Saturday, May 19, 2012

Review: Assassin's Creed

When I first heard about Assassin's Creed, I thought that it'd be like Hitman set in the 1100s. What I didn't know was that it was going to be a sandbox-y game, with large environments that hosted a series of missions... that repeated over and over and over and over again, and could barely be considered missions at times. The best way to sum up Assassin's Creed is that how much you enjoy the first half of the game is in inverse proportion to how much you'll enjoy the second half, but that's if you actually enjoyed the first half at all, because an enjoyment level of 0 or less... just lowers and lowers as you progress.

Assassin's Creed starts off with some guy named Desmond being put into some machine known as the Animus, which allows the person laying on it to relive the life of one of their ancestors. Cool concept, I know, but beyond that, Desmond has no purpose. Sources may speculate that this was a last minute addition, but whether that's true or not doesn't stop it from seeming like a waste of time whenever you're forced to control Desmond again. “oh but surely the ending will make it all worth it” - fuck no! It barely felt like the ending... more like a plot twist halfway through a story! It's like “ooh yeah shit's about to get intense with... whatever the fuck that's meant to be” (and I'm not hiding anything – I wasn't sure what was going on either and nobody is willing to say anything about it either, until the sequel that is). In the end, the ending was very disappointing and left me with way too many questions for it to feel like an ending.

Ooh, but who is this ancestor? Why, Altair, of course! Altair is an assassin who, while trying to recover an incredibly important artefact, broke the three rules of his clan, and is thus stripped of his rank. Yes, even though this artefact is built up to be this big thing that can determine the fate of the world... nope, let's strip him of his rank anyway. Something's fishy and dammit, if it takes the entire game to satisfy my curiosity, then SO BE IT! Anyway, to restore his rank, he has to assassinate nine key figures of the Third Crusade to stop them from taking over the world... and they're not your typical bad guys. They're people who want to do good for the world, but the way they go about it is evil, so that's why they have to die.

Now, this could be really cool and make up for Desmond's lack of story, right? Ehh, not quite. The concept is pretty cool, and the execution is technically competent, managing to at least explain what's going on and flow cohesively, but does it have to be soo boring!? Besides the historical accuracy (which is either pretty damn close to being dead on or not quite right, depending on what textbook you've studied), it doesn't have a whole heap going for it that'll maintain your interest. The plot develops at one point, and then it just goes nowhere until the next development or twist. Until then, it just plods along, hoping that you get a boner for historical accuracy to make up for it. Actually, I'm sure somebody will debate whether this is historically accurate, but you know what, who really knows what happened? It's as one of the characters said - “do you believe it because it's in the history books? After all, history is written by the victor”. Think about it...

But yeah, usually, the gameplay makes up for that kind of thing... and for a while, it does. I don't know about everyone else who has played it, but free running on rooftops is something that's always interesting, even if all you're basically doing is holding the left stick forward while holding down R1 and X. Maybe it has something to do with the designs of the towns you explore? I'd say so. The towns are designed very fucking similarly, but that's cool, because exploring them is still fun anyway. Maybe it's just the simplicity that keeps you in some sort of hypnotic trance, wanting to uncover each square of each city for flags (which do jack shit, by the way)... that's about as far as it goes.

Sadly, the combat could never put me in the same trance. It's simple as well – either hold R1 and press square as they're about to attack or just molest the square button... no, seriously, that's all you do. “But Lukas, there are other commands like sidestepping, grabbing and more”. Okay, first off, a lot of these commands are unlocked as you proceed through the game. That's complete horse shit because these commands ought to be with you from the start. Secondly, and I feel that this is the big thing... there's basically fuck all need to do any of that when you can simply do what I suggested, because that'll manage to get you through the game! But what really frustrates me is that after a few fights, it starts to feel clunky. I mean, sure, your strikes and counters may feel alright, but sidestepping and the like... holy hell, what is this shit!? Eventually, combat winds up being this thing to dread because it just gets boring and tedious, and it honestly shouldn't ever get to that point, but here we are, at that point.

There ARE some legitimate attempts at trying to make this feel more like Hitman. Sometimes, you'll be given missions in which you have to kill specific guards and make sure no other guards catch you in the act or suspect you when they see the dead bodies. This is done either through the art of blending in with the crowd and using your hidden blade when you're sure nobody else can suspect you, or using throwing daggers. A lot of these missions are timed, which would make you think that you really ought to get your timing down, but actually, all it feels like is that you have to rush everything. Sounds fine, but given that this is meant to be stealthy, it's not so dandy in execution because when it comes right down to it, stealth is about waiting for the right moment to strike, and a time limit doesn't exactly make you think that it's okay to wait for that opportunity. I mean yeah, you can keep at it and develop the right timing to kill them all and get back to the mission marker, but honestly, in the year 2007, trial and error of a bullshit calibur like this should be fucking extinct... Oh, and you can't skip the dialogue from the assassin that gives you the mission... you can see how tedious this gets, right? Good idea, not so good execution.

