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Calls for more innovation aren’t making better games

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ACU glitch

Like every gamer, I love something new and fresh. I want games to give me unique experiences that are thrilling, inspired, immersive, reflective and most of all, fun. What makes a game those things can vary and I think we can all agree that different genres are expected to offer diverse forms of entertainment. However, studios are being forced to push boundaries on innovation, and it isn’t really helping games.

Sure, I want innovation as much as the next gamer. There was something distinctly satisfying about Assassin’s Creed II’s addition of the upgradeable villa followed by Brotherhood’s ability to call in reinforcements. All of that is excellent evolution of the game that made it worth falling in love with (let’s face it, the first AC game wasn’t really all that great).

As games have grown in size, players expect a lot more. Perfect graphics, massive worlds, compelling stories, deep characters, intuitive and enjoyable combat, plus something distinct that takes it to an all new level. Shadow of Mordor’s nemesis system, Dark Soul’s difficulty, Bloodborne’s lore and story-telling, the gleeful colour and fun of all things Nintendo. There are plenty of unique selling points of games, but not all of the innovation is resulting in better games.

I liked the idea of Watch Dogs – it seemed like the thinking man’s sandbox. But then it was led by the blandest protagonist and they gave him a gun and took away from that unique aspect – the ability to use the environment to cause distractions and move through areas without ever needing a gun.

AC Syndicate stealth

The historian in me who also loves stealth games will naturally be drawn to Assassin’s Creed games. I love seeing the periods come to life and how Ubisoft weaves truth with conspiracy to make the whole Templar vs Assassin fiction fit into real events. However, they really dropped the ball on their first full new generation console attempt – it was a major fail with Unity, in part because they were trying to respond to criticism about taking advantage of the power of the new consoles. You want to see power? How about massive crowds and beautifully replicated buildings! Unfortunately, they lost their focus on actually making the game fun and coherent and the game was a wash.

Now we have seen Syndicate revealed. Our youngest cabbage was saying that he was bored by the reveal, that it all looks like more of the same to him – not enough innovation, nothing new. I can’t help but think that he’s wrong.

Assassin’s Creed doesn’t need more innovation. It needs to return to what made the franchise great. It needs to have fun killing action set in a cool time period with a likeable protagonist… or two. I think including a female playable character will add a lot to the story and the experience – playing as a set of twins is bound to offer some unique opportunities. There are enough new things to make it feel like a valuable addition to the franchise – environmental elements, faster and better movement, changing up some tried and true mechanics, two playable characters – while staying true to what makes Assassin’s Creed a uniquely fun game.

You are all welcome to disagree with me, but I’m honestly looking forward to hiding in hay stacks again, luring baddies to their death. I hope there’s another achievement like the old days of hiding multiple corpses in the same haystack. That’s what made Assassin’s Creed fun for me – it was historically accurate and beautiful enough for me to be impressed, with enough fictional silliness to make it fun. Don’t try to innovate so much this time, Ubisoft. Maybe Syndicate will be “more of the same” in some ways, but you did that with Rogue last year and made one of the better experiences I’ve had with the franchise since ACII and Brotherhood.

Innovation truly isn’t the problem – look at all the successful indies that are just taking old school ideas (and graphics) and doing them really well. It’s about quality delivery on core concepts, not pushing the envelope so far that the game loses its very essence.

Last Updated: May 13, 2015

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