Assasin’s Creed: First Impression

I wanted to play Assasin’s Creed for a while now. It just seemed to be a game right up my alley. I don’t remember if I have ever mentioned my love for the Hitman games around here. I probably did here and there. You guys all know I love Morrowind, Oblivion and Fallout games because I can’t shut up about them. Hitman games are my other great passion. If you haven’t played them, I highly recommend trying at least one. It is an incredible amount of fun.

Your average level in Hitman plays out like this: you are hired to perform a hit, and are dropped off at the location which is usually a large sandbox environment. You are free to walk around and explore it, but parts of it will be inaccessible to you because your target will usually have guards, security and etc. Of course you can knock out or kill a guard (or a waiter, pizza guy, mechanic, gardener, etc..)(, and take his uniform and thus get access to the restricted areas. All the NPC’s have their own routines – so guards all have their patrol routes, and your target usually walks around, talks to people, visits a gym, library and etc. So your task is really to get in there, observe them, figure out the best approach route to the target, perform the hit when no one is looking and then leave undetected. Or you can just run in guns blazing, and kill everyone but you get slapped on the wrist that sort of thing.

The great part about these games is that there is usually more than one way to do the mission. For example, one of the games has you assassinate an opera singer during a costume rehearsal. How do you do this? You can sneak up on him in his wardrobe and kill him there. You can drop a chandelier on him while he is on the stage. You can snipe him down from a balcony. Or you can replace the replica musket used in the play with a real weapon so that he gets shot by one of the other actors. Not all levels give you this many options but most offer at least 2 or 3 alternate ways. The game rewarded you for being stealthy and observant. It also had a “save-anywhere” system which was great for trial and error type stuff. You could try different things out, be as sloppy as you want get to know the terrain and then reload and perform a perfect stealth kill.

Assassin's Creed

Assassin's Creed

I sort of expected that sort of game play from Assassins Creed. It sure looked like it was going to be that way. It had huge open ended environments full of pedestrians, guards and places to hide. It also included an awesome looking free form running element which allowed you to climb buildings, jump across rooftops and etc. I mean imagine just how awesome Hitman would be if you could climb just about every surface, jump, swing on things, wall run and etc. Scale a tall building and use it to observe the target. Get your timing right, pick a secluded place and and swoop down for the kill. Then quickly get out, blend with the crowd and leave. If shit hits the fan, retreat via the rooftops.

Only this is the exact opposite of what the game does. You don’t actually get to stalk your target ahead of time. You don’t even get to see your target until you perform certain number of “investigations”. Investigations? What the hell are those? Well, dear reader – they are set up as arcade style mini-challenges you have to beat, usually under a strict time limit. For example, a fellow assassin may ask you to collect 20 flags scattered through the rooftops in less than 3 minutes. Of course the only way to do this is to actually find an optimal route between the buildings, memorize it, train running it for a few hours and then perform a series of timed jumps in a tight memorized pattern. Ugh…

Thankfully investigations are optional so you can choose the ones you want to do. Not all are this annoying. Some may actually require you to (gasp) kill someone, but these are rather rare. Most are variation of timed running, jumping or going somewhere and pushing a button. The flag collecting challenge is the most labor intensive one, and so I always skip it. The least difficult is the “Eavesdropping” challenge which requires you to walk to the spot marked on your map, hit a button and watch a cut scene. I’ve also seen escort missions, assassination assignments, pickpocketing (which is just like eavesdropping but you have to press a button once again after you watch the cut scene), and one mission where I had to push pedestrians into merchant food stands in order to demolish them. All these mini-missions have two things in common:

  1. They can be completed in 2-3 minutes
  2. They are pointless

The reward for completing these challenges are unique bits of dialog that may or may not reveal useful tips that may help you in your main assassination mission. For example, you may find out that the lazy laborers forgot to dismantle the scaffolding on the west wall of the castle, or that the guard that usually watches the back door is home sick. These things are of course irrelevant because you could easily find these little details on your own through careful observation.

