This fall, the assassins are coming.  The holiday season game releases are a busy time and whether or not you are saving your pennies or counting your chickens, if your local retailer permits bartering, for multiple day one releases this year's featured games brings us our choice of assassins.  Stealthily sneaking towards unaware targets for unnoticed but well executed (pun!) deaths while able to dole out pain if caught is no longer the sole domain of ninjas.  Below is my highly opinionated take on three upcoming assassin titles, in order of release date, that guarantee clever take down methods for those of us who enjoy lurking in the virtual shadows.     

Dishonored; release date, October 9, 2012

In full disclosure, I am very excited for this title as promising new IP amidst established franchises.  As a first person shooter augmented with "powers" and set in a turn of the century, steam punk environment comparisons with BioShock are inevitable.  Initially, the play and art style was too much like BioShock that the game came across to me as a simple knock off.  Eventually, I was pulled in by the highly ambitious concept of an open world assassination game that not only features multiple approaches to a target but also includes the option to play as a nonlethal assassin.   An assassin who doesn't assassinate, I'm listening Bethesda.

BioShock's and Dishonored's crossbows share a steam punk vibe but DIshonored's crossbow is travel size. 

As we all have experienced, enticing concepts don't automatically transfer into enjoyable gameplay.   See Bethesda's Brink which surely set records for how fast the title toppled.  The released gameplay footage for Dishonored showcases not merely different approaches but also NPC behavior changing based on the player's play style, beyond guards attacking or not attacking.  For instance, NPCs reacted to the player's possession of other NPCs (in which case no NPC is really an NPC because all characters are playable through possession).  Also, murder disguised as accidents don't raise an alarm whereas a full frontal assault does, as it should.  As a new IP we won't know how the gameplay truly feels and moves until it's at the tips of our fingers. 

Here's hoping that an assassin with morality options (maybe there will be a "stop being an assassin" option) doesn't become the next Star Wars: Kinect; wielding a lightsaber in front of my television seemed like a good idea until I was widely flailing my arms and repeatedly jumping in place ...just like a true Jedi.

The rumbling footfall of BioShock's Big Daddies immediately elicited dread after my first encounter with one, Dishonored's Tall Boys certainly are imposing figures. 

My worry is the gaming balance, in which powers and weapons become a massive arsenal that negates the need for stealth.  By the end of BioShock I felt overpowered which was unfortunate given how instantly the initial Big Daddies took me down.  Also, I am working on the concept of rats as allies.  I keep telling myself that I can turn into a fish!  The gameplay videos convinced me that the title is worth a portion of my paycheck.  We'll see how I feel on October 10, 2012.        


Assassin's Creed III; release date, October 30, 2012

Assassin's Creed: III is nearly assuredly a fall 2012 hit as a numbered entry in the AC franchise worked on in secret by a development team sequestered in an underground bunker for years resulting in hallucinations that they are in the Animus and that Ubisoft is Abstergo.  Not to mention that AC: Liberation for Sony's Vita features a woman of color as the protagonist and a handheld game that closely resembles its console counterpart.  Ubisoft has been busy pushing boundaries and it shows.   

Assassin's Creed, highlighting healthy eating by encasing fruit in gold. 

For my short time in current generation gaming, my history with this franchise is storied.  Whispers of repetitive grinding kept me away from the initial title but once I began playing, I immediately turned it off.  There were no captions in a 2007 release and, for me, no captions makes a game unplayable.  Only UbiSoft's pledge to caption all in-house titles  as a result of the outcry at the game's release brought me back.  I plugged in my FM, maxed out my television's volume, gritted my teeth and tried again but I struggled piecing together the story.  "Golden apple?  Is that what the overly serious hooded man is talking about?  Are other fruits involved?  Platinum grapes?"   

The Alex Ross art featured on the limited steel box for Assassin's Creed III nearly made me preorder the game merely for the steel box then the steel boxes ran out. 

