Monday, March 21, 2011

The Assassin's Dilemma

WARNING: This review contains spoilers for a game that came out three and a half years ago. If you're still concerned about reading something you don't want to find out yet, please heed my warning mid-review to stop reading. Or just don't read this at all. That's what most people do anyway.


Well, I finished playing Assassin's Creed tonight. I promised myself I would write about my experiences with the game one way or another, as it's sort of a huge milestone in terms of gaming for me. AC was my first full modern console game that I've ever played through, albeit on Steam. Yeah, sad, inn'it? However, I had been tempted to write about my experiences with the game at several stages in the game, and I wish I did, because my mood would have very noticeably changed throughout the game, as you might see here, if I write this properly.

First off, I have to start off this review by thanking Derek, who gifted this game to me way back when, following my annual Christmas gift suggestion post. After downloading the game, I rather comedically couldn't play it for a couple of weeks. After consulting Steam Support (have I mentioned how fantastic they are?), it turned out that I just needed to update my video card drivers. After that, I was quickly into the game.

At this point, I should pause and explain a bit of the backstory behind this game for those not familiar with Assassin's Creed. The game takes place switching between two worlds, one moderny/futuristic, one virtual and ancient. In the former world, you're Desmond, a young twenty-something guy who's been taken in by the Abstergo Corporation. They want to tap into Desmond's genetic memory by using the Animus to discover the location of an ancient hidden artifact. You spend most of the game inside the Animus, playing as Altair, one of Desmond's ancestors, And you run around doing assassin-y stuff. (This is the spot where I can't remember the specifics of the plot and start broadly generalizing.)

As I mentioned back in December, I had played a couple hours of Assassin's Creed 2 at a friend's house, so I was roughly familiar with the general premise of the game. That might have been a bit of a handicap at the start, as the "notoriety" system used in AC2 is different from the "visibility" system used here. As a result, I found myself walking around at a slow crawl around people I didn't need to be avoiding until I realized the difference between the two systems. Oh, how silly I once was.

Once I got past the tutorial-esque stages, I found myself with a bit of a dilemma. In order to progress with the game, you have to do "investigations" to find out enough information on your assassination target. Along the way, there are other tasks that can help you along the way, such as climbing viewpoints (where you get a little bit of architectural eye candy) and saving citizens from bullying guards. These I did with great liberty, but I avoided doing any extra investigations beyond the required two or three. Apparently, there existed (or perhaps, still exists) a bug where if you complete all of the investigations for an area, you won't be able to find new investigations when you return to that city in the future. So, I skimped on that aspect of the game, with the intention of returning to those bits of the game later to complete everything. Yes, I was enjoying the side mission-y things tremendously.

I can't say I was ever a fan of the fighting, which is a shame, because combat is surprisingly easy for how complex it is. With every level up, you gain a new method for combat, and even get a bit of practice time to reinforce the concept. Sadly, I found myself sticking to a primitive "mash the attack button" method, occasionally pressing the right shoulder button to defend. Still, this only came up when saving citizens and during final assassinations, so there wasn't much to really gripe about. For a while.

Please note: At this point in time, I'm going to start getting into spoilers about the ending of the game. If by some chance Assassin's Creed hasn't already been spoiled for you yet, you might want to stop reading now, although suffice it to say I wasn't pleased with the ending. Ironically, this is a spoiler for anyone who plans on reading the rest of my review! We all win today.

As I progressed through the missions in the game, I started to wonder why I kept hearing about how bad of a game Assassin's Creed is, even when not comparing it to Assassin's Creed 2. I loved all of the wandering tasks in each town, and the plotline seemed coherent enough as I was playing through. This changed when I hit the "final" mission, which I knew would inevitably not be the real final mission. Because hey, it's a video game. (Sorry, is that overgeneralizing?)

After the "final" mission, there was another mission, which turned out to be the downfall of the game for me. The final mission involved moving through a passage with a bunch of attackers in succession. At the end of the corridor, you again face another relentless battle against many attackers (but with better armor, so they're harder). This is where my entire opinion of the game started to change. You face about twelve or fourteen attackers, eight at a time (the extras politely wait along the side for their chance to attack you). Once you take them down, the "final bad guy" steps out from the shadows and you face him with whatever semblance of a health bar you have left. Do that, and you've completed your mission. Sort of. As it turns out, that wasn't the final battle! Still! Golly.

