E3 report – Assassin’s Creed, Kinect and anger.

E3 is over. The dust has settled, and a thousand nerds have gone home. And despite my honeyed words and beautiful face, I’m not a real journalist. So, to the despair of many groupies, I wasn’t there. However, I did tune in in order to watch the spectacle online, and with my usual definitive and absolute word on all matters gaming, I pronounce that it’s been a pretty standard E3. The presentations were terrible, the presenters somehow even worse, and the usual self-congratulatory bollocks were vomited by industry reps. Pretty standard for the gaming industry’s flagship show. But hey, we got to see some decent games, so we can put up with whatever bullshit stunts, presenters or just plain awful scripting that they throw at us. Lets look at some of those things that we did come to E3 to see.

Assassin’s Creed III.



I love the Assassin’s Creed franchise, and to be completely frank, I’m going to be buying this game at launch despite any flaws, up to Ubisoft staff eating my grandparents whilst wearing Ezio t-shirts. But I’m hre to nitpick, so that’s what I’m going to do.

Visit anywhere in cyber-space with a comment system and you’ll find the same question: ‘are the British the bad guys?’ Ubisoft had a great chance to finally clear ther air at E3 with their staged question, so with the usual Ubisoft approach to problems, they scaled the stage, cleared their throats, straightened their ties, and fell off of the stage.

The fact that this question came up at all shows that this has been causing some consternation on the intertubes and Ubisoft must have known this (unless they’re failing entirely with their audience) and so it only makes it even worse that they failed answer the question in any way. Instead of answering the question, what they actualy said was that the new main character – Connor – cares about fighting Templars, not the British. Well in that case, Connor clearly has some hobbies that Hannibal Lector would balk at, if not only for his obviously patriotic sentiments. Everywhere Assassin’s Creed-related we turn these days shows Connor gutting yet another one of this filthy Brits. So I hardly think it’s my fault for making an assumption that Connor has a homocidal tendency towards those of an Empire-building persuasion. It’ll be nice if the game gives us the option to kill either side, but I know that likely won’t be an option. Come on Connor, let me and thee show those Republican rotters what for! For tea and crumpets, what what!

At one point in the trailer we do see Connor chatting amicably to a British soldier and not gutting him from collar to groin. Paint me cynical, but thanks to the rest of the footage I can only see this as an attempt to appease tea-stained British keyboards. Ubisoft were wise to see this backlas coming, but this rough attempt at masking an obvious bias is only going to make the bias seem worse in the long run. The chances are high that this British soldier is either: an American sympathiser; a decent and hardworking commander trying to protect his men from the incompetant British high command; or Benedict Arnold pulling a double agent role for the Assassins. Whilst the last idea makes me a little wet between the legs, purely for the historical fuck-around, it doesn’t change the fact that the British are irreversably the bad guys. The last AC games had managed to avoid this problem because the bad guys were so shorn of any defining nationality. The Templars were just Templars. They were obviously European, but that was made to represent any specific nation, and Europe is a large place. And the emphasis was on the fact that they were Templars rather than Europeans. In Assassin’s Creed II Rodrigo Borgia was referred to as ‘the Spaniard’, but he didn’t represent the Spanish people as a whole and his goons weren’t Spanish either. They were just unidentifiable ‘bad guys’. Perhaps the game was aimed against the institution of the Papacy, but this historical period is well-known to have been plagued by extreme corruption within the Papacy, and therefore this problem is neatly averted; the enemy is the politician corrupting the purity of the Pontificate, and therefore is not the fault of the religion. In Assassin’s Creed III, the enemy is very obviously the British. Connor’s wrath is not widespread and as such it’s obvious that his enemy is the British forces. No other nationality seems to be involved to such an extent, certainly not in the trailers. And that makes it seem as if the British are evil. I realise that we can’t go against history in such an obvious way, but would it have killed Ubisoft to have Conor killing Templars on both sides of the war? I realise thar Hollywood has used the ‘evil English guy’ trope for a long time,and that the English have come to accept their role as ‘the bad guy’ in media. But this time it’s not just one randomly evil bloke, but an entire army. The common foot soldier wouldn’t be here out of his own volition, and it seems unfair to slaughter only them for a choice that wasn’t theirs. Yes, I realise the goons from the last games were in the same boat, but it wasn’t nearly as easy to identify with them, as stripped of identity as they were. I’m just relieved that Ubsoft developed this with a team of multiple faiths and nationalities, because otherwise I’d be jolly ticked off!

Blimey, perhaps this is how the Russians feel.

Anyway, enough of that point. Navigate to Google and you can probably find at least a half-dozen rants about the use of the British in ACIII. So let us move to something more pleasant for everybody; the actual gameplay. I had some misgivings about the gameplay going into E3 and in true video game industry-style E3 has done little to assuage these fears. The Assassin’s Creed series has always been about having a freedom of movement not given in other titles; as long as you can run, climb, or jump there, then Assassin’s Creed lets you go there. ACIII introduces a whole new dimension to this; trees and forest. Tree-running still looks awkward, despite the smooth and fluid demo shown before and after E3. It just looks as if it will lack the perfect ease of the system from the earlier games; buildings have more obvious grip-points and come to a very obvious end, and even despite these advantages I still had problems with traversing them from time-to-time. Tying this system into a much less definable naturistic setting just seems as if it’ll create more problems with an already occasionally fiddly system. What will mark out one part of climbable bark from a piece that’s untraversable? At which point will a tapering branch be unable to support my weight? White cloth had always marked areas where free-running sections began, so will snow fulfill the same function now? Yes, Assassin’s Creed seriously needed some new mechanics, and this sequel is looking like the first innovation from the series since Assassin’s Creed II, but I’m worried that Ubisoft are going too far, and biting off too much. My fear is that the developers will lose the fluid movement that we’ve come to expect and love from our Assassin heroes.

