Friday, December 14, 2012

Assassin's Creed 2/Brotherhood/3 reviews

"Feels like I'm doing nothing at all -nothing at all-"

         If you find yourself on any game forum then eventually you will find yourself neck deep in a discussion about whether "games are art". It's bound to happen, it's one of the biggest discussions that modern gaming can't seem to shake. The actual topic seem to came out of (in my experience) insecurity from the gaming community. In order to reject the idea that games are for kids (not an idea anyone should entertain, especially now with the success of Angry Birds showing that even the old chess-playing masses can be enamored with a cute aesthetic and honest to goodness tight mechanics), they've built this narrative that games are for the intellectual elite, as they are art!. What follows is a desperate attempt to marry "art" and "gaming", finding any link of the two they can.

Firstly comes the idea that, "it's a human media creation that came out of imagination". That itself is sort of self-defeating on the idea that gaming is certainly "for adults", because it doesn't really define anything about it. If that is the case, all games are "art" as are all drawings, movies, music, etc etc, so in actuality, that argument is merely saying "this is a pointless topic", so good on that.

Next, the idea that "games are created for expression, and not function", but this itself is very highly contested. For one, games are sold for a profit, that in itself defines a function on the role of the creator. For two, sport and games of all sort have been around for as long as civilization has. It could easily be considered a biological function to have a desire for "fun" and game. The idea that game is built merely outside of function would seemingly define that games disconnect from what it traditionally means to be a "game". To make a game that rejects the need to have a goal that you have to better yourself to work to, to allow for the interactivity build itself as a mode of expression itself, and "fun" to be only an applicable function of that expression, not the central idea.

Lastly there's the idea that whether games are art is not the question, but rather if there are games that are "good art". This is the sort of Ebert argument that has people up in arms. That games are not art because the majority are poorly designed, poorly written, poorly expressive, etc etc etc games that simply fail to be anything "more" than the game they present. It suggests that even a symbolic game fails on the simple premise that the entirety of the game is not designed in a fashion that makes the entire piece work on it being a piece of expressive art. For example, if one were to argue there are certain expressive aspects of Bioshock, that the gameplay doesn't adequately support those aspects, the game fails to reach a certain "criteria" of art.

What this means for gameplay, is that every motion you make needs to have a function or feeling to contribute to an overall emotion. For example, Mario games are designed with such fluidity, that the majority of the game creates this almost meditative experience where as a player you can just sit there watching your character jumping and sliding, and that alone gives you a certain satisfaction. Resident Evil makes your characters movements restrictive, like a bad dream where you wake up to find yourself heavily constricted in your covers. Movements have an anxiety-inducing disconnect.

Assassin's Creed 2, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, and Assassin's Creed 3, are all "not art".

The main problem I have with these games, is that they seem to actively reject having a player "do something", in order to create a false sense of feeling. As you run across buildings, you don't really feel the character running across, because you as a player are doing nothing more than running and holding a button. Mario jumps. He has obstacles he must encounter. Hitting these obstacles correctly gives the player a greater sense of satisfaction about the flow they create with the physics. It's a problem with Assassin's Creed that the majority of the game is centered around this rooftop exploration. Not only among the missions, but the entirety of the game is about giving you "more to find" with the city. You have feathers to collect, glyphs to find, almanac pages to chase, all of this is outside of the narrative, just giving you stuff to do as you walk around grabbing this and that.

The other big part of the games are the combat, where little improves. For these games the combat is largely mindless, and incredibly simple. Any discussion about the combat will come to the whole suggestion of "press counter button. bad guy dies". Really that is the way most fights will go. You'll be fighting a handful of people, and easily the most effective way, really the suggested way by the game, is to be defensive, wait for someone to attack, and then hit the psuedo-QTE counter button and get the kill or just health off if it's a bigger enemy. This is even further expanded on in Brotherhood, where after getting one kill, you can just jump from enemy to enemy pressing one button for a one hit kill regardless of their strength. It's so mindless that combat itself serves no purpose in the game other than being a time sink. It's not really a punishment for failing to stealth, because it's not making it harder for you. It's not making the game progressively harder, because you're rarely in danger of dieing in the fights. The idea is that you're supposed to feel like you have wonderful technique, timing up one button press and getting a fantastical cutscene kill, but it gives no feeling at all other than an annoyed tedium. (For what it's worth, Assassin's Creed 3's adjustments do a little better, making you have to press an additional button to counter kill, but it's still incredibly easy, to the point that starting weapons are all you'll ever need). Additionally, it's really disappointing that the only reason to change weapons is just to see different kills. The actual manner your approach combat is unchanged.

The stories of these games are also poorly constructed messes. There's a bit of cheeky hi-fi goodness to them, introducing you to historical figures like Ben Franklin and De Vinci, but it doesn't really seem to have much meaning other than to throw them in... not that that's really a huge problem. The problem is the convoluted story with an overdone premise and so many tenuous, unimportant ties to legitimately important things like religion, economy, free will and the like. It treats these issues with a amateur interest, with a biased, unexamined look at them that really fails to make any meaningful statements about them, and really throws them away for the most part. The other problem is how they seem to pander to reactions rather than to meaning. For example, there's a twist in Assassin's Creed 3, only a couple minutes into the story, which throws a wrench into much of the lore of the game, only to be explained away in the next minute of narrative.

The main draw of these games are the worlds, in fact I've had a discussion in which someone said (paraphrased) "if there were another game that allowed me to explore historical florence and boston i'd stop playing assassin's creed". I won't trash this, because the cities are nice and I enjoy their look, but for what it's worth, I knew I had had enough with Assassin's Creed when I saw a set of boxes in Boston...the same set I've seen in Venice and every other city in Assassin's Creed. It's fine, I like that on the basis of game design, but then I realized that the best of the cities are to look at, not for climbing. In fact appreciating the city seemed to come at odds of building a nice city to have a good flow in the parkour aspect. Minor complaint in the long run, perhaps just overexposure of these games.

And for what it's worth, the best portions of each games:
2/brotherhood: Glyph puzzles. Some were dumb, but I enjoyed them
3: Naval battles. One of the few times where I think the cinematic presentation of the game didn't come at odds with the gameplay.

No picture, i've spent enough time and am really just tired of everything Assassin's Creed, just give like, 2/5 or 1/3 or something like that for these. Neither are really "better" in any significant way, the changes are kinda hard to compare in some respects.

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