A New “Assassin’s Creed” or: When 3 and 4 Don’t Add Up

So before my mind spins out of control, let me make sure everyone is on the same page.

As previously rumored, there will be an “Assassin’s Creed IV”. It is officially called “Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag,” and it sees you taking control of renowned pirate Captain Edward Kenway, who will be your assassin this evening.

In it, you’ll wield up to four guns, captain your own ship (complete with upgrades), spend almost half of the game at sea, lead daring attacks on enemy ships, survive storms, engage in multiplayer, meet historical pirate figures, somehow “play as yourself” in the new modern day segments, harpoon whales (which PETA is already having issues with), and fulfill your land lover duties in cities ranging from pirate havens to Havana, Cuba and 50 overall various locations.

One would assume you’ll also assassinate a templar or two, unless this series has decided that it’s now yo ho ho, a bottle of rum, and the pirates life for it.

Now how is all of this, and more, known in roughly just 24 hours’ time? Because Ubisoft told us of course. They released the details, concept art, and even a trailer, which, in typical “Assassin’s Creed” fashion, is jaw dropping.

Oh, and there is one other thing. It’s coming out this year. As in the 2013 calendar year.

Ubisoft is insisting though that this is not a quick cash in attempt, and instead a true continuation of the series. You may have gathered this by that spiffy IV in the title, which sources tell me usually numerically follows the III seen in the previous “Assasin’s Creed” game, thus confirming Ubi’s claims,but the real evidence comes from the fact that Ubisoft has reported this game has been in development since 2011.

Let’s go back to those numbers for a second shall we? “Assassin’s Creed III” came out in 2012, and “Assassin’s Creed IV” has been in development since 2011, also known as the same year  “Assassin’s Creed: Revelations” came out.

That’s three “Assassin’s Creed” games in 3 years, not counting mobile ports, two of which are claiming to be full fledged sequels, all of which were logically at some point in the works at the same time, which even if they were being handled by different staff and teams, is a hell of a lot of different manpower spread thin over a short period of time on one franchise.

Something smells rotten here, and it’s not a case of scurvy.

I wouldn’t normally be upset at this much “Assassin’s Creed” but, “Assassin’s Creed III” is only a handful of months old, and the promotional blitzkrieg of advertisements that preceded it, as well as the amazing sales figures that it resulted in is still very fresh. I also remember buying into the hype, and buying the game as well.

What I especially can’t forget though is the distinct impression that I was playing half of a game. “Assassin’s Creed III” was filled with incomplete ideas and half assed execution to spare, chocking the life out of the things that made it genuinely impressive and creatively exciting. I remember the distinct feeling that I was playing a game that peaked early in the concept stages, and slacked off for the rest of its development time. For the life of me though, I couldn’t understand how it happened.

It’s all a little clearer now though, and a hell of a lot more disturbing. “Assassin’s Creed III” didn’t feel like the game it should have been, and now we’re already gearing up for “Assassin’s Creed IV.” So what was “Assassin’s Creed III” then?

Was it a preview of what was to come as the surprisingly expansive naval aspects suggested?

Was it an enhanced spin off masquerading as a full-fledged sequel for higher sales figures?

And what does that make “Assassin’s Creed IV”? Is it an apology? The true sequel all along? Or was it in fact originally the spinoff now taking the mantle as a sequel because it got the true development attention during all this time?

I hate to have to ask these questions, but when you’re dealing with such questionable practices what else could there be?

I’m left with nothing but questions as to why Ubisoft is releasing “Assassin’s Creed” installments like they are Madden titles. How can they release a clearly half finished “Assassin’s Creed III” and then expect everyone to keep a straight face while having to swallow a game that is at best an apology or the “real sequel”, and at worst a cash in attempt to milk both the massive user bases of the current gen consoles as well as attack the eager wallets of the soon to be early adopters of the next generation as well when this game hits PS4?

Like I said, none of this would matter had “Assassin’s Creed III” felt like everything it could be, and a game that got the full attention it deserved. It didn’t in either case.

So while, everything shown so far about “Assassin’s Creed IV” shows a great looking game, and is one that is certainly exciting based on early impressions alone, considering those were my exact feelings about “Assassin’s Creed III” , which only left me feeling half full, should I prepare to drop another $60 on “Assassin’s Creed IV” to chance filling that void?

Nah. At this rate I’ll just wait for “Assassin’s Creed V”, no doubt under way now and scheduled for 2014.

When and Where the new “Assassin’s Creed” Should Take Place

Not surprisingly considering the truckload of money the series continues to make, Ubisoft has announced there will be a new “Assassin’s Creed” for 2014. What is surprising is that it will be developed by new design teams, feature a new hero, and take place in a different time period.

