Assassin’s Creed rocks! I had a ton of fun with this game and have to say it’s my favorite single player game in the last few months. Set in both the near future as well as during the Crusades, this fabulous game comes from some of the makers of Prince of Persia, so you can imagine how much climbing and falling you get to do. Running around rooftops, stealth assassinating villains, fending off eight guards at once…it’s been a pleasure to play and I may just go back and play it some more. Read on for my full review of another “Good Bad So What.”
Parkor Across Jerusalem – The Fluid Animations
I never thought it could be so much fun to just run around in a game. No, I don’t mean run and shoot or run and steal…I mean to say that it is a joy to just run. Taking to the rooftops and running is the most exciting part. You see, Ubisoft has such a slick animation system that all you really need to do is point your character in a direction and go. The animation system takes care of most of the rest so you will run, jump, hop up, hop down, climb, mantle, dyno and swing your way along in the direction you desire. Different rates of movement allow for different interpretations of the collision, so quick adjustments can really allow players to master movement without even trying. What a joy. On top of being quite nice animations themselves, the animation blending system is impressive. Other games that claim to have fluid movement will have to now use Assassin’s Creed as their benchmark.
Running from the Guards
Running from these fools is just plain fun. Although threat levels do not increase like they do in Grand Theft Auto, it isn’t hard to get 15 of them chasing you all around the city. A few times I even started giant brawls as I got my vigilante NPCs to join in the fun. Towards the end of the game they stand around in what looked like packs of 8 vigilantes, so you can imagine 9 vs 15-25 guards as an impressive sight. I did enjoy how the guards didn’t always follow you up the side of a building. Sometimes they would decide to throw a rock instead in an attempt to knock you off. Yes, it works and often drops you down in the middle of a bunch of guards. I do like how the guards get progressively more difficult and more aggressive. Players can tell which guards are the more difficult ones often by their helmet, which is a subtle distinction that I thought was refreshing. Too often designers make enemies that are more difficult be the ones who are much larger or silly vibrant colors. Not in this one tho…
The Future Revealed
Ok, so I was not entirely sure I liked the jumps to the future until I got close to the end. When it is revealed that the people holding you are Templars, the story gets more interesting. I guess I have to say thematically I enjoyed the idea that you aren’t just going back to some long forgotten time when the Templars fought Assassins. The story is current and is real. Well, except for the fact that you don’t really get to do too much in the present other than walk around. More interactivity would have been cool. Also more ways to know what things I could interact with would have been helpful.
Combat – Holy Shit That Was Cool!
Well, tie in a sick ass animation system and rather simple combat controls and you end up with a great experience where you can seriously take on 25 enemies at once and not be totally overwhelmed. The combat is one where you still are banging away on buttons, but the direction of your attack works much like moving across rooftops. Basically, you move the stick in the direction that you intend your character to act and he will as quickly as he can. The short sword is very fast at this and allows you to swing at many opponents in a matter of seconds. This helps keep them at a distance so you can attempt to zero in on a single target to kill.
I like how, after a bunch of slower kills, the system launches you into a frenzy mode where each swing of the sword kills the lower level baddies. I also like the counters a hell of a lot and would like to thank Ubisoft for making what seemed like 10 different finishing moves so that you don’t get tired of the same one over and over again. Not sure if they are selected randomly or not, but it sure seems like it.
They spent all this effort on making players able to climb around rooftops, why not also allow them to climb to the top of minarets and churches? Well, Assassin’s Creed did just that and even rewarded players for doing so with a beautiful view of the city. The frame rates were actually rather shitty for these sequences, but I still got the point of the massive views across a city. A city that I could fully explore! The viewpoints mechanic is to allow your character to spy down upon the ground below for things to interact with. A person in need of help, a thug who needs to be relieved of some information or a curious conversation that looked worth more investigation.
The thing that really killed me about the view points, the thing that really sells it for me, is how the character assumes a gargoyle pose as he perches on the tops of the buildings and does the look around, then can jump off and fall back down to earth in a pile of hay. The designers made sure it was dramatic by changing the field of view so that the drop looks 10 times farther than it really is.
I will suggest that if you want to see the beauty of this game, just take a look at a few of the view points as someone plays the game and I bet you will be easily convinced that this game is truly what is meant by next-gen graphics.
Cutscene Camera Control
I’m not the hugest fan of the classic cutscene where I am forced to watch a bunch of poorly animated characters tell a story with typically bad VO acting. In fact, I rather am annoyed by it in so-called next-gen games as it feels like there just has to be a way to improve on the convention.
Assassin’s Creed doesn’t go off on a huge tangent, but it does add a few elements that I really appreciated. Cutscenes are divided into two types; there are the scenes where you control the camera and there are scenes where you control Altair. You still can’t really control the action much more than moving your character around, so I won’t go and say that they have done anything really amazing…but they have opened my eyes up a bit to more flexible story telling in a controlled, yet not frustrating environment. The ability to move something gives the illusion that there still is some amount of control even though there is no real way for you to change the outcome of the scene. If I were to take this idea even further, I would love to make it so that the Altair could interact with things during the scenes. Maybe he could even emote, like how characters do in MMOs, to help tell the story and maybe even generate varied responses from NPCs.
Scale – Graphics True To Life
Let’s first take a look at the GTA games. They are huge, fun to play in and fun to drive around really fast. They feel open and true to life…until you see a beautiful game like Assassin’s Creed. The buildings, the streets, the distances and the set decoration are all true to scale (at least they sure as hell feel like it). When I get a view from the view points above, I really feel like I am looking at a properly scaled city. Now typically games (especially third-person games) have taken creative liberties and spread the world out so that characters could better navigate their play space, but this game seems to have proved to me that this is not required as much as it used to be.
