18 November 2014

Pivots Please - An ACIII Post-game Exploration

Hmm... there seem to be quite a lot of them. Hope the devs
properly supported my predator-esque bouncings.
So back in June I was mulling over a puff piece that was generating hype for ACIII and looking at the gap between what the devs promised and what actually turned up. One of the promises I couldn't be sure about was the opportunity to emulate everyone's favourite killer of both humans and xenomorphs, the predator; but in an Assassin-y kind of a way.

I must admit that I had never tried this approach to guards on the frontier, opting instead, as Robocop would have put it to "stay out of trouble". This is due, in part, to the fact that I like to role play AC games a little, I go for what the character might have done in the situation, not for what might, possibly be the most amount of fun.

This is probably because I am invested in AC's ridiculous historical pot-boiler plots, I love them, a lot; to the extent that I am writing an AC fan fiction for Nano. So in-game I find it incongruous to run everywhere, upsetting citizens and getting in regular scrapes with the guards. I like to slink through the cities, admiring the view.

But now the story of ACIII is over, the game temporarily recasts you as a hacker running Connor's environments as a sandbox for something called "counter hacking" and trying to pick up little vector unicorns called pivots in order to open up Animus Hacks.

This is a part of the game that many people don't see, and of those who do see it many more just find it confusing. It's a triangulation game, essentially, where you plant the pivots you already have to find the pivots you haven't. Pivots create lines on the map and the location of the pivot you've discovered exists, but have not located, are filled in green.

Sacre Bleu! The only screenshot I could find was in French!
Still you get the idea.

As exploring games go, it's a winner. To the extent that when I had found the 12 pivots in the game I was unconscionably sad that the game was over and wished it would begin all over again. Not least because whilst you are tromping over the map to place your next pivot where you think it should go you are bound to run into opportunities for mischief and mayhem and, well, why the hell not? So as I counter-hacked around the frontier I got a big opportunity to see if I could totally predator up the wandering guards, with mixed results.

At first, strangely, I just couldn't find a damn patrol anywhere. Lame in the extreme. I did nobble a couple of guys who'd decided to go out for a stroll, but this hardly told me anything about the AI. I picked off the one at the back first and then ran up behind his companion and hidden bladed him in the back. It was fun but the second guy didn't even know I was there. What I wanted to see was how they reacted if they knew I was about, but couldn't see me.

So I went pivot hunting and eventually I did find a group. Twice on the bounce another predatory animal, once an elk, once a bobcat, did for one of the guards on patrol setting off the "fallen comrade" AI. This basically makes the guards stand around looking a bit thick, in a circle with their weapons drawn, looking outwards, classic predator.

Guess who's coming down your chimney... that's right
Assassanta Claus is coming to town and you've all been very naughty! 

Then the shortcomings of the environment started to come into play. Not having an invisibility cloak the assassin has to use the environment to stealth about. There aren't enough trees connected, or enough stalking zones to make "pop-up, kill, disappear" a viable tactic. Usually I would pick off one or two, then run into the centre of the rest, hurl down a smoke bomb, kill some more and then fight the one or two that were left. Which was fine, but not exactly as advertised.

The best experiment, which, honestly I could stand to do again with more practice, was when I decided to plant a trap in the form of a well placed trip mine. Unfortunately I chose to plant two of the available three where rabbits occasionally zipped across the path, so I got some badly charred rabbit meat for my troubles, but not much else.

Still I did manage to plant one and it remained as the guards approached, scaring off the rabbits, and I hid in a well placed thicket and said tee-hee. I also knew that the guard patrol in question would check the thicket on their way past, as I had observed them come that way once from a tree. Sure enough an officer came out with a sword to poke at the tree but... none of the others stood in the trigger zone of the mine! Bastards!
There were no good screenshots of trip mines, so here's a rabbit instead.

I popped out and killed the officer in time honoured tradition and the rest, obviously went nuts trying to kill me. I ran around a tree in a big circle trying to make the mine the shortest distance between me and them. It took a couple of tries but then, bingo. They charged me and killed four of them in one immensely satisfying explosion. After that I smoke bombed, to kill the remaining three... just in time for a second guard patrol to approach from the west.

Out of trip mines I dived for the thicket and hid just in time for the new patrol to send a couple of scouts. One checked the bodies whilst the other came for the thicket. Disappeared inside and never came back again, muahahaha. This triggered a second set of investigators, and I got one of those too. This went for one more cycle before the rest decided to give it up as a bad job and leave their fallen behind. I wasn't having that. I charged the remaining five. Smoke bomb, stabby stabby, quick duel. All done.

That was fun. But it wasn't predator. So, the official verdict on that particular ambition is, nice try, but cigar-less. Also, when I was hopping about on rooftops looking for the New York pivot I saw nothing that resembled an upstairs chase breaker, so I still think that was a basic fail.

My final thought, however, remains that ACIII is unfairly maligned. The story's over complicated, Connor is a the most goonish of protagonists, sure. But I had a good deal of fun with the bits I did post story and I still have some privateer, delivery and assassination missions left to do. The game's main problems (now that the apparently awful launch glitches have mostly been patched away) are about balance and the gap between intention and result. The hero is too stoic and humourless, the intentions too poorly served, the ambitions too diluted. Even so, it's not impossible to have fun in there, just takes a little effort and imagination, oh, and pivots, lots and lots more pivots please.

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