Yesterday, Maynard came over and we cracked and started playing Assassin’s Creed. I went into this game with a bit of trepidation and confused expectations because:
1) I absolutely loved Prince of Persia (but not so much its sequels), and it’s the same development team
2) The game just plain looked awesome
3) It got got consistently “average” to “below average” reviews from everywhere.
But I figured if Maynard and I could even get six hours of enjoyment out of it, it would be worth it, so I picked it up. Plus, I’ve burned about 200 hours into The Orange Box, so I need a new game to burn some time into.
I have a bunch of short anecdotes that I came up with to describe the experience but none of them are truly accurate. To wit:
A) “The game is Prince of Persia, only instead of trying to save the kingdom, you know, you’re evil.”
Well. Not quite.
The morality of your actions as an assassin are kind of left intentionally vague and unexamined (at least so far). There are many little side quests that are morally “good” (save some citizens from oppressive city guards) and then there is this sort of overall philosophy that “by killing a few individuals who are evil, many innocents are spared from death.” We only ended up killing two of our primary targets, but they were total sleazes (a slave trader and an arms dealer).
It is very much like Prince of Persia in the way your character, Altair, moves around. And by “very much” I mean “exactly like”. It’s a hell of a lot of fun just running across a city by only taking the rooftops, and jumping far, and so forth. Some of the standard “Prince” moves aren’t there (like doing jump climbs up between walls) but otherwise movement is very fluid and a great deal of fun.
It is kind of like Prince of Persia in that there are some climbing puzzles. There are tall structures and spires and towers and you have to get to the top of them to get a look around the area to find objectives. This is a neat gameplay idea but really the challenge of getting to the top isn’t really there: they’re all easy (so far), and after a while you start to notice that, frankly, most of them are the same building, cut and pasted somewhere else.
B) “This is what I’d like to see in a Batman game.”
Truism. I’d love to see an awesome Batman game where you can go all over Gotham and fight crime. Obviously, a Batman game would be far more stealth-oriented than this game (seriously, not much stealth going on with Altair).
There are many little side-quests and minigames that involve pure investigation, and they’re kind of fun. Sometimes you have to eavesdrop on a conversation; sometimes you have to beat up a guy to have him spill the beans, sometimes you have to follow a guy and pick his pockets.
Plus the whole running around on top of buildings thing. Just add a zipline gun, replace the throwing knives with batarangs, make everything happen at night, and give me a Batmobile instead of a horse. Done.
Which leads us to…
C) “The game is like, an Islamic Crackdown.”
Also truism. Only you don’t have the Crackdown version of the “Batmobile” and you can’t pick up cars. But the movement around the city, and the way the city is structured . . . it’s very, very Crackdown – especially in the way the plotline is structured (go to the city, find the guy you need to take out, take him out).
However, Crackdown was very much a brutal, frontal-assault type of game. There wasn’t any investigation involved at all: once you find where the badguy is holed up, you just go into the building, kill everyone, and then take out the badguy.
Here, not so much. You have to do some investigation to find who the guy is. Then you have to learn his patterns. If you continue investigating, you’ll learn hints about escape routes, strengths, weaknesses, and so forth.
I will admit that there was a serious visceral thrill – like, a real pulse pounding in my veins – killing the first victim. I stalked him. I found his patterns. I found him in the market. I listened to him talk to his weapons supplier while sitting on a bench across from him. Then, as he went to a merchant to buy some fruit, I just walked up behind him and stabbed him in the kidney: quick, silent, efficient.
He had no idea.
And then I had to escape the thugs, and that was fun, too.
I’ve read a lot of people complaining about how the combat is simply “one button mashups” but I don’t think those people really paid a lot of attention to the combat tutorials (you get one every time you learn a new skill). At first, when you don’t know anything, sure: just pressing X will do you fine. But later, there are all sorts of combos and attacks that you learn: pushing, pulling, double-tap killing blows, counter-blows.
With a big fight, stringing all of these together can be a lot of fun: one guy stabs at me, but I grab him and throw him through an orange vendor, then spin around, deflect some other guy’s blow and then counter-stab him in the guts. The final guy – if he doesn’t run – I can drop my sword, jump in the air, land on his head, and stab him in the back of the neck.
There’s all sorts of “wow, that looked cool” moments – and each of your different weapons has a different flavor.
There are non-lethal options available to you (and you need to use them sometimes). From time to time you get accosted by beggars and they simply will. not. leave. This can be especially annoying when you’re stalking a pickpocket victim.
But that’s cool. You can grab these people and throw them through carts or the crowd. There’s even an achievement for it! (Maynard, true to form, never did this. He just stabbed them.)
The big secret “twist” of the plot is revealed pretty much instantly. That’s not a bad thing: in fact, the entire deal is deeply integrated into the game interface and how you look at the world. And, honestly, I think it works. That leads us to:
Oh yes. The game really is a science fiction story cloaked in the Crusades.
The gist: you are really a twenty-five year old bartender in the future (2012, I think), and one of the last survivors of the original Hashshashin sect, raised on a farm to be an assassin – only you ran away at the age of 16 or so.
However, you are the direct descendant of Altair, the assassin from 1161. The central science premise is that all memory is passed genetically: so a child is born with the memories of his parents, only they are locked away (Dune). They explain this is how “animal instinct” works: the animals learn from those that came before.
Scientists in the future develop a machine that allows you to have access to these memories. And there are some in your skull they can’t get at, and they need you to relive a big set in order to get access to them. So you get strapped into a brain machine (The Matrix) and “sent back in time” to inhabit the body of an ancestor (Quantum Leap) during the time of Saladin and Richard I.
I haven’t gotten much deeper into the “plot arc” than that, but I presume that these guys are a) evil and b) looking for some sort of sacred relic (based on clues given to me during the very first part of the “Crusade” part of the mission). This leads me to believe that the scientists work for (or are) the equivalent of the Templars.
I expect a cliffhanger ending where you figure out what they want, and I expect a sequel game where you play your future self trying to fight this menace.
At any rate, I’m enjoying the game so far. We played it for about 8 hours or so, but we also went about exhausting all the sub quests, playing completist. I suppose if we’d gone to do the assassinations as soon as possible, we might have finished the game already, but seriously, the fun of all the side quests kept us off the main track.
One other thing: I think they kind of pussied out in addressing a couple things involving the politics of the situation. Your character, Altair, is described as “being spiritual” but not following any specific religion, and is the son of a Muslim father and a Christian mother (so we wash both hands and don’t offend either religion). They never use the name “Allah” anywhere, and, for being a game that takes place during a religious war there is a startling lack of religious focus.
At the opening, there is a disclaimer that the game was written by people of all colors and religions: marketing’s statement that they aren’t trying to rock the boat. I’d have preferred just making the guy a true Islamic assassin, but that would definitely turn the game into a “Christians are the bad guys” game, and that won’t fly post 9-11.
This was a very long review.