The Joy Of swimming in Assassin’s Creed Origins

My three year old rates games based on whether the character goes into water, and if they do, do they swim underneath. My personal rating systems are a little more nuanced, but it turns out that Assassin’s Creed Origins‘ swimming is so astoundingly atmospheric I’m willing to forgive it a dozen other foibles. In all of gaming, water has never felt wetter.

It leaves me wondering when it was that gaming started to get swimming right. It used to be, for all of the 1990s and a good way beyond, that a game’s inevitable swimming section was always a tiresome chore. All the effort would go into, say, Lara’s run and jump, but since she only swam for two short bits in the game, her swimming received not nearly the same refinement. Swimming sections were a seemingly obligatory portion of the game that had to be included to secure, I dunno, funding from Big Water? Who knows. But at some point in the last decade, this is far less often the case. And with Origins, it proves to be a real highlight.

That’s not to say there’s anything especially wonderful about the swimming mechanics. They – and I can’t stress how important and complimentary this is – don’t get in the way of themselves. You can swim, you rarely need to, it’s not objectionable to do so. That’s pretty much all you want from a game where swimming isn’t a priority. But where I find my joy is in the absolutely extraordinary atmosphere that surrounds it. It just sounds incredible.

One of my favourite things is to lie on my back in the sea, on a quiet day, and just listen to the sounds of the water ba-looping and ga-looping around me. In the mix will be the faint sounds of a child laughing far away, a boat’s engine in the distance, a few gulls exchanging bitter words. And then, to let my head go under the water, and hear all those suddenly muted, deepened, the extraordinary cacophony of echoes and rumbles filling my ears, at once seeming to offer a deep sense of quiet. It’s gloriously isolating, and enormously calming. And goodness me, if Origins doesn’t evoke those feelings with its wonderful sound effects. Just have a listen:

The whole game has amazing background sound, but the very best of it is the underwater effects. That moment of transition from the gentle lapping noise of floating on the water, to the echoing majesty of your ears being filled – I’ve never seen (or heard) a game get it anything like this right.

33 Comments

  1. HothMonster says:

    There is the digital water museum. link to hyperallergic.com though it just shows water not actual swimming.

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    Drib says:

    I hope you don’t show your poor kid the depths of Subnautica.

  3. Freud says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever really enjoyed swimming in any game. It might look good in some games but as a way to move around in a game world it sucks.

  4. klops says:

    Schistosomiasis.

  5. fuggles says:

    Your child would have ranked the original ninja turtles highly with the extensive pita that was the bomb level.

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    Ninja Dodo says:

    Maybe it’s nostalgia talking but I liked the swimming in the original Tomb Raiders. I think AC IV Black Flag is when Ubisoft really figured out how to do water interaction and visuals (although AC3 was a notable first attempt).

    Abzu is another good one.

    • Lovely Alexander says:

      I’ve just been playing ABZU. I’ve never felt more relaxed by anything. The surround sound is even more beautiful than the visuals.

  7. Dugular says:

    Which Tomb Raider are you talking about? The original had swimming galore and was also really good swimming for the time. It’s one of my favourite series for swimming, until the reboot ruined that part.

  8. Zenicetus says:

    There must have been earlier games, but the first one I remember enjoying swimming underwater was World of Warcraft. I started about a year after it launched, and played it for 2 years before bailing out. There was stuff to find (or kill, or be killed by) underwater, and sometimes it was the only way to reach certain areas. It felt integrated into the game, instead of just a gimmick.

    Swimming was fun in Witcher 3 too, after getting potions/abilities to extend time underwater. I spent a lot of time hunting loot and spearfishing Drowners.

  9. Erroll the Elder says:

    If you love the swimming I think you are in denial.

  10. racccoon says:

    lol looks so funny :)

  11. Hyena Grin says:

    Based on the title of this this article I was 100% expecting it to be one of Alice’s many treatises on the delights of a cold dip.

