A good video game is a thing of beauty. It’s engaging and immersive. A good game can carry you away from your worldly woes like little else besides a good book can. A good game is like a friend who will hang out at the drop of a hat, day or night, rain or shine. And like a friend who has overstayed their welcome, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Sometimes you need some distance to make you appreciate a friend all the more. So too with video games.
I am a big Assassin’s Creed fan. If ever there was a game that was in my wheelhouse, AC is it. I imagine some guys at Ubi HQ sitting around a table spit-balling ideas. Translated from the French, the conversation goes more or less like this: “Lets blend age old conspiracy with real world history! Stealth mechanics and parkour with some swordplay and some Inception-level sci-fi weirdness! There’s a dude in San Francisco who’ll buy the crap out of it!” That’s how I imagine the early developer conversations went, considering just how into the series I am. I even like Desmond Miles. That’s how into Assassin’s Creed I am!
So imagine my dismay when last week brought rumours and this week brought confirmation of a fourth (read: sixth. Or like seventeenth if you include mobile content) installment of the franchise so soon after the release of Assassin’s Creed III (or V, or whatever). Okay, it’s been six months since AC went colonial and Desmond’s plot came to a close, but it seems like it was just yesterday that we were getting tomahawk kills and bear hunting in our spoilers. Hell, I don’t even have 100% completion yet! Too soon, Ubi! Too soon!
I guess part of my ambivalence (because I am very excited, just somewhat… staid) is that ACIII… wasn’t that great. I mean, I still enjoyed it immensely, but it felt rushed and thrown together in contrast to the playable art that was the Ezio trilogy, which rocked all the way through (admittedly, I thought it peaked at Brotherhood, but it would have required divine or malefic intervention to top that game). I guess it left me with a sour taste in my mouth
Okay, so Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag isn’t due out until November. But after the last one, I can’t help but feel like maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if it had a little while longer to bake. Now, I understand that the development cycles for III and IV overlapped, but I feel like the franchise can’t bear another mediocre title, and trying doggedly to stick to an “12 months or bust” release schedule is a recipe for disaster. I feel like too often the big publishers are concerned with chugging out flagship titles in quick succession for easy money, than in publishing quality titles on a slightly drawn out timescale (of course, time doesn’t always breed better games. Looking at you Diablo 3. Looking at you right in the gorram eye…). This is especially true of hallowed sportsfranchises like FIFA or Madden, which are rather like Star Trek movies with respect to how often they turn out a decent, or even marginally innovative game.
All in all this is contributing something I’ve taken to calling franchise fatigue–the feeling you get when a beloved franchise starts to feel a little stale, because it’s just too present.
All that said, Black Flag looks frakking awesome! Island exploration? Sea battles? Ship enhancements? The hero is a freaking pirate?! I’ll be in line come November (metaphorically. Thanks Steam), because even on Ubi’s worst day, the AC games are pretty damn great. Assassin’s Creed, why can’t I quit you?