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Assassin's Creed IV Gets Closer to the Heart

Cari Scholtens | 28 Oct 2013 19:00
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In making the player into the main character, it will likely mean that there will be no voice acting to represent the player. Since the experience will be first-person, we will rarely, if ever, actually see ourselves. Ubisoft is undoubtedly going to try to create a blank slate out of our main character so that we can project ourselves onto it. In doing so, however, they may create a slate that's too blank. Even though the intent is that we are the main character, without a voice, face or any other distinguishing characteristics, there's a very real risk of making the player feel completely disconnected from the character they play. Imagine if the already-voiceless Gordon Freeman's appearance had never been revealed. We probably wouldn't connect with him so much and care so much about him if we couldn't picture him in our minds. It doesn't take much. Just a glimpse, in fact, but a glimpse can be quite necessary.

In making a storyline like this, Ubisoft is playing Russian roulette with our escapist desires. Humans have a certain hunger for escapism. From time to time, all of us want to be someone else. See "The Stranger" by Billy Joel. We thirst to be someone exciting and charismatic and adventurous. I sincerely doubt that a cubicle drone is the image that most of us would connect with these ideals. Without a sense that we are being someone else, this storyline will be lackluster...and that's speaking conservatively. Coming home from your job to go to your other job at Abstergo may feel slightly less adventuresome than gamers would have wished. Kenway could fill the void, but if he's anything like Connor or Altair, we could be in for a long, emotionally flat haul.

Finally, I raise an eyebrow to Ubisoft's decision to make the player go back and forth from third to first person when the Kenway storyline will have so many new features of its own. Just when the player gets used to those features, in comes the right hook of present-day, first-person paranoia and corporate espionage that will turn the entire game on its head. The game could go from painfully mundane and confusing to exciting yet repetitive very quickly if this switch is made too often. Certainly there have been other games that offer both first and third person, but the key word there is "offered." When we are yanked from the world of pirate assassins back into the world of our tiny yet futuristic cubicle, it could make the player feel as though their boss has just caught them playing a game and forced them to get back to work. Never in a game have I experienced such a drastic and involuntary perspective shift and I know that I and other players like me could be feeling the whiplash from it.

At the end of the day, all this debate comes down to the role of a protagonist and just how hard it is to create one that stands out. People like seeing a bit of themselves in the characters they play. Whether it's the devil-may-care attitude of Nathan Drake, the irreparable past of John Marston, the tragic flaws of Cole Phelps, or the dogged self-reliance of a little girl like Ellie, we can see a tiny glimmer of ourselves shine through. This small connection gives us an anchor to the gaming world, while simultaneously giving us a workable realm in which to play. Without a goal, there is no game, and without a protagonist there is no goal. Ubisoft has a wonderful opportunity here. If they do this right, they can create something that will stay with the player long after the game is shut off. They can create something that will make us examine ourselves, our relationships, and the way we go about our daily lives. They have a chance to create not only a game, but a gaming experience.

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