    Be honest now, John; did she put you up to it?

  12. pendergraft says:

    I spent a good hour terrorizing sailors by pulling up alongside them, flinging torches onto their wooden boats, then diving into the water and following the sinking vessel down to the bottom. Which is basically what I used to do to merchantmen in Silent Hunter III. There’s something haunting about watching a boat settle onto the seafloor.

  13. Caiman says:

    It’s all fun and games in the Nile,
    Until, that is, you’re eaten by a crocodile.

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    Cyphran says:

    John! Three Years?!

  15. Agnosticus says:

    So, the cloth is glued to his head and shoulders?

  16. poliovaccine says:

    I think the first game that ever reminded me of actual swimming was Far Cry 3, except for the fact that shark attacks are hardly so common, at least not where I swim. But my favorite was actually Morrowind, because you could actually find stuff down there, not just loot but even unique enemy types. I remember the two mods I installed first on any run of that game were Fishing Academy and Giants, because the one gave me a ship (and a smaller, more vulnerable dinghy) to travel and fish with, and the other put all kinds of crazy crap out in the water, including “titans” way way out from shore. Though for its day, that game had some great ambient sound, too. I always liked fishing in the Ascadian Isles region, cus I would basically run the game like a screensaver/mood piece and then read or something while I left it on in the background.

    I’m super interested in Subnautica, but I’m letting that one wait. Good games wait, dont you know.

  17. ModernHydra says:

    The sound is good.

    It’s pretty jarring to see him to a modern breast stroke (sort of) and front crawl while wearing a robe and equipment though.

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    Martell says:

    Hey, John. I have a 2 year old, and I’m wondering if you know of a list somewhere of PC games suitable for toddlers.

    I mean there’re plenty of stuff for mobiles, but I’m a PC gamer, dammit.

    • CarthAnne says:

      I’m not sure if they’re quite old enough yet, but in a year or so depending on how fast they mature, one might try the Humongous Entertainment games on Steam. Putt Putt and Freddi Fish are probably the best series for the very youngest. You’ll probably need to help them get the hang of the gameplay at first, depending on how good they are with mouse based interfaces but they should get the hang of it with enough practice.

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        Martell says:

        Thank you. So far I’ve tried him on Metamorphabet (amused), Hidden Folks (too hard though interested), ABZU (not much reaction) and are planning to show him Amanita Design’s games, more for the sheer prettiness of it.

    • TheAngriestHobo says:

      Have you tried SOMA? As the name suggests, it’s a soothing and comforting gaming experience. It’s basically an undersea adventure along the lines of The Littlest Mermaid or The Abyss. My two-year-old and I enjoyed interacting with all the zany characters we encountered during our adventures. Plus, as a bonus, the end of the game is guaranteed to help your children overcome their fear of the dark.

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        Ninja Dodo says:

        That’s not right.

        • Premium User Badge

          Martell says:

          What a wonderful, useful suggestion that I will try out immediately. For extra wholesomeness, I will invite my 65 year old mother and my 87 year old grandmother, both of whom just had open heart surgery, so we can have a nice, relaxing family evening.

          I mean, what can possibly go wrong.

  19. Flopdong says:

    The sounds as he moves his arms and legs sounds wrong to me. You only hear that noise if you are underwater and something is splashing the surface of the water. His movements while fully submerged should be silent. I can see why they added it for gameplay audio feedback though.

  20. Fnord73 says:

    I know this is a PC gaming site, but seriously, Super Mario has done all the hard lifting when it come to the exploration of the swimmingmech in computergames, no?

  21. sapien82 says:

    well this game has certainly come a long way from its origins

    I remember playing assassins creed the first time and thinking wow what a cool game free running everywhere jumping, climbing , diving off buildings into hay , fighting guards with swords etc.
    Shocked I was to find that I died every time I tried to go for a swim. Who can run and leap off buildings but cant fucking swim!

    Some assassin, what if he had to take a job on a river boat ?

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