Gaming Doldrums: Pre-Order Pressure & Assassination Exploitation

I was on holiday for some time, and in addition to that, life got crazy (again). But I’ve spent some time catching up on important gaming news and I’m back to ask…what in the actual heck?

You know how the summer is known as a gaming Dead Zone, since there are no major releases and the post-E3 lull has gamers resembling a young child that’s experiencing a severe sugar crash. We replay old games, grind for hours on whatever multiplayer holds our fancy, or put our imagination through its paces by thinking about upcoming titles that we’re just too damned excited about.

*sigh*

I am completely used to being bored out of my skull, gaming-wise, during the summer months. What I never expected to face, though, was a world in which I could potentially be bored out of my skull, gaming-wise, throughout the entire year. I find myself in an enhanced state of “meh” when I think about the titles that are releasing towards the end of 2014 and the start of 2015. Jeez…wasn’t it just yesterday we were getting ready to launch into a new console generation? Crazy. Anyway, lost in the hub-bub of E3 was Assassin’s Creed COMET, which I personally thought meant we would have AC on the MOON, a la Wolfenstein TNO…this would have meant that Ubisoft had utterly lost it, of course.

 

Soon….

However, AC Comet is now Assassin’s Creed Rogue, or, as I like to call it, Ubisoft Open World Game #45, in which you play a Templar named Shay who is given the arduous task of taking out as many assassins as possible. Considering the title is called AC Rogue, I figure somewhere along the way, Shay is going to have an identity crisis wherein he wonders why he follows the Templar order and ends up killing his master/brothers to atone for his sins. Rogue will be released exclusively on XBox 360 and PlayStation 3 and, according to Ubisoft, will be linked to the Kenway Family adventures before the events of Black Flag AND will serve as a lead-in for the events that will occur in AC Unity, which launches for the XBox One and PS4. Say what you will about Ubisoft, but they sure aren’t afraid to hedge their bets. Stuck on previous-gen? We gotcha. Graduated to the big leagues? We gotcha. But aren’t you just exploiting the customer base at this point? I loved Assassin’s Creed right up to the release of Black Flag which, while immensely entertaining when I was on my ship, lacked that extra spice once I hopped off said ship and actually tried to have a story. That Rogue has been snuck into the line-up after a “leak” revealed its trailer and basic story elements does not surprise me; two Assassin’s Creed games in one year? Why not. Ubisoft has been looking more like Activision every year, anyway. What does it tell you that I have yet to finish Watch_Dogs, aka Watch Assassin’s Creed Far Cry of Chicago Dogs?

Perhaps what really irks me is the fact that Rogue has been cobbled together by seven…SEVEN Ubisoft studios around the world, but when asked about female playable assassins for Unity, we were served up a steaming pile of excuses, ranging from delays to the game to the ridiculous “too much work” logic trotted out by creative director Alex Amancio. You know…if you’d reallocated resources from the seven studios working on the useless title that is Rogue, perhaps you could have developed some female assassins for Unity, or at the very least some assassins that reflect the smaller populations within your consumer base. I dunno, I mean, I’m no rocket scientist, but if I want to make a quality product that begins to reflect my corporation’s line of diversity and inclusion, I’d assign additional resources to getting that done. Perhaps it’s just me. At any rate, for the first time in my life, I have no plans to get an AC game. I’ll make do with Unity, since I already planned to get an XBox One for the Master Chief Collection.

Heeee….

 

The last bit of gaming news that made me bristle was the announcement that the original movie cast would be available as pre-order DLC for Alien Isolation. Wait. What?

Yes. You can only play as Ripley and the gang if you pre-order the title. Additionally, you only get access to both “special missions” when you pre-order at GameStop. If you decide not to pre-order because, let’s face it, there are TWO Assassin’s Creed titles coming out this year and you’ve gotta save up so you can do some assassinatin’, then you have to wait until the DLC is offered up as a separate paid download. WHAT?

