When A Game Is A Sequel In Gameplay - LetMeGetToACheckpoint Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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When A Game Is A Sequel In Gameplay

Nowadays I am playing through BioShock 2 in solidarity with my gaming brethren who are fortunate to play BioShock Infinite.  Despite the name, BioShock 2 is not a narrative successor to the original BioShock aside from occasional references in the audio diaries.  Instead, the game serves as a gameplay sequel.  Leaking and creaking Rapture is reused as a setting and art style but gameplay tweaks show the design process attempting to diverge from the original game.   Security machinery may be hacked from a distance rather than snuck up on, the hacking mini-game is no longer a timed puzzle but a timed button press, the wrench for melee is replaced with a drill, and occasional new splicer and gun types pops up. 

I have finished each console released Assassin's Creed game but I am not paid to play video games.  This is unfair. 

While thinking about games that are sequels in gameplay more so than narrative my thoughts wandered upon the Assassin's Creed franchise.  In Assassin's Creed 3 while swimming across an interminable body of water because I was on the wrong side of an inlet in the never ending frontier I suddenly wondered if the game would be enhanced by having the rowboats, scattered about the shorelines, as a usable vehicle, especially given the fun times in the naval battles.  Suddenly, I remembered that Assassin's Creed 2 featured interactive gondolas for poling around Venice.  

Gameplay evolution goes forward...and back. 

Yes, there is arguably a linking narrative amongst the Assassin's Creed games but especially given the narrative of Assassin's Creed 3 there is no major narrative payoff such as in Mass Effect or even Telltale's The Walking Dead as a series of linked games.  Rather with five games released on the major consoles the Assassin's Creed franchise plays as a series of gameplay mechanic experiments.  Some mechanics have evolved since the franchise's beginning (the good), some mechanics are woefully left behind (the gone but not forgotten), some mechanics are tossed out within the same game that the mechanic is introduced in (the quickly forgotten), and some mechanics stay past their welcome (the oh so very bad).

The Good

In 2007 we witnessed the introduction of Assassin's Creed.  We can argue over whether or not the original game is fun but we loved the premise, a parkouring assassin.  Nowadays the new sheen has long since worn off of the franchise as we have since a yearly release since 2009.  However, games everywhere have now imbued 3D platforming with at least parkouring elements.  Our characters no longer run, jump, and crouch but rather sprint, scramble, climb, and leap.  Multiple heroes mimic Altair/Ezio/Connor's tendency for scooting across ledges with formidable upper body strength such as 2010'2 War in Darksiders, 2010's Gabriel in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, 2012's, the male protagonist in I Am Alive, and 2013's Lara in Tomb Raider. 

The other core gameplay of Assassin's Creed is the assassinating.  Leaping for a hidden blade kill, especially a double, is a thrill that never loses its luster.  Knife based melee is now featured in nearly all video games.  Sure, our first person shooters typically equipped a knife for those up close and personal moments but the AC franchise added flair.  Far Cry 3, another Ubisoft title, provides optional upgrades for knife kills from below or above.

Everyone is scooting while they climb across perilous ledges.  Push ups are a required prerequisite.  

We can complain about the shift towards action gameplay and buggy game releases but the Assassin's Creed franchise if not introduced, then cemented, our heroes shimmying up and down the side of a building or climbing up only to jump down atop of a doomed target.  The Battlefield franchise may wow us with environmental destruction but Assassin's Creed made us stop mid run and wonder, "Can I climb that?"

The Gone But Not Forgotten

If it glows surely we should approach it.  Good rule of thumb. 

For all of its assassinating, the AC franchise also made popular unraveling puzzling conspiracies and brain twisting 3D platforming.  The Truth with its hidden symbols in hard to reach architectural elements and the ensuing puzzles of hidden objects in well-known art pieces that ended with a riddle for how to place your next chess piece against a mysterious opponent was such a fun and whimsical gameplay mechanic of AC 2 and AC: Brotherhood.  The mourning of The Truth's eventual dismissal after AC: Brotherhood based on a narrative twist was balanced by the bigger and bigger hidden tombs in AC: Revelations.  Not even Lara's Tomb Raider reboot challenged the majesty of exploring the Assassin's Creed tombs.  AC: Revelations may have attempted a poor the Truth substitute with puzzle based first person platforming but the visuals, if not the straightforward riddles, of the hidden tombs were well worth exploring. 

Enormous and beautiful hidden tomb or a muddy underground with dripping water?

