Assassin’s Creed 3 hit shelves earlier this year to a surprisingly lukewarm response. This was not helped by the painstakingly long beginning, and the overwhelming amount of tedium in the game. If one thing is to be learned from Assassin’s Creed 3, I hope it is the notion that bigger is not always better. It felt as though, in their quest to add as many activities as possible the majority of them fell flat on their own, the one exception being the Naval Missions. If as much time and effort had been put into pig herding and crafting as was put into Naval missions, then the game would have been far better for it. Moving past the games shortcomings there was one element of the game that I thought was particularly fantastic, but probably not for the reason you think.
My favorite part of playing Assassin’s Creed 3 were the three missions you undertake with Desmond. The missions themselves were pretty standard fare for an Assassin’s Creed game, just with the added ‘Y’ bars clearly showcasing the new climbing abilities. The enemies were no more difficult than in the Animus, and with the added ability to take cover from gunfire behind a human shield, enemies armed with guns could easily be dispatched. In every way the Desmond missions are the exact same as Connor’s, but with one difference.
When controlling Desmond the user interface, HUD or UI, is completely stripped away. No longer are you prompted to counter enemy attacks or use an enemy to shield you from enemy gunfire. There is no health bar, to warn you if you are close to death. And yet, you the player no exactly what to do. Without a hesitation, or spending several minutes in the corner figuring out what each button does, you, as the player, know exactly how to control Desmond like any other assassin from the past. It is this that I find so spectacular.
If you have played any Assassin’s Creed game you know that Desmond is able to gain his Assassin abilities through a phenomenon called the ‘bleeding effect.’ Through the bleeding effect Desmond can adopt the abilities of his ancestors without having ever trained a day in his life. Players accept this as part of the mythos of the game. But in a feat of meta gaming, this very same effect is transposed upon the player. Conner never climbs a Manhattan skyscraper, or infiltrates a VIP box in a Rio de Janeiro boxing stadium. Likewise, Desmond has never climbed trees in the forest of Pennsylvania. And yet, the player is perfectly able to translate between the two by the time of the first Desmond mission.
UI is one of the last great barriers between video games and other forms of entertainment media. A constant reminder that you as the player, are just playing a game. The removal of the UI and the allowance for learned behavior to translate from controller to screen without button prompts or hints, or glowing objective markers on a mini-map. An unfortunate reminder that breaks the appeal of the Desmond missions are the red and yellow triangles popping up on screen to alert you that an enemy has detected you. Nonetheless, the Desmond missions represents an interesting direction for games that would further blur the line between interactive media and a Hollywood movie.
Let me know what you think in the comments below. Are HUDs and UIs necessary? Are there any games you think would be better with a more stripped down UI?