digital_hackery (2007-52)

Stab, Rinse, Repeat

Digital hackery

Assassinâ’s Creed makes killing Crusaders a highly detailed chore

by Dave Prince

If youâ’re like me, nothing gets you in that holiday spirit quite like spending hours on end pretending to kill Crusaders in the Holy Land circa 1191.

Sorry, I just wanted to know what it feels like to get paid to write that sentence. Call it an early Christmas present to myself.

Itâ’s not like Iâ’m off-topic here, though. Ubisoftâ’s Christmas-season release of Assassinâ’s Creed makes for an easy allegory about the game itselfâ" itâ’s a product based on a series of decisions that are somehow simultaneously brilliant and awful.

For instance, despite what all those slow-motion, cinematic pan-and-zoom-and-pose commercials would have you believe, Assassinâ’s Creedâ’s main character is not AltaÃr, assassin from the Middle Ages, but Desmond, bartender from the near-future. Someone at Ubisoft apparently thinks that Bartenderâ’s Flashback isnâ’t as catchy a title as Assassinâ’s Creed. The dual characters make for enough unnecessary contrivances and split timelines for two perfectly good individual games, had the developers worked harder on the story line. Instead, occasionally the â“realâ” main character stops having his â“genetic memoriesâ” sifted through by the Obligatory Shadowy Corporation. This gives the player the opportunity to make him walk around, talk to two people, and, if heâ’s so inclined, take a nap. This, dear reader, is Exhibit A of my Assassinâ’s Creed Critical Mantra: What is interesting at first becomes a chore by the end.

Creed claims its immersion factor as its biggest draw, and yes, it is legitimately visually stunning. The amount of visual detail on all fronts rivals Pixar, and the audio direction, especially in the crowded cityscapes, takes a more realistic turn than the standard-issue game soundtrack, lending itself to the developersâ’ vision of a realistic crowd experience without being burdened with constant, overwrought orchestral numbers.

Unfortunately, Creed is so detailed that that the developers didnâ’t have time to create more than a dozen or so individual townspeople, half that many guards, and a handful of plot-specific characters. In any other game, this wouldnâ’t be such a problem, but the monotony of Creedâ’s bipeds hits early and often precisely because the game play demands there be so many of them. The sixth time I found the same woman being accosted by the same guards over the same petty theft, the temptation to go Batmanning my way through a group of thugs inspired a perverse tendency toward Social Darwinism. The constancy of the NPCsâ"especially the ones the game demands you interact withâ"turns what should be a medieval mash-up of A Fistful of Dollars and Spider-Man into a dead-end job that involves a lot of stabbing.

By the way, that scenario I just described? Thatâ’s about 25 percent of the game. The side questsâ"so many in volume, so few in varietyâ"end up making the actual assassinations the cherry on top of the gaming equivalent of the giant sundae you get for free if you manage to eat the whole thing. It looks good, and ice cream sure is delicious, but finishing it isnâ’t worth the queasy feeling that comes with it.

The banality doesnâ’t stop there. Combat consists of a few moves with equally few weapons, and mastering one move with one weapon basically makes you invincible, since Creed would have us believe that the 20-guys-fighting-one-at-a-time school of martial arts was alive and well in ancient Jerusalem.

The only aspect of Creed that has no obvious albatross around its neck is the free-running mechanic. With very few exceptions, all it takes is a the press of a button and a direction to send your merry assassin scurrying up, over, around, and through whatever obstacles happen to be in his path. Itâ’s a level of pre-programmed intelligence rarely seen beforeâ"instead of doing exactly what the controller dictates no matter the consequence, AltaÃr does what would actually make sense. The control scheme is less about micro-managing movements than it is about telling your character to go from an ever-shifting series of points A to B while you make course corrections as the situation warrants. Itâ’s intuitive, itâ’s better than the previous model, and, barring any legal weirdness, it will probably be shamelessly copied by a hundred competitors.

Unlike the rest of Assassinâ’s Creed, itâ’s easy, it looks great, and it doesnâ’t stop being fun.


All content © 2007 Metropulse .