Assassin's Creed

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Stilts
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Assassin's Creed

Post by Stilts » Wed Mar 25, 2009 9:36 pm

Hey, Look! An Eagle!

This review is about Assassin’s Creed. I felt the reference was appropriate.

In Assassin’s Creed, you play as Altair, an assassin who gets stripped of his rank for screwing up a mission really badly. The majority of the game involves him taking assassination jobs in order to redeem himself. Actually, this description isn’t entirely accurate. You really play as one of Altair’s descendents, a guy raised by a secluded sect of modern day assassins who is being forced by a mysterious organization to relive Altair’s experiences via the Animus system, a device able to recreate virtually a person’s genetic memories. Yes, I know, Ubisoft is using a rather loose interpretation of genetic memory, but this is the company that made a really awesome game about a Persian prince who wields a mystical-sand-powered dagger that can manipulate time, so I’m willing to let the pseudo-science slide, especially since the environments produced by the Animus are so darn pretty.

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Yes, the rest of the game does look this good.

I’ve played Mass Effect, Halo 3, Bioshock, and Crysis. All four of those games are lauded for their graphics, but the only one that beats Assassin’s Creed is Crysis. Seriously. Creed looks gorgeous. Not only does it look gorgeous, but it has reasonable load times (I’m looking at you, Half-Life 2), and I never noticed any texture pop-up (I’m glaring at you, Mass Effect). The cities of Damascus, Jerusalem, and Acre all look basically the same, but this is forgivable, since Ubisoft was trying to be as historically accurate as is reasonably possible in a videogame. Besides, the cities have enough subtle differences that it becomes pretty easy to instantly tell which one is which once you’ve spent enough time in them. And you will definitely be spending enough time in them.

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Pay no attention to the man clinging to your cathedral. He's definitely not important.

You see, when Assassin’s Creed was previewed Ubisoft promised two important features: the ability to explore the cities however you wanted and open-ended missions. It turns out that there are some caveats to those promises with varying degrees of annoyance. First, you can’t explore the entirety of all three cities until the end of the game. When you bump up against one of the blue, computerized barriers that split the cities in pieces, the Animus explains that certain areas are locked off because your character isn’t completed synched to Altair’s memories yet. Even though I think it’s a silly limitation, I suspect Ubisoft did it so players would know where they needed to be and feel less overwhelmed. Plus, I never actually cared much since I was usually too busy diving off of cathedrals into hay bales while an eagle screeched in the background to signal my “flight.” Awesome.

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The aforementioned dive. Ludicrous? Definitely. Entertaining? Always.

The two caveats for the missions are much more offensive. When Altair is given a target, he can’t just go and kill the guy; he needs to get information on him first. Perfectly logical, yes, but the concept isn’t implemented very well. Your info-gathering techniques are limited to pickpocketing, eavesdropping, doing a favor for an informant, and interrogation (which is really just a fancy word for “punching a dude in the face repeatedly”). Yes, I know, that seems like a lot of options, but you always do them the same way, and you have to do them ten times throughout the game. After I gathered information for the third time it all began to feel much less novel and much more like busy-work. The assassinations were much more fun…until I got to the second one, when I realized those didn’t work as advertised, either. There is always one cutscene right before and right after each assassination. The first one is always used to paint your target as deserving of death, and the second one is always used to let your target explain why he was actually the good guy (you’d think that getting stabbed would make it difficult for a person to soliloquize). Even worse is that, with the exception of only two missions, it’s basically impossible to properly assassinate the targets by sneaking up and stabbing them before anyone realizes what’s going on. Instead, the game forces you into sword fighting; and while the combat is fun, it’s not quite as gratifying as knifing an unsuspecting bad guy in the back. I want to be an assassin, not another swashbuckler.

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This is not nearly as easy to do as it should be in a game that has "Assassin" in the title.

I could go on to talk about how the stealth system doesn’t always make sense (why does moving faster than a trot on my horse while I’m traveling to a different city blow my cover?), the beggars and drunks sprinkled through each city are just pointless irritants, and the storyline decides to take a turn for the ridiculous at the end, but those are minor quibbles. The major problem with Creed is that it feels like a great idea that’s looking for equally great design. At the start of the game, when everything is fresh and new, I was having a wonderful time. By the fourth mission, when I started to realize that the game was going to be the first assassination mission copy-pasted eight times, my starry-eyed enthusiasm faded fast. If there was a little more variety, I would have recommended this game wholeheartedly. As it is now, Creed is worth a rental but doesn’t have enough staying-power to justify its retail price.

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