Creedy Bastard

I’d like to say I’ve been busy with manner of significant artistic endeavors since my last post, but that would be a blatant lie. No, in between a number of social engagements (a wedding, the Bristol Comics Expo, visiting family) and the pesky day job, I’ve mainly been throwing my time into Assassin’s Creed on the XBox 360. (Yes, it’s not a recent game, with the sequel due out later this year, but I’m slow like that.)

Assassin’s Creed has proven to be a substantial timesink and sleep-preventer for the last few weeks, up until last night, at which point I very suddenly stopped. (I’ll get to the reasons for that halt in due course.)

For the majority of my time with it, AC has been a great experience. Spawned from the ribs of the last-gen Prince of Persia trilogy, Creed takes the free-running and jumping dynamic of the beloved Sands of Time and applies it to an ostensibly more realistic portrayal of the middle east. You can see how it started out as a possible PoP title, and evolved into something else – instead of slowing time and battling demons, protagonist Altair runs around the Holy Land in the 12th century fighting guards and stealth assassinating his prey. There’s a conspiracy thread to the plot, and an SF framing sequence that cleverly, but arguably unnecessarily, contextualizes the game mechanics within the fiction, but otherwise this is far removed from the fairytale mood of the best PoP titles.

Most of the time, it works very well. The mechanics and missions are samey – fight guards to rescue citizens, climb buildings to fill in the gaps on your map, eavesdrop on certain citizens and pickpocket evidence from others, then when you have investigated enough use what you know to go in and kill your target – but the execution (if you’ll pardon the pun) is so good that I could easily forgive the repetition. The central movement mechanic, which allows you to fluidly run, climb and jump around beautiful environments, is tremendous fun, and aside from the first person free-running of Mirror’s Edge has the greatest sense of joyous, athletic exploration I’ve played yet.

What AC has over Edge is its atmosphere, the sights and sounds of exotic cities. Climbing to the top of a church or temple, and ‘synchronizing’ to gain an overview of the city below you, is a stunning experience. Between the cities is an open world of rolling hills, little villages and military encampments that can be ridden across on horseback. It’s a game that, were it not for your grisly job and whole armies wanting to kill you, you’d quite like to live in. As it is, it’s a pleasure to run around seeing the sites, exploring for collectible hidden flags and the like.

So far, so good. Having got over an initial hump with one of the mission types I was away, assassinating targets, racking up various sub-missions and opening up all the districts of the game’s three main cities. Some of the main targets were difficult to kill, but there was always a way to manage it – when surrounded by enemies, there was always a way to get to relative safety, ways of disabling or thinning the herd so that you could pick them off one by one. Sometimes it took multiple attempts, but with stealth, evasion, and the odd well-placed throwing knife, even difficult missions could be conquered. I was having fun, I was unlocking achievements, I was near to the end. Stealth, evasion, strategy – these were my watchwords as an assassin.

all pics nicked from gamespressure – click to see their detailed walkthroughs!

And then all of that went right out of the fucking window. Having taken it upon yourself to stop the big bad guy and bring peace to the land, you rush to confront him. Along the way, you get a couple of tedious fights in boxed-in areas, but even then you have a bit of leeway to play clever. So not much fun, but largely bearable. However, when you confront said villain, before you can fight him directly you’re surrounded by nine or so of his men, three of whom are rock hard templar bastards who can take a mighty chunk out of you with one blow. Oh, and you’re confined to a tight area with no environmental features to help you.

Yes, after a couple of week’s mastering stealth kills and acrobatics, you get stuck in a fucking hell for leather arena battle. At which point, if you’ve not got the head-to-head combat mechanics mastered to twitch perfection, you’re fucked. I was fucked, because I hadn’t learned to take whole armies on head first, because that wasn’t the bloody game I’d been playing. The game had actively taught me to be clever, and then decided to kick me repeatedly in the ballsack for doing so. It’s a nasty bait and switch – take the mechanics you’ve been learning, strip them away and force you to do something completely different. I failed, and failed, and failed for about an hour.

Then I gave up. Nasty trick to play, Assassin’s Creed. After all that enjoyment, I’m not sure whether I’ll ever master the skills necessary to get through that fight, which is a bloody shame and a pain in the arse. By all accounts I’m not the only person pissed off with the descent into gruelling hack and slash in the game’s last hour (hour! I must have been so close to the end, yet so far), so hopefully this’ll be fixed in the sequel. I’m still looking forward to Assassin’s Creed 2, to getting back to the running, jumping, exploring action in the new setting of a sumptuous renaissance Italy, but the way my experience of the first game has suddenly ended has left me a little wary, and fairly pissed off.

Damn it, Ubisoft. Why’d you have to do that to me?


May 24, 2009. Tags: , , . Uncategorized.

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