Assassin’s Creed (2008)

For all the freedoms Assassin’s Creed touts, it comes with too many caveats. You can go anywhere, although certain areas will be blocked off until you do specific tasks. As for doing anything, what you can do is narrowly limited, the overall experience is practically linear with the only real choice being in what order you take missions. In a game about being free to choose how I go about my missions every time I try to do it my way a wall impedes me from making my “free” choice.

The game forces you into these long winded, droll, unskipable cut-scenes about every 30 minutes. The writers at Ubisoft Montreal must have thought they had one of the best stories of the decade as at every turn we get lengthy monologues and hokey twists handled with such a level of heavy gravity that it’s laughably bad. The story is a conglomeration of crap conspiracy theories with a dash of sci-fi thrown in.  At least I have the freedom to change my camera angle while I listen to all these monologues. The problem is all the angles suck.

After these ridiculously dull and tedious cut-scenes we finally get to go do some assassination. But wait. Before you do that you have to report to the city’s Assassin’s Bureau and watch another bloody cut-scene. Now can I go assassinate my target? No!

Now you must do at least three side-missions. Problem is there are only about nine unique side-missions the entire game and they teeter from overly simplistic (eavesdropping, where you simply push two buttons without any skill or timing) to challenging but ridiculous (such as assassinating 9 Templar Knights in the span of 5 minute without being detected).

It’s like when you were a kid, about to play your favorite game when your mother said you had to do three chores before you could play. Sure, you have the freedom to pick which three chores will separate you from actually playing the game, but since they are chores you are going to pick the easiest and quickest ones so you can get back to your game. Assassin’s Creed becomes a second mother, placing the chores in game. Why can’t I go assassinate my target the minute I’m in town? If the game was really open it would let me do that.

You get your in-game chores done and are sneaking up to make an assassination, edging through the crowd, selecting your hidden blade. And there he is, just feet away from you, delivering a message to the crowd. Off to the right is a ladder. If you can get there you can sneak right above him, leap down, slice his jugular and speed off before the guards have time to hem you in. Only there’s one tiny problem, you have to watch another freaking cut-scene! Yet still trying to be “open world”–whatever that means at this point–you can move around during the cut-scene. And the cut-scenes always plays at the best moment to move in on your target or find a place to hide. Instead you are stuck watching another unskipable cut-scene. The worst part is when you kill a target only to have to listen to them ramble on about some sinister conspiracy. I just stabbed a knife through your through, you shouldn’t be able to tell me a single thing.

Cut-scene ends, you get your chance and you pounce. Yet these guys you hunt aren’t morons. Nine times out of ten you’ll either miss because of a small imprecision or the target will see you and instantly sic his guards on you. Remove any notions of silently and stealthily removing a target. Way to miss the entire point of what an assassin is Ubisoft. Yet perhaps its only fair as if I saw a hooded guy in white robes with a big sword at his hip and long knife walking straight towards me with a mechanical gait I’d probably think he was out to kill me too. On the off chance you do pull the silent kill off, the guards are instantly alerted to your presence.

This is in part because the game’s artificial intelligence is retarded to an extreme. You can assassinate random people right in front of a guard and as long as it is a “stealthy assassination” they will have no idea who did it. Of course it couldn’t be the guy wiping the blood of his hands on his conspicuous white robes. And when the guards do hunt you the ways you can hide are so stupid that even a retard with half a brain would find you. The guy who just leapt 100 feet from above couldn’t possibly be hiding in that wagon of hay right in front of your face.

Speed and stealth will eventually fail you and you’ll get cornered into fighting a bunch of guards with one of the clunkiest combat controls ever. You have to hold a button to guard, press a button to attack or counterattack and press another button to dodge grabs. The same button to dodge grabs also make grabs, the spacebar is used both to run and to make a jumping attack. Mapping multiple actions to the same buttons is just a moronic idea. It leads to countless moments where I want to run away from a fight but end up jumping right into an enemies attack.

I finally figured out the magic is all in whether or not you are locked on to an enemy. Problem is the lock on is suck a tiny graphic on screen that you have to be looking straight at it to see it, meaning you probably aren’t watching what all the other enemies are doing. And then the lock-on sporadically jumps from one character to the next. I’ll knock an enemy down and move in to finish him off only to have the game auto-lock on the enemy farthest away from him.

And the worst part is the pacing of the animation feels off. Maybe it has something to do with the fact I played on a PC but I swear that it’s almost impossible to distinguish a fast and slow attack from an enemy in the first half-second of the animation, leading to countless cases where I counterattacked too early, leaving me open to a heavy blow. And worst of all is that by the end of the games you are literally fighting waves of enemies, leaving bodies strewn in your wake. Assassin’s are paid to kill one target well, not every single person who gets in the way of one target.

I find this game offensive on multiple levels. I find it offensive as a gamer that someone would make a game that promises freedom yet forces me to do so many things I don’t want to do. I find it offensive as an intelligent person that the game treats its hokey plot with a serious gravity and expects me to treat it as serious as well. But most importantly I find it offensive as a person who expected some cool assassination action, not a series of bloodbaths. There’s far more skill and finesse involved in taking out a single target and escaping than in killing never-ending waves of clunky enemies that wait one at a time to kill you.

© 2010 James Blake Ewing