NOTE: I’ve fallen behind on a few posts here. Sometime in mid-April I anticipate catching up.
Now to content. I was really surprised to see this earlier in the week.
Considering that Assassin’s Creed 3 was just released approximately four months ago, it seems a little early to be announcing a new installment to a game that is arguably Ubisoft’s crown jewel IP. A November or late October launch seems a little ambitious. My initial reactions were the sound of a cash register opening, but not in a good way.
My initial thoughts playing Assassin’s Creed in 2008 was that it was a brilliant endeavor. A brilliant endeavor that was also clearly unfinished. The first installment of the game offered a rich, detailed, open world environment with virtually nothing to do in it. Although the core programming was there to make a great action game, combat was incredibly bland and repetitive. For a game about assassinations, there was surprisingly little thought put into how the mechanics of the assassination system were implemented. It’s especially irksome that there was no real penalty for being seen or spotted. Aside from lush visuals, the real contribution this game made to the artform was demonstrating that a moving and climbing system could be both intuitive and dynamic in a complex 3D environment.
Assassin’s Creed II solved the core problem that resulted from lack of additional interactivity with the environment, but only superficially. The side-missions and hidden finds in Assassin’s Creed II is unfulfilling and generally pointless. For such mouth-watering environments and graphics, the story telling, directing, and voice acting appear amateurish. Assassin’s Creed & Co. thus fell to the bottom of the queue; a “maybe I’d pay $20 for this” game. Without the benefit of snowdays, summer breaks, or the blessings of the bachelor’s life, this is not a pile of games I’m likely to appreciate anytime soon.
I lost a more interest in this franchise when two additional Assassin’s Creed games based around the second installment were released; Brotherhood and Revelations. The story seems to center around filling in chronological gaps that exist in the first game. Developers, I have no problem with downloadable content or expansions. But don’t sell me a story that skips around incoherently and expect me to pay three times as much for a bunch of lame half-sequels. Exactly how engaged am I supposed to be in a story that tells itself out of order over a three year period?
So, my thoughts on Assassin’s Creed IV are based on those prior observations. I applaud aggressive release deadlines a developer can impose on itself. It’s a mark of discipline, and I guess that’s one of the things Steve Jobs was known for. But given the incomplete and at times incoherent fit and finish of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, I really wonder if it’s a good idea to skip to the fourth installment in such a short time frame. The world of Assassins’ Creed offers such amazing potential. The core movement mechanics are there, and are better than any game I’ve ever seen. But you can only make so many sequels to a parkour game. When they are able to make an Assassin’s Creed that can make the actual sneaking and killing aspects have some sort of emotional stakes, instead of a one lame one-button press, I will jump on board. Granted, I haven’t played Assassin’s Creed III and am more than a bit behind on what Ubisoft has been experimenting with here, but right now I see such an ambitious development schedule as being a serious impediment to the real kind of innovation this franchise needs to grow from good to great.