Checkpoint: The holiday season and the mediocre games that come with it

It’s almost the holiday season, and you know what that means: I hope you’re ready to strap on your waders and navigate the flood of mediocre to good games that come with it. Let’s take a look at some of the offerings this year.

First up: “Assassin’s Creed Syndicate,” the eighth (ninth? tenth?) “Assassin’s Creed” game. Ever since developer and publisher Ubisoft abandoned the idea of creating compelling and lasting characters, every “Assassin’s Creed” game has to have some sort of gimmick to try and maintain the illusion that this series is still fresh. This time around, the setting is Victorian London.

In the past, players have commanded squads of mercenaries, legions of assassins and even an awesome pirate ship in series’ standout “Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag.” So what can players look forward to this time? Well, all the trailers have to offer is the fact that players will get to order around a group of street urchins. Really, Ubisoft? I always got the impression that this series was trying to be bigger and better every year, but this feel like the game is getting smaller and more mediocre. Based on everything I’ve seen, this will not be the game to inject new life into the “Assasisn’s Creed” series. 

“Call of Duty: Black Ops III” is also coming out this November, and as far as franchises go, “Call of Duty” must be considered one of the most stagnant, creatively bankrupt series in gaming. Every year a new generation of squeaky pre-teens buy the latest entry and scream at each other using swear words they heard from their parents. I did enjoy “Black Ops II,” however, in part because the campaign flowed well, told an interesting story and still manged to be fun.

Right now there’s no indication that the story will change based on the player’s actions, one of the few things that was actually innovative about “Black Ops II.” Unfortunately, publisher Activsion-Blizzard’s new strategy seems to be to hire an actor or celebrity popular with their target demographic and stick him in, then include him in their advertising. Last year it was Kevin Spacey in “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare,” and this year it will be Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. “How’s that for innovation,” an Activision executive probably quipped. 

OK, this is getting a little sad. How about something I’m actually looking forward to? The gaming world was very excited to hear that “Just Cause 3” will be coming out this holiday season, and with good reason. The destructibility and the world is the biggest highlight of the series and is something of a novelty that actually carried “Just Cause 2.”

Of course, “Just Cause 2” boasted a giant world that had barely anything going on. Long stretches of desert, tundra and jungle without anything to destroy exposed the game world as being large but shallow. The thing about “Just Cause” games is that they don’t really need anything beyond the explosions. It’s so much darn fun just destroying statues, gas lines and radio towers (all sanctioned by the CIA, lest you feel guilty about destroying so much of a developing nation’s stuff). 

In “Just Cause 3,” the developers wisely expanded on the only thing that makes their game series unique. Series protagonist Rico Rodriguez has been given a beautiful new arsenal of ridiculous weapons, an unlimited supply and explosives and just to cap it off, his voice actor has gotten a little worse. 

So, there’s your holiday season, gaming America, a whole lot of hope and sadness with some bright spots mixed in. It’s not all doom and gloom, though. I never rule out the possibility that Marshawn Lynch could be a game-changer, and I’ll never say that “Assassin’s Creed” is inherently bad. I’m not hoping for much, but isn’t the true joy of the holiday season the gift of low expectations?


Edward Pankowski is life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at edward.pankowski@uconn.edu.