AC 3's colonial America time period did not include soaring architecture, instead we got the underground, a series of tunnels providing fast travel points within Boston and New York.  I enjoyed exploring the underground and piecing together its brief puzzles and maze like exploration for discovering the fast travel points but ultimately the underground is no comparison for the heights that Altair and Ezio climbed.  The action set pieces of searching for the Captain Kidd artifacts in AC 3 was a series of exciting  and bombastic adventures but few and my mind begins to whirl at all of the available options in AC 3.  The sheer variety of hit and miss gameplay mechanics dilute the overall experience. 

While I understand that the Truth's demise is linked to a narrative that no longer supports the gameplay, the AC franchise is hardly a history book or known for a comprehensive storyline.  I vote for the Truth's return so that I can learn the "truth" about our noble historic heroes.

The Quickly Forgotten 

This game is as fun as it looks. 

There are many obvious nominees for this category from water serving as a one hit death to tower (den) defense to bomb making to gondola poling.  My top nominee is not yet known whether it qualifies in this category but I feel fairly strongly that we shall not see colonial American board games in Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag.  AC 3 provided us largely with an open world free to explore and populated with the usual AC side quests but with some tweaks.  Racing guild assassins became chasing after almanac pages.  Renovating buildings and landmarks became gambling on available past times such as Nine Men's Morris, a board game, and bowls, a bag tossing game.  Connor sitting (or standing) to participate in these games not only felt out of synch with his standoffish personality and his few friends but the games dragged on long after my losing was a forgone conclusion.  Similar to AC: Revelations' bomb making, despite passing by NPCs perpetually waiting for me to request a round of board gaming seemingly around every corner I stood fast and refused to engage.  Fool me once, I will muddle through the board game, fool me twice, and I will turn off the game in order to play a round of real life UNO.

The Oh So Very Bad

Poor horse legs physics are the least of the glitches.  

Over five console releases, horseback riding has only gotten worse.  Outrunning guards as Altair on horseback was a novelty and nearly impossible to simply run if unhappy with the horse riding mechanic.  Horse riding slowly so as not to trample the populace and alert the guards was a tedious stroll.  The transition from Assassin's Creed to Assassin's Creed 2 was a jaw dropping experience of new gameplay.  Swimming!  Giving coins to beggars!  An economy!  Weapon choice!  Horses still had finicky controls that made any obstacles cause a sudden stop or sometimes wildly jump unexpectedly but horses ran with ease across the flat and wide Italian countryside.  AC: Brotherhood brought us the infamous horse whistle to summon our stead at any point in the city of Rome and for all of the immersion in 16th century Rome our horse overpowered all others.   Also, the first time my girlfriend heard the horse whistle she thought the sound was a child screaming. The citizenry scattered like hit marbles whenever the called horse clobbered along the cobblestones.  Horse riding throughout the city resulted in even the most careful equestrian trampling more pedestrians than car driving in Grand Theft Auto. 

The horse called by a young child screaming disappeared in AC: Revelations and was not missed but the horse was only biding its time for a game breaking experience in AC 3.  Colonial America is definitely not the wide open Italian countryside.  Horses glitch on hills, dense vegetation, trees, walls, or suddenly jump (or refuse to jump) until abandoning the horse in favor of the most ancient mode of transportation, running, is more fun than horse riding even when traveling across the entire frontier.  Connor was fleet of foot because colonial American horses were nearly useless.  Naturally AC 3 includes a sequence that requires horse chase that I replayed over and over with a horse timid in the forest. 

The traditional outfit completely hides the modern day assassin.  I wish I had those clothes for the office tomorrow, no one would see me.   

Each iteration to the next, whether deemed good or oh so very bad, the AC franchise is willing to take chances with new gameplay mechanics.  New ideas are tossed as soon as the idea is implemented in favor of a potentially bigger and better idea.  As gamers we enjoy playing new ideas and appreciate that the financial blockbuster allows for the often requested innovation in gaming.  With yearly releases we are concerned that the franchise is fumbling for an identity running hit or miss throughout history.  Thankfully, I feel comfortable that horses are not allowed on pirate ships but board games may be permitted, hopefully UNO.     

Thank you all again for clicking and reading.  I do not always have time to stop and comment but I enjoy reading everyone's blogs and I am glad to set aside the time to add my own contribution.

What is your most memorable moment when you were first introduced to the Assassin's Creed franchise?

Do you have a favorite (or least favorite) Assassin's Creed gameplay mechanic? 

Do you enjoy horseback riding in Assassin's Creed?  What game has good horse riding mechanics?

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