I was terribly disappointed by Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate when I first played it in 2015. It was entertaining and fun, but it also felt cynically designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator gamer. Everything felt so painfully generic, from the “lovable rogue” protagonists to the flashy-yet-boring combat. All the things that Assassin’s Creed: Unity did to complicate the franchise—challenging combat, and a morally ambiguous story—were reversed with Syndicate. I didn’t like it.
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Environment, setting, location, world; regardless of the word used to describe it, the place in which a game occurs is hugely important. A game can be defined by its place, like Rapture defines BioShock and like the USG Ishimura defines Dead Space, or a place can drag a game through the mud of boredom, like how the Hinterlands drags down Dragon Age: Inquisition and the dullness of Mordor weighs on Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor.
A game’s setting usually falls somewhere along this spectrum: The better the setting the more it improves the game, the worse the setting the more it hurts the game. Makes sense. It’s rare that you find an interesting setting that still somehow hurts the game. Knee Deep is that rare, unfortunate game.
Bubblegum. That word keeps popping into my head while playing 2064: Read Only Memories. Bubblegum.
I think it’s because my robot companion has a perfectly round head reminiscent of a bubblegum bubble. Or maybe it’s the upbeat chiptunes that play on every screen, saturating the game with a sweet, uppity, soundtrack. Or maybe it’s because of the colors; I see the game saturated in a dull bubblegum pink, except nothing in the world is really pink like that. I’m remembering an emotion, not an actual color. It’s a bright world, in both color and tone. Everything just looks so inviting and pleasant.
Spaceplan begins with a few well-worn sci-fi mysteries. You wake up on a spaceship orbiting an unknown planet, the electronics are down, you don’t know who you are, and you don’t know when it is. It’s a mashup of several types of sci-fi openings.
Mysteries are always a little interactive, encouraging the audience to play along with the plot, to consider the clues like the characters do and try to beat them to the conclusion. Mysteries exist to be solved, which means a mystery, at least any normal mystery, balances the power in favor of the detective.
This holds true even for the most confusing, confounding, and convoluted mysteries (though the best stories cover up this inherent advantage), because the mystery, by its very nature, is subservient to the power of logic and deduction. It’s something we can solve because the process of critical thinking is so powerful it can expose even the most elaborate of cover-ups.