Monday, December 17, 2012

climbing

Here is how you scale gigantic buildings in the Assassin’s Creed series:

Hold “up” on the left control stick.

You are now ascending to dizzying heights! Sometimes, you don’t go anywhere when you press up. In these cases, try pressing left or right.

Climbing is not complex, but it is my favorite part of the Assassin’s Creed games. Compared to other aspects of the game, like combat or mission constraints, it doesn’t require reaction time or varied button presses or balancing multiple concepts. It is, however, rhythmic. Each swing and grasp has a timing to it, which you can manipulate if you are so inclined. You can leap and re-grab to accelerate your progress, at the risk of falling to your death. Or you can just keep pressing up and watch your assassin ascend brick by brick, handhold by handhold.  It’s very contemplative.

The ultimate payoff is getting up to a vantage point and being able to see the world spiral around me. The experience is a kind of vacation. The game is a place. I am in it. I am enjoying it at my own pace.

Vantage points reveal the location of other vantage points. When you’re in the mood to climb, and not much else, this leads to a virtuous cycle of scaling one structure to reveal more places to climb! Or to break the monotony, complete the new missions revealed on your map by the vantage point and then find a new place to climb. For me, items like feathers aren’t an end unto themselves as much as they are an excuse to spend even more time climbing and exploring roofs/treetops. When you run out of towers to scale, buying a feather map (thank god they added that feature) is just another way to spend time climbing at a leisurely clip.

The principle reason I play AC (or really, any open-world game) is for the self-directed pacing. The strength of AC is in the languorous scaling of walls and delicate traversal of rooftops. Yet the story seems bent on ignoring that aspect of the series. Instead of self-direction, the main missions just feature...direction. The main quests of the games increasingly feature 1) people talking at you, while you stand perfectly still 2) people talking at you, while you are forced to walk in lockstep with them and 3) watching a cutscene that ends in a frantic “Kill this guy RIGHT NOW”. There is very little slow, careful scouting of an area and quiet takedowns of guards while you mull your options over. When the game wants you to Do Something, it doesn’t hesitate to get shouty at you—and not in the consequence-free “You’re misbehaving” way but in the game-ending “You’re doing it wrong!” way. As with many other aspects of this series, the writers don’t seem to work to support the strengths of the series, and instead insist on dwelling on the weaknesses.

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