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.

Ubisoft is Interested in Buying THQ

The ongoing financial situation plaguing THQ Games has been well documented, and recently resulted in such actions as the company hosting a prolific, and somewhat successful, humble bundle sale, but still ultimately filing for bankruptcy and selling their assets to the Clearlake Capital Group for $60 million. It’s a sad situation not only for the employees of THQ, but for gamers as well, as THQ still has quite a few high quality franchises to its name, including “Metro”, the WWE games, “Darksiders”, “Company of Heroes”, “Warhammer”, and “Saints Row”. Now, though, the future of those titles, and more, is cast in serious doubt even as THQ seemingly remains active for the moment.

However, some hopeful news has emerged from the whole matter recently, as there is a rumor that Ubisoft is seriously interested in buying the properties of THQ. While the early reports suggest they will be waiting until THQ is a little more certain (and, frankly, desperate) that they will be selling their properties in order to get a better price, Ubisoft has been clear with their interest in the assets should they have the opportunity.

“We are always interested in good brands.” Says Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot, “For sure, it’s something we can consider, but I can’t tell you more.”

While the option is out there for Ubisoft to snatch certain titles, it’s looking more likely they will be eyeing the entire line up. From an outside perspective, this would be a real win, win for all parties if the buyout happens, as it would not only save the reeling developer, but Ubisoft would add some substantial games to its already stacked repertoire. For gamers who are interested in THQ’s titles, there couldn’t be a better interested buyer than Ubisoft, as the two company’s philosophies concerning quality development are very similar, and Ubisoft has proved to be one of the most consistent developers and publishers of the last decade.

As bad as this whole ordeal has been for THQ, it’s good to know that it may not be game over for the company just yet.

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Ubisoft Montreal: “3D is to pictures what Dolby Stereo was to sound”

James Cameron's Avatar.Three-dimensional imaging has come a long way since the days of cardboard glasses. Now we can get incredible depth out of images that could previously only come out of the screen, not recede into it. When it releases on December 18th, James Cameron’s Avatar is set to become the pinnacle of 3D achievement to date, a milestone Ubisoft hopes can make some money.

Ubisoft created the video game version of Cameron’s vision. Avatar: The Game, which releases today, puts the player in the same 3D world, with one major restriction. You need a 3D TV. Otherwise you’ll just get two-dimensional version like every other game. I’m going to go ahead and guess the game is terrible in terms of play, but probably pretty cool if you’ve got the 3D rig to support it. Ubisoft, like many others, is banking on that cool factor to make 3D games the next big thing.

“3D is to pictures what Dolby Stereo was to sound. No one wants to go back to mono.” That’s from the head of Ubisoft Montreal, Yannis Mallat. In a sense, I think he’s right, but there is a glaring difference between the progression from mono to stereo and 2D to 3D: the glasses. I’m not trying to be a luddite here, but I think 3D has a ways to go before I’ll be enticed to put on the glasses to watch or play something in my home. It just isn’t practical yet. Where Dolby Stereo could almost immediately be appreciated, I would guess 3D still has a decade before serious adoption, from both consumers and film-makers/developers. There just isn’t enough hardware to support the medium.

According to the Financial Post, Ubisoft wouldn’t have made Avatar if it didn’t think people would someday purchase 3D TV sets. So let me get that straight – you developed a 3D game that next to no one will see because someday people will own 3D TVs? And they’ll still want to be playing Avatar when that day comes? Huh. The movie must be a whole lot better than I expect.

Source: Financial Post

Penguin to publish Assassin’s Creed novel

Assassin's Creed Ezio flying through the air.Alongside this month’s release of Assassin’s Creed 2, Ubisoft has partnered with Penguin Books to bring us a novel based Ezio’s escapades. Assassin’s Creed: Renaissance will release on November 26th, roughly a week after the game launches.

“This partnership presents at last a way for traditional book-publishing to cross-over with the ever growing and increasingly exciting world of gaming media,” said Penguin editorial director Alex Clarke. I’m not sure what “at last” means in this situation. There have been books based on game franchises for quite a while now.

The description from Amazon is just as over the top as you would expect:

‘I will seek Vengeance upon those who betrayed my family. I am Ezio Auditore da Firenze. I am an Assassin…’ Betrayed by the ruling families of Italy, a young man embarks upon an epic quest for vengeance. To eradicate corruption and restore his family’s honour, he will learn the art of the assassins. Along the way, Ezio will call upon the wisdom of such great minds as Leonardo Da Vinci and Niccolo Machiavelli – knowing that survival is bound to the skills by which he must live. To his allies, he will become a force for change – fighting for freedom and justice. To his enemies, he will become a threat dedicated to the destruction of the tyrants abusing the people of Italy. So begins an epic story of power, revenge and conspiracy. Truth will be written in blood.

Now imagine reading that for 528 pages. I don’t know that I would make it through.

Assassin’s Creed 2 Shares A Tale We Know Too Well

Assassin's Creed 2.As happens time and time again to the PC versions of multi-platform games, the PC version of Assassin’s Creed 2 will be delayed. All console versions of the game will still release on time, November 17th.

The news was delivered via Ubisoft’s Twitter page as such:

Assassin’s Creed 2 PC has moved to the first quarter of 2010. A bit more time for the dev team to deliver the best quality game to you.

That’s all well and good, but it’s certainly disappointing. The PC version of the first title was a bit of a mess, so maybe it’s for the best.

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