Assassins’ Creed: More is a lot less

Despite my lousy 37in standard-def TV, AC is beautiful on the eye. There are sequences and scenes that go beyond the near-realistic of certain big box-office movies and well beyond the photorealistic. The TV seems to suddenly expand out beyond its flat 2d projection and hollows out to become a live action puppet show.

But the game is fraut with the same petty crapola that bogged down the last Prince of Persia game and despite the huge cities you have to play in and the fancy crowd systems, creating content on such a huge scale detracted from the creation of quantity of content.

Gameplay is primarily set in the Holy Land in the 1100s, during the crusades. Your character is actually a modern day descendant of one of the Hashshashin, the sect of the Assassins, who are at war with the Templars. You are accessing a genetic memory through a machine called the Animus. I won’t give away more storyline than that.

Rather than being the overt warrior of Prince of Persia, stealth is the word. You start in the Masyaf stronghold, and your breath is quickly taken away by the size, detail and diversity of the town.

The animations are so smooth and fluid, the characters seem laden with a life of their own. You set out into “The Kingdom” on your way to Damascus. This is a sort of wide-open zone with various pockets of enemy guards to avoid or slay. And then you reach Damascus, the vast city scape unfolds and your jaw drops.

You can’t wait to see the next city. Wow. So much detail.

By the time you reach that second city, though…

Lets start from the top.

During cut-scenes and dialog-scenes, you are given some control of your character. If you’re lazy all the scenes will be eerie, monologues by a character addressing an empty room. If you’re not lazy, you’ll be tortured with awful puppetry. In many of the scenes it’s virtually impossible to get Desmond or Altaïr to face the speaker.

And there are lots of dialog scenes. For each assassination you have several sub-missions to complete, each of which involves an intro dialog and most of which involve an outro dialog. Neither of which can be interrupted. If you fluff up a mission, you have to watch the dialog again. This was my first “they had to pad” alert.

The game’s control system is novel and easy to learn, but are sort of 4 dimensionally context sensitive, which puts them in competition with the camera automation, the player and the game environment. Expect to find yourself continually doing a 180, climbing things you thought you would avoid, climbing up when you meant to drop or climb down, etc.

This is a stealth game – hell its from UbiSoft. But their idea of “stealth” would make Sam Fisher demos feel naked and exposed. It’s not so much about being “seen” as being “in the area of”. After hearing the hype about the AI in AC, I was expecting something 21st century. The AI in AC is definitely 1980s. Three guards standing on a staircase, you assassinate the front two, the guard at the back smiling your way. The little “alert” indicator starts to bip – the guard is suspicious. So you barrel up the columnade at the foot of the steps, the guard watching you. But then you bring your palms together like a monk, so he forgets all about you and goes to look at the guards. “WHO DID THIS?” he cries. Sic.

You’re actually more likely to get caught by the guards because someone bumps into you than for assassinating someone infront of them.

To avoid suspicion, you have to walk around normally or while “blending” (walking slowly with your hands clasped and head bowed). And some of the NPCs carry stuff; you have to switch to “gentle push” mode, which is graphically pretty and neat when it works as intended. Walking around in “push” mode – as recommended by the tutorial – is an awful realism breaker. The character swats his hands out periodically – the push animation – but the rest of the time people react as though gently pushed regardless.

The “crowds” are made up of a bare handful of character models wearing a handful of outfits: there are Guards, Civilians, Thugs, Carriers (avoid bumping into), Madmen (will try to knock you down), Beggars (try to get in your way), Scholars (if you complete a mini-quest, they appear and you can hide in them) and Vigilantes (if you complete a mini-quest, they will try to detain guards chasing you). The crowd stuff is ‘novel’, for a while. The detail in the models simply highlights the lack of variety.

Also, the crowd sounds quickly become not just repetetive but annoying. Standing 3 blocks above the town you can hear, clear as anything “Oh can’t you spare anything? My family is poor and sick and dying”. It seems like there are about 16 different voice messages (beggars, hawkers, guard alarms, preachers) which carry. I got so annoyed by their repetetiveness that I got into the habbit of muting the game.

The game is insanely repetetive. Every second street looks alike, with the little merchant stalls (for which there is one model), the bench to hide on, the hay cart to hide in, the open building with the trellised entrance, the hareemy thing on the roof top to hide in.

Story is divided into memory blocks, each of which features one or more assassinations, with a number of optional sub-missions. The sub missions are: climbing certain tall buildings to reveal the locations of sub-missions, killing some guards who are harassing a citizen, listening to some dialog from an npc and then pickpocketing him and listening to some dialog from an npc before punching him a couple of times and getting a bit of useless info. There are also informer missions, which are either collecting flags or assassinating some targets because he’s hurt his back or isn’t feeling well, in return for some really stupid piece of information like “try not to fight all his guards at once”.

