Editorial: Assassin’s Creed Is No Longer Critically Relevant

By Graham Smith on August 14th, 2014 at 10:00 am.

I always think music is a better model for videogames than film: individual series of games can be thought of as performers, reaching a feverish apex of popularity before settling into comfortable grooves and hoping for the rare, Kylie Minogue-like creative resurgence.

What’s unusual about music is that most of its critical discourse revolves around pop. It’s not because pop music is what’s popular – though that helps – but because pop is obsessed with the new. It’s an eclectic, hybrid genre, grabbing new sounds, new ideas, new fashion from wherever it can, subsuming what it needs and discarding the rest. When pop finishes with an idea, that idea either dies or it calcifies as its own genre and people stop talking about it.

In short, Assassin’s Creed is now the adult contemporary of videogames. Assassin’s Creed: Unity is Michael Bolton.

Here’s the second thing: this is not a criticism. This is how it’s supposed to work.

When Assassin’s Creed first launched, it was thrilling: a historical game set in an open-world city, defined by a novel, free-running movement mechanic, and with stealth based around crowds not shadows. The first game was embryonic, but over the past seven years we’ve watched its ideas develop and its execution improve.

We’ve also watched it calcify. Innovation has became iteration. This is what happens. We helped it grow, we took what we could from each other, and now it’s time to wave it off.

Assassin’s Creed: Unity is set in Paris during the French revolution. It’s stunning to look at: higgledy-piggledy rooftops stretching as far as the eye can see, the streets thick with smoke and dirt. The mission playable behind closed doors at Gamescom this year is a co-op heist set in the tunnels beneath a hospital – #nosewers – and the monetary rewards for your stealing scale dynamically based on how stealthily you complete the mission.

Even with a co-op partner, that mission is a parade of familiar ideas: track one, a reassuring hay bale leap; track three, an aerial takedown; tracks four, five and six are stabbing schlubby guards with wristblades; track seven is a duet with Splinter Cell’s crouch-and-move stealth, track eight is a crowd-pleasing crowd scene; track nine a rooftop escape. A new sense of fashion – you can design your own ensemble – does nothing to obscure that what once was exciting is now comfortable.

Which begs the question, what else would you want from Assassin’s Creed? This is why the series is loved and popular. Some games maintain cultural relevancy through scarcity – Half-Life is David Bowie – and a few through constant Madonna-esque re-invention. Not all games can or should do that. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep making them, either. This isn’t the point at which Assassin’s Creed should stop, but the time in which it should take up its residency in Las Vegas.

It’s not that no one should write about these games, either. They have an audience. Old work should be constantly re-appraised. Sustained popularity is an interesting phenomenon in its own right. Everyone likes When A Man Loves A Woman. Perhaps in a decade or two or four, a remix, genre revival or Tom Jones-like album of duets will see the series relevant again.

But the reason to establish Assassin’s Creed’s fading relevancy now is that the alternative – maintaining these games long-term as part of the central critical discourse – turns every game critic, journalist, blogger and writer into stenographers, tapping out yearly (twice yearly!) patch notes. That’s an essential job, and I’ll be doing it excitedly for the yearly series’ I love for a long time to come, but it shouldn’t be default. Even audience size shouldn’t guarantee it.

When people complain about there being too many sequels, what they’re really saying is that they’re personally bored of something. It doesn’t mean that a company shouldn’t continue to serve the audience they’ve built, and the millions of people who still love it and aren’t bored by it. Instead, we make space for new ideas by not continuing, reflexively, to talk about the old ones. Thanks for everything, Assassin’s Creed. You were useful. What’s next?

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156 Comments »

  1. hypercrisis says:

    This sounds more like a complaint about being a games journalist than a complaint about Assassin’s Creed, is that the angle you were going for?

    • alh_p says:

      I don’t think it sounds like a complaint, rather a rationalised acceptance of the way things are. Obviously, this kind of reasonable behaviour is NOT to be tolerated on the internets. RELEASE THE HOUNDS.

    • JFS says:

      Actually, I believe this is a quite well-thought out idea, not a complaint.

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      Smashbox says:

      It really grinds my gears when I read a thoughtful editorial and the first comment is some dismissive, predictable, and frankly thoughtless old shite.

    • RARARA says:

      The angle he’s going for is that Assassin’s Creed is fond of piracy, as is Michael Bolton. Thus the analogy.

      Duuuh.

    • WrenBoy says:

      Actually I think its a completely accurate observation which this site will unfortunately be forced to ignore if it wants to be able to generate a few bucks every now and then.

      At least the commentary will be occasionally ironic I guess.

    • toxic avenger says:

      To be fair, your comment comes off less a criticism of the article than a demonstration of your lack of reading comprehension skills.

  2. karthink says:

    No franchise with a yearly release can prioritize innovation over iteration enough to stay culturally relevant.

    Ubisoft’s tedious, distrusting design decisions made the AC series personally irrelevant a long time ago.

    EDIT: If I take the editorial at face value, I just perpetuated the problem by commenting on AC. So here are two links (both from RPS) to fresh, clever turn based takes on old genres instead.

    • Doganpc says:

      “fresh, clever turn based takes on old genres instead.”
      “fresh… turn based… old genres”
      “turn based… old”
      Suddenly I realized I have been gaming longer than you… I’m old :D

  3. Eight Rooks says:

    There’s a point in here somewhere, but it feels kinda muddled. So you’ll be following the series you love for years – but they haven’t turned into AOR covers bands? Or they have, but you still enjoy them, so that’s okay? It’s only AC that’s annoyed you by stagnating? And Half-Life was never really anything more than a decent first-person shooter with excellent craftsmanship. As someone said on the forums, all people ever copied from it were its scripted sequences and approach to dystopias – its influence and legacy aren’t remotely comparable to someone like Bowie. And which series keep wildly reinventing themselves like Madonna did (at least up until her Pop Mum phase, I guess)? If you throw a loaded statement like that out there with nothing to back it up it just looks even more like reaching. As hypercrisis points out up top (and others may have done by the time I’ve typed this) it feels more like “I wish I didn’t have to talk about AC any more” rather than any incisive critical thinking.

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      basilisk says:

      Maybe Far Cry 1–3 could be the Madonna example (but so far, 4 seems to be 3 with knobs on). But yeah, I don’t think game franchises really work that way. Some studios tend to do that, but game series? Not really.

      I would be happy to agree with the central point that AC is basically pop music. But it’s pop that’s done really well and with a lot more effort than the bare minimum required to shift more copies, so I’m perfectly fine with it. Such things have their place, and I don’t think they are “critically irrelevant”, either. I mean, Agatha Christie’s entire output is shamelessly pop as well, but it’s got a solid place in the canon of world literature/culture.

      • Eight Rooks says:

        Thing is, I don’t think Graham is comparing them to pop music. Or he’s got a very skewed view of what pop music is. Michael Bolton’s a long way from “pop music”. AC is frequently good pop music (and anyone who doesn’t think such a thing exists, oh do sod off). It is blatantly product (all games are product, mind, but some far more than most.) It is a series visibly struggling with trying to be artistic versus the commercial demands of cranking out the sequels, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for washing their hands of it, or having long since done so. I’m wondering if I’ll bother with Unity and I highly doubt I’ll miss Rogue. But both Black Flag and III had moments in them that I absolutely god damned treasure and were far, far above simple comfort food. (Said it before, say it again; I would argue until I’m blue in the face that AC III is a far better game than Far Cry 3 ever was.)

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          basilisk says:

          Yes, I suppose that “pop” is way too broad a category for this to be meaningful. There’s an enormous difference between your generic easy listening supermaket music and the output of, say, Robbie Williams or Queen.

          (And now I’ll be crucified because I called Queen pop music.)

          • Barberetti says:

            *readies large cross*

            Somebody pass me the hammer and nails please!

          • Fishbreath says:

            I’m engaged to a classic and alternative rock aficionado, whose criteria for slotting music into those categories seems to be mostly, “Do I like this? If so yes, if not pop.”

