Number four tackles one of our favorite annual franchises.
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Platforms: Microsoft Windows (reviewed)
Available on: Steam
So this is the one responsible for starting our annual tradition of shelling out $60 for a prolonged history lesson, interspersed with pseudo-science and conspiracy theory. And as usual, I’m late for the party because I couldn’t be arsed 7 years ago. But one of my friends constantly went on and on about how great the game was despite never finishing it, which makes me question his abilities as a gamer, since it took me about 17 hours to get through. My brother played a lot of the games but I never really talk to him about games. Dunno why.
Anyway, I bought this game at a Steam sale for about $3 and I’d say I got enough enjoyment out of it to justify that price, but full price? Hell no. Since I’ve grown fond of dissecting games after I did it with Mass Effect, I’ll try and elaborate my individual thoughts on the whole affair.
Now I initially avoided the game since I’m not a huge fan of stealth gameplay. Sure it takes a lot of skill to pull stuff off with that kind of gameplay and in theory that would appeal to me, but in practice a lot of the times stealth tends to be a trial-and-error kind of affair and I’m not much into that. However, Assassin’s Creed doesn’t do stealth. At least not much, the only time you need to be stealthy is when you’re running around rooftops and if there are archers on the prowl, so you’ll have to take them out quickly, but there’s no real way of avoiding anything. Or more accurately, there is, when you’re riding on horseback but I hardly consider that stealth, that’s just slowing the game down even further for no reason. Did the holy land have some kind of speed limit that prohibits you of even trotting around with your horse, much less galloping? Thank god you don’t have to do the horse riding much after the 3 major cities open up and fast traveling becomes an option, but even after that I simply just galloped past everybody since I couldn’t stand traversing these huge distances at 2 miles per hour. And otherwise stealth is entirely optional anyway. Sure you can hide in groups of scholars or you can walk slowly inside a crowd, but I never raised an alarm by running through everybody, even making people drop the crates and wares they’re carrying, which supposedly makes guards suspicious. The only times I’ve tripped an alarm was when the Parkour made me drop into an alley and onto some guards who were patrolling therein.
Speaking of the Parkour, I really liked it a lot, at least when it worked the way I intended it to. It’s a joy to hop from building to building in one fluid motion, but every so often, Altaïr misinterpreted my input and got stuck on a building or tried to climb instead of running, etc. That problem comes from the fact that all the buttons have multiple functions tied to them which all are context sensitive, along with fucking everything else in the world. Walk past a bench or a haystack and the game automatically assumes I want to hide for some reason. And while the running and jumping provides a great amount of freedom, the climbing seems cumbersome and slow. And it doesn’t help that Ubisoft for some reason thought that filling the streets with lepers and beggar women who hinder you at every turn would be fun. Sure they’re obstacles in certain mission, but there’s no real way of dealing with them outside of punching them in the throat, which doesn’t sound the alarm but still draws attention to you.
In general the controls feel sluggish and unresponsive, highlighting targets within combat is a chore and since combat is probably the worst aspect about the game I’d say it’s a pretty massive flaw of the title. Because assassinations surely aren’t what you spend most time on. Combat boils down to waiting for an enemy to attack and countering their move, there’s no real strategy involved at all and as such, combat doesn’t feel challenging, since the only thing you need is good timing to counter blows and respond to grabs.
I’m also not sure if I’ve done the assassinations correctly since most of them turned into a massive swordfight. I couldn’t pull off stealth assassinations for any of the 9 required targets – though some of them make it literally impossible anyway. I guess my disability when it comes to stealth gameplay shows. But I’m getting ahead of myself, because to get to these assassinations you have to do some research first, which basically means doing the same 5 mission types over and over again and it becomes so fucking repetitive. At the start of the game I made sure to help all the civilians and do all the preparatory missions before going after my actual target, but there’s no real benefit to saving civilians. Sure you get vigilantes and scholars, but I never really needed them and after the first few memories unlocked, I just went up to all the viewpoints to make the whole map visible and then I did the 3 of the least tedious missions to be able to go after the assassinations. If I did that the whole time, the game would turn out to be criminally short, especially for an open world sandbox game. Because who the fuck thought eavesdropping, pickpocketing, collecting flags or tailing people to punch the information you need out of them is interesting or even challenging?
So if the gameplay is largely uninvolving and not challenging, it better have a brilliant story because otherwise, why did this start a humongous franchise? Well, Desmond’s story is really just a first act if anything at all. He’s just there to receive exposition and in rare cases do some investigation himself, but you could easily miss all the investigative aspect of the game if you just go to bed every time you get pulled out of the Animus (the device that lets you relive the memories of your ancestors) and then wake up the next morning to enter the Matrix again. And on that note, if the Animus can scroll through my memories and advance the plot to a more recent one, why for fuck’s sake can’t I skip the insipid horse riding and just skip ahead to the city itself or open up all of the map at once? Sure, it’s an example of Poodonarrative Pissonance and I hate to be the guy to bring this shit up, but it just clashes with my immersion. I know that this shit isn’t even happening, I know that dying is pointless so why even have a health bar at all. Sure it’s more like a video game, but dying has no consequence other than having to restart a mission if you’re currently within one.
Altaïr’s story on the other hand is almost laughably obviously building up to a twist ending that it’s not even funny. I mean every single one of the assassination targets tells you his motivation after you fatally wounded them and all of it immediately points towards your master not being completely honest with you and it’s almost too cute how Altaïr searches for excuses to justify his work when the Templars have the same goals as the assassins and largely achieve them with similar methods. Because at the end of the day, both Templars and assassins seem to be dicks. Sure the future Templars appear to be up to no good, but lacking any sort of evidence on what happened after Altaïr kills his master (I can’t even remember his name since all the characters in this game are entirely forgettable. I didn’t even notice that the one guy at the Bureau in one of the cities is supposed to be the same guy Altaïr left for dead at the start of the game until they mentioned it at some point in the game) doesn’t give me any clue as to how good the assassin brotherhood turns out to be because for all I know at this point, he could theoretically go the same route his master did. There’s literally no closure to be found, just a big fat “to be continued” cliffhanger at the end to ensure a franchise out of this.
So in the end, I’m really not sure why this got so popular to justify the amount of games this series has put out over the years, because the gameplay is weak at best and the story is about as formulaic as it can get. The only good aspect was the Parkour but since then there were games that did that as well and had good combat mechanics on top of it, like Infamous, so I have to imagine that history is more important to people than I initially assumed. Also, the PC port has some questionable stuff in there. To quit the game, I have to exit the Animus and when I’m controlling Desmond, I have to open the menu and select “Quit Game”, but then the game loads the profile selection again, where I have to choose my profile and from the next menu I can finally exit the game. Who the fuck thought that was a good idea?