Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Assassins Creed

Opinion has been divided about Assassins Creed, you could say it's the Marmite of video games, you either love it or you hate it. Although I've always had my opinions on the game I decided to keep them to myself until I completed the game, this was mainly because I heard from a number of places that you have to take the complete package into account before formulating an opinion on it, the ending has a substantial impact on the game 'apparently', I say apparently because I haven't actually completed the game yet, and I can't see myself doing it in the immediate future.
Like many other people I was incredibly excited for Assassins Creed, I'll admit it I was a complete sucker for it, the parkour, the amazing visual design and art style, hell, even the futuristic aspect that permeated the trailers intrigued me to no end, so when the game was finally released I forked over my hard earned money, rushed home and gave it to my PS3 to devour. The first hour and a half of the game was video gaming bliss, it was a beautiful game, the visual style had me tingling even though it was being done an injustice by being played on a widescreen CRT with distorted colour thanks to a family member walking by it with a magnet.
After spending over half an hour diving from rooftop to rooftop effortlessly, and realistically moving among the inhabitants of the city and scaling the detailed and historically accurate architecture of the city i decided to actually get on with the game, after the introductory fall of Altair i was let loose into the city to gather information and assassinate my first target, climbing the different viewpoints i stopped to marvel at the draw distance and amazing structure of the city, then launched myself into a graceful fall animation.
From there it just got better and better, my next task was to pickpocket some information, it was simple, press L1 to lock on, tail him and then press circle when i was close enough to yank the information from the unwitting chump, the animations of Altair, the target and all the citizens made the simplicity of the gameplay far more enjoyable.
Next up was the interrogation, again, very simple, lock on, tail him and then beat the information out of him. The actual assassination was amazing, I scaled the rooftops to the target, mingled in with the crowd and then took him out like a real assassin would, it was very satisfying, Ubisoft nailed making the player feel like a badass ninja assassin.
From there it was a downhill experience, after the initial high wore of I began to notice things I wished I didn't, most noticeably the mission structures were all the same, there was absolutely no variety, you were forced to the same tasks over and over and over again.
Then the inhabitants started to feel artificial, all the beggars kept repeating the same dialog in the same annoying overly aggressive voice, they were remarkably loud and lively for beggars, while the mentally challenged citizens added character to the city they started to hinder the gameplay, it was impossible to walk passed them without attracting the attention of all the nearby guards, while this didn't mean much in a large portion of the game early on, in the latter areas where you are constantly being watched these troubled citizens would often cause me to fail my mission, many of the inhabitants would react the same way with the same dialog, while it might be unreasonable to expect Ubisoft to record hundreds of different lines of dialog for each citizen a little bit of variety would have been nice, it just seemed out of place, a last-gen limitation in a next-gen game.
As the game went on I found myself caring less and less about Altair, this was in contrast to Desmond who I never really cared about from the start, I couldn't understand why i didn't care about this amazingly rendered badass character, he was an assassin who used parkour and had all the qualities of your cool anti-hero, he should be right up there with Snake, Samus, Ken and all my other favorite gaming characters but i just didn't care, then I realised what it was, his voice, Altair's voice acting was very unimpressive, he said the words but he was emotionless, there was no anger, no sadness, nothing, no life, just a bland neutral tone throughout the game, he was a lifeless character in a city bursting with character and life, this made it almost impossible to connect with Altair.
The story-line in the game was very uninspired, which is one of the most disappointing aspects of the game, the premise is very intriguing, the location is unique and with the futuristic aspect included the possibilities were endless, but what it turned out to be was a run of the mill predictable story, I had barely done my second assassination when I had already figured out that Al-Mualim was going to end up on the sharp end of my blade, this meant that after a certain point I was playing the game only to complete it and feel like i had got something for my money, I was simply going through the game just to see the ending and get closure, it could be argued that my lack of patience contributed to my enjoyment of the game, or lack thereof but I am a patient person, especially when it comes to games, I've played through all the Splinter Cell games, the Metal Gear Solid games, and a number of other games which require patience before the payoff, but this I couldn't take, I just wanted to complete it so I could see the ending, as a result the different features of the game started to become obstacles which I just couldn't enjoy, the already weak combat gameplay became even more annoying due to the fact that the guards were extra vigilant and the placement of the sentries rendered the rooftop huts useless for escaping the guards, the only option the game gave was to fight, the fighting boiled down to 2 buttons, hold R1 to block and then press square as the enemy began their attack animation, the simplicity sucked all the gratification out of the impressive attack animations and brutal kills, the parkour aspects of the game are just as simple, all you are required to do is press hold R1 to run then press X to jump, the depth and fun is in guiding Altair, jumping in the right directions then moving him to the scalable areas of the buildings, in comparison the combat had no other layers and therefore no depth at all, the combat has been described as a very simple rhythm game game, attack then follow up the attack when the sword makes contact with the enemy but this could have been implemented in a much better and deliberate way.
The AI of the enemies is extremely poor, especially when every other aspect of the game is so realistic, the enemies simply wait their turn and it can be up to 10 seconds before one decides to attack.
The game became a struggle and I found myself becoming frustrated and annoyed as I continued to play, the last few assassinations consisted of informant missions, fellow Assassins wanting Altair to dispatch with some pursuers, these missions were extremely frustrating thanks to the abundance of suspicious guards standing between you and your target, the mentally challenged citizens and the guards remarkable ability to move just like Altair around the city (these parkour trained guards made Altair feel very ordinary).
Eventually I gave up, and every time I go back to complete the game I find myself going through the same emotions and just turning the game off before i loose my cool, my PS3 doesn't deserve to be punished for something it hasn't done.
So how do I feel about Assassins Creed, one of the biggest games of 2007, after writing at length about why I found myself frustrated at the game you'd think I would be preaching my dislike for the game like a disciple of Salahuddeen making his opinions about the Templars known, but I think this game gets a number of things right and would go so far as to say it is a game that has helped the games industry take a step forward, it has raised the bar for games in a number of fields, graphically it is one of the most impressive games not only of 2007 but it surpasses many of the games scheduled for a 2008 release, the detailed textures both on the character models and the cities as well as the amazing draw distance make this game very aesthetically pleasing.
The animations are breathtaking, along with the extremely detailed character models they breathe life into the game, each character is given substance and a physical influence on the world around them, Altair and the citizens all react realistically to each other and external stimuli, the attention to detail is astounding.
While the storyline is predictable, it takes place in a unique setting, a welcome change from a war torn Earth invaded by aliens.
If I had to sum up Assassins Creed in a few words, I think I go with, 'Assassins Creed is a great interactive tech-demo showcasing the power of next generation gaming', it makes me excited for the future of video gaming and who knows maybe I'll complete it one day.

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