Take these pictures as an example...
The top images show how in Max Payne 1 the level designers first experimented with space as realistically sized and positioned, but they understood that, as in seen in the bottom two images, spreading things out made space more navigable and comfortable for both the camera and the player. Simply put, the camera in a third person game can be considered to be an extension of the physical players because it also needs to occupy valid space (space where the characters can also go). I am going to have to go back into Assassin’s Creed to figure out how they solved the problem in a way that Max Payne could not, but what I do know is that the world in this game the world feels true to life, and it feels great.
The Templar Treasure
What the hell were they thinking by making the Templar treasure be some magic tech sphere. COME ON! Give me a break. Where is the intrigue, the mystery? Why did you feel you had to explain it…well, actually not explain it. I mean, you basically went off and said that you are going to bottle up all of the mysteries of the ancient world in some silly technology that you don’t have to explain. Well shame on you for taking the shitty easy way out. I didn’t buy it and it makes me not want to play your sequel. By the way...it reminds me of those exercise gyro things...
Combat – Knives and Reaction Time
Most of combat was quite fun and fluid…except for the damn knife throwing. The “Save the Citizen” fights really were quite easy if you could just throw those knives fast enough, but for some reason they would always target someone who was farther away and in the opposite direction. It ended up being rather clumsy each time I tried to take down 4+ guards with the knives, leaving me trying to throw knives at civilians by mistake. On the other side of things, when I could get the knife throwing off, it was a one shot kill every time. So…if the mechanic was smooth as silk it would have been too powerful. Argh…
Lack of Scripted Fights
There were a few scripted fights (like the one where you are locked in the warehouse), but overall the fights were just getting everyone in the right position and then letting them all battle. Come on…you obviously have ways to script events so why not script fights a little bit more. I’m not asking for anything too complex, like the end boss battle, but the most common complaint I hear about the game (aside from people being thrown by the inclusion of the future elements) is that the game is repetitive. Ok, so you have 9 people I have to assassinate…why not make each of their fights more interesting. Maybe, at the very least, make it a bit of a puzzle on how I get to my target. Go back and play Thief if you don’t know what I mean.
Jumping Between Cities
Ok, so I initially liked the idea of being able to jump between cities when I wanted to. You know, without having to traverse the Kingdom, but upon further consideration I really am saddened. I like having to travel and feel like it takes away from the size of the game (it’s a HUGE game in terms of space) by allowing me to skip content. This skip mechanic basically rendered the horse sections as useless past the first 1/3 of the game.
So, yeah…it is convenient to skip and seems really needed, but I believe without it players would simply consider running around the Kingdom as a part of the entire game experience…which leads to my next point.
No Kingdom Adventures
Whose bright idea was it to make an entire area with nothing interesting to do? I can’t get involved in any stories or anything similar outside in the kingdom. This makes me wonder if the skipping between cities happened later in the development of the game after focus tests or something because people were so BORED spending all their time traveling in a space with very little to do.
Look, this one should be simple, folks. You make a HUGE ass level for me to run around in, give it meaning. Give it motivation.
No Random NPC Interaction
All this effort to make crowds of people and no way to interact with them? Sure, I know they are all a part of the escape mechanic…I am supposed to work to avoid them…but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make it so that I can’t interact with them. Guess I’m asking for too much here because this idea would require a whole new set of stories and quests and VO that just wasn’t a part of the game’s main thread. I’ll think about this one a little bit more.
Guards Give Up Easy
The guards can navigate the roofs of the city almost as well as I can, they can peg me as an assassin just looking at me later in the game and some of them even fight quite well…but hide behind a few pieces of cloth and POOF, they give up the chase.
I just don’t buy it and it makes an otherwise solid chase mechanic feel contrived. What are these boxes that I hid in? Why are there so many? Why don’t the guards just check inside the fucking things? There is nowhere else I could have gone. Yeah, I get the mechanic, but don’t get the diagetic logic. Another logic cop out just like the Templar Tech Powerball of DOOM…
I am a fucking trained sooper assassin. I can cut down 25 men with my gleaming sword, throw daggers into mens throats from 40 paces, stealth kill unsuspecting fully armored knights from a foot away, parkor across the tops of roofs, drop 15 feet without hurting myself, dyno all the way up minarets (like 5.12 free climbs…I swear), fall 100s of feet into carts of hay and survive AND I fall in the water and drown in 0.001 seconds. WTFBBQ! ROFLCOPTER you N00BS!
So I spent the last few paragraphs punching Assassin’s Creed in the face (maybe because without the Assassin part you just have Creed, a band I fucking love to hate), but I really do have to say this is an amazing game. Assassin’s Creed really cracked the open world genre for me as it beautifully weaved story elements into a gorgeous setting with an exquisitely dynamic animation system. A solid game for everyone with a next-gen system to have. Even if you get sick of the repetitive mechanics quickly, it’s worth it just to run around the larger cities and kill guards and then parkor the rooftops.
So an analysis into how this game has helped move things forward…well animation for sure. Making the worlds feel a bit more realistic and comfortably claustrophobic, check. Combat better than GTA, check. So, really the biggest contribution to games here is the way Assassin’s Creed allows players to traverse the environment. Let’s hope that this game is studied and the ideas replicated in other IPs. Congrats on a solid game…now bring me the sequel already!