Playing It So You Don’t Have To: Assassin’s Creed

a/k/a Slacker Ass Compliant Retardo Bartender Hostage Game

4 out of 10

(Note—this review contains numerous spoilers, including end-of-game spoilers. Believe me, I am doing you a favor. Play this game only if you have 30-40 hours to kill and love stupid characters; gaping plot holes and bizarre character motivations; and repetitive missions/combat that involve the same buttons and gameplay devices over and over and over. As always, my reviews target discerning thirtysomething gamers with limited gaming time on their hands due to a career, a life, a family, or any combination of the above.)

My brother is lucky that his wife is a gamer. That meant he (they) got a PS3 long before I could justify one to my wife. When visiting over Thanksgiving, he’d recently purchased Assassin’s Creed. When we loaded it, the graphics amazed me; it was the first time I’d seen a PS3 game in person, and I was not disappointed. My first impression of the gameplay interested me enough to think the plot would delve deep and the action would get more rewarding.

All this led me to start saving some bucks, and, when Blu-Ray rendered HD-DVD dead, I had two reasons to buy the PS3. Luckily, I only played AC for 45 minutes during that Thanksgiving visit, or I may never have purchased a PS3.

Assassin’s Creed sucks you in with promises of an epic storyline spanning centuries (stitched together via a DNA-reading ancestral memory device) and lavish, stunning graphics. But the gameplay gets stale fast, and the storyline and character motivations arc quickly from promising to boring and nonsensical. Put simply, you’re soon left with a beautiful game that sucks.

You begin the game in a state-of-the-art laboratory in the modern era. You are not a scientist. You are Desmond Miles, a captive of the (you will soon find out) evil Abstergo Corporation. You have been kidnapped against your will and are under the care of two scientists: a stuffy older man and a hot chick (obligatory!) dressed up like the educators in Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” video.

It is explained to you that Abstergo is seeking to access your “ancestral memories” with its newest creation, the previously mentioned DNA-memory-accessing device called the Animus. The Animus is the very, very expensive-looking glass hybrid of a Posturepedic bed and a dentist’s chair. When lying on it, the machine enables you to relive your ancestor’s lives. Why is Abstergo interested in you? Well, apparently one of your ancestors played a crucial role in the Crusades at the time of King Richard the Lionheart, and they need access to your memories to get answers about something or other.

This is a compelling premise, and I suspended my disbelief for hours of gameplay. Unfortunately, you quickly learn things about your modern-day self that you might not like to know. For instance, though you’re descended from the world’s elite assassins, you have spurned that intriguing heritage to forge your own path as a….bartender?

Really? I’m a bartender? Ok, that will be a minor hiccup, I think. I will not lie down and take this captivity meekly! These scientists have in no way restrained me, so I will turn the tables, trash their lab and hold them hostage! Yes, that fire extinguisher on the wall! I will grab it and, with assassin’s blood flowing through my veins, knock out both my captors and then use it to destroy the Animus! Sure, there are cameras, and security will get here soon, but not until I indefinitely suspend this experiment with some good old mayhem! I will not go gently into that good night!

Or not.

It turns out you can’t manipulate anything in the large lab in which you have the full run. You can rarely even manipulate something as elementary as a computer screen (hey, it might have access to The Internets, and you could email out a cry for rescue!), much less knock your captors out with a couple of well-timed blows.

And even though you know it won’t work, you will try to manipulate absolutely everything again, the next time you’re in between missions — just in case. I admit it, I was a fool and wasted a lot of time doing this. There is only one time that you can interact with anything; oddly, you can steal a pen at one point. Whoopdee do! (If you don’t grab it, you can’t access one minor side plot at the end of the game.)

