Monday, May 19, 2008

Review: Assassin's Creed

The buzz around this game has been so heavy and fellatory (is that even a word?) that I went into this ready to not like this game, especially given the jaw-dropping system requirements for the PC version. Well, fortunately for me, I have such a machine. So I was able to sample this little morsel of a game.

Graphics -
At first blush, the graphics are absolutely astounding and it starts to make sense that the game requires a PC with the cognitive abilities of a 12th level Mentat to play it... but as you play through the game you start to notice some very peculiar graphical anomalies I've never quite seen before but am inclined to blame on the game's console roots (how I'd love to be able to get through just one freaking review without having to bitch about a game being hobbled by its console roots). There are a few horizontal lines in the middle of the view that run the entire length of the screen, visible only by the graphical distortions they cause, much like looking through a pair of executive trifocal glasses. When the action is getting fast and furious you hardly notice it, but it catches your eye during slow parts (and there's a lot of slow parts). And, of course, like most console ports, there are some serious jaggies from bad anti-aliasing. Shadow rendering involves an almost-unforgivable amount of pixellation. Aside from that, however, the visuals are jaw-dropping.

The sound is par excellence. From the clang of swords to the splut of a dagger going into a throat, the sound effects are distinct and well produced. The voice acting is top notch in most situations, and the use of various different languages added to the feeling. Yes, the protagonist has an American accent. But you know what? Feck off. At least it isn't a TEXAN accent.

Up to the end, the story is engaging and well done. The characters may be a little cardboard, but it's the 12th century holy land.. people weren't that deep back then. The story purports to be based on historical figures, and they take some creative license with a few dates and geographical locations, but the story does very well at what it is supposed to do in these sorts of games: make you want to finish to see how it ends.

What we have here is a sort of Hitman-meets-Prince of Persia in the 12th century Holy Land. There's lots of skulking about and climbing over buildings (yet somehow, it's almost entirely outdoors, abarring a few exceptions... nobody apparently ever realizes they could elude uber-assassin Altair by... going inside a house). Some other folks have griped about the controls, but once you get past the initial learning curve I found these to be by far the most intuitive ported-from-console controls I have ever played to date, especially since they make wise use of right click and the shift key. The camera is sometimes a little problematic going through tight spaces, however. But the main things in the game... IE, stabbing people and hacking them apart, are like buttah. There's also a lot of fun to be had in "free running" across the rooftops (or as I like to call it, the Thieves' Highway, blatantly ripped from Raymond Feist).

Even apart from the graphic oddities that stand out pretty prominently, there are some major gripes to this game.

First and foremost is the ending of the game. Look, I hate spoilers as much as the next guy, but let me just warn those (both) of you who haven't played this game yet, you will hate the ending. Why? Because there pretty much isn't one. There's a strongly implied "to be continued" with an even more implied "frack you, ha ha" for you to glower over while you watch the unskippable (and interminable, it seems) credits roll by. The whole game builds suspense and expectation up to what's going to happen to the 2012 protagonist and then it just pulls the rug out from under you. You've been expecting Desmond to wig out and go Altair on his captors, and maybe he will... but not this game. They build to a huge anticlimax and leave you to dangle. Frankly, I think they could have cut out 2 or 3 of the assassination missions from the middle of the game and tacked the "modern day" mission on to the end.

Second is the frankly ludicrous "blend" paradigm. I think this sums it up pretty nicely. Especially so when on horseback.

Third is how often things just degenerate into a general 10-on-1 sword melee. Now, I rarely lost those (even the stupid 20-on-1 unavoidable fights at the end of the game), because the defend-and-counter system works so well, but come on! This is supposed to be a stealthy assassin here, not Conan the Saracerian (sic).

As I mentioned before, I think they could have taken out a couple of the missions in the middle. This is because they are exceedingly repetitive. Pickpocket somebody, beat somebody up, eavesdrop on somebody, run a couple time trials, kill your target, lather, rinse, repeat. If the game didn't make killing people so fun, I probably would have gotten tired of running these missions. And there was something very satisfying in walking up to an armored knight, stabbing him in the stomach, and walking away out of sight before he slumped to the ground and anybody noticed anything was wrong. Even moreso to run across rooftops and leap onto the back of an unsuspecting archer and stab him in the neck.

The Verdict
It's decent game. I'd say the term "flawed genius" applies here. It was good, but it could have been orgasmic. Hopefully the lessons learned here will be applied to the inexorable sequel.

Grade: B
And that's the word from Bandit Camp.


PPMcBiggs said...

I played this a little on the xbox. It was pretty cool. I couldnt give it a fair shake with just 2 hours of play but for my short time it was pretty cool. I wouldnt mind playing it on pc if only my poor box was capable.

Greek said...

the game features parkour, not free running.

Gas Bandit said...

Well, they specifically call it "free running" inside the game.. as in "hold down right click and left shift to engage free running mode."

Anonymous said...

LOL greek got owned