REVIEW: Assassin’s Creed (Or how I learned what not to do when designing a game)

My thoughts on Assassin’s Creed are rather bleak. The whole affair, from the insultingly cynical marketing, to the hype campaign, to the shoddy execution is just depressing.

The game’s a Molyneux, to coin a term. Simply put, it so desperately tries to innovate that it forgets all those things that make games worthwhile, like writing, fighting, and fun. Sure, Molyneux is the alpha-pimp of gaming hype, and Assassin’s Creed was largely presented without hype from the developer, the frothing praise heaped upon it came instead from that vanguard of journalistic integrity the gaming enthusiast press.

The game’s #1 selling point, the free-running control scheme tries to do too many new things. Instead of focusing on improvement in one area, the team at Ubisoft Montreal has attempted a massive paradigm shift normally associated with waggle. The free-running is functional, but too passive for my tastes. Instead of coordinated button pressing, Altair does all the work for you. The effect is impressive, but I found myself experiencing an odd disconnect between my languid button holding and Altair’s acrobatics.

Likewise, the combat leaves me with a similar ill-feeling. The only way to be even marginally effective is to tap the counter button as soon as an enemy twitches in your general direction. Usually this results in an extravagant display of violence that would not be out of place in slasher films, or perhaps 300. Should you try to attack in any other way, the hordes of identical enemies will surely tear you to ribbons. The system gets more irritating when facing particularly large numbers of enemies, as then your blood-letting tends to degenerate into a disappointing punch, that does absolutely no damage, and tosses the enemy too far to be immediately finished by lesser methods. Then the aforementioned player-death begins as you feebly try to mop up.

The game’s mysterious story ends up as much ado about nothing. The premise, while intriguing, is terribly executed. The storyline ends up getting in the way of the game, especially towards the end, with the writers throwing the game out of its comfort zone (stealth, guile, and trickery) and into man-against-the-world combat, casting the martial shortcomings in even greater relief. The voice acting is stiff, and the dialog itself is weighted down by feeble attempts at philosophical metaphor and political intrigue.

The overall effect is an unholy mash up of the latter Matrix films’ philosophical pandering and the Star Wars’ prequels political didactics.

For all its flaws, and it is a game of flaws, make no mistake, Assassin’s Creed has some positive aspects and does show promise enough to warrant a look at the sequel. The graphics are beautiful, the expansive cities are a wonder to explore, and the concept shows promise enough that it can still be redeemed. As a slight aside, I also find the inclusion of a Muslim protagonist inherently refreshing in this current political climate. The press rightly should share the blame for its failure, as it had long been made out to be the savior of gaming, before the disappointing (read: realistic) showings at press events in the past year. Ultimately the game tries to do too much with too little, its failing not one of talent or judgment but of ambition.

For the sequel, Ubisoft, spare us the revolution. Prince of Persia was fine without one.


1 Comment

  1. “DIsconnect.” That’s the perfect way to describe it. There’s too much effort put into showing off how awesome the free-running is when you have no effect on its awesomeness. Maybe if they had sped it up, instead of making Altair slowly lunge from handhold to handhold, it would’ve felt better.

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