          • JFS says:

            No hammer. We’ll drive them in by hand. Slowly.

    • N'Al says:

      Wolfenstein = Madonna

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      RaveTurned says:

      To me, this editorial sounded less like: “I wish we didn’t have to talk about it,” and more like: “We probably won’t talk much more about it on this site, and here’s why.”

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        Bluerps says:

        Yes, that is what I got from it too. What he’s saying is that these are games are still fun to play, but no longer interesting to discuss.

    • Mman says:

      “Half-Life was never really anything more than a decent first-person shooter with excellent craftsmanship. As someone said on the forums, all people ever copied from it were its scripted sequences and approach to dystopias”

      And the AI, and the realistic setting, and the NPC interactions, and the Physics. And that’s just some stuff (from the first, outside of physics) off the top of my head.

      The fact you apparently entirely focused on HL2 (which isn’t as groundbreaking as the first despite also bringing various changes to the genre) makes your point even more tenuous.

      • drinniol says:

        Half Life had many things, but a realistic setting and NPC interaction wasn’t amongst them (interaction means it takes player input, not just having NPCs talk at you while you run around) . It was beaten to the punch for physics by some years. And the AI was moster see player -> monster run at player. Until the soldiers, where they stood in place and threw grenades.

        • LionsPhil says:

          Putting it in historical context alongside the likes of SiN, Half-Life was totally set in a more realistic setting, in that they built one, contiguous location with a fairly heavy sense of place (it was beaten-up, upgraded piecemeal, and lived-in), while its contemporaries where on whistle-stop tours from level to disconnected level. The AI was also more sophisticated than you think, with some use of cover and flanking, even if it was partially just an illusion from cunning placement of navpath nodes. It pales compared to some more recent takes, but it is a long way from DOOM.

          You could also poke your USE key at people, which was about the state of the art at the time IIRC. Daring to soar as high as dialogue trees or orders (obligatory mention of Republic Commando) was, I believe, mostly a later thing, and still not the norm. (Hell, I’m currently playing through Crysis 2, and I can’t even USE people.)

        • Eight Rooks says:

          Yeah, pretty much this. The ability to pick up and drop or throw anything was amazing on a technical level, but as far as gameplay went it was good for a laugh and a couple of half-assed puzzles. “Realistic setting” – uh, the art direction was fantastic aesthetically, but realistic it wasn’t. The NPCs were beautifully, stunningly modelled, and still stand up today, but none of them really did anything exceptional apart from Alyx, and again, it’s just scripted sequences – she was never a particularly helpful AI ally. The AI was frequently rubbish, and was never anything out of the ordinary – even Valve personnel have publicly said they’re surprised people attribute behaviour to the commandos in Half-Life the first that simply wasn’t there. It captivated people because it was one of the first shooters, arguably even the first, to go so far in creating a world and applying that level of craftsmanship to as much of that world as possible. But it never strayed that far from basically running down corridors Shooting At Things – Christ, it’s been criticised for that for years! To compare it to Bowie is ridiculous (and Graham, Bowie’s arguably far more notable as a musician who kept reinventing himself than Madonna has ever been :P ).

          • Optimaximal says:

            I sense you’re referring to Half-Life 2 and its contemporaries, whilst the rest are talking Half-Life as a series. In that case, the Bowie analogy works better, because despite some recurring central characters, the games couldn’t be more different!

          • toxic avenger says:

            Don’t be obtuse.The author blatantly states that is not the way he was comparing Bowie to Half Life. He compared Half life to Bowie based on the way it achieves G.O.A.T recognition vis a vis the number of iterations of albums/games there were, creating scarcity and increasing demand. Did you even read the article?

        • Mman says:

          “Half Life had many things, but a realistic setting and NPC interaction wasn’t amongst them (interaction means it takes player input, not just having NPCs talk at you while you run around) . It was beaten to the punch for physics by some years. And the AI was moster see player -> monster run at player. Until the soldiers, where they stood in place and threw grenades.”

          In 1998 FPS (and games in general) settings were mostly Fantasy or Future Sci-Fi, with the only real exception being Duke Nukem, but Half-Life was the game that made many FPS start going in a much more realistic direction artistically, despite still being Sci-fi flavoured. While still simple the NPC interactions are also far beyond what other pure FPS prior did. The AI point is the one that isn’t arguable at all. Shooters basically didn’t try for even vaguely Human AI until Half-Life. Even the wildlife AI has more to it than what you’re implying: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Elwb2lV88hM

          Edit: ““Realistic setting” – uh, the art direction was fantastic aesthetically, but realistic it wasn’t. The NPCs were beautifully, stunningly modelled, and still stand up today, but none of them really did anything exceptional apart from Alyx”

          Alyx? Outside the Physics I’m talking about HL1, not HL2.

          And if you’re trying to act like the Soldier AI wasn’t beyond anything else in 1998 you’re either bullshitting, or forgetting how games before it were.

          • Joshua Northey says:

            It is clear this person was about 5 years old in 1998 and is simply not qualified to have this discussion. I mean

            “And Half-Life was never really anything more than a decent first-person shooter with excellent craftsmanship.
            … all people ever copied from it were its scripted sequences and approach to dystopias – its influence and legacy aren’t remotely comparable to someone like Bowie.”

            Is the comment who is both:
            A) Overestimating David Bowie and
            B) Doesn’t have a real handle on the video game industry or first person shooters before and after 1998. Halflife was an is the gold standard in FPS relative to its era. This is like having a conversation with someone who is 25 and says “How influential was Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts club band really? I mean all it did was some new studio techniques and introduce psychedelia to the masses. It was no Changesone.”.

            I mean I don’t even like FPS’s and when I played Halflife I was like wow that is something that the industry is going to learn from. It was also something people talked about a lot. Anyway I am just blown away by the hipsterness of this “How important was Halflife anyway” line of argument.

          • unit 3000-21 says:

            ” Overestimating David Bowie”
            is not possible.

          • Phasma Felis says:

            Regarding AI: Anybody remember how excited the entire internet was about this Quake II preview screenshot? That’s right: the bad guy is ducking the player’s rocket.

            Chaos. Riots in the streets. MOST AMAZING AI EVER. I was right there, I was just as thrilled as everyone else, and so were you, probably.

            When the game actually came out, it turned out that that enemy (and only that enemy) would, when shot at, sometimes randomly choose to do his duck animation, stop moving or attacking, and basically hunker harmlessly for the next three seconds or so while you blazed away at him. He would do this even if you had been shooting him in the kneecaps to begin with.

            Quake 2 came out less than a year before Half-Life. This is the standard by which Half-Life’s AI was, and should be, judged.

          • Archonsod says:

            “In 1998 FPS (and games in general) settings were mostly Fantasy or Future Sci-Fi, with the only real exception being Duke Nukem, but Half-Life was the game that made many FPS start going in a much more realistic direction artistically, despite still being Sci-fi flavoured. While still simple the NPC interactions are also far beyond what other pure FPS prior did. The AI point is the one that isn’t arguable at all. Shooters basically didn’t try for even vaguely Human AI until Half-Life”

            Wrong on nearly all counts. Rainbow Six came out half a year before Half Life, and had a modern setting (one could also point out GoldenEye on the N64 which came out in 97). It also attempted a ‘more human AI’ (in fact it surpassed the AI of Half Life in many ways) and featured non-combatants. Narratively speaking System Shock had Half Life beat by about four years, and Strife (also 1994) included NPCs the player could converse with (it was a wonderful game well ahead of it’s time. No idea why it doesn’t get more recognition).
            Half Life was neither ground breaking or innovative, it was in fact derivative and merely carried on the legacy began with Wolfenstein (note how for all it’s superb level design, it can still be boiled down to corridor fights and boss rooms) . On the contrary, it’s because it was the pinnacle of the classic single-player FPS. We wouldn’t see another primarily single player FPS rise to prominence until 2004 brought Doom 3, Half Life 2 and F.E.A.R. – in the meantime the FPS got busy with the new fangled internet (1999 saw Unreal Tournament, Aliens vs Predator, Counter Strike and Quake Arena) or tried to bed hop with other genres (System Shock 2 in 1999, Deus Ex in 2000).
            In a music analogy Half Life is therefore something like Keith Richards. It met expectations of the genre so perfectly that whenever anyone comes close to treading the same ground they’re automatically compared with it.

