest’s McGuffin.My only exposure to multiplayer games growing up was Counter-Strike 1.6 which I enjoyed as a kid but only when I played with friends. I never played online and I certainly never played competitively. It came as a shock to me now around midway into early adulthood that I find myself obsessed with Overwatch.

It’s confusing. I play the same game over and over again, fighting for the same objective, against the same group of enemies but I never get tired of it. Worse still at $40 for the base game, it doesn’t even have half the content my SP games on Steam have that I’m currently ignoring. And yet I’ve already logged in over 100 hours in just a few months (noob). I’m even streaming my games now so I could show off my successes (haha!) online.

Competing against other players is a bigger challenge than just fighting with the enemy AI. Unlike the computer, humans have a better game sense and coordinate with each other better. You can’t time Ultimates with an AI controlled character. It’s a much more satisfying achievement knowing you outsmarted and outplayed another player. It’s also a huge boost to your ego when you see your ranking climb up several tiers above others’. That trumps any “Achievement” a single player game can give me any day.

Looking back on – Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

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I had a late start into the world of PC gaming. Growing up, gaming was limited to my parents’ Windows 95 machine and the only games they were willing to get for me were Jumpstart Grade School educational games. I didn’t have a proper gaming machine until I was in High School, with my budget Intel Core 2 Duo and Nvidia 9400 GT graphics card. At the time, though, these specs were already substandard as the first generation of i3’s, i5’s, and i7’s were just introduced and the GeForce GTX was riding high with its introduction of the 200 series. What my machine was good for was playing the hit games from yesteryear, which was how I was introduced to the Prince of Persia: Sands of Time.

A buddy of mine from High School shared how much he loved The Sands of Time game and how it easily fit into his List of Best Games of All Time. I was always interested in story-driven, single-player games. Despite my parents’ insistence on only getting me “edu-tainment” games growing up, I was able to convince them to buy the occasional Triple-A title once in a while. Games like Star Wars Rogue Squadron and Medal of Honor Allied Assault were among my games library alongside Jumpstart 3rd Grade and Typing. After convincing my dad to indulge my desire for a gaming PC (I did need my own computer for schoolwork anyway) I was ready to try out my friend’s copy of Sands of Time.

The game takes place mostly in an unnamed Middle-Eastern palace set in a Thousand and One Arabian Nights-esque magical time period. It stars the titular Prince, the youngest son of King Sharaman of Persia.When their army invades India they are unwittingly tricked by the treacherous Vizier into unleashing the mystical Sands of Time, a terrible artifact that corrupts and destroys all that it touches. The Prince must team up with Farah, the daughter of the Maharajah of India, to turn back time and prevent the Sands from ever being unleashed.

POP SOT is equal parts puzzle-platformer and action-adventure. The Prince’s excellent parkour skills allow him to run along walls and leap distances in order to solve puzzles. Meanwhile, his agile fighting style lets him fight off multiple attackers. Perhaps the game’s most unique mechanic is its command of Time Powers. With the Dagger of Time, the Prince can utilize captured Sands to manipulate Time, such as reversing it, slowing it down, or freezing time altogether. The Prince must utilize these time powers and his acrobatic skills in order to traverse the palace’s traps and fight enemies.

The game’s story and mechanics meshes seamlessly well in order to create a wonderful final product. The Prince’s early arrogant aristocratic nature is chipped away as time passes and he realizes how it was his hubris that allowed disaster to unfold.The characters complement each other so well. The Prince’s proud and brash nature with Farah’s innocent and eager personality helps develop each other’s character arc. Their interactions were very well written and it helped them feel like real people rather than a series of character tropes videogames would handpick to establish protagonists. There is a scene where the Prince and Farah are trapped in a tomb and the game hints at the Prince’s claustrophobia.

“Are you alright? You’re shivering,” Farah inquires.

“I just don’t like enclosed spaces.That’s all,” the Prince replies.

To me, the Prince’s fear of being trapped just underlined his character so well when you consider his love of parkour and freedom of movement.

The game isn’t without faults. For every step towards perfection, it also manages to take one step backwards. Perhaps the one foible of the game is its combat. Simple and repetitive would be a generousway to describe it. Though it makes sense story-wise that the Prince is not a peerless swordsman/warrior (he remarks early in the game that he “will bring honor and glory, not through battle, but by being first to reach the Maharajah’s treasure hold,”) it drags the game down when you fight nearly all enemies with the same one or two combos. The final boss fight is incredibly unrewarding. /Spoiler alert/ When you reach the Sands and turn back time to before the start of the game, you have a final confrontation with the Vizier. But it’s hardly a challenge because you are at the height of your powers, having unlocked all the time powers of your Dagger and the Vizier isjust a frail old man with tuberculosis even if he is endowed with mystical powers of his own /End of Spoiler/.

Despite its weaknesses POP SOT is still a great game and I would say it still holds up well compared to modern games of today. The environments are still beautiful and the level design ensures that platforming is clever and very intuitive. I would go so far as to say as it is the best Ubisoft game from the PS2 generation. If there were any IP’s from Ubisoft’s library that could use a revival, Prince of Persia would definitely be the one.