That last one is particularly interesting considering the amount of miles that the publisher got out of the renaissance era Italy setting of “Assassin’s Creed II,” and the big news that was the third taking place in the new (and rarely seen in gaming) era of the American revolution. The question now is, where (or more appropriately, when) will gamers get to free run and eliminate their targets next?

I’ve got a few time periods on my wishlist, but just for fun’s sake, I’m ignoring the progressive chronological order of the series so far, and just picking some of the best time periods available for the franchise

Victorian Era London 1837-1901

Could London be calling for “Assassin’s Creed?”

There could be worse options for sure, as the Victorian Era is both one of the most stylized periods consistently featured in pop culture (and a big inspiration for steampunk worlds), and a genuinely interesting historical time that featured a melding of two different time eras, resulting in unique architecture, technology, and people. Not to mention the series preference to include historical figures could have you interacting with everyone from Charles Dickens to Jack the Ripper.

In many ways this would be a logical, and welcome, next step for the franchise.

Feudal Japan 1185-1603 (Roughly)

It would definitely violate the chronological story progression up until this point, but may be worth it.

The feudal Japan era is one of the most romanticized yet brutal periods in world history, and has the added benefit of not quite being overplayed yet in the world of video games. Featuring two of the most prolific and exciting warrior types of all time (samurais and ninjas), as well as the potential of siding with several warring clans “Yojimbo” style, depending on the exact time period, feudal Japan could feature a nice mix of styles and weaponry as well as provide plenty of opportunities for memorable moments.

American Industrial Revolution 1760-1840

If Ubisoft is looking for a new time period, but not a new setting entirely, this might be the best way to go.

The big draw of the industrial revolution is all of the new technology that could be incorporated into the series, but the time period itself was also noteworthy for the effects it had on society and social mentalities of the people. Ubisoft could  incorporate the prolific plight of the average working man in this new, exciting, yet often challenging time and create a story both unique to gaming, and genuinely noteworthy if they play it right.

Chinese Ming Dynasty 1368-1644

“Assassin’s Creed III” surprised nearly everyone by taking place in the rarely seen American revolution. “Assassin’s Creed IV” could do the same by visiting Ming Dynasty China.

This time period had everything you could want for a dramatic tale. Unique weaponry, feuding clans, government corruption, plight, rebellion, rising industry, incredible works of art and design, empires, and much, much more. There is a lot to explore during this time, much of which hasn’t been thoroughly examined by a video game. For sheer potential, this would be my personal favorite way for the series to go, though a dark horse candidate to be sure.

World War I 1914-1918

The only real question is, how far does the series want to go?

Though part of the games do take place in the future, the majority of “Assassin’s Creed” takes place in the pretty distant past. Without fundamentally changing the gameplay to a serious degree, World War I is about as far as you could go, considering the major influence of technology on just about everything past this point. Since some of the best parts of “Assassin’s Creed III” was your involvement in large scale battles, doing the same during the chaotic, often confused battles of WWI would be incredibly intense and provide some of the most uniquely hectic moments seen yet in gaming, all set on a world stage.

Considering the options it presents, “Assassin’s Creed” needs to reach this era at some point, but it’s a matter of when.

2012 Year End Game Review: Matt Byrd

2012 in gaming isn’t a year that is easy to sum up with hyperbole, or one sweeping statement.

It was far from the greatest year in gaming (very, very far), but even still, when I was compiling this list, I had to make some heartbreaking cuts, and felt I was disrespecting some very good games. For every cheap money snatching blockbuster we got this year, we were also gifted with some genuine surprises and accomplished franchise extensions (many of which make up this list). The end result of one step forward and one step back for an entire 12-month period may not have moved gaming ahead, but the constant motion made choosing the best of the year a dizzying experience.

Somehow, though, I was finally able to narrow it down to 10 games that I feel comfortable saying are the best of 2012.

10. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

On the surface, it looks like all there is to “Kingdoms of Amalur” is a standard RPG coat of paint and a souvenir of the high profile closure of “38 Studios.” It’s not the type of game that makes its first impression with its looks, but rather its personality. The game’s speedy free flowing combat system never ceases to be entertaining throughout the very long adventure “Amalur” provides.

An all-star team of developers and outside talent (fantasy great RA Salvatore penned the story) may have been behind “Amalur,” but nothing feels old hat about the game, and it instead comes across as something closer to a fresh faced group of young talent, with heads full of new ideas creating something against the grain. It’s one of the more surprising, and certainly among the most pure fun, releases this year.

9. Xenoblade: Chronicles

If “Amalur” looks standard and done before on the surface, then “Xenoblade” is practically a fossil upon first viewing. It’s a member of the dying JRPG genre, and was featured on the outdated Nintendo Wii, which would normally spell either doom or obscurity at best. Yet after a wave of hype from the Japanese market, and several thousand petition signatures later, audiences everywhere were greeted by something that felt like meeting an old friend, and finding out that you have just as much fun with each other as you used to.

