Nearly five years in the making

I reviewed Assassin’s Creed: Liberation today. I think we can safely consider it the natural follow-through on the Assassin’s Creed review I wrote back at the beginning of 2008. You can trace a line from one to the other and see the things that Ubisoft has endeavored to repair about the original, highly flawed game, and which of those efforts have done as much harm as good.

I find the entire Assassin’s Creed series vexing. It’s “open world,” except it’s not, really; its mission structure comprises some of the most limiting and rigid game design in the industry, a far cry from actual freedom. Ubisoft has sold it heavily as a game about stealth and anonymity and remaining invisible in the face of overwhelming odds, but its sneaking and enemy mechanics aren’t really much better than those in Metal Gear Solid… the original PlayStation Metal Gear Solid, that is. Everything about appeals to me in theory but often falls flat in execution. I would very much like for Assassin’s Creed to be a better game, but it is not, and that frustrates me.

I saw signs of hope in Assassin’s Creed II — those Prince of Persia-like tomb quests were incredibly fun. But the needle keeps drifting further and further away from my ideal of games. ACIII looks a lot better than Liberation, but not as better as I’d like it to be based on what I’ve seen and heard

And, I suppose I have to accept that this is a deliberate and conscious choice on Ubisoft’s behalf. What I want isn’t what the larger audience wants, and I don’t doubt that very careful market research and play-testing have revealed that they’ll make a lot more money by creating a frictionless, practically self-playing video game that requires minimal player investment and effort. I guess that’s why I spend my free time writing about the liberating world design of 25-year-old games: Because I am a pointless relic of a games critic.

One of these days, someone who calls the shots is going to realize I’m about the worst choice imaginable to run a site like 1UP, and I’ll be out of work and sleeping in doorways downtown. Let’s keep it between us for now, though. I’d like to be able to continue interviewing my personal heroes for as long as possible.

10 thoughts on “Nearly five years in the making

  1. Still reading and digging into this interview — it’s just fantastic. I love realizing that Ryuichi Sakamoto has had influence on good game music, because he shared that lo-fi “make interesting things out of samples and waveforms” aesthetic, especially in the 80s. It’s heartwarming that game composers even back then loved music enough to realize that what they were writing for these 8-bit games was a vital, valuable art in its own right — not just a product of severe limitations.

    Jeremy, I feel like your self-deprecation typically comes across as ironic, or at least ambiguously serious. Then I read this latest post and feel like I’ve misinterpreted sideways earnestness as detachment and it makes me sad. :(

  2. Is it fair to say that I completely agree? I think you are a terrible choice to run a site like 1up. That being said, you are one of the most consistent, talented, and dedicated games writers around, and authentic ”voices” – like the one you provide – are far too rare in this medium. We need writers like you to help provide context and historical record-keeping, as well as to recommend games to those of us with similar tastes. We exist! I’d probably never have picked up Etrian Odyssey IV had it not been for you. That’s just one example.

    I know self-deprecation is part of your shtick, but I for one hope you’ll be around (and earning a decent income) for a long time. 1up or no 1up.

  3. Great interview — I’m looking forward to the second part. 1UP’s interviews (mostly of Japanese developers) have long been my favourite pieces of content on the site, along with anything Retronauts. Keep ’em coming!

    I’ve never been interested in Assassin’s Creed, for a few reasons. The first one: the underlying sci-fi elements seem completely superfluous and, dare I say, dumb and video gamey. The second: I rarely enjoy open world games outside of Bethesda’s efforts because, as Jeremy alluded to, they’re usually strung together by dull and repetitive missions. The last one: and thankfully people are starting to put their foot down with AC3, but the traversal is flawed. As the guys from IGN put it, it’s like being in a city of Velcro. It’s a sticky, context-sensitive mess.

  4. While I’ll readily admit some of the flaws in the AC franchise, I have to admit, it pushes my buttons. Basically I could climb around gorgeous scenery while occasionally effortlessly shanking some bad guys ’til the cows come home, so I keep buying ’em. And I can enjoy the “story” on the side as a ludicrous guilty pleasure of the National Treasure stripe.

    Meanwhile, I haven’t had time to read the Michiru Yamane interview yet, but I’m very much looking forward to it.

  5. “Because I am a pointless relic of a games critic.”

    That’s ok, I am a pointless relic of a gamer and game maker. ^_^ But I keep finding games in the spirit of what I liked in the past, so I can at least enjoy those when I have free time. The important thing is that you have something interesting to say and that we all enjoy reading it.

  6. So why not do a feature on the evolution of game mechanics? Say, something about how Zelda dumps you in the world vs. how GTA does it? One of the most interesting ideas put forth by your Zeld a stuff is how mechanics were enforced by a lack of technology and no expectations.

  7. I really should give one of the Assassin’s Creed games a shot sometime now that I have an HD gaming machine. But I’m not sure if I could be fair to the series at this point, because as far as sandboxes go, I have been spoiled by Just Cause 2.

    There’s not as much weapon variety in Just Cause 2 as some sandbox games, but you have a magic grappling hook that can latch into nearly any surface, person, or object; you can parasail across the land; there are hijackable vehicles on land, sea, and air; you’re rewarded for blowing things up and doing missions for cartoonishly evil factions; and the world’s a giant sandbox where a city or island that would make up the entirety of another sandbox game is only a small chunk of the game world.

    I like the settings for the Assassin’s Creeds, but I doubt I’d be fond of the more automated aspects of the gameplay, or anything keeping me from just dicking around as I please. Having beggars and the like designed to harrass you and only you is just cruel.

  8. You seem to have a really morose attitude for a guy who does what he loves for a living. Buck up, you’ll do a great job!

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