While many designers have taken to mixing the gaming world up by introducing flawed antiheroes such as Kratos (God of War) and Dante (Devil May Cry), the team at Assassin’s Creed took an different tack. They decided the world of protagonists had gone long enough without a non-threatening, compliant, slacker-retardo bartender whose only objection to being kidnapped is a mild case of the shoulder shrugs and a “Well, what can you do?” attitude. You have clearly been kidnapped against your will and yet, oddly, you do not seem to give a shit.

While your present-day self leaves much to be desired, your ancestral assassin alter ego is all kinds of badass. Or is he? The initial Crusade-era gameplay introduces you to Altair, an oxymoronic reckless master assassin who — by way of introduction — murders an old man, blows his own cover, gets one of his partners murdered and another’s arm cut off, and, worst of all, gets his super-assassin-ass kicked by a French guy.

I was ready to be hanged or drawn and quartered for this catastrophic disaster. But no, your gross ineptitude leads to the grave consequence of your rank being stripped by the Guild’s master. On the plus side, it turns out your rank meant next to nothing anyhow, since everyone in your organization hates you (clearly with good cause).

Your further punishment for your transgressions: you must assassinate some very high profile targets. That’s a punishment? Sounds more like what you are supposed to be doing for a living.

Ok, let’s go with that, though. En route to your many (9 or something) assassinations, you will notice the game has serious repetitiveness issues. In short, your first mission is the same as your last mission. You get directions from the master. You run down a hill from the Assassin’s stronghold. You kill a few guards and civilians along the way for fun. You leave the town and ride a horse along a winding trail for some time. You visit the Guild Office in that town and have pointless conversations with the bureau chief. You have to climb very tall towers in the town to get your bearings and unlock missions (the views are pretty, but by the time you’ve climbed your 87th tower, believe me, you will be pissed).

It’s almost as if the developers are punishing you: if they had to spend that much goddamn time programming this place, they sure as hell are going to make you wander around the same areas time and again to “enjoy” their handiwork. Here’s what I view them thinking, “See that mountain? I sure programmed a pretty fucking mountain. Nice tree too. Fucking beautiful. No really, look at it for the 97th time, and ride the horse down that same path for the 25th time, and enjoy it some more, why don’t you. Oh, and don’t forget to climb that tower, again!”

After visiting the bureau chief (By the way, bureau chiefs are all assholes too, just like you are. The guy who got his arm cut off and his brother killed because you were an asshole is a bureau chief, too. But I think he has a lifetime pass to be a prick to you), you pickpocket someone for information, or beat up an evil sympathizer for information, or talk to an informant, or sometimes all three.

Allegedly, this process will give you valuable information to help you eliminate your target, with tips like these (and I am not making this up): “Approach scholars to blend in,” (something you learned to do in the first training mission); “Robert’s men are well-armed,” and “The only thing more dangerous than a drunken sailor is one who is angry.” (Huh? But what about an angry, drunken sailor? Touche, Assassin’s Creed designers!) Thanks for the intel, dickwads. I would never have been able to commit my public, daytime, bloodbath massacre assassinations without it!

Early in the game, you get in trouble from your master for asking questions. You are an assassin, he says. You eliminate targets; it is not in your job description to question. That sounds fair enough to me, and if I ran a guild that directive would appear near the top of the policy guidelines.

Yet, as the game progresses, you start asking more and more questions. The kind of questions that clearly helped get you demoted in the beginning of the game. The kind of questions that should get you thrown out and/or killed, especially considering your tenuous position within the guild.

Yet, the questions you ask, and the answers you discover, turn out to be pretty irrelevant. For instance, in one mission, the leader of a city is burning books. Your leader makes this clear, as do the townspeople, as does your bureau chief. And, as if that is not enough, there are piles of books burning in the street, just to drive home the point. Could anything be less necessary to an assassin’s mission? Does it matter if the target is burning books, growing flowers, or painting rainbows? No. you should just be focused on the assassination. Agent 47 would never ask these kinds of questions.