“Xenoblade” pays tribute to all of the great JRPG conventions that shaped it, but it just as carefully takes note of all the things that made those game’s grow stale as well, and manages to mold new forms for them so you are left with a game that somehow makes you nostalgic for things you never knew before. Your party becomes your family thanks to a great relationship system, and the character building and combat mechanics keep things fresh as you explore one of the more unique worlds available for the genre all in pursuit of finishing an equally gripping story. The era of JRPGs may be over, but “Xenoblade” reminds us why it had a dynasty in the first place.

8. Sound Shapes

I love new, bold ideas in gaming, and “Sound Shapes” may have been among the newest and boldest this year. It has nothing to do with its basic gameplay either, as “Shapes” traditional 2D side scrolling system is fairly ho-hum. Much like a new “Mario” release though, the real draw doesn’t lie in the mechanics, but rather the design. “Sound Shapes” employs a minimalist graphic style that is charming, but only serves to give substance to the soundtrack that defines the experience. Several different musical artists contributed to the music (and the design) of the levels, and as a result we are provided one of the first games since the brilliant “Rez” that feels like an organic and physical product of the soundtrack. It’s more of an interactive soundtrack than a fully loaded video game, but it’s artistic value is unquestionable, and I wouldn’t want to know the person who couldn’t have fun with it.

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Assassin’s Creed III Is Set for Big Sales Numbers

It’s weird to remember the time when “Assassin’s Creed” wasn’t relevant, but when the first title in the series was released, few found themselves enamored with the  young series. That would change, of course, with “Assassin’s Creed II” which is widely considered to be one of the greatest games of its generation, and would propel the franchise into the stratosphere where it finally settled in the pantheon of true Triple-A caliber videogame series.

It’s a real money in the bank title to be sure, and the upcoming “Assassin’s Creed III” is looking to continue that trend in a big way. As reported by joystiq.com, Assassin’s Creed III is officially the most pre-ordered game in the company’s history.  The exact figure wasn’t made available at this time, but it is more than double the pre-orders of the previous installment in the series, “Assassin’s Creed: Revelations.” Tony Bartel, President of Gamestop, is already touting that Assassin’s Creed III is on track to become the best selling game of this year.

Even with the series more recent expansions (“Brotherhood” and “Revelations“) “Assassin’s Creed” is a series that doesn’t rest on its laurels and is constantly coming up with new ways to reinvent itself, and refresh the experience. With its new gameplay additions (like naval battles), the entirely unique American Revolution setting, a new protagonist, some fantastic ad campaigns, and enough E3 Awards and gushing hands on previews to make lesser games weep, the true next installment in the series looks to continue that tradition of excellence.

It also may be the only game left in the calendar year that has a shot of dethroning “Dishonored” for unanimous game of the year consideration (although, right now “XCOM“, “Journey“, or “Kingdoms of Amalur” has my personal vote), and I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one that can’t wait to find out if it will when it is released on October 30th.

When Too Many Great Games is a Bad Thing

Fun Fact: There are only three months out of the year.

If you’re saying duh right now, then you must be a major video game developer.

This week brings us the highly anticipated releases of both “XCOM: Enemy Unknown” and “Dishonored.” While two Triple-A incredible games in one week is usually a cause for celebration, it does highlight one of the problems the industry has where the majority of the best games come out sometime between October and December. Like clockwork, it seems that every year the 4th quarter takes our last dollar.

In a way it’s kind of fun as every single week seems to bring us one great game after another, until the holidays roll around and you hope to suddenly get caught up with the gaming blitzkrieg. In another way, though, it’s a principle that really works best for either people in the industry or kids who still make Christmas lists. For the rest of us, it kind of forces you to suddenly have a lot of free time, and a lot of money just to keep up.

It also hurts games like “XCOM”. “Dishonored” and “XCOM” are both amazing titles, but there’s little doubt that between the two “Dishonored” is the much more appealing title for the mass gaming public. A game like “XCOM” that’s a resurrection of a semi-obscure PC franchise, and features a fairly strict learning curve and about a third of the advertising budget of “Dishonored,” has a much harder road to sales success than is necessary for such a stellar game. When you factor in the upcoming releases of sequels to established franchises like “Halo IV” and “Assassin’s Creed III,” you’re looking at snowball’s chance in hell type prospects.

Maybe a game like “XCOM” coming out in July doesn’t guarantee its financial future, but it would be nice to not have to have to choose between two incredible full price games in the same week, only to have to keep doing so throughout the rest of the year.

So would you rather see big releases spread evenly during the year, or are you a fan of the holiday rush?

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