          • green frog says:

            @Joshua Northey

            Yup. Half-Life dismissal tends to come from two angles. One is just “I’m trying to be contrarian and edgy so I’ll do the hipster thing and dislike it because it’s popular”, which is pretty easy to shrug off.

            Two is simply that they played these games only recently, and therefore they fail to comprehend the context in which the games were released. Sure, if you play Half-Life now, it seems just like any other shooter. But that’s because almost every shooter that has come since is built upon the framework that Half-Life established. Go compare it to DOOM, or Quake, or Wolfenstein 3D, or Duke Nukem 3D, or any shooter that came before, and maybe you can start to understand how fundamentally different this was back in 1998.

            And Half-Life 2 is the same thing, maybe less groundbreaking than HL1, but the principle is the same. If you play the games now, they’re still good, but really nothing you haven’t already seen a million times before. Except that’s getting the chronology all mixed up. There was no before, not really. They were either the first or close to it in more ways than one. Maybe there were glimpses here or there – for instance, some other games had ragdoll physics before HL2, though nothing like the Gravity Gun – but never before were all these fresh ideas assembled into such a compelling package.

            The Beatles music analogy is spot on, I’d say. Another good example would be Citizen Kane. It’s just no longer possible to experience these kind of things with 2014′s eyes and ears and intuitively appreciate how all of these elements that seem mundane by now through years of repetition were so revolutionary at the time. You either have to have been there to experience it when it was new, or you have to sit down and educate yourself on how these works were different from what had come before.

            I’m not the least bit surprised that if you give a modern gamer the Half-Life games they would just shrug their shoulders. But that doesn’t invalidate the significance of the games.

          • Mman says:

            “Wrong on nearly all counts. Rainbow Six came out half a year before Half Life, and had a modern setting (one could also point out GoldenEye on the N64 which came out in 97). It also attempted a ‘more human AI’ (in fact it surpassed the AI of Half Life in many ways) and featured non-combatants. ”

            Based on Raven Shield (which is presumably a more advanced version of the original), the AI isn’t the same thing; because of the low time to kill enemies function more akin to killer turrets, and are usually encountered stationary as encounters are over in a moment. On a technical level it might rival it (in particular if the Teammate AI can actually navigate the levels properly) but it’s not the same as HL’s Soldiers that overtly move between positions, throw Grenades when you’re hiding and can flank you. Since RS and HL came out at near the same times HL was still a big contributer to the realistic style simply because it was a much more popular game.

            The Goldeneye point is a good one though, as it actually was a major pre-Half-Life FPS with mostly realistic environments and weapons.

            “Narratively speaking System Shock had Half Life beat by about four years, and Strife (also 1994) included NPCs the player could converse with (it was a wonderful game well ahead of it’s time. No idea why it doesn’t get more recognition).”

            These are RPG hybrids, which have always been a different genre. Technically Ultima Underworld did this before any of these games. System Shock’s narrative style is also very different as it still relies on things like text logs and rare cutscenes, which Half-Life specifically stuck out for breaking away from.

    • Snargelfargen says:

      To me, it reads more like an admission that there isn’t simply much interesting left to write about the AC series. When the series has such a huge following and an annual release schedule, it’s got to be frustrating for a journalist when the actual content and mechanics are almost static.

      Comparing games to musical acts isn’t helpful in any way, but thinking of them in terms of trends, genres and revivals does make a lot of sense. Of course those filters can also be applied to film, so… yeah.

      • JFS says:

        The current trends and genre revivals in games are much more comparable to music than to film. When has there ever been a wave of revived-genre-films in the last years? If anything, there’s one or two “revival” movies coming out at a time, which is hardly the same as, for example, the post-punk or turn-based anything waves in music or games, respectively.

        • Dawngreeter says:

          I agree that music comparison is silly. And I disagree that movie comparisons aren’t good. Because Assassin’s Creed is very much like watching, say, Iron Man movies. Or Batman movies. Or Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes movies. Or… wait for it… any TV show ever. Even more specifically, it’s exactly like any popular comic book series from the Big Two.

          And the idea that Batman isn’t culturally and/or critically relevant at this time is absolutely ridiculous. Especially since we’re having this conversation within the geek subculture.

          I mean, I don’t disagree with the article for the most part. I’m just saying, Supernatural is getting a tenth season. It’s still extremely well liked and for a lot of people it’s been a fixture in their lives for a long time. This doesn’t mean we have nothing to talk about, there. We have A LOT to talk about. We can talk about how Sam and Dead changed and evolved. We can talk about important plot points, metaphors, subtle ideas within the narrative and so on. Buffy has been an ongoing phenomenon for practically decades and smart, educated people are writing seriously worthy academic papers about it still.

          Do we think any of those are still influencing the general culture in the same way they influenced it originally, when they came to be? Of course not. They carved their own space a long time ago. But dismissing anything out of hand for existing for a long time is, well. You know. Stupid.

    • Polifemo says:

      There is such a thing as a Madona-like in video games. Its called Nintendo Games. Particulary the Zelda series.

    • toxic avenger says:

      “There’s a point in here somewhere, but it feels kinda muddled”

      The irony! I’m in stitches. Thanks for the laugh!

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    Anthile says:

    I don’t know, I think the main problem with the Assassin’s Creed is rather that it was supposed to end at some point. The way I see it there was meant to be a modern day Assassin’s Creed with Desmond as the sole protagonist. That didn’t happen, obviously. Desmond never took off as a character and just couldn’t win against his infinitely more interesting ancestors. We also pretty much know most of the big secrets since the second game so that angle is completely gone, too. If it was a crime drama it’d be telling who the murderer is two chapter is and then focus on the cops eating donuts for the next five or so.
    It’s not even that they’re bad games – they are certainly not. It seems to devolve more and more into B-grade historical fiction with all the lore ballast of the older games and instead of refining existing mechanics they just stack new ones on top of each other.

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      basilisk says:

      True, but with Unity, they are promising to do exactly that “refining of existing mechanics” which is long overdue. Time will tell whether there’s anything to that promise, but Watch_Dogs at least showed a clear effort to at least partially rethink the whole “collectibles everywhere” concept that Ubi’s been developing for the past five years or so.

      • Anguy says:

        I’m currently playing AC III and even there they toned the collectibles down a bit.
        There’s 2 years between me playing Rvelations and III but in my memory there was way more stuff to collect in Revelations to the point that it got annoying really fast.

  5. GenBanks says:

    Haha I like the music analogy, especially Half Life as David Bowie…
    I wonder how strategy games would fit in? Perhaps it’s classical music, the composer directing a large orchestra.
    Would RPG games be various different folk musicians?
    What would country western music be?

    • plugmonkey says:

      It would depend on which strategy game. The franchise is the artist, not the genre. Dawn of War would be Scorpions. Dependably, joyfully brash, but never brilliant. Total Annihilation is The Pixies. Not nearly as famous as it should have been, but hugely influential on everything else. StarCraft as Blondie? The comeback that never should have worked, but somehow did?

      XCOM is like one of those classic bands from the 60s that has reformed for the 5th time without a single founding member remaining. It seems like the same sound, but something both ephemeral and vital has gone missing along the way.

      • InnerPartisan says:

        Well, the Paradox Grand Strategy titles *definitely* are closely interconnected Prog bands, with lots of concept double-albums and side-long tracks. CK2, in this model, is probably “The Lamb lies down on Broadway”.