When you’ve got that information, or if you’re sensible and don’t bother with it, you must visit the assassin’s beaureau to get the go ahead for your assassination. This will save the game and you will spend the night at the beaureau resetting any guards you’d wiped out.

In theory, you can use the information to pull off a controlled assassination, such as getting scholars to escort you to the target. Any such plans get trounced by the assassination intro dialog sequence which takes away all your jump/climb/etc abilities and wants you to stand in a fairly specific area. I found that the best way to do the assassinations was just to kill the bugger. Only one of my assassinations ever gave me any trouble – the merchant prince. I spent ages trying to perform that in-character, according to my intel, etc, eventually I just threw a throwing knife at him and that was pretty much it.

After that, I just went for the throat on each of my assassinations and they’re over in a few seconds. I think I had to do one other target more than once because I got stuck on some terrain and he ran away.

If you really, really, really enjoy this limited and trite game world, there is plenty of makework stuff to draw out the time it takes to finish the game – collecting flags, completing all the sub-missions; but the game utterly fails to reward you for any of it. The optimum route is to go straight for each of the missions and simply skip the submissions and get to the assassination.

There’s also a tiny, tiny, tiny smattering of storyline about the you in the modern day (Desmond). Desmond is being held a prisoner by the Abstego corporation who are forcing him to recover these memories in the animus. That means Desmond’s story takes place in four adjoining rooms (animus room, bedroom, bathroom, conference room). There are a handful of items you can interact with at the various intermissions between assassinations. The words fucking tedious don’t do it justice, though. And, there’s no way to get back to an intermission. Not that you need to, all the non-dialog stuff opens up to you after the credits.

This game is – imho – a beautiful pitch. There’s so much potential. But so little variety. You have two assassination moves – a discrete one and a “public” one, although it hardly matters which you use most of the time – and there are two animations for each – just two – one from the front, one from the back.

Its even less diverse and endearing than Prince of Persia. Single-handedly defeating a dozen guards is fun – although basically you just stand there in guard mode and wait to tap the counter-attack button. There you are, a lone assassin, surrounded by 12 burly chain-mail wearing guards, waiting for them to attack you one at a time picking them off as you do.

Cinematic is the best way to describe this game when it’s flowing. The game is visually stunning, its just incredibly boring. You initially get an amazing organic, earthy buzz from the towns, but after a couple of cities you start to see it in terms of the building blocks and wishing the were more types of blocks.

All of the ‘Creed movies I could find were ripoffs of the Ubisoft trailer, the only decent one I found was this youtube (all actual gameplay footage with some dialog scenes that are also kinda gameplay)

I wanted to like this game. It was so visually beautiful. This game was like the perfect hot beverage that goes stone cold and sour after the first sip, and you wind up drinking the rest hoping that there might be another layer of warm sweetness underneath.

The real kicker with this game is … its so damned preachy.

Upfront, before the Ubi logos, it tells you that the game was developed by a diverse group of beliefs and cultures, that its a work of fiction inspired by historical facts. This appears to have been a boiler plate to allow the team to try and integrate authentic historical opinions and attitudes into the game. So every side and faith gets to have its argument, but that means every side gets to preach at you, and it’s not fair and balanced, IMHO. There is a definite “spiritual” message being preached, none the less.

Ubisoft has a fantastic set of baseline assets now. If they develop a sequel, I hope they do so by investing heavily in adding more: more variety in character models so the crowds don’t look extras from the set of Clone Wars, more variety in buildings by maybe making more facades instead of complete buildings, more types of moves and animations (frankly assassinate got old so fast I stopped bothering with it and just killed guards outright), more types of quest and maybe some subplot devices with purpose, absolutely, categorically, more dialog for crowd dialog (they made 4 versions of the “beggar” dialog, one for each town, which IMHO was a mistake over making 4 different dialogs).

Assassin’s Creed: 1 (lowest) out of 5 – I played it thru to the end but I didn’t have anything else to play. I did housework and stuff, I played as much Katamari as I could take and I played every demo I could download, but in the end Assassin’s Creed was there to be played and … well, the fight sequences are such beautiful eye candy.

18 Comments

Frustrations:

. Boredom,
. Can’t skip dialog sequences you’ve already heard,
. No distinction between having and not having control – you start to climb what looks climbable and you can’t tell if your character has paused for breath or is just stopped,
. Having to control cutscenes,
. Templar signs on the Abstego doors dead giveaway,
. The way directionality is a facet of which way the camera happens to be facing,
. Boredom

I am playing it right now, and totally agree . One thing to add though. I think that this game is fine for a lot of people, because a lot of people are not looking for depth to their games, they don’t really want to think. People would rather follow the plot around and not have too much difficulty. Another thing i noticed was the fact that i personally, didnt have much of an issue completing missions, and as i have progressed– so far– it has not gotten any harder than when i started. Its easy.

