Assassin's Creed An episodic Epiphany - Games Weekly

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Monday, May 4, 2015

Assassin's Creed An episodic Epiphany

Let’s not beat about the bush here Unity was a damn mess at launch. I played enough of it to know that I wasn’t going to bang my head against game-breaking bugs for meagre payout in terms of satisfaction but luckily, the setting and subject matter (it’s basically a Hollywood retelling of my ancestors’ actual lives) interested me enough that it merely got shelved, waiting for the inevitable patches to make it enjoyable in the right way. Trouble is, the market’s picked up again while Unity has been undergoing treatment and with so many great new games to play that worked from launch, it’s worth adding I can’t see Unity getting a look-in this side of the summer drought.


The lesson? Don’t release your games broken. It’s one that’s been learned the hard way by a few franchises already this generation, and an issue we doubt we’ve seen the last of. The problem lies in the fact that game development is a multi-million-dollar business. At the end of the day, a lot of the firms doing well are putting business first and creatives second budget sheets need to tally up, targets need to be agreed and hit and, as more and more devs are finding, that’s putting pressure on teams to either get to market on time in whatever state it ends up in or to bite the bullet, put artistry first and face the massive costs a delay can bring. It’s a no-win situation as it stands, with the former jeopardising the futures of even some industry heavy weights and the latter putting inevitable financial strains of top teams and possibly even leading to more saddening high-profile studio closures.

Hoods off to Ubisoft, then, for its novel way of addressing this issue, as the Chronicles trilogy seems perfectly placed to do just that. Allow me to explain. Having played the first two parts (China and India), the main thing I took away was just how well the team at Climax has managed to mimic the Assassin’s Creed experience parkour, stealth, strategy and skill all played crucial roles, perhaps more so in this shrunken format than in the somewhat bloated mainline games. So what if Ubisoft no longer needs to rush out its 3D AC titles? What if regular releases of games like Chronicles can fill any down time while the full games get the love they deserve… or at very least, the minimum amount of love required to make a functional product.
“THE CHRONICLES FORMAT IS A PROGRESSIVE WAY TO KEEP FANS HAPPY AND BRAND AWARENESS HIGH”
I’ve not played a huge amount of Chronicles, then, but it’s still enough to know that Climax’s games feel tight and dense, packed with tense situations and different ways to approach or avoid based on time period and character. And it isn’t just gameplay even art styles change between games in Chronicles, something that is near impossible to do on a big annual franchise but which this downloadable game excels at. The Chinese watercolour presentation of the stealth debut, the crisp lines and patterned flourishes of the Prince Of Persia-esque Indian platforming stages, the stark monochrome (save for the odd bold splash of vibrant colour) story of a WWI Russian sniper… these are the kinds of stories we want to hear, games we want to play. And with a simplified approach, they’re stories we can enjoy far more frequently than the all-hands-on-deck triple-A blockbusters that don’t even know what half of the bollocks on their press releases even means most of the time.

The issue is one of boosting longevity and, moreover, of perceived value. Narrative-led games like Assassin’s Creed can only go so far with DLC to extend the lifespan of a product, whereas something like COD could probably get away with releasing one game per generation and financing it long-term with map packs, numerous expansions and cosmetic packs for the hardcore. Pick up a Destiny or Borderlands DLC pack and you’ll run raid bosses over and over in search of loot pick up Freedom Cry for Black Flag and you’re looking at the same kind of total play time that a Battlefield devotee will invest in one sitting alone when a new map pack drops. The Chronicles format is a progressive way to keep fans happy and brand awareness high, and to make the wait for polished mainline sequels that much more easier. It’s also a perfect litmus test for new characters and settings if ten times as many people buy the Russia episode, for instance, we’d see a core series game adopt that as a setting.

I hope Chronicles turns out as good as what I’ve played suggests. We need a new approach of some kind if big IPs are to stay relevant while their dev cycles drag on, and I think this could turn out to be a risky but rewarding play. At very least, I’m glad to see a franchise so entrenched in the tried and true as Assassin’s Creed become the figurehead for a new business model. So whether it works or not, it may at send a sign to developers and publishers the old model doesn’t work anymore, and y’all should probably take note.

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