If a developer wants to endear people to their titles, they should cater to the fan base. I am a huge Alien fan. I am a massive Sigourney Weaver fan. Those are not entities that are able to be logically separated when speaking about a game based on the movie that encompasses both. How do you have an Alien game without Ripley? I dunno. How do you have a Mario game without Mario? What’s a hedgehog if he’s not Sonic? I dunno. These are the questions that haunt me as we continue to spiral into this nickle ‘n dime world where, surprisingly, EA is still the largest offender. I’ve hardly seen any official backlash to the Alien Isolation pre-order pressure, save for an excellent video from Escapist’s Jim Sterling. There are the usual comments under posts discussing the title on IGN etc, but for the most part, Jim and GamingAnarchist are the only two I’ve really seen go nuts about it. Go check that rant out and you’ll see why you should be more pissed off about this game. I am exhausted with the level of lip-service we keep being served by developers and then while waiting for release day, those lips are replaced by giant pythons that wrap around us and try to squeeze every possible cent for every possible bit of content that SHOULD just be part of the actual title at launch. Are we going to be a happy player base when we’re forced to hop from retailer to digital retailer to wherever to get ALL the content that really makes our game? What is the European solution for those who want to play Alien Isolation’s DLC and can only get one Ripley mission because well, we don’t have GameStop on this side of the pond? Did anyone at SEGA have a meeting before they made this decision? Again. These are the questions that haunt me.

Are you planning to throw your chips in and get Alien Isolation or Assassin’s Creed Rogue? Sound off.

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Assassin’s Creed 3: Ubisoft Grows Up

I’ve not yet finished AC 3, and I have seen glimpses of reviews regarding the ending. Some players were unsatisfied, some indifferent and others think it rocked. This post, obviously, won’t reveal anything about the ending but for those who haven’t yet played the game, it might contain some bits about the story that some would consider spoilers. So, reader beware and all that good stuff.

Just kidding!

Just kidding!

So with that out of the way, can I just say that I am impressed with Assassin’s Creed 3? I’m aware that some elements of the game are reminiscent of other titles (Red Dead Redemption‘s hunting metagame, for one) but in this day and age, there’s always something borrowed, like weird marriages between different mediums (games and movies). I’m not here to rehash all of that, because it’s already been done by the Big Dogs, aka IGN, Machinima etc. I’m more impressed with Ubisoft’s handling of two incredibly sensitive historical topics that have not often been touched on by developers, for the simple fact that getting it wrong would set off a frenzy of bad publicity.

The depiction of Native Americans and the African slave trade in video games has never really gone well, which is due to a combination of factors, not least of which is an overall lack of respect for the portrayal of minorities in interactive entertainment (women and LGBT people included). Haven’t we always been the white male protagonist, gunning down the Islamic extremists, African warlords and Native American troublemakers (Red Dead Redemption)? I’d read other blog posts regarding the character you play in AC3 prior to it’s release, and most authors regarded it with a sort of careful optimism. After all, just saying it was going to be an awesome game wouldn’t suffice; since its first installment, Assassin’s Creed has probed deep into underlying societal issues that have mostly been associated with religion. From Al Mualim’s misguided zealotry in AC1 to the final boss in AC2, Ubisoft’s never been afraid to make you ask the question “Who exactly was the bad guy in this historical sequence?” It’s no secret that organised religion has had a helping hand in some of history’s worst periods of war, among other atrocities. But that’s a discussion for another blog.

Questionable guy.

Questionable guy.

AC3 goes off the beaten path a bit in the sense that Connor’s not really doing battle for any particular organised religious right, but it sails into all-new territory just by having Connor as its main character and by touching briefly on the African slave trade. There’s no sense of either the rebels or the British being the clear good or bad guy, since after all, we know how this story turns out. We can’t change history, but games that pull from specific periods tickle your brain into looking at a situation from a different angle, provided it’s done right of course. AC3 gets it so right, particularly when you start the mission with your Templar father, Haytham, discovering a missive from George Washington to his troops, ordering the destruction of Connor’s village…his second one thus far, considering his first was razed to the ground. Up until this point in the game, you (as Connor) have been helping Washington and the other rebels to further their cause, believing in your heart of hearts that the Templars are backing the British. It’s incredibly hard to convey the true physical reaction involved with the discovery of a betrayal, but Ubisoft manages to make Connor look both tortured and near-homicidal all at once. On his way to foil the delivery of this order, Connor discovers that his village has also gone crazy and is preparing a stealth-attack of their own. His conflicted emotions are evident when he’s forced to end his friend and fellow villager.

Did Washington himself order the destruction of Native American villages? Ubisoft wants to bring you to the point where you say “It doesn’t matter who gave the order, just that the order was given.” That’s why these games are brilliant. You’re forced to admit to the idea that one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. The sheer boatload of information that the game overloads you with helps you ask the question of “what way do you turn and which devil do you trust when your back is against the wall and nothing makes sense anymore?” And then you’re left to answer it, knowing that irregardless of your actions in this historically-inspired work of fiction, it’s all already happened. The beauty of it is that now, you can ask questions you never had before. To me, that’s when a work of art has done its job.

So well done, Ubisoft. Well done.