      • chackosan says:

        “…Dawn of War would be Scorpions. Dependably, joyfully brash, but never brilliant…”

        Sir, you lie. About the Scorpions, anyway.

  6. frightlever says:

    People complain about sequels, but they also want their favourite TV shows to go on forever.

    • LionsPhil says:

      It’s not just TV shows; “just make another X!” is a common refrain in gaming comments too, even for games that would likely be severely weakened by having more plot bolted on the end, like Grim Fandango, or System Shock (“SHODAN loses, again! Oh, that AI and her wacky moustache-twirling hijinks.”)

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        basilisk says:

        Yep, that’s the gamer (human, really) mindset in a nutshell. Constantly fluctuating between “We want more of this thing we like! The new one you made wasn’t just like the old one, so it’s bad!” and “There is no innovation these days. It’s the same things over and over again.”

      • GameCat says:

        Band releases new album with brand new sound: “What a shit, I just want another XYZ album!” – Devoted Fan
        Band releases another XYZ album: “I want new music, not that old shit!” – Devoted Fan

    • InternetBatman says:

      That’s not really true. Eventually the show ends while its popular or viewership declines and declines until the show is cancelled. See the abomination that was the final two seasons of Stargate for one.

    • NonCavemanDan says:

      “We want new and original ideas for games! Now, WHERE’S HALF LIFE 2: EPISODE 3!?!”

  7. skyturnedred says:

    But what’s on track two???

  8. int says:

    What game is the Gilbert and Sullivan of games? Because that’s a game I would really love to play. To be honest, I can’t not sing the “I am a pirate king” song from Pirates of Penzance whene’er I play Black Flag.

    For it is, it is a glorious thing to be a pirate king!

    • NonCavemanDan says:

      It’d be good but not that important, after all:

      “Thisparticularlyrapidunintelligiblepatterisn’tgenerallyheardandifitisitdoesn’tmatter, Thisparticularlyrapidunintelligiblepatterisn’tgenerallyheardandifitisitdoesn’tmattermattermattermattermattermattermattermatter!”

      (Ruddigore for the win!)

  9. ran93r says:

    I thoroughly enjoy them, even 3 which everyone and their dog seemed to take umbrage with (I own two copies of that, one on the TatoStation.)

    I don’t mind that they are iterating, I don’t much care for the modern day sections mind you. They could remove all that stuff and it wouldn’t really matter, just let us play historical ninjas.

  10. LionsPhil says:

    Which begs the question

    Raises! RAISES!

    • Bull0 says:

      They’re spending millions (potentially hundreds of millions?) on the game, believing that the scope and mechanics they’re including will be enough to sell it – which begs the question of will they be enough or to put it another way what else would people want?

      Checks out to me. If the statement was that it begs the question of whether the designers are competent or not, that’d be incorrect usage, it only raises that question.

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      Ninja Dodo says:

      The author of that article doesn’t understand how language works. Correct usage is only correct for as long it is agreed to be correct by the majority of speakers. The phrase “erroneous modern usage” basically captures this lack of awareness perfectly.

      • Geebs says:

        The majority of speakers know the difference between the two ;-)

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          Ninja Dodo says:

          I’ve not once *ever* seen it used in this alternate ‘correct’ way, outside of that article.

          • Geebs says:

            There are two clear and irritating extrapolations from your point about “erroneous modern usage”, though, even ignoring that the argument starts out from the assumption that what you already believe is the truth. Firstly, it makes the clearly bogus argument that knowledge must necessarily be decreasing – if the greater part of humanity doesn’t know something, then it must be destroyed. Secondly, it argues that new knowledge can only come from divine intervention – anything new must necessarily be simultaneously magicked into the consciousness of at least 51% of the population or be destroyed, because of its minority mindshare.

            Both of those conclusions are dumb.

          • Premium User Badge

            SuddenSight says:

            I don’t see how either conclusion follows.

            First, the loss of old customs is not the same as the as the loss of old knowledge. In fact, it is entirely possible that the majority of humanity *does* know the old meaning (you pointed this out yourself), but easily found statistics show that no one really uses it that way. Surely you cannot be complaining that we don’t cherish and retain *every* old meaning that has ever existed?

            Second, no one is advocating the eradication of all new words. We are not looking at a word or phrase in a vacuum. Instead, we are comparing two usages and asking ourselves which is more reasonable. Clearly, using the meaning which is more generally understood and more generally used makes more sense. However, in my own opinion (which follows from the article I linked below) it is better to just forget the phrase entirely, as both forms of the phrase have clearer alternatives.

          • Premium User Badge

            Ninja Dodo says:

            SuddenSight got there first, but yeah, I don’t agree with either of those extrapolations at all. My point is that if a phrase or meaning is common enough to be considered “modern usage” it cannot be erroneous. It becomes new language.

            The rules of the written word are just the last generally agreed upon version of living language. They are updated as language changes.

          • Geebs says:

            The usage you’re referring to is basically a malapropism; even given the benefit of the doubt, it’s a tautology. Hence that usage’s dissemination derives from either ignorance or inattention.

            I’m all for accepting common use as correct when it’s actually meaningful. However, given that language is supposed to promote the spread of understanding, when a usage is neither literally, technically nor figuratively correct, and therefore diminishes rather than enhances communication, it is wrong no matter how many people use it.

          • Bull0 says:

            Any definition of communication or language that asserts that using words in the way the majority understand and accept them is “wrong” is a pretty self-defeating one.

          • Premium User Badge

            blind_boy_grunt says:

            yes language, it’s all fun and games until someone literally dies of laughter.

          • LionsPhil says:

            I could care less about the risk of dying of laughter.

          • Premium User Badge

            Ninja Dodo says:

            @Geebs: For an example of how language can evolve in the direction of total nonsense and still become generally accepted and even roll into formal usage, see “pas” from the French negative “ne pas” (http://englishcowpath.blogspot.nl/2011/08/grammaticalization-french-pas.html), only no one actually says “ne” anymore so it’s just “pas” now, like “ça marche pas” for “it doesn’t work”. “Pas” originally (and still, also) means “step” and “marcher” is walking, so if you were to adhere only to original meanings you could translate that sentence as “it walks step”… and that would be gibberish.

      • Christian O. says:

        The correct use of non-technical words might be decided by the majority (though that’s still a contentious claim in linguistic circles and debates). However, technical terminology and field-specific words are defined by experts in the given field, not common and public use.

        Whether or not a non-expert misuses a word doesn’t matter – the meaning doesn’t change until the majority of experts uses it differently.

    • Premium User Badge

      SuddenSight says:

      It is an old, poorly translated phrase that no one uses anymore. I have a link too. Take off your grammarian’s cap, we’re all friends here.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Your link concludes with “don’t use it, use ‘raises’ instead or a different term if you mean the logical construct”.

        • Premium User Badge

          SuddenSight says:

          The primary reason given for shunning the modern usage is to avoid riling up feisty grammarians. I agree entirely with my link.

      • Premium User Badge

        Ninja Dodo says:

        Interesting. Actually adequately explains how the original meaning came about, and became obsolete.

        “if you use the phrase to mean ‘assume the conclusion’, almost no one will understand you.” seems especially pertinent. Etymology does not override current meaning. Language moves on.

      • Premium User Badge

        blind_boy_grunt says:

        The problem probably is that begging the question just sounds like the thing it’s actually not(someone begs for a question). I think the old phrase should be changed to bagging the question, as in brings the answer with it, and leave begging to “normal” people. ;)

  11. Rao Dao Zao says:

    And then Deus Ex: Human Revolution is like the Sugababes when the entire original line-up had been replaced.

  12. NotToBeLiked says:

    Apart from GTA, AC is still the on of the best done open worlds out there. So any game that wants to create a believable open world still will be compared to GTA & AC. Which means it’s still critically relevant. Since you can assume everyone has played an AC game, it’s very easy to explain how an open world feels compared to AC.

    They also bounced back from what seemed to be the game too much (AC3) with Black Flag. Not a lot of franchises manage that.

