Reach Among Assassins: Anniversary Sword Deception

Sure, there’s been many weeks of non-blogging, but that’s not to say that there’s not been many games played at The Moobaarn… quite the opposite, in fact. In between festival shows and acting classes and 80’s Brat Pack film sessions, I’ve been squeezing in Silly Season games wherever possible.

So welcome to this brain-dump. All signs point to it being a mess.

Let’s start with the easy stuff, first: I’m now a Field Marshall in Halo: Reach – with only 579,000 cRedits required to my next rank bump! Oh Reach, you’ll be the death of me.

Alongside the Reach Dailies, I’ve been trying to regularly squeeze in a couple of games of Uncharted 2 multiplayer… and I feel compelled to say that I’m really quite enjoying it. The twenty-odd-thousand people still playing online seem to be remarkably similar in ability – certainly compared to (say) Reach, or even Uncharted 3. There seem to be kills available for everyone, with the best players (everyone else) maybe only doubling the kill-count of the lowly (i.e., me). And I think the relatively even playing field makes it a bit more fun to play right now, as opposed to its sequel – I popped on for my second session of Uncharted 3 multiplayer and was quite soundly trounced, despite ranking up a couple of levels (I’m up to 12 and 6, respectively. A long way to go!)

I also pottered through my second playthrough (on Normal) of Uncharted 2‘s campaign. And, I have to admit, it was a touch more enjoyable on that run – though the emotional leaps-of-faith the game wants the player to take are still absurd (let’s all shed a tear over the team-killing Nazi who we’ve known for five minutes). And with that completed, I started my second playthrough of Uncharted 3… and, again, was disappointed.

I have to admit that it’s kind of satisfying (in a self-validation kind of way) to see some of the (admittedly soft) backlash against Uncharted 3. The game seems to be walking a fine line between game-of-the-year and starting-to-creak; criticism is rife. My favourite analysis was Michael Abbott’s piece over on Brainy Gamer (which also has a great podcast); truthfully, I’m a bit pissy about it, because I had ten half-coherent lines written that have been rendered pointless by Abbott’s far more eloquent take on things.

Abbot’s central assertion – “playing Uncharted 3 is less about watching a film than shooting a film” – is pretty much beyond dispute. But my contention is that, with the game trying to act like a movie director, with the player reduced to the role of an actor (or, more appropriately, a stuntman), there’s an implicit limitation to the freedom on offer; as my acting coach tells me, the writer fucking hates it when an actor drifts off script.

But what other options are available to the gaming world if we chase the action-movie trope? The player cannot be the director in an interactive storytelling experience; after all, we’re all griefers at heart. You can imagine the YouTube clips of Drake leaving Elena to die, hot-footing away with Chloe at the first available opportunity… it’s impossible to constrain the player, and yet still make them feel in complete control of a rolling storyline. There’s no real answers out there at the moment, but I’m pretty certain – despite all the plaudits – that Naughty Dog have done pretty much the best they can do within that style of narrative… it’s just that they’ve chosen a dead-end path.

And I’m buggered if I know what the “right” path forward is.

But back to the actual game for a moment: despite the slick presentation (a noticeable improvement on Uncharted 2, with the exception of less in-game tweaking options… maybe a consequence of the tighter storytelling control?), it’s still an experience that’s story first, gameplay second. But at least Naughty Dog put some effort into melding the narrative and interactivity together…

…which is more than what can be said of Assassin’s Creed. After much good-natured goading from a dear friend, I finally decided to see what this series is all about – and, not being the kind of person who can start a series halfway through, I bit the bullet and launched straight into the original, knowing full well its reputation for being an occasionally glitchy grind.

What I wasn’t prepared for, though, was the extent of the grind.

Now, I love a good grind, I really do, but Assassin’s Creed takes it to new levels. The game itself has some glorious gameplay – all half-an-hour of it. Seriously. Within half-an-hour, you’ve seen all the glory on offer. There’s some wonderful, free-flowing combat and counters and running; it’s genuinely exciting running around knifing people, and even when an attempt at a stealth kill fails and you become surrounded by a cluster of enemies, the rhythmic RT-X bounce eventually kills them all with little thought.

