Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Returning To The Never Ending World of Assassin's Creed

Let me just begin this article saying I truly loved Assassin's Creed. AC 2 is most definitely in my top favorite games and, despite it being incredibly loathed, I quite enjoyed the world and story of AC 3. However, it was after finishing this game that I fell out of love with the series, or rather started to loath how regularly the games were coming out. It started to echo Call of Duty

Ah, Call of Duty, another franchise I used to be quite fond of. My adrenaline was pumping throughout the "All Ghillied Up" mission in Modern Warfare, I loved revisiting old characters in the over-the-top follow up Modern Warfare 2, and there were countless moments in World at War that had my heart pounding. But as the years went on and the games kept coming I realized it was pointless of me to make a 60 dollar purchase for a 4 hour story, especially because I don't play and have no interest in playing the multiplayer. If I went into my local game retailer today, I couldn't tell you which Call of Duty game came out last year and which one came out this year. That's how much I can't keep up with these releases, and sadly I'm starting to feel the same way about Assassin's Creed.

Of course this may be an unfair argument. After all, Ubisoft manages to give us an entirely new, detailed, gorgeous open world to explore every year, whereas Activision/Infinity Ward gives us a couple linear over the top set pieces to spend a few minutes per mission in. However, the more the AC series goes on, I keep finding myself less impressed by the world and characters around me and less interested in all the side-quests they have to offer.

I remember my first trip into the Animus. My first thought was; "...the f**k is an animus?" But as I started to get the hang of the tricky controls and got my first glimpses of the gorgeous cities that make up the huge and detailed world, I immediately fell in love. And though, at times, the first AC game felt like a bit of a chore to finish only to get a lackluster cliffhanger of an ending, it piqued my interest enough for me to immediately get on Amazon and have AC 2 shipped as soon as humanly possible.

Oh, AC 2...What is there to say about AC 2 that hasn't already been said millions of times? It was incredible, beautiful, and interesting. It had characters that I liked and cared about and a protagonist that I didn't mind spending endless hours with. Each city was programmed with such personality, from the petals that fluttered down from Florence rooftops to the mask wearing and fire breathing jesters throughout the streets of Venice. It was an experience. This was the game that made me fall in love with the series. And luckily, since I jumped into the series a couple years after release, I didn't have to suffer through yet another cliffhanger ending. Once again I was on the computer ordering the next installment.

Days later I was jumping into Brotherhood. And while it is not my favorite in the series, I loved all the improvements and new features added. Most of the improvements came in terms of that dreaded present day plot line. I found the modern day stuff interesting in the first game, but it was incredibly tedious, (for the love of god, just let me run back and forth to the computer and my room!) In Brotherhood, they stepped up their game. I found myself caring for the characters more, interested in seeing present day Monteriggioni, and putting my new skills to the test in modern cities. Man, it could have been great! Instead, they ended the game with a bizarre, you guessed it, cliffhanger ending and managed to take a gigantic step back when it came to the present day story in the next installment.

I had finally caught up with the series almost exactly in time for the release of Revelations. The game was good, the story was okay, the characters were interesting, and it was a nice wrap up to both Ezio and Altair's stories. However, after the improvements to the present day plot in Brotherhood, I was a little more than upset that is was reduced'm not even sure what to compare it to, but it was bad...really bad. I wasn't blown away by the game to say the least. I was going to mention how I felt about new features it introduced, but to be honest I don't quite remember. I remember protecting assassin's dens, I found it to be almost as tedious as reading those emails in the original. Mostly, I ignored all the little side stuff. I wanted to play the story, I wanted to know what happens next. I wanted to finish what I had started. I'm beginning to think I never will.

After finishing Revelations, I was totally okay if it was going to be a couple years before I played
another AC game. Ubisoft was not okay with this logic. Exactly one year later AC 3 was released to incredibly mixed reviews. Despite how I felt about Revelations, I was still very excited about AC 3. I loved the setting they were taking it to, after learning everything about the Revolutionary war from elementary school all the way up through my first semester of college, I was incredibly excited to see how they were going to bring it to life and incorporate real events. Also this game was to give a definitive ending to that present day story that they butchered so badly in Revelations. I was pumped! After completing the game I feel conflicted. I wasn't disappointed, I wasn't in awe, and the only thing that left me with a bad taste in my mouth was the cop-out ending of the Desmond story arc. (Am I the only one that somewhat cared about the present day story? Probably.) Sure, the villain was slightly more likable than the hero, the story had some plot holes and loose ends, and the cities certainly didn't have the flair that Renaissance Italy did, (Sometimes I couldn't tell whether I was in Boston or New York unless a character mentioned it.) But it wasn't a bad game by any means, it just wasn't as good as previous entries in the series. One of the more polished and certainly most praised parts of the game was the naval combat. Ubisoft saw this praise and gave the audience seemingly what they wanted...a pirate assassin.

The day Black Flag was announced I decided I was done. A new game every year was getting to be too much, especially a new game where each one is declining in quality. I came to the conclusion that I would never finish what I started and it was time to end my time with the series. Besides, how good could a game about a pirate assassin be? Very good apparently. I've heard nothing but praise for Black Flag and feel like an idiot for calling it quits before playing it. But it isn't too late.

As you've seen, I've recently got my hands on a PS4 and with it AC Unity. I figured I would see what Ubisoft has done with a next-gen AC. I have only just started and am impressed so far. The cities are beautiful and huge, the details on the more extravagant buildings are gorgeous, and the crowded streets are impressive. As far as story and characters go, I don't have any particular interest so far. Arno certainly doesn't have the personality of Ezio or even Haytham for that matter. I started playing this game after the floods of patches swooped in to save the day, so the glitches I have encountered are far and few between. (By the way, I'm a firm believer in delaying games. I would much rather wait than play a game that is broken.) However, I feel the controls have gotten worse as far as trying to get your character to climb a certain thing or go a certain path. I have made multiple attempts to go through open doors and windows while free running only to have my character decide he would rather climb to the roof instead. I also feel a little overwhelmed by the amount of markers on my map. I appreciate side missions and other activities to distract from the main story, but damn! Also, I have yet to try to co-op missions. I'm interested to see what it's like to play cooperatively, but I can't see it running smoothly. If we are all given the same target, isn't it just going to be a race to see who can kill him first? Because I know I want to be the guy that kills the target. We shall see...Since I am nowhere near completion, I can't come to a conclusion whether it's a great, okay, or just another lackluster entry in the never ending series that is AC. Perhaps once I'm finished with the game I will write a review of promises though.

As for my future with the series, it would appear they are going to keep making these games until they eventually don't make money and that's not something I appreciate. I suppose the same could be said for the Grand Theft Auto series, or Uncharted (Although 4 will be the last entry...sadly.) But the difference between these series is the time taken between games. GTA 5 came out 5 years after GTA 4. Uncharted 4, if released this year, will be coming out 3 years after Uncharted 3. It takes time, time to see what worked in the last game, what didn't, what to improve on and so-on. That is why each new GTA and each new Uncharted game are masterpieces. Okay, maybe masterpieces is going a tad overboard, but the games are great and the experience sticks with you long after the credits have rolled and you're dying of anticipation wondering what they will do with the next game and how long you will have to wait for it. Whereas, when information "leaks" about a new AC game, my reaction is mostly "...meh." And I'm sad that that's how I feel about a franchise I was once so deeply invested in...But, one can only play so much.