  13. Henchimus says:

    “Which begs the question”

    NO IT DOESN’T! RAARRGGHHH!

  14. Gothnak says:

    Most Assassin’s Creeds.. meh, Black Flag, Yay!

    So, what do we want? More ship combat, more exploration, less stealth and no more godawful ‘tailing’ missions with desynchonisation when you are invariably spotted while trying to hump a pillar rather than climb it..

    Hell, just put Black Flag in space, and the Jackdaw is Firefly and i’m sold!

  15. Kollega says:

    And if we follow the “games as musicians” logic, TF2 is that one performer who was once great thanks to punchy, minimalist approach to their craft, but has since completely lost the sight of what made their music great and now appears, fat and inelegant, in a glittering jumpsuit on rollerskates as a disco ball rotates above and pyrotechnics go off all along the stage, as well as shilling for cheese substitutes on TV. Probably comparable to Elvis :P

    I wonder how my favourite series, Ratchet & Clank, comes into it though. Not only in terms of comparisons, but also in terms of relevancy. It’s alright so far quality-wise, and it always sold decent amount, but it was never a triple-A game. Double- or single-A, likely, but not a triple-A behemoth like Assassin’s Creed, Battlefield, or Borderlands – nor was it a cult classic like Psychonauts or System Shock that’s beloved by game critics all over. Can a game be never relevant in the first place, like R&C seems to be? And can it start out irrelevant, and then gain that relevancy somehow?

    • JFS says:

      Of course. Just check Steam’s front page for loads of irrelevant games.

    • Jeroen D Stout says:

      Fi! Exactly how you turn the equation onto TF2, so I wanted to compare Half Life² to its episodes; a musician you greatly admire who in some strange way just lost it.

      Though at least Half Life² still exist (although they did update it away from its original version!) whereas TF2 can hardly be played like it was intended to be played.

  16. Dawngreeter says:

    Well, David Bowie is really just a musical equivalent of William Gibson.

  17. Sleepymatt says:

    So it turns out video *games* killed the radio star… So close and yet no cigar, Buggles.

  18. reticulate says:

    So, in the year that Ubisoft have said “Yeah, the formula was getting a bit stale, we’re working on making AC something more than it has been the last few”, you’ve gone ahead and said you’re not interested anymore?

    I mean, I hate to call someone a hipster. But you, sir, are a fucking hipster.

    As an aside, I look forward to the day RPS doesn’t cover any popular games at all, and further doesn’t cover any of the various expos or conferences. That way, I can know my videogame journalists really get what coverage is all about – not liking what anyone else likes.

    • Alice O'Connor says:

      It’s clearly still Assassin’s Creed. Their FRESH NEW SOUND sure whatever but still Assassin’s Creed. Which isn’t to say that’s bad. It’s just, you know, Assassin’s Creed. You know by now if you want to see the 7th anniversary tour.

      • KenTWOu says:

        It’s a next gen Assassin’s Creed. It’s a big deal.

          • Dawngreeter says:

            Arguably, for the same reason this article is about Assassin’s Creed and not some other franchise.

          • KenTWOu says:

            Just look at Gamescom Gameplay footage. It’s more open now, because it’s not restricted by X360/PS3 limitations. It’s almost like Hitman in an open world environment. It’s a huge step forward for the series.

        • Distec says:

          Is it, though?

          The gaps between generations have been steadily narrowing over time. Gone are the days where you would see massive transitions from sequels: Think MGS to MGS2, Half-Life to Half-Life 2, or the evolution of GTA2/3/4. I wouldn’t say this was always the case, but I remember a time of genuine excitement for some sequels, because you were waiting to be impressed by a new gameplay feature, or to see how a game’s concept and graphics can be realized on brand spankin’ new hardware. And you typically waited years between them. It was a big fucking deal!

          But it’s not like that anymore. The new consoles and video cards may be impressive, but I haven’t yet seen any drastically different titles that couldn’t have been played on a 360, maybe minus some snazzy effects. And companies like Ubisoft and Activision have developed very robust pipelines for delivering the same game with slight twists multiple times a year. Unity doesn’t really look any different from the previous outings.

          “Next-gen” is a term that has increasingly lost its significance IMO, especially with a new generation that’s more heavily divvying resources into social networking and monetization; I guess those can be neat, but they don’t have much to do with the games themselves. So yeah, it’s not really a big deal.

          My opinion is that VR is probably the only thing right now that I would call next-gen, if and when it takes off.

          EDIT: Muzman further down also makes a good post on this.

          • KenTWOu says:

            It is. Just look at Gamescom Gameplay footage. Such freedom of approach in an open world environment wasn’t possible on X360/PS3 hardware. There are no loading screens between inside and outside of a huge buildings. Everything is seamless now. And the game has co-op on top of that. The game could achieve that because the next-gen consoles have huge amount of memory. They won’t release AC:Unity for X360/PS3. They will release AC:Rogue for these old gen consoles. If the game uses next-gen memory for gameplay purposes and AC:Unity does, it’s a next-gen title. Period. Because it uses next-gen hardware to improve its gameplay features.

          • Distec says:

            None of those strike me as a significant invigoration of the AC formula.

            Stand by my previous statement that the difference between recent generations is much slimmer than it was of old. And Unity is still not a big deal.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Well, I would be quite happy for RPS to not reblog the content-free cavalcade of noise which is E3. Can we start with that?

      • JFS says:

        Yes please. I want games and real information, not “teasers”, promo and marketing blabberspeech.

      • Joshua Northey says:

        Indeed my big problem with gaming websites is too much content about games you cannot currently play or buy, most of which will turn out to be shit anyway, and not nearly enough content about games that people are actually playing, especially ones people might consider buying.

        I really really don’t care about some regurgitated press release and interview about some game that is 50% done and all the stupid promises the developers are making. I mean I realize that is when developers want to build buzz, but it is just of such little value.

  19. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    Interesting thoughts!

    However, isn’t the writing about Assassins Creed (and similar game series) already like that, to some extent? How many articles about this series go much further than “There is a new one. Here’s a list of the bits that are different than in the previous games” ?

  20. OneManAndHisDroid says:

    … I think the classic term here which I think describes most of these annual franchises is “disposable pop” – never a classic, rarely remembered, but good / okay at the time… and you certainly don’t feel you’re missing out if you don’t buy it…

    ..my last AC was 4 and that was from AC2 – the first AC2 that is – (got to love a pirate theme) – but I’ll definitely be missing the next 3-4 iterations until they come up with another catchy tune I like…

  21. Curratum says:

    Truthfully, RPS are too busy playing half-baked indie early access titles to pay any attention to anything else, so they’re coming up with excuses.

    • JFS says:

      Ask your doctor if RPS is right for you!

    • Bradamantium says:

      Ah yes, they’ve clearly missed the deluge of big summer titles that totally exist.

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      I’m sure you can do better than that.

    • Deano2099 says:

      You have a point. I’d put it more gently but yeah, the Assassin’s Creed series is just an annual iteration on an idea and doesn’t need covering in depth every year. But the same goes for early access titles. I don’t need to read about Prison Architect every time that adds a big new feature either. Or Planetary Annihilation. AC might figuratively just be doing iterative updates in a new setting every year, but many early access games are literally doing iterative updates without the new setting and still getting covered.

      I’m fine with the idea of not covering something unless it introduces some major changes in how the whole thing plays, but I’d rather see that applied universally.

  22. Muzman says:

    Half Life was kind of a lesson for me on what games and the ‘market’ as such are all about. It’s not much of a revelation, but it takes time to sink in.

    After HL2 I had the distinct impression that what had to happen next was ever increasing scope and breadth, not just in Half Life games but games in general. Even during the XBox Dark Age and Call of Duty era (which is a distillation of one particular aspect of Half Life 2 mechanics into an entire game series, forever), I held to this notion that that’s what games did, was expand outwards.
    Logically to me the feature list of Half Life 3 and every game had to be like the original feature list of Stalker; just open ended open world fully interactive madness/paradise.

