Normally Captain America and I play Assassin’s Creed games together. He plays them, I watch. I wrote a review of one of the newer ones before, and realized that in the scheme of things we’d skipped over one of them from a few years ago. Assassin’s Creed: Liberation is the first Assassin’s Creed game to feature a female assassin as the lead, and so this time, we decided to shake things up and I played while he watched. Unfortunately, that led to me having a few observations I maybe would have glanced over if I’d only been watching him play instead of being the one in control.
Ubisoft has come under fire in the past for its lack of female characters in their multi-player co-op, and honestly even just from watching my husband play the games I’ve noticed the lack of female playable characters. (It is worth noting that the criticism Ubisoft faced was for Unity and Syndicate, which interestingly enough were released after Liberation; the criticism was in response to a lack of female avatars for multi-player co-op, and their response was that it would have “doubled production time.”) It’s always struck me as odd that they continually showcase how multicultural and diverse their development team is, and yet the games focus mainly on male leads. In a lot of ways, it makes sense considering the time periods the games take place in, when things were far more patriarchal and women had little to do outside of the home. Or at least, you think that until you see the other assassins you associate with in the games very obviously include women among the ranks of men. So when I saw that Liberation was a female protagonist, I got excited. Finally, I thought.
And maybe I’m just jaded, but I touched on this same issue in last week’s post regarding Final Fantasy X-2, that hooray, there’s a female protagonist, so how do they make things interesting, different, and/or appeal to female gamers? By basing the major game mechanics on, that’s right, changing her clothes.
Now, similar to FFX-2, there’s a fascinating element to this mechanic that makes a lot of sense. As I said last week, a part of me loved the fact that in FFX-2 changing clothes meant changing jobs and skills, and unlocking awesome powers, and they did it in a very interesting, effective way. In Liberation, changing clothes means changing identity and social rank. Aveline de Granpré is of African and French descent, the child of a slave master and his slave, who he loved so much he married her after the birth of their daughter. It gives her an interesting ability to fit into two social classes easily; she can be the elegant, proper, respectable lady, or she can dress as a slave and blend into the lower classes to spy on her targets. The different “personas” come with different level of skills, notoriety (a big deal in the Assassin’s Creed games), and reactions from people and guards around you. That aspect certainly intrigued me, this chameleon-like shifting of her social status to better carry out Assassin missions. However, and I say this as a woman who loves fashion and clothes, can we please stop trying to garner female gamers’ attention by focusing on clothes? It feels like a very lazy attempt to capture a demographic and comes off as a shallow ploy. Plenty of women are playing games that do not feature clothes changing and we enjoy them just as much. I frequently feel like what we want from games is to relate to the characters more and feel more represented, not be able to pick out our clothes (although that can be fun, too; I’m not criticizing the ability to do so as much as I’m criticizing the way this is used as a focal point when we feature female protagonists).
As far as the story goes, we got a few missions in and were thoroughly confused. Part of the idea behind the game is that it was released by Abstergo Industries, the big bad Templar organization of the modern era, and is heavily edited by them to conceal the truth from the public. As you play through you are contacted by someone who has hacked the network and is showing you the unedited version of events (after you see the Abstergo verson) to show you what they’re hiding. The idea was incredibly appealing, and we were excited to see it play out. The way it comes off, unfortunately, is like an excuse for lazy writing. There are a lot of jumps in time, brief explanations of what happened during the time skipped, and generally not a lot of info about what exactly Aveline is trying to accomplish in the Bayou. The story felt muddled and rushed, and we found ourselves so confused that we haven’t been compelled to pick the game back up in a while. We may eventually, because we constantly find ourselves short of games we’d like to play together, but for now we’re unfortunately not in a rush to finish this one.