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- - - - - - - - - - - -=[ Friday, December 28, 2007 ]=- - - - - - - - - - - -
Impressions: Assassin's Creed

We're just coming off finishing Assassin's Creed, and given the "passion" surrounding the game (uniform accolades for innovation in design and scope, 81 MetaCritic score and over 2.5M units sold on the one hand and editorial criticism and endless forum posts bemoaning various aspects of the game on the other), a few comments seem warranted.

Regarding Some of the Accolades

Scope/Design: The views are incredible, and setting this Open World in a superbly researched and art-directed Crusade-era Middle Eastern locale has brilliant results. Cities that are truly alive with a variety of citizens that create an immersive environment and impact gameplay unfold majestically in front of--and below--you.

Story: Yes, it has evident similarities to other Templar'ish works (everything from DaVinci Code to National Treasure), but to have a complex, engaging plot with characters that have definitive arcs, but are not necessarily definitively good or definitively evil--and all the while not a post-apocalyptic horror theme in sight--is a borderline miracle for the video game universe of today.

Controls: The free-running is fantastic and puts the incredibly scenery to seemless, and truly good, use. It's a powerful feeling we dare say is more exhilarating than swinging Spiderman through the canyons of New York. The "Marionette" controls (head, weapon arm, free arm, legs) are reasonably intuitive and combat is neither mindless, nor impossible.

Regarding the Issues

Investigations/Repetitiveness: While the assassinations themselves and continuing to reach viewpoints as guard presence increases throughout the game are varied and tense, the required investigations become a chore to be minimized. As has been widely discussed, they are repetitive and of significantly different complexity, leading one to tend towards the trivial to simply "get through it".

Combat optimization: It becomes clear that the best possible combat approach (especially in the later fights pitting you against dozens of combatants dealing out 2-6 blocks of damage each) is to wait in defensive posture to perfectly time counter-attacks. While having to discover this is certainly part of the trial-and-error of gameplay, it essentially takes all other combat moves out of play, leaving you feeling slightly impotent offensively.

Dialog: There's too much of it, and too much of it delivered in soliloquy. Easy to fix. See below.

The one thing that has been true of Assassin's Creed across the editorial and user community--whether fawning over, or criticizing, the game--is the support for what has to be a coming sequel to expand on the unique qualities this game has staked a claim on and to fix the inevitable shortcomings this giant vision forces in its first execution. To that end, we have a few...


Scope/Design: Expand on a brilliant beginning. Analysis of the end of Assassin's Creed has suggested future destinations could include China, Peru, Japan and even Egypt. All lend themselves to visually stunning ancient cities/landscapes teeming with people.

Story/Dialog: Keep unfolding a ripping yarn, but let less be more in both plot and dialog. We're already plenty impressed that a video game has any story at all. Don't weigh yourself down under a plot that is more Mission Impossible II (e.g. laughably indecipherable), and less DaVinci Code (it's not Le Carre, but remains well-paced and accessible at all times). And while we love a good cut-scene that gets close up in the face of our next gen rendered characters, speechifying does no-one any good. Let some of the story unfold partially in the spaces between what is actually said.

Controls/Gameplay: Give me more free-running abilities to both explore the ever-more-incredible environments and to use them as an advantage over pursuers. AND give me a 2nd compatriot to do it with. [SPOILER WARNING] The most obvious candidate is Lucy (voiced by Kristen Bell), the lab assistant (wo)manning the Animus who is revealed as a fellow Assassin during the game and spares Desmond's life at the end. Much like Princess Farah briefly assisted the Prince in PoP:SoT, Lucy could make a useful companion to perhaps provide cover with ranged weapons or perform even more daring acrobatics than Desmond's ancestors (not to mention that a little romantic duet, or triangle with a player to be named later, could add to the story). You could also envision a "party" system with Desmond's ancestor, Lucy's ancestor, an animal for thievery and a big somebody to play the "heavy". There are some obvious downsides in increased complexity of managing your partner/party that need to be avoided, but the expansion in gameplay could be well worth it.

Here's to hoping it's been a short X-mas at Ubisoft Montreal, and that the team is already busy working on a November 2008 release of Assassin's Creed 2. We'll gladly drop another $60 on this kind of game.

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