    This of course is wrong. I had managed to convince myself that it was just bad luck and circumstances that had prevented this obvious future from coming about, however. It wasn’t really until Bioshock that I really got it. If Irrational plus a truck load of cash can’t do it then the evolution of games is more disappointingly like real evolution than I had originally thought (ie. not a matter of where the imagination leads, but the ‘genetic code’ of trends in gaming has to basically become fatal and go extinct before any real change is forced on the industry).
    To see a lumpen console game praised to the heights by game wise critics who had seen the glory days, praised for its creativity in giving us largely things we had seen before and any real novelty (largely in the setting) is so deeply couched in crippling creative cowardice and summarily forgiven, or worse, lauded… Well I was disabused of any real optimism for the direction of mainstream gaming and the ability of the press and the buying public to hold it to account. (and if they were happy, really why should they?)

    So the Assassins Creed series never really seemed to stray too much from any to this to me. Some of it looked cool I guess, but you only have to scratch the surface to see whatever novelty it contained had been baby-walled so thoroughly there was little else but sitting on a hill and thinking Damascus was cool looking and “phoar check the draw distance on that!” etc. Otherwise we’re asked to forgive the same uninvolving simplified control schemes, the same nonsensical fiction and characterisation, another dead open world filled with puppets to toy with etc etc.
    If it wasn’t exactly Michael Bolton from the outset it was at best Linkin Park or pick the name of any act that’s the safe marketable version of some idea that might have had some edge once.
    So if you think it’s dull now, however many games in, knowing this business and the way it has been for over a decade now I’m a little surprised people were expecting anything else. While I find such optimism touching I’m kinda glad I’ve lost it, personally.

    • Premium User Badge

      basilisk says:

      Otherwise we’re asked to forgive the same uninvolving simplified control schemes

      As a matter of fact, the control scheme of AC has changed considerably between Revelations and III, and is going to experience another big shift going from Black Flag to Unity. The whole system keeps evolving, even if it’s not by leaps and bounds.

      • Muzman says:

        Well all the changes between 1 and 3 managed to feel like variations on a theme of push-button gameplay. The vicarious thrill of actually doing all this stuff was consistently naught. I’m sure they changed it a lot, but of the cool stuff I feel as though I have almost no part in what I’m doing. That they managed to keep.

        • Premium User Badge

          basilisk says:

          The vast majority of videogames are played by pushing buttons rather than actually doing the stuff. That’s kind of the point, really.

          I’m not quite sure what other forms of input are technically possible for the basic AC verb of “press X to stab man”.

          • Muzman says:

            You can stick two racing games side by side with the same controls and one will give you a rip roaring responsive thrill ride and the other will not. How do we explain this? he asks rhetorically.
            Because where one action or key press can be abstracted to be a mere verb doesn’t mean it actually is. It’s a vast collision of variables to be tuned to a particular feel, for one input or several in combination.
            ACs ‘feel’ is consistently to do the most for the least input. The very thorough animation actually highlights the effect even more, to me. Pretty soon the possibilities available all start to feel pretty similar. A whole city full of these doesn’t actually help much.

            The game doesn’t want to be about that granular experience and that’s somewhat understandable. Being more emergent and unconstrained causes problems which focus groups are allergic to, apparently. Makes things potentially more difficult, detracts from the gloss; that sort of thing. I get it, but it is still the same kind of design philosophy that has defined the console era from 2001 onwards. They can refine it all they want, but if the goal is still a perfectly machined experience then the player is only ever going to be an obstacle to that. So they have to be removed from the equation as much as possible. And thus I am removed from caring. Doesn’t seem so for everyone though, clearly.

          • Premium User Badge

            basilisk says:

            Again I ask: how do you see this done differently? I get all this high-level concept talk, but I was talking brass tacks. It seems to me that ultimately you’re just taking a very circular route to express the old sentiment that the AC games (and “console games” in general, whatever they are) aren’t challenging, which is certainly true, but I don’t subscribe to the idea that games need to be challenging.

            (Also, “more emergent” and “more difficult” were, according to Ubi, among the design goals of Unity; considering that IV did reflect some of the criticisms of III, I am inclined to believe they are at least going to give it a try.)

          • Premium User Badge

            Ninja Dodo says:

            I feel like AC is about choosing where to climb rather than the act of climbing itself (in the way that, say, GIRP is, or to a lesser extent Mirror’s Edge), which makes for different design choices. You could definitely make the argument that the frictionless push to go approach is less satisfying than something more tactile but it makes the game more about placement and exploration, which if that’s your intention, is fine.

            If getting up a single wall was a struggle few players would get to explore the ancient rooftops, which seems to be more the point of the game.

            Would be nice if they made stealth a valid option though compared to the easily winnable combat. Maybe start by making guards less omniscient/eagle-eyed and not having one on every rooftop. It’s kind of annoying that it’s often easier to just kill all the guards in the vicinity than to quietly ghost along the skyline.

          • Muzman says:

            re: basilisk.
            I haven’t spent that long analysing the various disappointments to really say what they might need. Some threat, some challenge, some danger, some thrill that lasts past the initial visual impressiveness. They were the short version. No mechanical detail there of course.
            It’s a tricky problem too because, for example, I didn’t like Bioschock’s general feel and the shooting in particular, but the money meant they weren’t going to toy with the formula too much for the second one. So the last thing I wanted to touch was a third one which was even more hyped and shooter focused. But it was actually pretty good. I wasn’t crazy about it but it was pretty solid mechanically. I wasn’t just struggling through it to get to the stuff I was interested in.
            So an Assassins Creed that’s more or less the same but tweaked just right in various design ways that works nicely isn’t inconceivable. (And maybe Black Flag is that game, I dunno)

            Though it is broadly an argument that console game design trends are about simplification, as opposed to challenge, to the detriment of a more fulfilling experience. There’s nothing inherently wrong with simplified mechanics and accessibility and polish. But when they are industry wide zeitgeist for the most part you seem to end up with designers allergic to complexity (or maybe managers). Designing and programming the slickest, simplest interaction isn’t easy. But dealing with complex and more variable interaction, with all the difficulty, accessibility and just plain bug problems they can throw up is much harder. And this is something people have forgotten how to do (or never really learned, depending on how you look at it).
            There’s boldness out there and developers with ambition in triple A teams. But how often do these goals for greater scope and innovation in the E3 feature list make it to release? And how often is it asked of them? I mean really and truly. People are bitching about Watch Dogs quite a bit now, but it was also the most pre-ordered game in history or something too.
            So I applaud any talk of reworking or expanding the formula in these game series. But like I said, not optimistic.

  23. kwyjibo says:

    The Call of Duty series has certainly calcified, it’s annual updates, while bringing fresh locales and bombast, largely keep everything the same. It looks like they’re trying to shake things up with Advanced Warfare, but I doubt they’ll pull it off.

    Ubisoft have copied Activision’s annualization strategy, but I argue that Assassin’s Creed has tried a lot harder to keep things fresh, the last game was Black Flag! It had naval combat! What they’re doing with Far Cry exceeds what Crytek have done with Crysis.

    That being said, I’m not sure whether Assassin’s Creed has ever been critically relevant. Their bizarre “we’re a diverse team” disclaimer pretty much removes any possibility of making an artistic statement. The meta-story, a cynical marketing diktat to create a franchise, or just incompetent writers making the plot as ridiculous as possible to remove any actual responsibility, kills any attempt at critical relevancy dead.

  24. Tei says:

    My animal guide is Chezburger Cat. He always say things like “do you have tune?”. He help me be a better person.

    Something my animal guide always say is that videogames are more like “Chose your own adventure” books. Its a book with one begin and many endings… or endless if you read the same pages in a loop. All of it is written by somebody.

  25. PancakeWizard says:

    Basically, this is Ubisoft’s FIFA/Madden.

