Friday, October 23, 2015

An Assassin’s Creed Retrospective, Part III: Pirates of the Caribbean

It’s October 23, 2015, and that means that Ubisoft’s highly anticipated Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate has finally hit store shelves, much the way that Chris Brown [JOKE RETRACTED]

He's not my favorite.
But before popping the game into our PlayStation 4s (or that other One nobody likes) let’s delve a bit farther into Syndicate’s noble lineage.

Last time, the series’ lovable mainstay Ezio and also that insufferable nitwit Desmond Miles made their final contributions to the series; George Washington took on the British with the help of proud Native American warrior Connor Kenway; and Washington went mad with power in a bizarre-but-captivating “what if” tale.

This time, the Assassin’s Creed series goes portable in the Big Easy before docking in the 18th century for a Caribbean vacation teeming with sweaty pirates.

Assassin’s Creed: Liberation. Release Date: 10/2012. Available on PlayStation Vita. HD version Release Date: 1/2014. Available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC

Welcome to New Orleans. Meet Aveline, a mixed race female Assassin – a first for the series. Aveline is a likable protagonist, so it’s really too bad that the storyline she’s dropped into feels so disjointed. The plot approaches entertaining so many times, but falls just short, like Aveline missing that whip jump at the end of Scenario 4 OVER AND OVER AGAIN WHAT THE HELL WHO PROGRAMED THIS. Uneven, often laughable voiceovers seal the deal.

The Persona system has Aveline switching between three guises: Assassin, which allows her full use of all sorts of stabbers, slicers, and cool hats; Slave, which excels in stealth but can only use light armaments; and Lady, which sucks at climbing, attacking, and staying alive, but excels at sucking. It reminds me of Final Fantasy V’s job system in that it’s meant to give the player more and varied tools to work with. But in practice, it’s more like the job system from Final Fantasy X-2, in that it’s a terrible abomination on par with your Christmas stocking stuffed with rocks and snot.

Then there’s the bayou, where approximately 7,000 percent of this game takes place. I really hope you like nondescript trees and vines, because if you’re looking to play more than just the main missions, you’ll be seeing a lot of them.

The HD version of the game, released on PS3 and Xbox 360, looks and plays well, but the title’s portable origins are inescapable. The lack of variety and short story are forgivable when staring down at a PS Vita, but on the big screen, it’s a lot less justified.

But you know what? Liberation gets a bad rap. It manages to be an entertaining experience despite its many flaws. While a bit shorter than your average Assassin’s Creed title and more reliant on nonsensical collectables to pad the experience, it’s a competent game and a worthy addition to the series.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Release Date: 10/2013. Available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, Wii U, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

Assassin’s Creed makes the jump to next-gen hardware, and boy, does it look great. The Caribbean setting is a sight to behold, with warm waves crashing against lonely beaches and sand so realistic you can almost feel it in between your toes.

Remember stoic Assassin’s Creed III protagonist Conor Kenway and his asshat dad, Haytham? Well get ready to meet grandpa! Back in the day, Capt. Edward Kenway was but a lowly, potentially flatulent pirate, getting drunk, sailing about, and searching for sweet, sweet booty.

Dat booty, doh.

Anyway, Capt. Kenway runs into all manner of scumbags like Blackbeard, Calico Jack, and a bunch of other arr-seholes, and promptly stabs them all to death like any good psychopath would. The pirate first dons hidden blades after he steals them from a real assassin, but over the course of 80 or so hours of fun and varied gameplay, he comes to uphold the Assassin’s Creed for the greater good.

Unlike ACIII, Capt. Kenway has full control over his ship and crew, heading from island to island, causing trouble, and generally just bein’ a pirate. With sailing so fully integrated into the Black Flag experience, ACIII’s linear naval missions look like child’s play in comparison.

As per Ubisoft law, all the fun of adventuring often comes to a screeching halt in favor of the world’s greatest office simulator. From a gloriously underwhelming first person perspective, the player wanders around what’s obviously a video version of Ubisoft, looking for something, or whatever. I don’t even know, but the perspective really makes me wish my unnamed character was holding a rocket launcher or doing anything even remotely interesting.

Maybe it’s the Caribbean setting – I’ve always been a sucker for anything that reminds me of summertime – or maybe it’s the fact that Black Flag was my first Assassin’s Creed game, but I could sail the seven seas with Capt. Kenway any day.

This game is yo, ho, ho and a bottle of FUN. Yeah, I just cringed too. Get over it.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Freedom Cry. Release Date: 2/2014. PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and PC

Capt. Kenway’s former shipmate, freed slave Adéwalé, takes the helm in this standalone expansion for Assassin’s Creed IV.

Running on the same engine as Black Flag, there’s not much different between the two titles. While ACIII’s Tyranny of King Washington featured expectation-shattering animal powers, and Liberation was a short-but-legitimate game unto itself, Freedom Cry can be completed in an afternoon.

Players might remember Adéwalé’s seemingly hasty exit from the original ACIV, and this is the reason why. Honestly, Adéwalé is a strong enough character to warrant his own game, but this bite-sized offering just isn’t enough. I think I’d rather he stuck around in Black Flag and have had Freedom Cry focus on someone else, like Capt. Kenway’s daughter, former Coca-Cola mascot Max Headroom, or Fonzie from Happy Days.

Freedom Cry is not bad overall, but it’s also not worth the $15 asking price. What I DO find entertaining is saying Adéwalé. Adéwalé, Adéwalé, Adéwalé. Come on, say it out loud.

I knew you’d like it.


Next time, Assassin’s Creed says goodbye to the Americas and hello to the City of Lights.

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