And I Didn't Even Use Tarot Cards

Remember way back when, when I did that little rant for a Round Table about difficulty? And how I was playing Assassin’s Creed and the original Uncharted at that time, and made the following prediction?:

Two games I’m currently playing are Assassin’s Creed and Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. I’m not particularly far into either, but even so, I can tell you which game I will get completely through and which one I will not. (Hint: it’s the one with an easy mode!)

Guess what game I STILL haven’t finished, and will resort to watching on YouTube in preparation for the sequel?

Here’s hoping Assassin’s Creed 2 doesn’t end up being as impossible as the first one was for me.

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If Valve Avoids Horror Film Tokenism but No One Gets it, Does it Count?

I really like the GiantBombCast. The guys are pretty funny, though the Joystiq crew has a much closer taste in games to my own. But not a week goes by when Jeff Gerstmann doesn’t say something casually sexist, which is like sudden sour note in an otherwise fun song.

Last week, in talking about Left 4 Dead, he described the characters as your typical survivors of the zombie apocalypse: “the old veteran, the businessman, and the girl.” Whoa, what? The GURL? Her distinguishing characteristic is that she’s female?

The problem is that, while this may be the treatment of women in many horror films, this is Valve we’re talking about, here. These are the people behind Half Life 2 and Portal. Even working within the “three dudes and token woman” format, Zoey has a personality and background just like the others; she’s NOT just “The Girl”, she’s a student, a slacker, a horror flick buff, in the same way Louis isn’t “The Black Guy” (another token in horror films–also notice “The Girl” is always white unless noted otherwise), he’s the IT technician frustrated with his job. So this is a criticism of peoples’ perceptions rather than what the developers of the game did; in this case the developers actually made an effort to elevate their characters above the typical horror film stereotypes while still working within that framework, yet that framework made it very easy to fall back on the genre’s sexist tropes when thinking about the characters.

(Let’s leave aside for a moment the fact that that the only “super-zombie” that is female is called The Witch and sits around crying. She’s also the deadliest, but there are still no playable female zombies; apparently when women become zombies they’re either in the horde or sit around and cry. This feels silly to complain about–rest assured I am dying (*groan*) to play the game more–but also it’s kind of baffling.)

I’m not really sure what my point is here. I guess that it’s frustrating when a developer does some things right but people just go with their preconceptions.

While I’m at it, I don’t think this warrants a whole new post, but I just finished Prince of Persia and what the heck is up with The Concubine? The token female enemy (yet again one of four) and she’s the “Scorned Lover”? This is the motivation of like 99% of female villains. Quite unoriginal for such an overall unique game. Why couldn’t The Alchemist have been female as well? Or do women only have motivations relating to love and sex? I’m really frustrated with so many female characters being pigeonholed into roles that focus on their sexuality.

The Lesser of Two Evils: Altair and the Assassin's Creed

When it comes to Altair, protagonist of last year’s most polarizing game, Assassin’s Creed, I’m torn between adoration and disgust. On the one hand, Altair is a total badass who can run across rooftops and climb church towers with ease. On the other, he is really not so nice a guy, even aside from the whole assassin thing.

It’s clear Ubisoft put a lot of focus on the free running system (which, by the way, is pure fun) and the animations that go along with it. The animations in particular convey a lot about Altair: he moves with confidence, even arrogance, and runs, leaps, and climbs with the grace of a skilled athlete. Upon reaching a perch high above Jerusalem, Altair crouches on a thin plank like it’s no big deal. He’s like a cat; he even swaggers a bit when he walks.

All of this goes quite some way to endear him to the player (or to me, at least). Yes, he’s a cocky little bastard, but he can clearly back up all that talk.

And yet the game constantly reminds you that, while (in the first three missions, which is as far as I’ve gotten) Altair’s targets are clearly evil men–the first brutally stabs and murders an innocent man in the middle of a public square–Altair himself is merely the less evil of the two. The evil side of our murderous protagonist is shown through both not only in cutscenes, but through certain game mechanics as well.

It is made clear off the bat that Altair doesn’t think much of the Creed, one rule of which states that assassins must not kill innocents, when he murders an old man in the opening scene of the game. Soon enough, the assassin leader demotes Altair (losing most of the sync bar and his weapons) for breaking the Creed and causing a lot of trouble. Altair isn’t phased; the leader and the men at the Assassin’s Bureaus scold his continued arrogance and disdain for the Creed.

Altair’s violent personality is reflected in the options available for interacting with the people of the various cities he travels to. Of particular note is the game’s somewhat troublesome treatment of the homeless beggars.

Women beggars (they are all women, as are the citizens you can rescue, which strikes me as very strange, not to mention unrealistic) are placed in certain areas of a given city, and when Altair enters that area, they will run up to him and harass him for money, prevent his movement, and draw attention to him by loudly telling him about their poor starving family.

At first I felt bad for them, but as they became more and more abundant and really began to impede my progress, I just felt annoyed. The only options given to the player to deal with them are to gently push them out of the way if you’re not in a hurry, or if you are, kill or beat them. You can’t give donations (another odd thing, given that you can pickpocket “thugs”, though for knives, not money).

That the violent reaction, however, falls in line with Altair’s character: the arrogant killer we’re supposed to be rooting for. The game defies expectations by not making the protagonist a noble rebel killing off truly evil men who deserve what they get, and the gameplay is not conflicting with the story here, which is good. Every other investigative option given to Altair thus far is violent, with the exception of eavesdropping, but that’s easy and it comes at no cost to Altair at all (whereas giving alms would cost him money he could spend on weapons and whatnot). As disgusting as it is, this is our protagonist through and through. (That said, I would like to see Ubisoft take a different approach to this in future installments.)

So I want to like Altair, with his effortless skill and arrogant ways, but I can’t, because he’s only slightly better than the men he’s sent to kill. Of course, having only finished the first two assassinations, I’m looking forward to seeing what character arc (if any!) occurs as the story progresses.