“Shamus, you’re just looking for things to complain about. You nitpick every little thing.”
I get that at least once during every one of my long-form write-ups / deconstructions. It’s that time again where I have to explain why we do this. So let’s get that out of the way:
This is not a review. I’m not ticking off points to justify my love it / hate it / 5 out of 10 stars conclusion at the end. This isn’t supposed to be comedy.
We’re beginning with the premise that the story here doesn’t work. If it worked for you, then fine. But that means that none of this applies to you. Understand that I’m not trying to make you dislike the story. I’m explaining why I didn’t like it. And I can’t boil it down to a single plot element. This story died the death of a thousand paper cuts, worn down by a constant barrage of cutscenes and dialog that failed to form a cohesive whole.
I imagine most of us have gone through a story and left with the impression that it was “off”. It didn’t resonate. It didn’t work. We never felt emotionally connected. Maybe bits of the story bother you later and you can’t figure out why. For me, it’s cathartic to dig down and figure out where the story broke. Where did I lose trust in the writers and begin tolerating the story instead of taking part in it?
Also, it’s worth noting that the writers spent incredible piles of money on these cutscenes. They devoured resources that might have been spent on other parts of the game. Maybe the levels could have been larger and more interesting if so much time hadn’t been spent shuffling them around as the story changed. Maybe we could have kept fan-favorite Stephen Russel. Maybe there would have been time to iron out the unforgivable mess of an audio system. Maybe the gameplay could have been more polished. Whatever. There’s a lot wrong with this game, and a fortune was spent making a movie the fans didn’t expect, didn’t like, and which didn’t even make sense. I’m not nitpicking “every little thing”. I’m nitpicking one massive thing. If the writers didn’t want us over-thinking the plot, they shouldn’t have spent so much time and money shoving it in our face.
With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get back into this game…
Garrett is on his way to rescue Jacob, one of Orion’s men. Jacob is in GreystoneA prison? (No, it’s not.) The game hasn’t explained what this place is, yet. but Garrett thinks he might know how to enter the keep. So we’re going to rescue Jacob in order to get the intel we need to rescue Basso.
|Protip: Don’t actually walk up to a peace officer and start yelling the kind of stuff in his face. Particularly if you live in a despotic police state and you’re unarmed. Also, this peasant wants to “blacken” the city. Hang on lady, don’t YOU live here?|
On the way there we run into a riot. In this case, “riot” means five unarmed peasants shouting at three armed members of the watch. One of them is even a woman in quasi-Victorian garb who probably doesn’t pose much of a physical threat. Before now the town guards were a bunch of unaccountable thugs who could arrest or beat whoever they liked. Now suddenly these sad sacks show up and the watch is trembling in fear. I imagine this crowd was supposed to be a lot bigger in the design doc. Also, the peasants are pissed off about the Baron’s “machines”, even though his machines aren’t really a part of the city, barely show up at all, and have never hurt anyone.
The woman is giving a long, rage-filled speech against the watch, calling for violent revolution. The moment it ends she drops into idle mode. “I think a tooth is coming loose,” she remarks absent-mindedly to nobody in particular. The peasants continue to shake their fists at the oblivious guards while everyone stares at each other in complete silence. It feels less like a riot and more like a game of charades gone wrong.
|That’s the keep in the distance. The game doesn’t explain what caused the explosion on the top floor like that.|
About thirty seconds later we reach Greystone. It turns out Greystone is a plaza. Armed conflict has broken out, and there’s now violence in the streets. Or at least, there’s the sound of violence in the streets. We don’t actually see the fighting.
At the start of the last mission I thought Orion was just some kind of doctor / priest. If he had any followers at all, I assumed they were just the nurses tending to the sick. Then at the start of this mission the game revealed he has followers and I figured this was a small conspiracy of a few guys. Now just one loading screen later we’ve got a city-wide revolt going on. This isn’t just a few skirmishes with the watch; these folks are performing a full-on assault on the keep. From a distance we see an explosion rock the highest levels of the keep. Since the keep is supposedly impenetrable, I can only conclude the explosion was caused by something hurled as a long-distance missile. A trebuchet, maybe? I have to wonder where the rebellion got one of those, and how they managed to deploy it inside the city.
It doesn’t feel like this is a payoff of some earlier exposition. It feels like the storyteller forgot to give us important details about our surroundings.
Almost as soon as we start the mission Garrett concludes that Jacob is likely dead in the chaos. Therefore it would be smarter to visit the house of Eastwick, the architect who designed the keep we’re trying to break into. On one hand, this is a much smarter and more Garret-like plan than what we started with. On the other hand, I don’t understand why Jacob was mentioned at all. In the economy of storytelling, why have the protagonist formulate and explain a plan, then right away change his mind and go with something simpler? Why create this named character, only to have him die off-screen for no payoff? It’s like having a scene where Horatio Caine forgets his car keys and has to return home to get them. Sure, it’s realistic, but does it add anything to the story? Why did we sit through that long conversation between Garrett and Orion if most of it was going to be immediately rendered moot?
I can’t help thinking this business with Jacob is the leftover stump of some cut content. Perhaps there was another whole mission planned where we broke into prison to find Jacob was already dead. That would explain a lot. If we had another mission between Basso’s kidnapping and the uprising it might also help the revolt to seem less abrupt.
 A prison? (No, it’s not.) The game hasn’t explained what this place is, yet.