You are also expected to “rescue” citizens who are being shaken down by evil guardsmen and scale really tall towers for points. In general, going above and beyond your line of duty will score you bonus points. These in turn will stack, and every once in a while reward you with a bonus hit point bar. So skipping optional investigations and rescues is not really recommended and will gimp your character in the long run. On the other hand, doing the flag challenge for the twenty fifth time is incredibly dull and annoying – so it’s a tossup.

In the end I decided that this shit ain’t worth my time. Especially since the counter-attack move you get after your first or second mission makes the hit points largely irrelevant. Once you get it, all you need to do for the rest of the game is stand still while blocking and mush a button as soon as you see one of your enemies wind up to hit you. If you time it right, you score an instant one-hit-kill. If you miss, you will still probably block the attack. The guards fight very honorably (read stupidly) and attack you one at a time allowing you to take full advantage of this technique.

Assassin’s Creed has checkpoint based saves which is something that I loathe with a passion. Not only does it kill any trial-and-error type exploration, and discourages free form running (you have to be careful – if you fall off the roof, you may need to do that fucking flag challenge all over again). It also forces me to tailor my gaming habits to the whim of the designers. For example, let’s say it’s a week day and I want to play for 1-2 hours and then go to sleep. Does Assassin Creed allow me to do that? No, of course not. I actually have to reach a checkpoint before I quit. This means I have to rescue a citizen, climb a tower or do an investigation. In theory, each of these events preserves the game state. Only it doesn’t. I found that the only safe place to quit the game is the local Assassin Bureau either before or after doing the investigations. Whenever I exited game wile in between investigations the game would promptly put me back in the bureau next time, forcing me to re-do all the flag collecting missions all over again.

This means I’m no longer in control here. Every time I play I must make a decision: do I cut my gaming session short and quit as soon as I reach a good spot? Do I play until I reach a safe spot, even though I know that might be another half an hour or longer? Or do I quit now, and then re-play all this content again tomorrow. This dilemma just does not exist in games that allow you to save whenever and wherever you want.

I must regretfully report that assassinating your targets in AC is infinitely less satisfying than in the Hitman games. As I mentioned before, you don’t actually get to stalk them. As soon as you approach your target, you are forced to watch a lengthy cut scene. Half the time the target will actually be aware of your presence and will send around 5 million guards to kill you and evacuate the area. So the whole assassination attempt turns into an epic battle which spills to the streets, and culminates in equally epic chase across the crowded streets, rooftops, temples and etc. So much for stealth, eh?

Of course sometimes the target does not know you are there, but instead has 3-4 hyper-aggressive guards permanently attached to his butt. There are ways around everything of course, and under normal circumstances you could get away with a stealth kill even in such messed up situation. Sadly, killing the target always triggers a cut scene during which guards will spawn all around you, and force you to either take them on, or try a daring, epic escape.

The worst part is that I know why the game does this. The epic battles, daring escapes and action sequences are there by design. It’s just that type of game. The problem is that I just don’t like that type of games. What I wanted to see was a stealth assassination game like Hitman. What I got was an arcade title with it’s game play sliced up into repetitive action challenges and combat scenes. The free roaming, sandbox environment is mostly just an illusion. Assassin’s Creed is incredibly linear, repetitive and… Localized. I don’t know how to express it otherwise, but the game just feels like series of challenge stages. You basically move from one map marker to the other, play short mini-games that usually include some button mashing, timed jumps or combat and move on. Each mission plays out exactly the same.

  1. You walk around the town until you beat 3 or more challenges
  2. You report you your employer and get a map marker for your target
  3. You arrive at a map market and watch a cut scene
  4. You participate in an epic battle an/or chase sequence, kill the target and watch another cut scene
  5. You run away from the guards and report back to get another mission

Schematic, repetitive and quite disappointing.

The story however is somewhat (somewhat being the key word here) intriguing and this is the only thing that is keeping me playing this game. I sort of want to find out what is going on, though I suspect that it will be disappointing just like everything else about this game was up until now.