As the game unfolds, you will find it centers on the assassinations of Templar leaders who have banded together to establish a new rule in the Middle East by defeating both Christians (King Richard) and Muslims (Saladin). It is the Templar leaders whom you are eradicating.

Each time you kill one, you interrogate him for information on their deathbed. Each time they give you some lame-ass line about how you are going to fail, they are not evil, only seeking true justice, blah blah blah blah blah. When you kill the final Templar target, he confesses to you that there are in fact 10 Templar leaders, and that you have only killed nine! The final Templar leader is…the head of the Assassin’s Guild, your boss, Al Mualim!

Ok, time out here for some serious WTF action. You have been systematically wiping out the Templar leadership at the behest of Al Mualaim. Fine. But the other Templar leaders must know that Al Mualaim is sending you for them from the beginning of the game. And yet, not one of these targets has the sense to tell you, even on his deathbed, that Al Mualim was a despotic Templar bent on furthering his own power and you were simply his tool? Not fine.

It makes no sense whatsoever. By the third or fourth assassination, these guys would have been singing like canaries, telling you your master is a power-mad Templar and you should be targeting him, not them. You’ve got to be kidding me.

Other things you would not (and should not) like about this game:

  • In the game’s opening movie, you have a crossbow. In the actual game, you do not. Long range targeting would have made this game much better.
  • The fighting engine is extremely repetitive. Every single fight will involve square, square, square, R1. Square, square, square, R1. Run away to gain health. Repeat ad nauseum.
  • You sleep several nights in the lab during the gameplay. You do not change clothes or shower. Slob.
  • There is no such thing as a stealth assassination of a main target in this game (unlike the Hitman series, which made it a staple) and it is always daytime. Instead, each assassination will be a big, bloody mess. Deduction for lacking subtlety.
  • Eagle Vision. By pressing triangle you can access this “skill,” which outlines friendly characters in green and enemies in red. It is so lame, the first time I used it was also my last. If you can’t tell who is an enemy (anyone with a sword) and who is not (everyone else), you have had a lobotomy. Oh, and apparently Eagle Vision also gives you the ability to see useless scribbles on a wall that no one else can (see complaint below).
  • Every single time you save a citizen from guards in this game, you have to listen to them thank you for 15 seconds while the game stalls. You save a lot of people, so this gets old very fast. The same goes for your informants. Sometimes they send you on timed missions (which suck too, by the way) and if you fail, the mission resets. When it resets, you have to listen to these dipshits babble the same 20 to 40 seconds, no matter what. You cannot cut them off and proceed with the game or mission. Wake up, developers. Did you even test this?
  • While in the lab at the end of the game, your assassin brethren are trying to free you (you can hear gunfire outside the lab). When the gunfire stops, the scientist guy tells you that the assassins’ rescue failed. I thought, at this point, the game would redeem itself, and that you would reveal to the scientist that, in fact, they had not. As you slowly drew the cord from the hooded sweatshirt you were wearing, you would walk behind him (he never seemed to care where you were), lower the cord over his neck and end his life, saying, “No, they didn’t fail. They had an inside man all along.” You would then smash the Animus with the fire extinguisher, grab the hard drive from the scientist’s desk, take the girl scientist hostage and escape. But no, you just go back into your bedroom and notice some dumb scribbling on the wall, using your newly acquired Eagle Vision (see complaint above) that is supposed to get us excited for the obvious sequel. Oh, and by the way, your assassin brethren must suck, they couldn’t even get in this stupid lab, which has huge windows overlooking the city. It can’t be that hard to infiltrate.

