This week, Zero Punctuation reviews For Honor.
Ah, the time-honored playground game of "Who-Would-Win-in-a-Fight-Between..." So many youthful friendships abandoned to hair-pulling dirt wrestles over whether or not the Enterprise-D could take the Death Star in a straight fight. And then those same kids grow up nursing resentments, become video game developers, and create things like Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, in which we learn that, yes, Sub-Zero could beat up Superman if they're in an incredibly-contrived situation that makes things remotely fair and if Superman is being controlled by your mum. Or they create those pseudoscience TV shows like Deadliest Warrior, in which we learn that, yes, obviously a ninja would win against a pirate because a ninja is a trained assassin and a pirate is a drunk sailor with an at-best slightly intimidating beard.
And it's the spirit of Deadliest Warrior that brings us Ubisoft's latest multiplayer-focused Skinner box, Foreigner, so called 'cos it's about how people of different races and creeds will never ever get along under any circumstances. Specifically, it concerns a permanent three-way conflict between medieval knights, medieval Vikings, and, uh... Japanese samurai, which, from a geographical perspective, is kind of like King Leonidas and the 300 Spartans showing up to join in the Falklands Conflict; whatever, it's a fantasy.
Three communities of knights, Vikings, and samurai all live within five minutes' drive of each other, and they smack the shit out of their neighbors all day 'cos it's easier than learning the Norwegian for "Stop kicking your ball over my fence!". The story campaign reveals that this state of affairs was engineered by some weird messianic lady with a slightly Darwinian vision for a world composed only of great warriors - like Warhammer 40K but without the irony - inviting the same argument that you can't have a world of "it's only war" because at the end of the day, you'll still need someone to cook dinner and re-sharpen all the pointy sticks.
The story campaign is about as much as one can expect from something hacked together by Ubisoft's D-team to support a chunky melee combat engine masquerading as a complete multiplayer experience: you go through three chapters of six missions apiece in which the knights invade the Vikings, the Vikings invade the samurai, and then the samurai invade the knights. Everyone stays really cross at each other and nothing of value or meaningful impact happens.
In each chapter, you play as the current community's winner of the "Most Generic Dude" contest (respectively, Mr. Warden, Mr. Raider, and Orochi-san), and each mission is a handful of generic swordfights with bots connected by story moments that play like scenes from a Klingon soap opera directed by a narcoleptic mole. "Why do we fight?!" (Long pause, awkward stare.) "We fight because we are warriors!" (Characters shuffle around a bit like they didn't entirely memorize their cues.) "Valhallaaaaaaaaaa!" (Characters standing on either side of us eventually figure out they're supposed to be joining in.) The campaign also provides the opportunity to find some hidden collectibles, because a Ubisoft game without meaningless collect-a-thons would be like Catholic sex education without the guilt.
So frankly, they should have swapped out the single-player experience for a packet of Creme Eggs I could eat while watching Sex in the City in my pants as I stew in loneliness. Fuck it, though; if you want a single-player sword-and-sterilization sim, then you already know what I recommend: it starts with "D" and rhymes with "lark bowls". For Cosmetics is a multiplayer game, bitch; I know because before I did anything else, I had to pick which of the three factions I belonged to. Seemed a bit forward to ask me to pick before I'd gotten to know any of them or how they played, but I needn't have worried; which faction is the best, the shout-y, overdramatic cunts with the slow-but-strong one, the fast-but-weak one (inevitably the lady), and the in-between-y one, or the other two groups of shout-y, overdramatic cunts with the etcetera, etcetera?
Oh, but there are subtle differences in what special moves the individual characters can pull off, like there's that one samurai with the pokey poison spear whose special move is to go fuck themselves. But it still doesn't actually matter which faction you pledge allegiance to, because you can play as any character you want. You can join the knights and be the pokey-poison-spear samurai and fuck yourself all night long if you want, which does rather raise the question of why we have to pick a faction at all. And it turns out, it is for no reason except to artificially segregate us as part of Ubisoft's masterful scheme to spread the seeds of conflict and disunity so that we stop getting together to complain about their sandbox games all being shit now.
But let me talk about the actual combat, since that's what it all boils down to: you've got your standard light attack and heavy attack for mopping up the groundlings, but the moment you target someone serious, it switches rather neatly into a one-on-one fighter. Use the right analog stick to point your sword to the left, to the right, or overhead; you'll attack from that angle and block any attacks coming in from that angle, so you can wobble back and forth, eyeing each other, trying to decide when to strike or to feint until one of you gets bored and uses the kick button for a free hit. And if you're not sure what angle your enemy is at from, say, the look of the massive great sword they're holding - which you can't look away from 'cos the camera's locked - then the interface helpfully displays big fucking arrows across the screen like you're playing Dance Dance Revolution. I hate it when an interface fucks with the immersion like that unnecessarily, and while there is the option to turn it off, you know there are a lot of other players who haven't, and I'm worried if they have an advantage, they might get the false impression that they're better than me and not jamming, cheating scrubs.
But all in all, it's a nice 1v1 dueling engine. Just a shame nobody fucking plays the 1v1 dueling mode 'cos they're all in the 4v4 utterly bog-standard Territory Control mode. See, the essence of an honorable battlefield duel is lost when, at any moment, your opponent's mate might run in on your flank and shove a spear down your ear, so the 4v4 matches become less about dueling skill and more about who can run off and fetch their big brother first.
The trouble with For Uplay Achievements is that it's one interesting core gameplay mechanic surrounded in padding, micromanaging equipment and cosmetics and passive buffs and "Ooh, if you're very good, maybe you can add .001% to your faction's chances of securing an imaginary territory before it arbitrarily resets next week." That's just drab number-crunching in a drab setting; there's no personality to For Boners. The character roster is twelve variants on a theme of "armored person who goes 'rarr' a lot". There's no self-awareness of the, let's face it, inherently juvenile premise. But anyway, "Who-Would-Win-in-a-Fight" is for two-way scenarios, and a three-way conflict is better resolved with "Shag-Marry-Kill". Personally, I'd shag the Vikings, 'cos they wouldn't take so long to get started; you'd spend half the evening working on a knight with a can opener and that's just to figure out what gender they are.
- Vile foreign pig-dog: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- The last honorable fight I was in involved conkers and a dispute over a magazine we found in a hedge
- But where do the pirates fit into all this
Extra: Will Save the Galaxy for Food
My new book, Will Save the Galaxy for Food, is out now! It’s a sci-fi comedy with all the usual sci-fi comedy themes: redundancy, hopelessness, and existential dread. Available in ebook, paperback, and audiobook from all good retailers and some dodgy ones.