  26. Dave Tosser says:

    I’d say the majority of console AAA games aren’t relevant to PC gaming. Though they make their way to the format either at the same time or a bit later, the target demographic is always consoles and the concepts that have wormed their way into underpinning all of mainstream game design come from consoles.

    When I think of the best games in the PC library, I’m specifically thinking of PC exclusive games that were designed in an environment which fostered certain PC game design and targeted a demographic that was willing to accept complexities and oddities and new ways of doing things.

    That’s why I’ve long felt we should champion flight sims and wargames before we do another miserable blog post about a new AssCreed trailer that the rest of the fucking internet is also doing a blog post about, inserting the exact same trailer, the only difference being the commentary you’re getting. The online games PR circlejerk in which everyone is posting the exact same footage and news at the exact same time has always struck me as being completely bizarre. Surely one site can afford to not give in to the annual nonsense? No-one suffers if they don’t get a Call of Duty review, they’re all over the internet. But I bet giving more time to smaller developers would make everyone a lot happier.

    Everytime we get a post about a bloated console franchise that only puts games on PC to mop up spare profit, I remember that this place still hasn’t done a WIT for any installment of the Wargame franchise. Three games, all hugely interesting and important RTS titles the likes of which we never see. If you don’t support games like this, you can’t cry foul when we rarely see them.

    Far Cry 3 is not a PC game. Look at the interface. Is Far Cry 4 going to be any different? Does it deserve the same level of robotic game journo “press X to blog about game” wank that the rest of the internet will do if you don’t? I’d say leave that to the rest and use the space for something better.

    Early Access deserves some attention. It’s one of the most horrifying and fascinating developments on the format in years, largely because now people are willing to buy their way into playing unfinished dross. Where’s our modding news? We could be pushing so much harder on no DRM, international releases, no more sewer levels, but we never question Steam and the other two are running joke hashtags rather than a proper campaign. I can’t keep up with Kickstarter, and I think it’d be worth asking if a Kickstarter campaign is a viable decision given that it’s two years after the hype explosion and we don’t have all that much to show for it.

    Maybe my point’s gotten lost in all this, as it inevitably does, but what I’m trying to say is this:
    More hardhitting PC relevant articles, less 2D retro pixels Metroidvania squeeing, less “is it a game or is it a postmodern dialectic on gender norms”, and less marketing drone blogging about console games.

    Ubisoft could stand to learn a thing or two from what happened with Guitar Hero, Tony Hawk and the sodding Gold Box games. There’s an article begging to be written- we had 13 Gold Box games over 4 years. I don’t think there’s a single franchise that killed itself off so quickly through oversaturation.

  27. Geebs says:

    Assassin’s Creed isn’t Michael Bolton. Assassin’s Creed is Oasis.

    • Geebs says:

      And Half-Life is Jim Steinman

    • Stardreamer says:

      Assassin’s Creed can’t be Oasis. I LIKE Assassin’s Creed.

      • LennyLeonardo says:

        I think he means that you’re constantly saying “what’s the story?”

      • Geebs says:

        First one – plenty of hype at the time of release, generally solid but simplistic
        Second one – like the first one but louder, critics unanimously in favour, not much real development though
        Third one – released to a lot of press over-excitement, in retrospect everybody thinks it’s pretty much wank. Nowadays generally found in second-hand and bargain bins.
        All subsequent releases – creative stagnation.

  28. Jason Moyer says:

    I think the metaphor works better if you think of developers as the artists and games as the albums, although I suppose that’s too close to being a literal 1:1 match to how things work. I guess you’d need a situation like Justin Bieber releasing Piper At The Gates Of Dawn Chapter III for it to be completely accurate.

  29. gulag says:

    I came straight past the comments to say this, so forgive me if I’m simply repeating anything said above.

    This editorial struck me in a way few have since I read Kieron Gillen laying out the framework for NGJ all those years ago. Some are going to misinterpret this as simply using music journalism and music as an industry and a medium to frame games and games writing, but I think it’s more than that. If what you say is true, we should hopefully start to see less focus on how and why games are sold, and more on how and why they are made, not from a business standpoint, but a cultural one.

    I think you are on to something essentially right, Mr. Smith, and you just got pinned to my radar as one to watch. Let’s see where you go with this.

  30. honuk says:

    I must have missed the part where assassin’s creed was ever critically relevant

  31. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    I don’t disagree with you–and I think it’s interesting how this is basically identical to Yahtzee’s assertion that “Assassin’s Creed is no longer a game, it’s a line graph” which goes up and down in quality–but I’m not so sure about the “this is the way it’s supposed to work.”

    The story of modern Nintendo is one of people wholesale rejecting that idea. Critics and customers alike frequently disparage Nintendo for churning out the same ideas, with a seemingly small portion of the gaming populace (of which I am part) accepting the idea that it’s fine for them to remix the same ideas time after time. When does iteration turn from the expected order of things into a mark of creative bankruptcy? Why do some franchises get a pass while others are dismissed?

    • Bradamantium says:

      The difference is that said criticism leveled at Nintendo is flat out wrong. Mario games perhaps are iterative to a greater degree than others in their pile of franchises, but even there the games introduce whole new mechanics at least every other game, whereas something like Zelda or Metroid is almost constantly reinventing itself across entries. And these come sparingly; a Zelda every three or four years, a full-fledged Mario every two, a Metroid whenever they feel like it.

      Compare to Assassin’s Creed. Seven straight years of releases, plus some portable games in between. The gameplay largely remains functionally identical (sure, you’ve got some new tools for murder, maybe some spruced up traversal options, but look at the mission design for how much faith Ubisoft has in those differences – still follow, still eavesdrop, still fight ten guards and then jump down on an enemy), the story is never more than a standard deviation away from the original template, and the spectacle is always the same sort of thing but filled in with more detail as graphics allow. I do enjoy the Assassin’s Creed games, but excepting the sailing half of AC4 and a handful of minigames throughout the series, they’ve been damn near the same thing since the start.

      • green frog says:

        Yes. If anything, people are unfairly picking on Nintendo, rather than giving them a free pass. This whole meme of Nintendo games as all the same, annualized, creatively bankrupt, etc, is spread by people who don’t play Nintendo games, presumably because that’s what they believe Nintendo games to be. When Nintendo stagnates and rehashes they get called out on it like anyone else (see NSMB 2). But the highlights aren’t still getting rave reviews out of nostalgia, they’re getting it because they’re earning it.

        Nintendo’s big franchises date back to the 1980′s. Assassin’s Creed, for example, goes back to 2007. This is what makes it so easy for people to portray Nintendo in such a way – these franchises have been around for longer than many of their fans have. But simplifying it down to that ignores the fact that they aren’t annualized and they aren’t stagnant – they’ve changed and innovated just as much as any popular franchise has, if not more. Where has Mario and Zelda gone, creatively, compared to all the other AAA franchises? To Assassin’s Creed, to Call of Duty, to Halo or God of War? Has it changed LESS over the years? Or more? Longevity is being mistaken for repetition.

        Are there key elements in Mario and Zelda that date back to the beginning? For sure. But this is what makes a franchise a franchise. This is what gives it an identity beyond just a word. And this is what we want. Generally when you take an IP and try to turn it into something completely unrelated we cry bloody murder. Just look at the original reaction to the XCOM FPS. It was so negative that they basically redid the game and also gave us another, more faithful successor (Enemy Unknown).

        Frankly, I think it’s amazing how Nintendo is still able to serve up what superficially appears to be the same – the same IP, characters, basic gameplay, etc, and yet even within what should be stifling constraints they are able to delight and surprise audiences again and again, to keep winning accolades and awards decades after a franchise hit the public consciousness. No other game company has shown itself to be capable of that kind of long-term ingenuity that Nintendo has, and they should get applauded for it.

  32. lordfrikk says:

    I’m okay with there being a new game every 1-2 years, I thoroughly enjoy the gameplay so unless they completely stop changing the formula, I’m interested.

