Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Assassin's Creed

Have you ever had a white hooded man armed to the teeth jump you and try to stab you through the gut? Neither have I. Have you ever had this deranged lunatic with a hoodie stab one of your friends in front of you? Yep, I thought not. Well, imagine if he did. How would you react? You would probably be pretty pissed off. Now, what if he ran over to a haystack a couple of yards in front of you, hopped in, and hid himself from view. Would you be fooled? Nah, you'd probably go over there, rip off his hood, and strangle him to death with it. What if, instead of lamely covering himself in hay, he ran over to a bench with other people on it and squeezed between them? Would you be fooled? Nope, you'd walk over and knock his jaw out. And lastly, what if this crazy bastard saw a number of whitely clothed clergymen walking in prayer? What if he ran over to them and then clasped his hands together to pray, as if this would hide him from plain view? Would you be fooled? Doubt it. You'd stride over, take one of the conspicuous knives hanging from his back and slam it between his shoulderblades. You'd probably give him a kick or two for good measure.

Now imagine that instead of me asking you these questions, I ask a mentally challenged, questionably trained, green-as-can-be Arab idiot from Jerusalem in the time of the Crusades.

This is Assassin's Creed.
Not suspicious at all...

Idiocy in the Age of Saladin

Assassin's Creed is a game that, while theoretically awesome, fails enormously when it comes to making any rational connection to what me or you might call common sense. The game is presented beautifully and, from a distance, the concept of dashing across rooftops to execute stealthy high-profile assassinations in magnificently rendered old Arabic cities is an attractive one. But... what... the... hell? What happened to that dream? Why were my expectations crushed and then spit upon? Why do I want to throttle the developers? Oh, where to start... I think I'll go with the good first, and then go batshit crazy afterward.

Assassin's Creed isn't the worst game I've ever played. It is bad, but it has a number of redeeming qualities. Altair (the assassin that you control) is totally badass. Walking through cities such as Acre, Jerusalem, and Damascus feels right. The cities are crowded, the bazaars flourishing, and the architecture appears spot on. The ability to plan your high-profile kills extensively is a nice one to have. Combat flows well and killing the enemy is satisfying. If only the enemy wasn't so goddamn retarded.

You know what? I'm just going to seize on that and explain myself. One of two things is the problem here. Either Altair is a god, or every guard in every city has suffered severe brain damage. For a game that presumably emphasizes caution and subtlety, stealth is a joke. If you brush against a guard, he oftentimes will try to kill you. If you ride your horse past someone to fast, they will attempt to murder you. Sometimes it seems that if you sneeze too hard you'll get half the city garrison coming at you screaming bloody murder, waving swords as they go.

Then what makes this doubly ridiculous is what I referenced with my opening paragraph. If you jump in a haystack with a hostile guard staring at you from a few yards away, they will promptly scratch their head and walk off in another direction. Sit on a bench between two individuals (and there are a suspicious amount of these benches) and it is as if you've vanished from the face of the earth. Pretend to pray along with some monks, and everyone just gives up looking for you. This is despite the fact that everything about Altair, his clothing, his hood, his conspicuous weaponry... Doesn't this all scream, 'assassin'? Who is paying these guards?

This also affects the combat. If you aren't an invalid, you can easily discover that countering a guard's attack (as easy as hitting two buttons at the right time) effectively makes you invincible. This makes any combat engagement into a game of whack-a-mole; once you see a guard swing, you just hit the two buttons and they die instantly. This also affects the 'bosses' of the game, so I'm pretty sure you can hypothetically beat the entire game without swinging your sword. Thus does any fight become yawn-inducing and, as a supposedly stealth-oriented assassin, I've managed to take out twenty fully armed and armored guards at once with just a little knife.

A Game of Intrigue and Befuddlement

Unfortunately, the story and setting actually end up doing little to rescue the game from a downhill plummet. For some insane reason, someone decided to make this game a sci-fi mindscrew instead of simply a Crusade-era assassin's quest in the Middle East. It is as if they thought the latter wasn't interesting enough. What I'm about to describe are spoilers, but not really. You discover this major plot twist at the very beginning in the game (isn't that a waste of a plot twist?).

Anyways, you aren't really Altair. Instead, you are his descendant in a modern world, a world that has somehow discovered a way to actively participate in the genetic memories of your ancestors via a Matrix-like machine. Essentially, this makes the plot switch from one viewpoint to the other; the modern world with the world of the Crusades. Ambitious and bizarre, but is pulled off as terribly as the actual gameplay.

This plot twist serves as the final nail in the coffin for immersion. Which is truly sad. Here you are, with all these beautiful Middle Eastern cities, and the entire experience is sidetracked by the fact that it isn't real and that you are actually a part of this weird Matrix-type thing. This means that when you focus in on someone in Jerusalem, little Matrix-esque glitches shift and form around them to show you have them targeted. This instantly breaks any feeling of immersion that one had with the setting, and is pervasive within gameplay and cutscenes. It is hard to take a master of assassins seriously when you know it isn't real and constant weird glitches run across the screen to remind you. It is just a bizarre melding of sci-fi and history that makes no sense and does not mesh at all.

And, lastly, the story itself fails to mesmerize, mainly because the game has so much useless talk in it. Wooden actors exacerbate the problem. The story just isn't all that interesting. The main character is an unlikable prick. The sci-fi background impossible to take seriously. And to make it more annoying, the game forces it upon you as you go through irritatingly long cutscenes where unimpressive characters drone on about their bland motivations as they pace endlessly before you. The 'interactivity' of the cutscenes (you can hit buttons to change the view of the scene) only served to remind me that I was a prisoner to lame and meandering plot.


Though mostly bad, I still want to point out that this was a big budget game and thus had some pretty interesting visuals of the city along with passable, if immensely shallow gameplay. I almost forgot to mention that planning the assassinations goes the exact same way every single time, and it is always just as uncreative and dreary as the first. This game had an amazing concept on paper that, while theoretically great, served to horribly backfire when executed in reality. Kinda like communism.

On the bright side, I heard that the sequel is good. Shouldn't be too hard to top this mess. We shall see.


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