Thursday, December 8, 2011

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations

Hey look, if you’re going to make a by-the-book game, then I am going to write a by-the-book look at it. With bullet points.

  • Pacing problems: the Desmond plot is urgent while the Ezio plot is languorous. The game works better when you feel like you need to explore the ancient memories while Desmond poopsocks in the Animus because otherwise why are you reliving an ancient male power fantasy when you are actually dying?

  • Plot problems: Not really “about” Ezio or even Altair. It’s about filling in a few blanks and spending some time on the Apple of Eden subplot instead of cramming said subplot into the last five minutes of the third act.
    • The more we learn about these crazy time-travelling aliens, the dumber they seem. “Fragmentation of society due to the massive unchecked power of the Apple” would have been a lot more thematically appropriate than “unstoppable natural disaster”. 
    • Even the Ezio plot didn’t have the elaborate conspiracies and double-crosses I’ve come to expect. Instead it was, “Hey, grab six Macguffins. Now here is a bad guy. The end.”
    • Actually, it’s not really fair to say that the plot is about filling in the alien subplot. It’s also about the philosophical battle between the Templars and Assassins. Ezio kills a man who turns out to be innocent. Altair deals with the corruption of a friend. Desmond has just killed his mentor and almost-girlfriend. The Templars, in contrast, claim to be seeking knowledge. They fight in self-defense against the Assassins who invaded their city. The Templars aren’t all good, of course, but neither are they entirely in the wrong this time around. It’s like Ezio’s age has tempered the message of the series. It’s no longer “Templars Bad, Assassins Good”. It’s “Who Do You Trust With The Apple?”

  • Mission structure: I really enjoyed the missions where you had to hold down forward and A, almost as much as I enjoyed the missions where you didn’t have to do anything except walk up to a person and put down the controller.
    • There was ONE infiltration-and-assassination mission. That’s ridiculous.
    • The game has a ton of trouble sticking to its core strengths. It’s not that additional systems are diluting the experience, it’s that for a game about assassination, there were an awful lot of horse carriage chases and walk-and-talks.
    • The Desmond scenes really illustrate this perfectly. The Animus “island”, which I suppose is a poorly explored, clichéd metaphor for “the ocean of the unconscious”, has none of the climb-and-explore game-play AC is known for. The Desmond missions are a first-person jumping puzzle game.
      • Which I don’t even. I got turned around so many times that I lost sight of where I was supposed to go, and I didn’t have any access to any of the tools I would normally have in an AC game (like a minimap or eagle vision) to help me out. It was abstract for the sake of being abstract. Desmond’s whining retcons* about how he didn’t listen to his mommy and daddy doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in his moral fiber. I ended up rage-quitting** the second puzzle just so I could get on with my life.

(*) Seriously, didn’t he wake up in an Abstergo building and play dumb about Templars and Assassins? The entire point of Desmond--as I saw it--was that he was the “everyman” who gets swept up in something larger than himself. He is the player vessel, meant to guide the player through a complicated plot. To say that he was secretly aware the entire time (and trained!) not only means the player cannot relate to him as well as before, but it also means that the Animus’s bleeding effect, which supposedly was serving to train “everyman” Desmond in the ways of the Assassins, was a waste of time.
(**) It’s worth noting that I am the guy who rage-quit Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. I am not a patient gamer.

Fiddly Bits
  • The game starts with the Ubisoft logo glitching out, implying a sort of digital corruption. Then Ezio hallucinates that he sees his ancestor in a callback to the bleeding effect. Then you see Desmond is in a coma, wherein his subconscious is dealing with the scrambled personality of the previous Animus test subject and is struggling to regain his sense of self. These elements are perfect for a ghost-in-the-machine type of story about Desmond’s shattered conscious, Ezio’s aging mind, and Sixteen’s shattered sanity. Instead, we got a story about a Strong Male Character who seduces a sexy librarian.
    • The bleeding effect itself is an extremely powerful element. We’ve all gone to bed and dreamed of the games we’ve just marathoned. When Desmond is first confronted with the ghosts of guards in AC2, I about jumped out of my skin while mashing the attack button. It’s something that connects to the player in an instinctive way. To hint at the glitch in the Matrix in the intro and then drop it completely is the biggest tease in the series so far. 
    • Incidentally, will Desmond ever explore his matrilineal memories? Hahahahah no.
  • The assassin deployment mini-game is improved, making map territories more meaningful. I complained about that in Brotherhood, and it’s fixed now. Okay.
  • Too many fiddly bits with the bombs. Finding treasure, especially early in the game, is less about, “Sweet! A much needed infusion of cash,” and more about, “x2 impact shell IMPACT SHELL FULL.”
  • It’s one thing to have a unique control mechanism that is slightly quirky and unpredictable for your first game in the series. By the time you get to the fourth installment, you should really prevent the button for “use the hookblade to swing up a building really fast” resulting in “wall jump backwards from the tallest building in the game and go flying into the void”.
  • The god damn bug where parachutes randomly disappear is still fucking present. You buy fifteen parachutes, do some missions, and when you come back, try and jump off a building before noticing your parachute counter is at zero.
  • It's worth your time to read what Corvus had to say about the game as well