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Why Blaming AC’s Story-Gameplay Dissonance On “Memories” Doesn’t Work

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Leo K's picture
Leo K
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Joined: 12/30/2009

Memories being Memories in AC games, and their contents being "what happened" is only the case because Assassin’s Creed is fundamentally a videogame. This means its narrative is working with the constraints or expectations of the medium, videogames. Expectations in this case being: Oh, it’s a videogame, so that means I, as the player, should be murdering enemies.

Asking the question, “Well, are you saying what happens in Memories isn’t canon?!” is refusing to look at the consequences of this fact. Firstly, Memories are malleable and the Animus interprets most of them loosely anyway. The amount of guards killed by an Assassin is something that’s gameplay first, story second, otherwise a player would Desynchronize if they didn’t walk the exact sequence of steps that the character they’re synced with did. Ubisoft decides what Full Syncs to put in and Ubisoft decides what Objectives to put in. Any mission that doesn't have “kill X guards” as either an Objective or a Full Sync is COMPLETELY at the hands of the player, and the kind of Assassin they wish to be roleplaying as. No mission should have this as a rigid objective, even if it allows you to do it as an available player-Verb. Allowing a player to play one way and forcing them to play that way are different things.

Even something as simple as some dialogue saying, “Look, I know they’re guards, and they’re in your way. But they are merely in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Much like the innocents we stay our blades from. The only difference between them is that they have weapons and they might try to stop us," would be enough.

That solves this to a far greater degree than some people would be willing to give it credit for! It puts much more of the onus on the player. You want to kill? Go nuts. Now it just doesn’t reflect so much on the game as it does on you.

The caveat is that in order for this to happen, Ubisoft needs to take Non-Lethal gameplay seriously. This means giving the player genuine Non-Lethal tools, options, opportunities and verbs. Serious stealth games allow for this in their moment-to-moment gameplay. Assassin’s Creed does not, not beyond crude stone-age stealth tools like Smoke Bombs, an On-Player Distraction (Whistle) and the Choke-Out.

Remember: The narrative and its implications are at the mercy of the medium it’s being told in. Assassin’s Creed is a videogame, and the expectation that the player should be killing hundreds of enemies in a videogame is holding it back from having its gameplay-narrative integration. Dishonored allows its players to go Non-Lethal for the entire game. Metal Gear allows its players to go Non-Lethal for most, if not the entire game. Splinter Cell, a Ubisoft-owned IP, does so as well. There is no excuse. No, not even the “but- but- but MEMORIES!” excuse.

Know why? There is no excuse because it’s not an Animus and it’s not Genetic Memory written in stone that decides what happens. It’s Ubisoft. It's their writers, and their level designers. While in AC, yes, Main Targets do need to die, all of the Side Missions and Main Missions do not require so much murder. That can become a Choice. It already is a primitive choice, but the keyword there is that it's primitive. Any argument about how canonical it is, and whether it's what really happened is immediately invalidated because StealthGamerBR can do THIS and I can do THIS. We both played Unity in completely different ways, and it didn’t affect how canonical or “true to genetic memory” that game was! How many guards an Assassin did or didn’t kill is interpreted as loosely by the Animus as whether you ran up a wall or whether I used a ladder. Unless, again, “Kill X Guards” is an Objective - which, again, it shouldn’t be.

If we’re talking about having more grey morality about actual Templar Targets, sure, I’m all for more of that! We all know Jacob was a fool who killed his targets too recklessly anyway, and AC1 (and AC3) had a lot to doubt in it as well. They've done that once, they can do it again.

aurllcooljay's picture
aurllcooljay
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Joined: 06/13/2010

Very good point on non lethal possibilities being vital to stealth; many of my favorite stealth games have that option. I love how Arkham Asylum went further and made all takedowns/finishers like that. It goes to show that doesn't take away from a good experience.

Of course you're also right main targets need to die, because if they decide to make alternatives like in Dishonored, that would ruin much of what AC is about.

Leo K's picture
Leo K
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Toronto, Canada
Joined: 12/30/2009

Correct. AC does not need to have Non-Lethal Neutralizations for main targets in order to be more like Dishonored, though. Not needing to kill targets is what most people tout as Dishonored's "thing," but Dishonored's thing was also the ability to not kill any regular guards either, if you felt like pursuing that approach and pushing the Stealth systems that way. And that's where the two games differ, and that's where AC can benefit. A Dishonored player can choose not to kill any guards, all while shoving their blade through every main target's body. And that's viable. That's valid. In Assassin's Creed it is hard-to-impossible to do this expediently or reasonably without cheesing the game or abusing some insane item (Smoke Bombs). I think we'd all be happy if that were changed. The core of pushing more Non-Lethal possibilities in Assassin's Creed is such that it literally benefits everyone. Those who don't want to Kill, well, now we can play that way. For the people who do want to Kill, they can still do it, but they benefit from the better level design, game design and guard placements that Non-Lethal gameplay requires to work well in the first place. Everyone wins.