Assassin's Creed

I don't really have time to write this here, but I just got this amazing game and I wanted to tell y'all about it... I might not provide much background info, though, 'cause I should be spending my time more wisely. Therefore, as is always the case while you are using the internet, you can find more information about what I'm talking about here.

In a nutshell, this is a sandbox video game* in which you play an Assassin in the Holy Land during the time of the Crusades. There are three tech items of note:

  1. It's fairly cutting edge, graphically (I bought my new computer for this game)
  2. They did quite a bit of research on the cities, and the levels are based on historically accurate maps of Damascus, Jerusalem, &c.
  3. And they have this crazy system where the computer knows how to interact with everything. So if there is a decorative bump on a church wall, you can push a button and grab onto it, and use it to pull yourself up. If there's a window ledge above that, you can continue to climb. This is important.

It's point three that was the big selling point. Most games have a level map, and the designers sit down and say, "Ok, the player goes through this door, along this ledge, and over this here wall". Sometimes designers get tricky, and say, "Oh, let's add an air duct, so if the player wants, they could enter here instead, and crawl through the air duct to get to the ledge!". With this game, though, they more or less just took a map of Jerusalem and scattered some planks over rooftops--you can get where you need to go in the game to same way you would in real life.

The other big selling point was its "social stealth" feature. Five or six years ago (ten, technically) people started to make games where instead of just running up to demons and shooting them in the face, you had to sneak around in the shadows. If you stepped into the light, guards could see you and attack you. Assassin's Creed is a little different--instead of hiding in shadows, you hide in crowds. And if you knock people over, they get pissed off, and the guards notice. If you kill someone, everyone runs away screaming and the guards come running. If you start climbing a building, people say, "Has he gone mad?!" and, if the guards are already looking for you, they take off after you. It's pretty brilliant.

Anyway, that was way more background than I wanted to put up there just now. I got the game last night, and wanted to say three things about it.

1) The core game is really spectacular. Every bit as good (in some ways much better) than they claimed. It is a bit more video gamey than I had imagined, although still a sandbox. In Grand Theft Auto San Andreas I spent a long time just using it as a flight sim, and I also spent a long time just driving around California for fun. Assassin's Creed pretty much always feels like a FPS, in that you can have a lot of fun climbing buildings and such, but it's pretty easy to piss off the guards and then fighting to the death. Nothing wrong with that, really.

2) Holy hell is it cinematic! For me they got the sword combat just right--it really feels like I'm in control, and I'm making decisions (and not simply hitting random buttons) but it looks like an amazingly badass choreographed sword fight every time. This is also true about navigating the city (parkour simulation)--you scamper up the wall onto the roof, guards in hot pursuit, dash to the edge and jump off, catch yourself on a beam, and pull yourself onto the next roof, &c. Again, it feels like I'm in control and making decisions, but it looks like a movie.

3) Everything that is not the core game (fighting guards on the rooftops of Old Jerusalem) seems to be utter crap. There a long segments of the game in which (I am not kidding) you play a modern day bartender. Who is locked in a room, and can't do anything. Maybe these sections will become, in time, as fun as running up the walls of the Dome of the Rock (which I did last night!) but it seems unlikely. Even worse, the audio is weird, such that there are often overlapping conversations and it's really hard to understand them. Again, perhaps this is a cool design feature that will turn out to be really cool? And finally, there was one bug (It didn't notice that I completed the traning mission, and I had to download someone else's save file!?) and two UI disasters (Once I had to walk around and around the room in order to find the exact right spot to sit on a couch, or else the game wouldn't go on, and another time the game just kind of paused, and I couldn't do anything... I just stood there trying to leave the room until I realized that I was supposed to walk over and touch a scroll that someone had set down. BLUH!?)

Anyway, yeah. Yesterday was my one night free from theatre (possibly Thursday) and I really needed to rest... and instead I had sword fights in Old Jerusalem until 2:30. Can't really complain.

*Most games are linear--go to point A, do task B, walk through door C, and do task D. Really good games might make you feel like you could walk through door F and simply don't want to, but in reality most games are like the Jungle Boat ride at Disneyland.