But why the rub? This final fight sequence took about ten attempts for me to beat. It was in this time that I started to realize that this game rather sucked in several ways.
  • It sucks technically: The game blocks off areas you shouldn't be in by putting a black cloudy curtain in your way if you get close enough. If you try to go through it, sometimes it will just stop you, sometimes it returns you to the last save point. In the final battle, it just stops you, but your attackers are free to move into these forbidden areas, and even attack you from there.

  • It sucks logically. I kept thinking about the dialogue right before this battle. King Richard (I think?) says that he can't decide whether to believe your character or your assassin target, so he leaves it to combat, saying God would side with the better man. Funny that bit of dialogue, how come I had to face a baker's dozen-odd minions before I could even touch the guy the original dispute was with? Somehow this realization set up a chain reaction of disappointments looking at the behaviors of so many characters in the game up to this point.

  • It sucks action-ally. I already confessed to my button-mashing habits, but this sequence made me realize that any action sequence is just that. You beat ridiculously homogenous baddies over and over again until they're gone. I will very generously give points to any sort of parkuor-ish chase sequences, but that's about the height of exciting action in this game.

In perhaps a somewhat predictable turn, your mentor who had been sending you out on all of these missions turns out to be the real baddie and you fight him (over the course of, surprise, three more homogenous fight sequences), and the game's pretty much over right there. There's a bit of an interactive cinematic that takes place back at Abstergo, which I rather enjoyed, because I got to flex my cryptography muscles a tiny bit. But then when you go to check out one more bit of mysterious "writing on the wall" back in your bedroom, Desmond utters a bit to himself, ending with, "I wonder what it could mean?"

Cut immediately to credits.

It goes without saying at this point that there's a sequel or two that pick up from here, and I consider myself fortunate enough to have seen the start of the second game and know this. However, I could only imagine that when this game was still relatively new, this would have been a tremendous middle finger to the players. It's one thing to make someone want to buy the second game, and a whole 'nother thing to just make them buy the second game. I think this game falls in the latter category.


That all said and done... I'm still interested in Assassin's Creed 2, and perhaps Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood if ever I could get the time. I hear they're tremendous improvements over the original game, and I already enjoyed what little I saw in those two hours I already played. As for Assassin's Creed: Original Recipe, I think I can finally agree with the naysayers that it's not a great game. I enjoyed bits and pieces, but ultimately it's one that I found frustrating. My dilemma, if you would, is that I might work to try to finish off the bits I skipped earlier, but I'll do it with great resentment now that I've seen the downsides of this game. On a lighter note, we're less than a month away from another game debut NO YOU SAID YOU WOULDN'T TALK ABOUT PORTAL 2 ANYMORE UNTIL THE PREMIERE SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP

Saturday, March 5, 2011

At the Moment - Comic Relief's 24 Hour Panel People

In an effort to make my blog seem more topical than it actually is, I've invented a new category for things going on right now (or in the immediate future or past). I'm currently watching Comic Relief's 24 Hour Panel People. In a nutshell, Comic Relief is a charitable organization that hosts telethons for raising money for charities in the UK. Unlike US telethons where entertainers come to a studio to encourage viewers to call in their support, entire shows will devote their plotlines to the event which air in a giant marathon.

In a bit of a change-up from the normal format, 24-Hour Panel People is a day-long event in which a series of panel shows are being taped consecutively, with one bloke (David Walliams) appearing in all of them. The shows are being taped today, and will be edited down and shown on TV at a later date.

What makes the event today very interesting is that if you watch the live feed, you can see all of the shows being produced live, including all of the slipped lines and production bloopers. It's quite fascinating to see how these shows start out before they're cut down to the tidy packages that finally air.

Click here for a complete schedule of shows. The times are approximate (they seem to be twenty minutes behind at the moment), since they're working off of a crazy live schedule with one person serving as the constant thread between them all. My personal picks to watch out for (times listed are EST):
  • 1:50pm - Blankety Blank - The UK version of Match Game, with possibly the most annoying theme song ever written.

  • 3:10pm - Mock the Week - News quiz with some great improv comedy bits thrown in.

  • 7:20pm - QI - Probably the highlight of my night. Hilariously impossible quiz that was the basis of one of my earliest blog posts. But wait... no Alan Davies?

  • 4:25am (tomorrow morning) - Whose Line Is It Anyway? - Yes, that Whose Line. This may well be worth it just to see what sort of humor Walliams is capable of on little sleep.

On the whole, I'm excited to see the behind-the-scenes aspect of all these shows, so I'll be watching this for a good portion of today. And of course, if you can donate, please do.

(Edit: Times updated, as it turns out I'm crap at figuring out times across the pond.)