Personally, i started noticing repetition when i started going to the different cities. Everything is the same, just different place. Mainly in where the beuro is located, seems to be in the same place. Also, why does it looks the same in every town? wouldn’t it be at least a *llittle * different?

jizzyjaz wrote:
One thing to add though. I think that this game is fine for a lot of people, because a lot of people are not looking for depth to their games

I agree, its one of the things that helped me play it all the way thru – the last few memory blocks aren’t harder but they do apply what you’ve learned, e.g. by throwing more and larger groups of guards at you. And recall, I’ve been playing Beautiful Katamari which is nothing if not simple and easy and doesn’t require a whole lot of thought.

But the attempt at depth appears to have been made on a scale of minutae – there is lots and lots of small detail, for instance, on the facades of the buildings, at the cost of large scale differentiation.

Unfortunately, that triggers certain focus centers in the brain and causes you to spot the larger uniformity so that even casual gameplayers quickly come to find the game boring.

[fx: sounds of web browsing]

Looking around the intarweb at other reviews, that does seem to be a common theme – this game is repetetive. It’s still playable, there’s still fun in there to be had.

The brain is all about abstraction, and the amount of small detail and hi-def realism causes it to kick in on full power, driving you to notice “hey, all these buildings are the same”. If you reduced the resolution on the models by a factor of 10 or 20 you would probably find the game felt far more homogenous, because your brain could be lossy at a higher level of detail and thus better able to think in terms of how each street is unique in terms of its components, instead of conscious thought surfacing at the building level.

I was a little surprised also at how all the beaureaus where the same.

I prefer the Simpsons game. I took AC back for exchange and couldn’t be happier.

Thats not a bad though kfsone. The comparison I’ll make is one I came up against recently and spoke to kinda that same thought. Cod4 vs Crysis.

CoD4’s makers took the approach of making a pretty nice looking game that was really fun to play (for short periods of time). On my less than top of the line system it still looked great and ran fine. Or more to the point, I was having enough fun that I DIDNT NOTICE ANY GRAPHICAL DEFENCIES.

Crysis’s devs on the other hand made a game that was so graphically kickass that unless you had a top of the line system its graphics actually looked worse than something like CoD4 which aimed at having ‘great’ graphics vs. ‘absolutely mindblowing’. I QUICKLY noted the graphical defencies in Crysis (oh look at those bushes loading up 20 feet from me, fuck I havent seen that since ww2ol circa 2003…sorry couldnt resist..:)) which then led me to noting how unintuitive the UI was and I uninstalled it after 10 minutes of playing.
Reviewers rave over it because the majority of them are playing the game on a top of the line system which a fairly large chunk of the pc playing public don’t have.

Now maybe Crysis just has shit coders (sacrificing performance for teh baubles is shitty coding imho) but the point of this post is that the mind in anything quickly focuses on the negative. I am not going to be able to tell if a game has the lastest flat-shaded, post rendered filtered etc textures, but I will quickly note that objects are loading at short distances and the textures look rather crappy at what is a PLAYABLE RESOLUTION IN ANY OTHER GAME CURRENTLY ON THE MARKET WITH MY SYSTEM.
Which I think is the biggest point.

Just wanted somewhere to say ‘Fuck you Crysis’ Thanks kfsone.

Oh and I got the Orange Box for Xmas and Portal f’ing rocked. HL2’s 3 year old engine craps on Crysis.

I bought a playstaion 3 and a bunch of games for the family for christmas. I was looking forword to it.

It looks cool on my 50″ LG Plasma, but after a few hours I’m board with it. Seem like all the console game are predictable, jump, run, jump, run.

I’ll leave the ps3 to the kids and go back to puter Gaming.

By the way the Simpsons game was one of them, it is funny, buy you don’t need high def gear to play that one.

Quick reveiw of the games I bought

Rock Star(With Instraments)
Teenagers love this, looks cool. Great Party Game. Music is cool also, graphics are very good, well done game.

NBA LIVE 08
Looks like I’m watching a game on TV

NHL 08
The EA GAME. This game kicks ass. The checking and the action I think I gravitate towords this because I’ve played this since the Sega Gennisis Days.

Simpsons,
It is funny, and fun to play.

Sonic the Hedge Hog
This is fun to play and smaller children can pick it up and learn. It’s hard to screw up Sonic the Hedge Hog.