In AC: II and AC: Brotherhood captions provided me with equal story access and I sprinted through the games always wanting to know what happened next.  The story screeched to a halt in AC: Revelations despite its title's claim to be, well, revelatory.  The moment I decided to join Ubisoft on a trip into the rabbit hole that is the AC storyline I knew I was taking a risk but not until AC: Revelations did I believe that Ubisoft isn't in control.  Has anyone else tried to answer a loved one passing through the living room while you game and asking about AC's storyline?  "Well, see, in the modern day Desmond is hooked into a device called the Animus that connects him to his historical ancestors who are engaged in a secret war between the Assassins and Templars.  All of history, and current society, is merely a cover up of the Templars' v. Assassins' war for control of society, including us, right now, they're watching.  I've learned The Truth."  I received no more questions after that. 

In the franchise's annual releases, Ubisoft focused on tweaking gameply until our protagonist became so over laden with weapons that I am surprised he managed to stand upright much less parkour up and down buildings.  Some new gameplay mechanics utterly failed, I crown the first person platforming as the winner of botched game mechanics, but other changes, such as The Truth's puzzles, were addictively fun.  Over time, the assassin part of Assassin's Creed became lost until a single assassin can annihilate entire armies, who have guns.   

I want story progression, nothing featured in AC: III coverage restored my confidence in an actual story underneath the gameplay.  Almost assuredly, AC: III will be celebrated by critics and fans.  Equally assuredly, I will buy it but only after the price drop.   


Hitman: Absolution; November, 20, 2012

To be fair, I've never played a Hitman title.  I understand the series to be about a bald assassin in a shiny suit with a distinctive barcode tattoo on the back of his head.  Presumably, franchise lore explains the barcode and why the tattoo doesn't result in instant recognition whenever he steps out of his house without a hat.  Yet, a story is a story, Ezio isn't automatically identified no matter how brightly colored I've had the tailor dye his pretentious outfit.  My interest in Hitman: Absolution piqued in GI's Test Chamber: Hitman: Sniper Challenge featuring the mini game included as a preorder bonus.  I love sniping and assassinating and even well tailored suits.  I counted my dollars considering the preorder.

I downloaded the demo for Hitman: Blood Money.  The game didn't age well.  I couldn't get a handle on the controls and the language surprised me.  Nearly all of my games are M rated but the language felt unnecessary.  However, I liked the idea; assassinations, hiding the body, sneaking, disguises, etc...

Then, you may know what I am about to say next, the trailer hit.  You know the one, it features women dressed as nuns and dominatrix outfits assaulting our bald hero who provides a brutal beating.  I cringed while watching the trailer. 

The supposed in-game conflict regarding The Saints. 

My working hours are spent knee deep in identity politics assessing cases of discrimination.  I wade through cases in which whether intentionally or unintentionally an individual or company in a position of power harmed another due to discriminatory behavior.  In my off time, I play a wide assortment of mostly M rated games.  I've no inherent concern with general violence or controversial matter.  In this instance, the trailer and it's follow up explanation of a gang dubbed "The Saints" who are women recruited from strip clubs and prisons simply reinforces biased stereotypes and acceptance of violence against women. 

Perhaps the only way to make the barcode head tattoo even more visible.

The male hero has a body covering well tailored suit (and even a band aid that is going to hurt coming off) while the all woman gang in dominatrix leather and fetish religious garb are single handily and viciously killed.  This is a cheap move meant to titillate and then a scurry for cover under the guise of "it's only a game."  Even the in-game "protest" ends with "See you at the club on Sunday" in which the developer's potential self awareness evaporates in a haze of "we're only joking."  Jokes made from a position in power at the expense of those without power are not funny. 

I recognize that if I extrapolated this thinking I could encompass nearly all games as well as all avenues of entertainment as perpetuators of institutional discrimination and prohibit myself from them all in a righteous indignation.  All I can do, as we all do, is to make my individual choices the best I can.  Personally, I will leave the Hitman franchise behind. 

This fall's available gaming options suit a range of tastes for how gamers want to approach stealthy gameplay this fall.  My preference is obvious.  Have an opinion?  Feel free to share. 

I will see you all in the blog comments this week. 

Until next time, keep on gaming.