It’s been a great year for video games. Just think about it! We’ve soared the cosmos in search of new galaxies with Mario, we’ve finished (and continue finishing) the fight against the covenant, not to mention explored the dark and twisted world of Rapture – and that was all in the last four months!
Ubisoft’s ambitious, stealth sim Assassin’s Creed seemed like it was destined to join the year’s triple-A, must have titles. Each time it was shown in public, it was met with long lines and auditoriums packed with throngs of fans cheering its completely open and intuitive gameplay. Ladies and gentleman — I believe there to be a kink in the hype-machine.
Assassin’s Creed is not a bad game, in fact – sometimes it’s down right impressive, but playing through it one can’t help but be disappointed when looking at what was initially promised. Poor design choices, a weak, hard to follow story and some of the year’s worst AI lead Assassin’s Creed into the realm of average, run of the mill adventure games.
Assassin’s Creed follows the story of Altair; a member of Assassins that performed politically motivated killings during the third crusade in the Middle East. One of the best parts about the game is that it is so steeped in actual historical events. It’s a shame the developers felt the need to make such radical choices in the game’s story. Fans looking for a story of betrayal and murder in the middle ages may be disappointed as the game takes a very sharp turn that seems to do nothing but detract from what should be the core of the story. Sure, surprises in storylines are great – but when it’s revealed in the game’s first five minutes, it confuses more than surprises. Were there too many stealth games set in the third crusade that the developers thought they needed to be different?
Assassin’s Creed is very heavy on story – almost to a fault. At certain points in the game, especially when the above plot twist is mentioned, the game borders on preachy, as you’ll sit in agony – just waiting to play rather than listen to an old man talk back-story in a temple. Speeches are long winded, but voice acted well – except for that of Altair, who turns out one of the worst voice acting performances of recent memory. Seriously, it’s laughable – for the half hour. At least the in game music, performed by Jesper Kyd is top notch.
Visually, it’s hard to deny that Assassin’s Creed looks stunningly accurate to what the Middle East would most likely look like in 16th century. The buildings in the bustling marketplace look disheveled as the sun and all of the amazing lighting effects bounce off them. Even the character animations are top-notch, as everything from climbing and running look fluidly realistic – with the more involved maneuvers (most having to do with the actual assassinations) bordering on works of art.
At the core of Assassin’s Creed are of course — the assassinations. In the beginning of most assignments, you’ll find yourself doing recon like work to gain information on your target. You’ll stalk in the shadows to hear conversations, pickpocket useful items from passers-by and intimidate people with more information than you. These tactics seem to get tedious faster than they should, as each mission, though a little different, proves to be very repetitive. Shake up this guy, get this information, gain entry – repeat. What’s worse? Most of these investigations force you to take little or no action – take the eavesdrop action for example; you literally sit on a bench, waiting for someone with information to spout it out. That’s it. You sit. Nothing else. What fun.
The assassinations themselves prove to be quite fun and rewarding, if not a bit too simple. Like the Hitman series, players have the choice of going of how to go about their kills. Do they go in through the shadows, and do your job site unseen? On the other hand, do you go in like thunder, taking the life of anyone who opposes you? Sadly, most attempts to take the stealth route turn into clumsy – kill everything that moves that moves slaughter fests, a real tragedy in a game that preaches stealth.
After shuffling your victim loose from the mortal coil and hearing them babble on and on, the guards will be notified of your presence (did a “Hey! Our guy just died alarm” go off somewhere?). From here, you have two options, The first – take advantage of the game’s horrible AI and find a quick exit. The guards will come to your location in a hurry, but don’t bother to look up or anywhere around them. Even worse, they give up and go back to their normal patrol routes after too long at all. The second option is to try your hand at the game’s awkward and clunky combat system to fight the guards throughout the city. Combat essentially consist or holding down one button to guard from oncoming attacks, and pressing another to strike – or so it seems. Get into enough battles and you’ll see that like most Hollywood fights – they follow a distinct rhythm. While button mashing will lead you to moments of frustration, taking a step back and watching your opponent’s actions can lead to some very cool moments.
Assassin’s Creed takes a unique approach with it’s control scheme. Players basically act as a puppeteer, using different buttons to control Altair’s different actions and using the right trigger to change between high profile and low profile actions. While the developers must be commended for trying something new – this tactic proves to hurt gameplay rather than add anything. In most games, running is simply done by holding down the left thumbstick, but in Assassin’s Creed you must literally press three different buttons to run. First, you hold down the right trigger to change into high profile mode, then the a-button, then press the left thumbstick. This is unnecessarily complicated and puts a damper on some of more fun action sequences.
With a bit more focus and a little more tweaking, Assassin’s Creed could have been a great game. Unfortunately, it fails to deliver on many promises we’ve heard over the last year. While the game does do some things great, including it’s visuals, and the first few assassinations, there are far too many flaws that keep it from being a great game, and with so many other great games available this fall, it’s hard to give Assassin’s Creed more than a passing look.