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.