Saturday, June 25, 2011

Genre: How We Should Define Games

We've established that genre doesn't work for games as a viable system for defining them, a more specific and informative system is needed to fulfill  its purpose. We need to not only talk about the core feature of the game (first person shooting, platforming, etc.) but also other features that effect gameplay.

Assassins' Creed is a game often described as action-adventure, now redefined by me as adventure sandbox; however, as we talked about yesterday even adventure sandbox doesn't do a good enough job differentiating for the consumer the difference between Assassins' Creed and say, Red Dead Redemption. So we'll breakdown the key features in Assassins' Creed (Brotherhood, specifically) and re-redefine its genre to be helpful without being overwhelming.

First off, the combat system: I mentioned yesterday that it was a variation of a hack 'n slash system. The hallmark of such a system is a two button control scheme, one for fast attacks, one for strong ones. Assassins' Creed however doesn't take the two button system, opting instead for a single button combat system with an emphasis on reacting to your opponents attacks to  preform devastating counters. Now the fast/strong system isn't totally absent in Creed however, and one of Creed's key features is it's varied weapon arsenal. In games with the two button system fast attacks are generally all you need to take out the majority of enemies where strong attacks are generally only required for tougher and boss type enemies. Creed mimics this system by including two types of swords, short swords and long swords. The longsword (comparable to strong attacks) is generally favored (the opposite of two button system where fast attacks are preferred, this is probably due to the difficulty and variety of some of the adversaries in Creed) and the shortsword can be used to handle smaller groups of enemies quickly. There is no reason to not categorize Assassins' Creed as a hack 'n slash on this basis; however, that is not the only combat mechanic in the game.

As its name would suggest Creed has a large focus on assassinations and stealth/sneak attacks; if you can get the drop on your opponents the combat encounter  is much less difficult and the game generally recommends that you use stealth rather than head on combat. Ranged combat is also unusually prominent for a hack 'n slash; The renaissance style gun and crossbow both augment combat with the ability to take out the vast majority of enemies with only one shot, and if you use the crossbow there is little to no consequence for switching over almost entirely to ranged attacks. The games only balance for this is that ranged ammo is limited and expensive, although that normally isn't a problem except on longer missions when you can't go to a store to resupply.

 These two mechanics, assassinations and ranged combat, set it apart from most all other hack 'n slashes, although it is worth noting that the ranged combat is not done in shooter style, but rather you hold down the attack button to lock on to an enemy and release to fire, using only the same controls as melee combat. But despite them setting it apart from other games, it really isn't part of the genre, or else the first Creed would be a different genre than the newer installments. So we can categorize Assassins' Creed as a hack 'n slash adventure sandbox; it doesn't really roll off the tongue but it helps differentiate the game from other adventure sandboxes like Red Dead (which would be a third person shooter adventure sandbox.)

Well that was a long one. Tomorrow we'll finish the genre arc and talk about the applicability of this new more specific system to mainstream gaming.

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