  33. Metalmilitia623 says:

    See I never got into AC because the first one was too repetitive for me, same problem I had with Batman although Batman was better. Anyway the game was so samey all over and just got boring really fast so I totally get this article how after what is it something like 16 games in 7 years how a series could start to get pretty stale as the devs run out of new things to do. Which if you ask me happened in game one, although I did hear #2 was better I never got around to playing it.

    This explains the problem with AAA games at least to me. Stuff like this and CoD, BF, Sports games, etc. Is that there’s only so much they can do with them yet they still release annually for the most part. It’s this oversaturation of the market of these mediocre games meant for mass consumption that is a huge eyesore on the gaming industry. EA, Acti/Blizz and Ubi all need to fade away and we can just have devs working on games instead of suits telling them what they need to do with the game. Much like how the music industry is moving away from the large record labels and a lot of artists are now making their own labels. Same thing is starting to happen in the vG industry and it is only good for us the consumer because it should mean we get better games they might just take longer because there’s not going to be hard deadlines from publishers.

  34. HisDivineOrder says:

    I’m reading this and it’s like a criticism without criticizing. Like you’re saying, “It’s too boring to even be bored now.”

  35. BreadBitten says:

    YES! THIS is the RPS I remember! Excellent write-up Graham! You completely nailed my long-held belief with tis article!

  36. Fenix says:

    pop music sucks

  37. KenTWOu says:

    The first game was embryonic, but over the past seven years we’ve watched its ideas develop and its execution improve.

    Nope. They did the games for the same generation of consoles, so they couldn’t improve core game mechanics because of that. That’s why instead of improving the game formula during these past seven years they were starting to change it. They added brotherhood, tower defense, hunting, sailing. Some of these ideas did work, some of them didn’t. But this time they’re making next gen Assassin’s Creed game. This time they could imrpove core game mechanics because they have tremendous amount of memory. That’s why we still need to know what they will do.

  38. callmeclean says:

    You give far too much credit to the Assassins Creed series and its creators. The interesting and engaging game play of the original two games has not become boring through repetition; most the challenge and exploration that made the game interesting has been exchanged for a combat system of quick time events that presents no challenge, and a map screen that guides you not only to every quest or event in the game, but even all the unlockables and side activities that there are in the world. There were signs of this in the original, however with each entry it has become more of a site-seeing tour where you can pretend you are an action-figure assassin but with no game play to match.

    The series has been supped of its game play and is now just an interesting historical setting explorer. Maybe some people like that. Don’t know why. But it hardly deserves to be called a game anymore.

  39. Dintin says:

    “It’s an eclectic, hybrid genre, grabbing new sounds, new ideas, new fashion from wherever it can, subsuming what it needs and discarding the rest.”
    You’re describing Indie music. Pop has sounded the same for decades now.

  40. GernauMorat says:

    Apprently it will have microtransactions, according to PcGamer

  41. thekelvingreen says:

    It’s a good metaphor. Call of Honor: Modern Ops would be the equivalent of an aging and slightly embarrassing Linkin Park, I’d imagine.

  42. Chuckleluck says:

    I don’t know what you’re talking about RPS. From my standpoint as a history buff, Assassins Creed has always been exciting (with the exception of Brotherhood which was just a larger and less interesting amalgamation of the three cities from AC2). Forget mechanics, the way AC brings history to life (aside from the horrid scifi bits) is enough for me. I’ve been wanting a French Revolution game for some time, and I hope they deliver the atmosphere of anarchy and mock trials the setting deserves.

  43. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    The music metaphor is something I wholeheartedly agree with, as is the wish to see so many modern franchises quietly retire to the oldies circuit. It always comes to mind when I tell someone I like videogames, to which the response is “Oh, yeah I love the new Call of Duty…”. Likewise mentioning “I like Rock and Indie music” gets an “Oh, yeah I saw Kings of Leon and Coldplay last year…”. Both of which cause me to sigh, shake my head and walk out the room before I have to hear another word.

    The conclusion I take is:

    PC Gamer = Q Magazine
    RockPaperShotgun = Drowned in Sound

    Long may it be so

    • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

      Plus, interesting musical metaphor fact: Kieran comparing Deus Ex to the Holy Bible (the album, not the book) is largely responsible for my love of all things PC gamer and, thus, RPS.

  44. LennyLeonardo says:

    Little bit of irony here?

  45. Jexiah8bit says:

    I was one of the people who thought AC was just fine cranking out yearly sequels – not that long ago I was like this, in fact. But now, with two games set to release and the story connecting the franchise having been ditched long ago, I will admit that I have become completely bored of Assassin’s Creed. I always bought the new releases in the franchise (when I could afford to anyways) but this year I think I will be skipping it altogether. Just my personal, rather useless opinion, but seriously the series has become a bit insane in its sameness game after game after game. It would be boring to play more AC – until they either come up with a new and fresh take mechanically, or bring back some interesting story elements that make the slog worth it. Perhaps an ultra-realistic look at history as it was? Or something else, anything really.

  46. cylentstorm says:

    I like the AC series, but secretly hope that Ubi stops making so many before they run it into the dirt…oh, wait. Well, I have heard a few friends and acquaintances rave about how great Unity is going to be, to which I invariably reply: “I know–it’s going to be awesome. It’s one of the only games that I am actually excited about… Man, I can’t wait to get my hands on No Man’s Sky.”

  47. erik.reppen says:

    Okay. I’m an ex-Game Informer editor from like 15 years ago. I registered just to say that the Michael Bolton thing is the best thing I’ve seen in a game review since the glory days of Old Man Murray.

  48. FlamingButtWind says:

    David Bowie released 12 albums over the span of 10 years, that’s the opposite of scarcity.

  49. charmed23 says:

    Well, I think I just fell in love with Graham Smith. Didn’t know there are gamers who are also hardcore for music. This article hits all the right notes for me, especially the analogy.

  50. Josh W says:

    Ok, culturally relevant..

    Games are not just a symbolic medium, they are also an activity. Chess is not culturally relevant because there are chess grandmasters creating news, in fact, very few of us care about that. Chess has a place in culture because it is something people like doing, and because it has a set of robust pieces that look nice and are obviously about playing that specific game (card games have a lot less longevity, thanks to loosing cards and people changing the rules).

    Assassin’s creed games are in part about getting to know how to freerun quickly around a new historical city. People like doing, it, like chess, but unlike chess, this is an activity that makes money precisely because of it’s capacity to get old. They can keep selling them because people keep wanting to explore new places.

    Like imagine someone made a procedural assassins creed? Just keeps generating new spaces to run through, find hiding places in. That’s something that people could keep playing.

    Or perhaps they could stop making them and other people started missing them and making their own versions, then you’d have a chance of making it form it’s own genre, and we could recognise it like that. Pathing, loosing guards, looping around and taking shortcuts etc.

    Instead we have a different kind of dynamics governing the games; they come out just a little too quick to make us miss them, and so are trying to disguise themselves as other games. It’s almost enough to make you forget that the basic activity is actually pretty fun, because it’s always being assumed and put to the side, while piracy and crowd dynamics or whatever else are made the selling point.

    Edit: Wait, critically relevant, that’s an even more narrow criteria. To be honest I think that to be relevent to critique, something content is more important than it’s market size; we can say once that World of Warcraft is big, talk about what it is, then say if any significant changes happen.

    If the new assassin’s creed games are basically all “still assassins creed”, then we don’t need all these previews and teasers and stuff, just point out if something actually changes.

    There’s a sort of weird “show your work” thing that I’m sure happens with sites like this; you have to filter through a lot of information to get to things that actually interest you, and I almost wonder if you could create a separate feed for boring news. “We looked at this and it wasn’t interesting”, so the rest of us can filter through to the stuff you actually care about.

    Or you could exclude that stuff, which would be adding value by clearing space, acting as a curator of news rather than a writer of it, but absence is harder to maintain.

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