Speaking of additions, another addition is an inclusion of gathering quests. More common in the MMO genre, this addition is sure to spark some questions, and as you might expect I have some qualms about this addition. The downside of gathering quests in MMOs is that they become a chore very quickly, and I fear for that in the AC franchise. However, I can’t help but feel that the nature of the AC games will save it from this; since the player does not require experience to level up (as far as we’ve seen) gather quests can stay as an interesting extra quest to be fulfilled when bothered, rather than an essential and boring stepping stone. Hopefully the system will be based off of Skyrim‘s Radiant AI, and quest targets will be randomly generated to a degree. After all, people don’t stop needing supplies. Another interesting element would be to tie assassination missions into a similar random generator, giving a potentially unlimited pool of quests. Fairly positive, you might think? Well, maybe. But I certainly wouldn’t want to see a reputation system tied into the quests you do, or a Dead Rising 2-style of timed missions throughout. Thankfully, I can’t see these coming about.

Finally, the combat system has taken a massive overhaul – the combat system in the recent AC games has felt stale for a while, and now the developers are taking steps to combat this. Attacks can now come from multiple people and angles at once, eliminating the shockingly bad attack queues that we saw in the other titles and counter-centric combat that became the bread-and-butter of fighting far too easily. With the addition of multiple attacks comes the possibility of multiple counters and an increase in the fluidity of combat. Multiple counters allow you to counter those two pesky attackers on either side, whether that just be by a simply back-step or by pushing one into the other. The ability to use human shields is another crucial part of this, allowing you to use one of those pesky British (gah!) as a shield against the ranged weapons of his friends. Friends who’ll miss him when he’s gone YOU CRUEL BASTARDS.

Firearms are one of the largest changes in this installment and they will no longer be relegated to the occasional shot in battle as seen in the later ACII series. Warfare is now centred around the noisy things, and as a melee-orientated character Connor’s repetoire has had to be stepped up in order to tackle a new type of fighting. The more fluid combat now allows Connor to slas-and-run, an element that had always been missing from earlier Assassins. Thanks to this, Ezio now looks static compared to Connor’s rolling style that makes mobile killing a priority.

As you can tell, I have my problems with what I’ve seen, but the fact that Ezio has finally been put out to pasture has me excited and the footage that we saw has only made me more excited. Sod the patriotric problems, and let me at the tree-running! Roll on October.

Kinect, Smartglass and other rubbish.

Why the hell has it become even a thing at E3 for software that is only gaming related in the loosest sense to dominate presentations? I admit that Kinect is a damn fine piece of technology when it works, and that there is room in the gaming industry for motion controllers. My objection is to Microsoft forcing them down throats in a desperate attempt to make good on this expensive Wii-addon to their console. If they’d been any more desperate to sell the damn thing, they’d have been on QVC at 3am. I’m not a 360-gamer, but the atmosphere I’d generally garnered was that people thought Kinect was a great idea, but they’d be damned before they let the sensitive cunt into their front rooms, much like any modern rock band. And to my eyes, that’s a fine ideal: motion controls are a lot of fun, and I can see the appeal in having them. But they’re something that you don’t use all of the time, mainly because the technology is still so shaky and infantile. It’s a complete bitch to use at times and whilst I can’t fault Microsoft for trying to remedy this problem, I can fault the solution that they’ve come up with.

I can see how it works in some games; Kinect looks like a genuine boon in a title like Madden and FIFA, not to mention the hilarious feature of being able to shout at the referee and be punished correspondingly. Shouting into your Kinect to distract a guard in Splinter Cell: Blacklist is a great idea. If I owned a 360, I might consider using these features. One major fault holds me back: people are assholes. If I’m playing with some friends, as I often do, then all it’ll take is one of them to call over a guard when I don’t want it, or call an order I don’t want. Add to this the problems that all voice integration has with understanding different accents, nuances and terms and we have a terrible recipe for frustration. These ‘new’ innovations may cause more controllers to go flying than Dark Souls.

My advice for Microsoft would be to work on making Kinect as perfect as possible before harping on about any more integration. Get the underlying technology right, and people will use it. Let them know you’re working on making it better, but don’t fucking harp on about it like a stunned lamb. The part of the presentation on how to search on Google using only your voice was a bloody shambles. You may have noticed the quotation marks around the word ‘new’ in the last paragraph, and that’s because I’ve been able to do most of the stuff that they ‘announced’ on my phone since I bought it two years ago. And it wasn’t even new then. I think this is the root of the problem for myself and various other people; this tech just isn’t new to anyone who’s owned a smartphone for the last few years. Siri and .iriS (the Android version) arrived years ago and most of us have had chance to mess with them for a bit before getting bored. And that leads me on to my last problem with the system: it’s just not possible to use a voice integration program without either seeming like a twat or by arrogantly silencing in a room before you talk. Which amounts to basically the same thing.

And the the last paragraph basically sums up my problem with SmartGlass too; not new enough. Looking up information about the program being watched on the TV? I can use my phone for that, or one of those over-priced tablets that you’ve all been flogging for a few years. The last thing that I need is another piece of technology to clog up my chair’s arms, and I’m certainly not gonna pay an exorbitant amount of money for technology I already own in one form or another. If I might be so bold as to denounce an entire company (but I’m a lone blogger, of course I know better) this has been Microsoft’s problem for too long now; they just keep trying to reinvent the wheel. Nintendo brought out decent motion control first, and although Microsoft surpassed their effort by removing the controller entirely, it will always be remembered that Nintendo succeeded first.

Microsoft needs something new and innovative, and they failed to do that at E3 this year.

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