Thursday, September 11, 2008

Assassin’s Creed

Oh Middle Ages, you were ever so fun. What with the plagues, wars, and shoddy science, it's a wonder anyone survived to tell us about the good ol' days. In the world according to Assassin's Creed ye olde times went something like this... Assassin's good, Crusaders bad, people who want power for the sake of power very bad. And so, with that premise in mind we jump into the world of death and mystery that is the Middle East: 1191 A.D.

The story of Assassin's Creed is a sort of sci-fi conspiracy tale mixed with revisionist history. While you play the game as Altair, a disgraced assassin, you are really only reliving his memories through Desmond Miles, his present-day descendant. Your job is to assassinate a particularly important Crusader, a close advisor to King Richard. Altair, being a cocky guy, saunters right up to the fellow and tries to poke him in the eye. Sadly, Mr. White-Christian-Knight-Who-Says-Ni doesn't take too kindly to this, and a fight breaks out. Returning to his master in shame, Altair is stripped of his rank and sent on nine separate missions in order to reclaim his honor.

As Altair and Desmond get closer to figuring out what exactly is going on, the story starts to draw you in, but then it spits you back out again. Violently. While your original assassination targets turn out to be rather complex individuals who may not really deserve their sudden deaths, later targets revert to being power-hungry, schizophrenic jerks who deserve what's coming to them. Also, the "modern day" storyline doesn't really pay off either, as the game ends not with a big reveal or a cliffhanger, but just a rather boring conversation and some non-helpful information. It feels like the developers were getting ready to finish the game, but just before they could get to it some well-meaning but inept intern took the disc off and it went gold before they could stop it.

Before Altair can perform his deadly duties, he must gather information on his target. You see, to an assassin knowledge is power. If you told kids that if they paid attention in school they might get to stab people in the neck for a living then you'd solve the education crisis overnight.

Info gathering includes interrogating and roughing up familiars of the person you're hunting, eavesdropping on conversations, working with informants to get juicy details, and pick-pocketing locals with valuable maps. You can also climb up really tall buildings to get a lay of the land, as well as rescue citizens from bullying guards in return for help escaping later on when you're being chased.

For the first few missions you'll be having so much fun with these tasks that you'll likely take care of every little objective dot on your map just so you can get the full experience. And then, around the fourth or fifth mission though, a sad reality will sink in: you're doing the EXACT same thing over, and over, and over again. There are no missions where you can choose one investigative path over another, and the levels play out the same way every single time. Ultimately, the game suffers one of the worst fates imaginable, as it eventually becomes just plain boring.

The title's control system is very ambitious, perhaps even too much so for its own good. Each face button controls a different body part, with your head, legs, and each arm being assigned a specific place. It sounds complicated, but it's really not too bad, and it won't take any time at all before you're squeezing through crowds, running from guards, and engaging in fancy swordfights.

Where things fall apart, however, is in the "free run" mode, especially when Altair is being chased. You see, normally you stay in "low profile," a mode in which Altair walks slowly, gently pushes people out of his way, and generally does whatever he can to keep from drawing attention to himself. As long as you are being courteous, guards are unlikely to attack you, and you can come and go pretty much as you please.

Things take a turn for the worst in "high profile," however, which is the mode which you must use to pull of Altair's attacks and more impressive acrobatic maneuvers. Things get downright impossible when you are trying to escape from a gaggle of guards and every move counts. Oftentimes as you're sprinting from danger you'll accidentally run up a wall or grab-leap onto a ledge you didn't mean to snag, costing you precious time and usually allowing soldiers to get in a few cheap shots. Ultimately, the controls are functional, but far from perfect.

Aside from the issues already mentioned, there are several more gripes to be had with this title. Firstly, the voice acting for Altair is terrible. Most of his lines are delivered in a somewhat robotic tone that make him sound either hypnotized or deeply under the influence of something. It really stands out because the rest of the voice crew does a very fine job, which begs the question of how his character could be so botched.

Bottom line? Rent. Don’t buy.


alex-ness said...

Perhaps it is just me, but when people have to explain what happened at the end to explain things the movie pretty well failed. An example was The Sting 2*, despite my dear beloved Jackie Gleason being in the cast what a stinker it was.

*the stinker

Alan Coil said...

Ah, the Middle Ages indeed. Life was simpler. No television nor internet to fill my time. I remember them well.