And they say Americans won’t like visual novels…

I’m watching BlueJay play through the early stages of Assassin’s Creed III, and although my experience is naturally coloured by his own (low) opinion of the game, I must say I’m disappointed so far. There are certainly things which are good – visually it has some great details (even if some faces have become odd in the graphics transition), the free-running looks amazingly fluid, and they’ve gone to a lot of effort to include Native American language and cultural details where they can.

Unfortunately, the free-running looks fantastic because the game does it all for you, as far as I can tell. You can leap through the trees and swing gracefully from branches or up ledges in a stone cliff face, but I don’t think I’d feel much sense of achievement doing it. You barely even have to jump any more – just hold the “kickass parkour” button down and point yourself in the desired direction. Ratonhnhaké:ton (aka Connor – or whoever you’re playing as) does everything on his own. This experience extends to many parts of the game – most of the beginning that I watched seemed to involve running a character between cutscene trigger points. Watch a video, run to the next video. A button will ‘analyse clue’, but not tell you anything about what you’ve found or what it means – just give you a mark on the mini-map. The dreaded quicktime events make a strong showing; I can only hope that’s less true later in the game, but the first few hours of play suggest that they play a big part.

The problem with things like quicktime events is that they reduce playing the game to pushing the right button. I know that video games boil down to that anyway, but part of the fun is disguising that behind the simulation. If I know that this button makes me jump, and this button makes me drop down, I feel like that’s what I’m doing – what I’m doing. When everything is arbitrary buttons, or arbitrary steps in a quest, there’s no immersion. I don’t feel any motivation to keep playing when I feel like I’m just being led by the nose through a series of entirely arbitrary steps.

And one more thing on that note: quest objectives! The Assassin’s Creed games have been going in this direction for a while, but watching AC3 has made me realise just how much I dislike it. The main objective at any given time is a simple task required to get to the next step – usually as simple as ‘get here’ (i.e. ‘point the stick in this direction until we give you a cutscene’). The only challenges to bring variety to this are ‘optional objectives’. These are, again, entirely arbitrary and transparently game elements, such as “don’t lose more than x health”. That has nothing to do with what our hero is doing. It’s not something I contribute to the story, or a required challenge to overcome, it’s just a further complication to…what? Stop the game from getting boring?

If you’re having to design in optional extras to stop your game being a boring slog from one video to another, you have a problem with your game. And if you just wanted to tell a story through a series of cutscenes, you should have made a visual novel.

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4 Responses to And they say Americans won’t like visual novels…

  1. Hannah Kerr says:

    I read a really bad review of AC3 from somewhere (Zero Punctuation/RPS/[insert actual reviewer here]) and was absolutely put off. For the very reasons that you’ve said here. That the game takes your hand and leads you through the game without so much as a “Well, you’ve gotten to AC3, We trust that you can do this by yourself now”. From what I’d read, it was all ‘go to X. Look for X. Jump over to X’ for the first two-thirds of the game, and the only time the reviewer even felt that the game was engaging him was in the naval battles.
    Then I heard Thomas rave about its greatness. He is a fan, as much in love with the AC series as he is with the DA series: they can do no wrong.
    All in all, I won’t be buying this until the price drops significantly. I hate the fact that making one or two good games is the goal now, and then making money off the name alone. Surely the goal should be making a good game every time?

    • Curuniel says:

      The AC games have been heading more and more in this direction since Assassin’s Creed 2, so I can’t say I’m too surprised. At the same time, the main criticism of AC1 was that the side missions were repetitive and boring, whereas now in AC3 the side missions take up most of the game and are mostly irrelevant to anything assassin-y (or even plot-related). It’s basically Skyrim, minus any of the dungeon-y bits, plus a story you do very little in. Sadly, we had pretty low expectations for AC3 because it’s a natural progression from problems in Brotherhood and Revelations.

      I refuse to believe that it’s a lack of effort or attention in these later games in a series – they’re usually bigger, longer in development, more expensive than the earlier ones. It does seem that by the time you get to around game three in these big franchises, someone decides to make it accessible to a wider audience (to make more money) by dumbing it down and taking out complexity in favour of showiness.

  2. Pingback: You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means. « Reroll

    • Curuniel says:

      I didn’t mean to speak for BlueJay, but I was there to witness his frustrations, haha. He’s the one who has actually played all the games himself though! (I tag along for the story).

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