Call of Duty 4
I need more time with this, so far all the spinning makes me dizzy, no shit.

Ratchet & Clanck Tools of the Future (I think)
Game like Sonic, Graphics are amazing.

Dance, Dance Revolution
Couple, pads and the girls move to the steps on the tv screen

troop – re “crap coding” – I think you’re missing a subtle nuance. All those high-end groovy features are often done in hardware. What you’re experiencing is their reluctance to invest in a full alternative implementation of those features for folks who don’t have the hardware capability.

For instance, in the bushes example, the Crysis guys would have needed code and art support to implement multiple LODs and a caching transition system to let them flow more smoothly and elegantly between bush and billboard on systems that don’t have a lot of oomf. Unfortunately, most gamers do persue the top end so that would be investment wasted on the lions share of their target audience.

It may not be an ideal coding strategy but it is a good development strategy. You acknowledge that they were targetting top end machines – then the fact that it can run on your system, despite its limited capabilities, lack of hardware support, out of date drivers and driver features – well that’s a pretty good proof that their code is far from crappy. Crappy code would be full of bugged graphical anomalies, objects that don’t render or render back to front, crippling fps spikes, or just fail to run.

Kfsone, ‘crappy coding’ I’ll agree is probably not a fair characterization. Howabout ‘lazy coding’? I run a system that is by no means top end, however its also not horribly out of date either (4300 dual core, 7600GT) and the game looked like crap on it. At the same time a FPS game that was realeased at the same time, ran and looked perfectly fine on my PC (CoD4). If there game was targetted towards the gamer PC audience I would also argue that the percentage of that audience that maintains top of the line system is not as large as you think. In that regards I think they made a poor decision if their aim was to make a strong commercially successful game. Yes it will sell well but it will not sell anywhere near as well as CoD does imho. Couple the poor performance with a crappy UI and you’re really behind the eightball. The devs seemed to be more interested in creating a tech demo than a fun game.

As you talked about before, the human brain doesnt notice the bells and whistles, it notices when something is not to the level its used to.

Oh and for another comparison I got the Orange Box for Xmas. Best 50 bucks that I (well my wife) ever spent so far, and all that with an engine thats now more than 3 years old!!

I’m not defending the product, troop, never seen it; heard lots of hype about it and came to the same conclusion you did about a tech demo. Basically it sounds like a bunch of guys who want in on the middle-ware engine market. Last time I remember seeing that wwiiol was born.

talking about crappy coding……

I keeed! :D

Oli is the crap-code-killer, or as he prefers to be known, “Pink-toenails”. It’s like a mobster name. Crap-coders around the world tremble when ‘ol ‘pinky’ is around….

I’m surprised to hear you say Crysis looked horrible on your computer. I only played the demo but on my Core2 Duo e6600 with a 7800GS it looked very good and ran quite well. That was with most of the settings around medium. It’s debatable if it looked better than CoD4 but then the scale of the graphics Crysis is pushing in some of larger areas is far beyond anything I’ve seen so far in CoD4 so that’s probably what allowed the detail on CoD4 to compare.

Too bad you didn’t enjoy AC kfsone. While it was obvious that it was made with lots of prefab buildings (the highpoints in particular are bad about that) I didn’t get the impression you got from the architecture at all. I thought they did a decent job of making the cities not feel repetitive and giving all three of the main locales their own feeling. I’ve never been one to stop and look at things like doors and shop stalls though. That kinda stuff is just background noise as far as I’m concerned.

The game was starting to get repetitive towards the end, but it’s so short I didn’t have time for it get to me before I was finished. Perfect rental game, but then most console games are better rents than purchases.

I loved the crazy wacked out Deus Ex ending with all the codes to figure out and alien/mystic mumbo jumbo, but I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff.

The ending was half-and-half; it felt really cut and run “oops, developing the tools and processes to create this much hi-def content kinda ate the budget. get Jade a boob-job and push the game out the door” feeling.

On the other hand, I did like the finale to it. ;)

You people are too critical about your games. JUST PLAY. This is what happens when you let smart people play video games. They over-analyze, missing the good stuff. You people are never happy, are you?

Uh. You see, you leave yourself wide open to certain comments by saying “smart people” as though you aren’t one.

I played the game first, I analyzed my reactions to it later – an ability that’s sort of important in my line of business. Which is, uh, games.

And I was happy for quite a while playing Assasin’s creed, but then it got repetetive. I paid good money for it, I was dissapointed. One of the hassles of being smart is that you expect to get your money’s worth.

This came out on wired today. So did you find yourself emotionally attached?

http://blog.wired.com/games/2008/02/interview-ubiso.html

Imho it is mho that mho is conveluted and overrated….imho.

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