    By the end of the game, the Scientist has made it clear Abstergo is going to kill you, once they have the memories they want. You’d think this would be a good time to take him hostage and roll the dice on getting out. But no, you just go sit on your bed.
  • You cannot swim. You can survive 60 foot falls from rooftops, but you will die in 3 feet of water.
  • The lab. Again, you cannot interact in the lab, or the bedroom/bathroom attached to it. Unfortunately, you will spend a lot of time finding this out. Why do they give you this sandbox area only to make it off limits to interaction? If I want to smash a desktop computer, I should be able to smash it, dammit.
  • The Female Scientist. Near the end of the game, she starts telling you all kinds of secrets about your memories. Never mind there are 10 cameras recording her as she’s telling me this top secret information. By this point, Abstergo has made it clear they are willing to kill people over this information, so why not her? Not even Veronica Mars’ voice could get me to like her. Apparently when you get your Eagle Vision at the end of the game, she appears as an ally. I didn’t care enough to check this out, by that point. I guess that will be neat in the sequel.
  • Flags! There are hundreds of pennant-like flags that you can capture throughout the game world. There are Jerusalem flags, Damascus flags, Templar flags, King Richard Flags and many more! Why would you try to gather all one hundred King Richard flags or the hundreds of others? I have absolutely no idea. You really have no life if you waste your time doing this. The flags are worthless and unnecessary. You get othing for them. It’s a further sign that the designers of this game hate you just as much as they must hate themselves for taking the time to program the flags in. If you are dead set on avoiding any semblance of a social life and spending so much time on the PS3 that you could theoretically find all this game’s hundreds of worthless flags, might I suggest you download and play Pixeljunk Monsters from the PS3 store and waste your miserable life that way, instead? I did.

Gamespot gave this game a 9.0, a score to which it should not come close. Gee, I wonder if they’re in the pockets of the gaming companies? I understand most games on PS3 are still unfortunately lackluster, but you can’t let the AC designers off, just because they managed to create a beautiful-looking game. It’s almost worse, because they aspired to greatness and fell so short. At least PS3 Conan sucked and knew it sucked.

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2 thoughts on “Playing It So You Don’t Have To: Assassin’s Creed

  1. I admit it. I too walked around the entire lab, every square inch, every single day, to see if there was something new I could manipulate. And, except for the pen, there never was. Heck, I would have been happy if the toilet made a flushing sound.

  2. I found this game to be interesting and cool at first, but then after endless fights against guards who seem to be exceptionally skilled at sword-fighting; it was way too often that my sword clanged against theirs, rather than being able to pull off wicked manoeuvres to best them. Another annoying thing was that your guy could not catch arrows that were being shot at him or throwing knives that were being thrown at him. This game didn’t make me feel very skilled at all except in the rooftop scaling, but as a fighter Altair was quite pathetic, but then again, he was programmed by morons. Who can blame him?

    I’m not a fan of games that have infinite guards or police or pedestrians. If you’re pushing for realism, then have a way to eliminate all the guards in a town without them re-spawning. Have them actually send reinforcements from other towns, diminishing ‘their’ numbers. That would be cool.

    Another retarded thing was when you beat enough guards, the other ones would flee. And one time when a guard was fleeing, I put on my throwing daggers and took him out and then my health went down to nothing for assassinating a fleeing person, even though it was a guard who had recently tried to kill me. I guess I’m supposed to forgive those who repent even if they are murderers. Hmm.

    Losing health for killing civilians is stupid. So I’m assuming Altair is a holy assassin then? And, yet, he is killing templars which are like paladins. You’re right when you say there is little logic in this game. And it ‘is’ very very repetitive.

    Plus there are civilians in the town that deliberately try to piss you off. Crazy people shove you, but do the guards care? No. But if you push them, you get a warning not to do it again. And I think if they push you into the guards, you’re still the one that gets in shit for it. Beggars will constantly harass you for money saying the same thing over and over again (and it’s always the same exact woman with the same exact voice). As if the game didn’t have enough repetition already.

    This game was practically given to me by a friend. I’m sure glad I didn’t shell out $30 for it. This is not a game that’s meant to be played for hours on end; not unless you want to make a Frisbee out of it.

    Every time I play this game and try to get something out of it, it’s like trying to beat a dead horse. I’m always left feeling overworked and unsatisfied.

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