Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Assassin's Creed

Post-Launch Reviews #5
Assassin's Creed (PC)
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Released: November 14 2007 (console) / April 8 2008 (PC)

The Assassin's Creed franchise follows the story of Desmond Miles, a kidnapped descendant of a great brotherhood of assassins. Using a device called the Animus to force Desmond to relive the memories of his assassin ancestors, his abductors seek a lost treasure with great power. The first game focuses on the life of Altair, an assassin living in the Holy Land during the Crusades, who is assigned to kill members of a secret organization called the Templars to protect the Holy Land from their evil machinations.

At Launch
Assassin's Creed was fairly well reviewed overall, but criticized for its repetitive missions, simplistic combat, and poor AI. The game was unique for its combination of movement, stealth, and relatively less action. Sales surpassed Ubisoft's expectations.

Post Launch
The PC version, released much later, contained four new mission types to the intel-gathering portions, helping with the repetitive nature of those segments. Each segment has a slightly different assortment of mini-missions as opposed to the same six every time.
The Good
Stuff To Do
Assassin's Creed has an awful lot of content. There are many types of missions, including major stuff like assassinations where you sneak in and murder your target; escort; eavesdropping; pickpocketing; civilian rescue; interrogation; time trials; etc. For each assassination assignment you must unlock at least one viewpoint and complete at least two intelligence missions, but there are around 10 viewpoints available and at least five or six intel missions available. If you're going for 100%, you'll have to finish each assassination and all its associated intel missions, unlock every viewpoint at about 10 per area with cities containing multiple districts, kill all 60 hidden Templars, and find over 500 collectibles. There's lots to explore and lots to discover. It's definitely exploiting my OCD tendencies.

The playable assassin, Altair, has a great character arc. At the start of the game, you're already the best assassin in the... guild? Organization? Anyway, it's made Altair arrogant and disrespectful of the three rules of the assassin's creed: never harm an innocent, be subtle, and never harm the organization whether directly or indirectly. In the most important mission he's ever had, Altair not only fails to retrieve the artifact he was sent for, but also manages to get one of his underlings killed and lead the assassins' greatest enemy back to their base, leading to further deaths. As punishment, Altair is stripped of his rank and has to prove himself all over again in the hope that he will re-learn his lessons as well as some humility and respect.
The Premise
The premise of the series is really cool. We assume that genetic memory is a thing that exists, so contained in a creature's DNA are all the memories of its ancestors, which explains things like instincts and non-learned behaviours. Desmond, a descendant of the assassins, is kidnapped by a mysterious group with the technology to enable an individual to relive his ancestor's memories. They force Desmond to experience the life of his ancestor, the legendary assassin Altair, in order to discover the location of an artifact they need.
It's very neat really. The game pretends to be historical fiction set in the Crusades, but behind the scenes it's really science fiction.

The Plot
After being introduced to Desmond (a kidnapped descendant of the assassins forced to relive ancestors' memories), we meet Altair and his massive ego. He screws up a mission because he thinks his skill is more important than his master's orders. As punishment, you're told to go kill some bad men and learn your place — and it quickly gets more complicated and interesting. Altair slowly pieces together information from his assassination targets and starts to discover what's really going on.
The Bad
Boring Camera
Perhaps I'm a little spoiled by Mass Effect's cinematic camera angles for dialogue. In Assassin's Creed you can sometimes swap between a couple of different camera angles, but most of the time the camera is fairly zoomed out and completely stationary, so you often don't get to see characters' faces when they're talking to each other. The emotion of the scenes would be nearly identical if we only had voiceover on black.

Minor Logic Flaws
There are a few errors and flaws in the game's logic. They're not huge and they're not always obvious but they're a nuisance once you notice them. The main one I've seen plenty of times before is that Altair, the master assassin, apparently never learned to swim despite the assassin fortress being surrounded by water. If you fall into a lake or canal, you die. This is especially bad in the platforming level over water. Another issue is that guards will chase after you and try to kill you if you're going too fast on horseback, but isn't the point of riding a horse to get to your destination faster? I shouldn't have to slow to a walking pace to avoid attracting attention to myself.

There's a lot of clipping in character animations and models. Characters' swords don't always fit between their fingers or pass through their cloaks. Sometimes a guy's arm is inside a wall. When someone points at a map, his finger goes through it. You won't notice it that much but it kind of seems like the developers just didn't want to bother fixing it.
UI Annoyances
This isn't a major problem, just a constant minor annoyance: when playing as Altair, if I want to quit the game, I have to do the following: escape key, exit memory, confirm, exit Animus, confirm, escape key, quit game, confirm, select a profile from title screen, quit to Windows, confirm. AAAAARRRRRGHHH. On a console all I'd have to do is push the power button.
The other thing is that when you complete certain missions, the camera will focus itself on something for a couple of seconds to let you know what you've accomplished. However, when I'm trying to complete all twelve civilian rescues in a district, I really wish I could skip the “OH THANKS HOW CAN I EVER REPAY YOU ALSO LOOK AT WHAT YOU EARNED FOR FIVE SECONDS” that happens every single time.

This is definitely the worst of the flaws. The game gets very repetitive. Each assassination mission consists of: get to town, gather information by doing miniquests, watch cutscene, assassinate target, watch cutscene, repeat. There are a variety of different quests in each town, but it's the exact same variety in every town with only a couple of variations — some districts don't have a shop challenge, for example. Each assassination is also pretty similar: you get a cutscene showing you why your target is bad, he walks away, you have to go find him. The only pleasant change from the formula was when my target was a scholar and his fellows were dressed almost identically, so I had to carefully move around and pick out the correct target. Of course, I could also have just killed them all with no consequence.
Recommendation: play it.
I'm a little hesitant on this recommendation, actually. It's a pretty good game and it introduces some neat mechanics, but it's very unpolished. Considering that the game ends with a “to be continued”, you should play it if you're interested in the franchise as a whole, but I'm not sure how strongly I'd recommend it by itself.

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