After years of romantic picnics, long walks on the beach, and candlelit dinners with Assassin's Creed, the light of love has faded from Brenna Hillier's eyes.
Having wooed me to the weak-kneed, lip-trembling stage, the game did the equivalent of clearing out the joint back account and running off to Mykonos with the au pair.
Last month, I had a tempestuous affair with Assassin's Creed: Revelations. It was love at first sight, of course. AssCreeRev, as I call it, is just my type. I adored the first game - the one often described as a failed experiment or a tech demo for the rest of the series. I was blown away by the sequel. I had a ball with Brotherhood, and I fully expected Revelations to deliver exactly what I wanted: more of the same, only bigger and better.
It does. Oh, sure, the tower defence sections are so poor as to be unworthy of the name, and those teeth-grindingly unpleasant sojourns into Desmond's memories are a strong argument in favour of play testing, but because I love the franchise so much, I invented convoluted justifications for both.
AssCreeRev won my heart. I found elderly Ezio and his low-key romance much easier take than the bafflingly magnetic sleaze of his adolescence. I liked that Ubisoft Montreal, quite rightly assuming that we know what we're about by this stage, ripped away a lot of the lengthy exposition and slow-build feature glut of the last two games, dropping you right in and handing you all your tools almost immediately. I liked the tactical options offered by the surprisingly flexible bomb crafting system, and spent many a happy hour chasing trophies and thereby exploring their varied uses - something the main quest failed to demonstrate, it must be said.
Unfortunately for the happy family of half-Brenna, half-AssCreeRev children I'd imagined for us, having wooed me to the weak-kneed, lip-trembling stage, the game did the equivalent of clearing out the joint back account and running off to Mykonos with the au pair.
Of the game's nine memory sequences, I had arrived at the seventh. This had taken a great deal longer than it should have given the relative brevity of the campaign, but as my partner was away for a week I'd indulged myself in daily, five-hour play sessions of collecting all the treasures, buying up all the shops, training my assassin recruits - generally ticking boxes on the way to 100% completion well before it was necessary. I had about 25 hours invested in it. (That should tell you everything you need to know about my devotion to this series, right there.)
My mission was to find a spy. According to every walkthrough I can find on the matter, this should involve approaching a plaza, using eagle vision to identify the target, trailing at a distance, and finally, confronting her.
When I arrive in the plaza - I use the present tense here because I've attempted this a dozen times - I use eagle sense on everybody, and nobody is highlighted. Nevertheless, the game eventually decides someone is, in fact, the spy - a nearby doctor. The camera attaches itself to this innocent vendor whenever I use eagle vision and will not be dissuaded.
"Confront the spy," the game advises me. I tried buying some poison from him a few times, the only interaction I'm allowed; this does not seem to satisfy anybody.
After resetting both game and console a few times I realised that if I moved far enough away from the doctor, the camera would return to normal. A target appeared on my mini-map, and a golden trail showed a path through the streets, Following both, I discovered a female NPC standing in a corner, facing a door, and looking around furtively.
Unfortunately, whatever it is she sees in that corner is so absorbing, she won't respond to Ezio's blandishments. I've hammered the interact button, despite receiving no prompts to do so. I've danced around in front of her. I've tried tackling her repeatedly with my feeble old man body, trying to trigger whatever response is due, but she's as immobile as a rock - more immobile than some. I've even tried killing her - the game refuses to acknowledge her as a target, but I've piled bombs up around her. No go. She doesn't even blink.
And that's it. The end of my 25 hour journey with AssCreeRev. I can't progress, and when I think about doing it all over again - repeating all my tentative steps towards the Platinum trophy - I'm strongly tempted to snap a control pad.
There was a time when a story like this would have elicited some strong emotional response in you, the reader. "Bad luck, old sport," you'd sympathise, weeping inside for me. "It shouldn't ought to be this way," you might add, forgetting grammar in your desire to comfort me.
That time is not now. Yesterday Nintendo acknowledged a game-breaking bug in Skyward Sword, a bug which is unlikely to see remedy as the Wii is not a patch-friendly platform. Skyrim may as well be listed in the dictionary with the description "Noun: A glitch which breaks a major questline, thus requiring a reversion to an earlier save file", it's become so much of a byword for this phenomenon. I could probably point at any large-scale RPG or open world adventure of the last two years and find a third example, but you get the idea.
It's easy to sympathise with the developers; the scale of triple-A games means any mission or objective based game is almost certain to contain at least one possible instance of a broken quest (sorry, I mean, a "Skyrim") which slips past QA. The problem is how quickly - or not - these major issues are identified and corrected. A few days after I gave up on AssCreeRev, I started my PlayStation 3 up and, thanks to my PS Plus subscription, noticed the game had been patched. Delighted, I fired it up. The patch fixed a number of issues including a very annoying problem with how quickly Ezio can pile up cash, but it didn't fix my bug.
I'm philosophical about this. Sometimes, the first post-launch patch catches the problem I'm having, and sometimes it doesn't; it's a bit of a lottery. We can't all be lucky. But it did mean I switched my PS3 off in disgust, and loaded Skyrim on my PC. I haven't even switched the console on since then, and I doubt I will until the next big release turns up.
AssCreeRev has joined the pile of games which didn't get finished in the giddy throes of early love.
What that means in turn is that AssCreeRev has joined the pile of games which didn't get finished in the giddy throes of early love, and with quality games releasing at a pace of what feels like every six and a half minutes, it's quite unlikely it will crawl out before the next iteration is expected. For a franchise game, a game that prides itself on being story-driven and sucking the player into a world, it's a death sentence. I have no motivation to hear the next chapter when I've no idea how this one finished.
I bought the Animus Edition of Assassin's Creed: Revelations, with the encyclopaedia and everything, because I loved this series so much. But now, when I think about the forthcoming Assassin's Creed III, a prospect which inspired foaming fangirlism in me just weeks ago, I'm not even ambivalent. There's no feeling there. The force which drove me through three and three-quarter games is gone; what's going to push me to a fifth and beyond?
I think we should see other people, Assassin's Creed. The love has died.