But that half-an-hour of fun? You’re repeating it another sixty times. And every time you hear a rescued civilian say “another minute and they’d have made off with me” in a rotten English accent, you start wondering whether you’re on the right team or not. Of course, the game’s plot likes to suggest that, too… but I’ve never – ever – felt more divorced from a game’s storyline. Plot is purely injected through awkward cutscenes, with absolutely no attempt to engage the player through the gameplay. I dreaded the cutscenes, watching them only through duty, and feeling painfully bored throughout. But then it was back into the game for another half-hour of bliss like the last one…

Still, Assassin’s Creed was only on The List for a grand total of eight days, so that’s reasonable enough… but I doubt I’ll be firing it up again anytime soon. And I highly recommend that anyone thinking of playing it not plan on speeding through it… for that way frustration lies.

With Assassin’s Creed all wrapped up, I waited anxiously for the release of Halo: Anniversary; the original Halo holds a very special place in my heart, and I was really looking forward to sinking my teeth back into it.

Why, then, have I barely touched it?

I don’t know, I really don’t. I started a Normal game (just to get back into the groove of the levels), and pushed through the first through levels in quick order… but at the beginning of “Truth and Reconciliation”, I just turned it off. I didn’t want to face that night-sniping cliff-face crawl, followed by the bastard Belly of the Beast battle, followed by the fight through the Covenant craft… it all felt a bit too daunting.

Luckily, the rest of my life saved me from worrying about it too much… and then the latest Zelda game was released, closing out my Silly Season.

Now – first impressions of Skyward Sword were not great. Yes, the graphics really are lovely, the controls take a bit of re-learning before regaining their familiar efficacy, but dear god it’s a slow opening (something I also mentioned when I wrote about Twilight Princess five years ago). But here’s the good bit: I’ve now played twelve-and-a-half hours, and I’ve only just reached the second dungeon.

So there goes all my credibility as a gamer.

Truth be told, I’ve had a ton of fun just piss-farting around: I’m constantly leaving my current task to see if any other side-quests have opened up. I’m constantly returning to the Skyloft hub to watch hint movies for tasks I’ve already completed! Now, it’s not smooth sailing yet: I’ve yet to figure out how to collect bugs effectively, I barely made it through the first boss fight with one heart intact, and Skulltulas are my most feared enemy… but I’m through the boring stuff. I can sense the good stuff to come. And I’m bloody loving it.

So get ready for six weeks of Skyward Sword updates ;)

3 thoughts on “Reach Among Assassins: Anniversary Sword Deception”

  1. Wow, you’ver really got your mojo back! Congrats!

    Assassin’s Creed… got 1&2, never touched them, putting them on eBay tonight, if I’ve got time.

    Halo… only one I’ve liked is ODST (which I loved). Reach annoyed the piss out of me so I got rid of it. Halo 1… I started that and it seemed good, then lent it to someone who died. So I haven’t got it any more, and I don’t know whether to take that as an omen. But playing it again with Achievements… hmmm, could happen.

    I’ve actually been getting stuck into Alpha Protocol, and I’m absolutely loving it despite itself. It’s clunky and flawed, and yet STILL awesome. I’ve never played a game that puts you in the role of spy which gets the intrigue so right. I’m really looking forward to see how it pans out… although, really, that’s going to be down to me…

  2. Cheers, Paul – but it had been three weeks since my last post, so I’d expect to squeeze the odd game in… ;)

    How about you, matey? Got the eye back in yet, or is your nose still to the grindstone?

    One of the Giant Bomb guys got stuck into Alpha Protocol too, and their discussion of it reminds me of their feelings for Deadly Premonition – which I know you tinkered with, and which I’d love to give a bash… eventually.

    By all means, pick up Halo: Anniversary… but be aware that, a decade on, some of the level design can feel… well, dated. Still a bloody brilliant game, mind you…

  3. I’m cracking on mate… need to do more on the blog front, although I’m putting stuff in there from time to time. Gonna be easing off on the weekend work, so should have a bit more time. I’ve got something quite nice coming up related to the Braybrook stuff… hopefully on Christmas Day… plus a Twelve Games of Christmas giveaway. Mostly PC/Steam games. I’m too good to my readers/Twitter followers. Plenty of plans for more blog stuff too, I’m certainly not giving it up any time soon.

    I’m really enjoying Alpha Protocol. Most pro reviewers slag off the action gameplay, but I’m not bothered because I’m rubbish at that sort of game, usually. Here, it doesn’t matter so much, and the meat of the story, the intrigue, dialogue and interplay between characters, is done better than I’ve ever seen in a game.

    I’ll pick up Halo Anniversary once it hits 15 quid. And Deadly Premonition is awesome despite its PS2-ness… again, the rest of the game is unique and thoroughly intriguing.

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