Sadly, those are the only missions really worth a damn, because all of the others bite ass! The only other remotely stealthy mission is pickpocketing, but all it is, is that you have to sneak up to them, make sure they're not looking at you, and hold circle. Wow. But that's nothing. Try this one where you have to find a bench to sit on and then lock onto a specific person so you can eavesdrop on their conversation. Doing fuck all not your cup of tea? Don't worry – some people need a good punch in the face so that they'll spill the beans on your target, and then it basically becomes square, R1, square, R1, and rinse, lather, repeat. Oh sure, they'll send their mates out to gang up on you, but as long as you punch the mother hen enough, she'll crack and the chicks will leave you alone. Oh, and remember those other assassins I briefly mentioned? They don't just offer assassination missions – they'll also offer runs where you have to get some flags, and the only difficulty you'll run into is a moment when the controls decide to screw up. Honestly, assassination missions aside, these all feel like those sidequests you do in a sandbox game just to get a few more in game bucks. There's pretty much nothing to them except the same exact crap over and over again, and in the end, you're just wishing you could skip this crap so you can get to the main meat of the game!

Actually, there's one thing that really needs to be said – this game has a ton of commands. Like, more than a PS3 controller can handle. They do alleviate this by having you press or hold a shoulder button to access the appropriate commands for the situation, but not completely. See, the issue is that at times when you jump off of buildings, you'll never know what kind of jump you'll perform. Sometimes, you'll do what you want, and other times, you'll go the wrong way. At times, you'll jump when you don't want to jump. So in other words, the jumping is fairly iffy at the worst of times.

But yeah, once you do enough of these preliminary missions, you can head back to the guild and then get started on actually killing your target, which involves getting to where they are, hearing a speech or three, and then either fighting them or chasing them while mowing down their cronies. Fighting them is not really any different from fighting any of the guards, except these guys have more endurance and you can't counterattack then. Big whoop. Nothing about these fights is really exciting or even good, and you know what, I don't feel like repeating myself so let's talk about when you have to chase them. You basically run towards them, get out your hidden blade and when you're close enough, hit square and watch Altair jump and stab him in the throat. These are more exciting because there's... more to do! Seriously, it's one thing to fight them – it's another to barge through a series of cronies to get to them. As well as quiet killings, singling out a target and stabbing them is a way to assassinate them... not the best way and I don't think we'll be seeing Agent 47 doing that anytime soon, but given that this is a video game that's trying to find its audience, eh, why not?

I will say that the graphics do look pretty amazing... if you judge just by the environments and buildings. The human models are technically inferior and clash on a stylistic level with everything else. Seriously, they look like they came fresh out of a PS2 game from 2003 while the buildings and environments appear to be state of the fucking art! Same with the blood splatters, they just look silly. It's like they didn't finish rendering those... if you want me to paint you a picture here, imagine that you did a damn fine drawing of somebody with some oil crayons. That's basically what they look like. Then put in some buildings, environments and Altair's robe, all looking like they were made with some damn detailed textures that made everything look spot bloody on, like they would in real life. If that's not enough, then there's not much I can really do... except add that because they look so good, the game has some serious screen tearing and lag issues. The lagging isn't all that often, but screen tearing... holy shit, it pops up fairly often. It's a shame, because damn, this game looks good!

When it comes to the sound department, there isn't a whole lot to say. The soundtrack had barely any presence throughout the whole game. Yeah, it sounded okay, but it didn't really add to much. Not even its most intense tracks got me into the fighting, even back when I liked it (which was at like the first hour of the game). Ah well. The voice acting was hit and miss. The folks at Abstergo (where the Animus is) sound good, especially the doctor who has that kind of voice that makes you suspect something about him (that's how I felt, it's not a spoiler in any way guys). Altair sounds alright, but really out of place... I mean, since when did Middle Eastern folks in the 12th century sound like a modern day American? Just putting that out there. The Middle Eastern folks themselves sound alright, but the citizens get annoying repeating the same dialogue. But really, it's all nothing special, except the doctor who sounds just right, and Altair who sounds completely out of place.

So yeah, that's Assassin's Creed for you. It's a game with great ideas, but mediocre execution, and not enough steam to carry a whole game. That's what shits me in the end – it had some really good ideas, like a 12th century Hitman game, with a sci-fi premise of sorts and themes of redemption and corruption. But nope, what could've been cool is just flat and not worth playing through, because it just doesn't have any endurance. What starts off as a good game becomes an exercise in redundancy with side mission quality tasks and just the overall feeling of disappointment and mediocrity.

6/10 (Above Average)

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