Since this post is already over 2k words, I will put off the discussion of the plot for a later time. I leave you with this thought: Assassins Creed is the only game in existence that is requires performing a complex 10 step procedure in order to quit. I’m not kidding. The game literally does everything humanly possible to waste your time and keep you in the game. If I didn’t know better, I’d think this was an MMO or something. This is how you quit the game:

  1. Hit escape and choose “Exit”
  2. Confirm that you do in fact do want to exit
  3. Watch a loading screen and wake up in the Animus memory machine. Click “Exit Animus”
  4. Now you are back in the lab. Hit escape again and choose “Quit Game”.
  5. Confirm that, yes, you do want to exit
  6. Watch another load screen and when it’s done hit any key to continue
  7. Choose your name in the list of available profiles
  8. Choose the exit button conveniently placed to the side of the main menu where you can easily miss it
  9. ???
  10. Profit (by exiting the game)

Don’t believe me? Here is a video of this whole operation made by someone else:

Assassin’s Creed, I can’t quit you by NowhereDan

Now I understand that the game is taking place in two layers: the real world, and the simulated memory. I can see why someone would want that exit button at the simulation layer take you to back to the lab. But… There is actually no reason to do this. The lab itself is not very interesting, and not very interactive. There is literally nothing for you do there if you exit the simulation prematurely. All the interaction and dialogs happen at set intervals when the team extracts you from the machine to give you a breather and few hours of sleep. If you jump out of the simulation at some random time no one will even want to talk to you. So I fail to see why this option is even there. Perhaps this is a design artifact – maybe at some point the designers envisioned valid reasons to exit the simulation and run around the lab, but that part of the game did not make it to the final cut. I don’t know. But there is some logic to it so I won’t knock it that much.

On the other hand, having to select a profile in order to exit the game makes absolutely no sense. There is just no reason to do this. The whole procedure is just laughably long and awkward. It is a jarring design flaw – one that could have been corrected in minutes – all you need is a button bound to an exit(0); call. I’m pretty sure you could give that task to a fucking summer intern or even a half-retarded chimpanzee. And don’t tell me that chimpanzees can’t program – I actually graduated from college with a few of them, and some were full-on retarded, and yet still managed to get a CS degree. The point is that I have no clue how the game went through testing with this tedious 10 step rigmarole. Wouldn’t you think that the #1 but reported by their alpha and beta testing teams would be “I can’t FUCKING exit the FUCKING game! kthxbye”. I don’t get it.

At the time of me writing this, I’m about 3/4 into the game. I suspect that by the time you read this post, I will likely be done with it one way or the other. Sill, in case I’m not please do not post spoilage in the comments.

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4 Responses to Assasin’s Creed: First Impression

  1. faemir UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    As much as I agree with most of the flaws you pointed out, I still had a lot of fun with it. Plus if you read up on / watch videos of AC2 you will see a lot of these problems have been dealt with :)

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  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ faemir:

    Yeah, but that’s AC2. We are talking about AC1. :) But yeah – the game is somewhat fun. I liked the running around in the crowd killing beggar women aspect… Oh wait – you’re not supposed to do that? Oh well..

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  3. Zel FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Actually, this Hitman mission you mention had me replace the prop gun with a real one AND use a remote bomb to make the chandelier drop on his patron (when he realized his favorite actor had been killed and went to his side without concerns for security). I really liked the ‘accidents’ system in Hitman Blood Money, it really was fun (and rewarding) to look for ways to kill the mark without firing a single bullet :)

    I was also somewhat expecting Assassin’s Creed to be a Hitman-like game in medieval times, and was disappointed. The story is alright, although it doesn’t “end” very gracefully (basically : to be continued in AC2). The combat system is a total joke once you get the counter move, although by the very end it doesn’t work that well (enemies become able to cancel your counter and make you eat dirt, or just kill you very very fast at the first mistake).

    About the unending exit sequence, I tried to exit the game normally the first time around, and got lost between the lab and the main title screen… I didn’t think about logging back in to find the escape button. After a few minutes of pondering, I just pressed Alt-F4, which you should do now to exit the game if you aren’t already. Much faster. I suspect this is an artifact from the console version, that doesn’t require an exit button.

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  4. Steve Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    For fun, there’s a way to ride your horse along a rope suspended above a town. Great physics! :)

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