Games for Lunch: Assassin's Creed
0:00 I know I should have been playing this game during the last holiday season like a good game journalist, but Super Mario Galaxy and Rock Band took up all my holiday play time, so I'm playing a bit of catch-up.
0:01 A disclaimer screen tells me the game is "Inspired by historical events and characters" and that it was worked on by "a multicultural team of various faiths and religious beliefs." Now I'm all primed to be offended.
0:02 A falcon is sent off by a falconer. A bell rings. A crowd cries out for blood. An assassin mills through the crowd. He breaks into a trot, takes out the executioners with style, and then runs off through the crowded streets, jumping rooftops and killing his chasers on the way. Soon he blends into the crowd. If the actual gameplay is anything like this cut scene, sign me up.
0:04 The universe starts flickering between old-world Persia and a modern lab facility. "We've got a problem. I can't anchor him to the memory," says a disembodied voice. "There's too much psychological trauma, he's rejecting the treatment, retreating." Another voice tells me to relax. "Recognize that what you're seeing isn't real, just pictures from the past." This is freaky.
0:06 They finally pull me out. "I told you he'd be fine," says the doctor. The doctor gives some quick exposition: "We know who you are, what you are." But I don't... I'm just a bartender. "You're an assassin," the doc tells me, "and whether you realize it or not, you have something my employers want locked away in that head of yours." He tells me he'll kill me if I don't cooperate. Eep.
0:08 The doc explains that the "Animus" machine to which I'm strapped projects genetic memory in 3-D. "Seems you'll need a bit of a tutorial." Uh, yeah. The doctor lays out some technobabble about genetic memory and ancestors: migration, hibernation, reproduction, instinct, blah blah blah. The animus decodes the DNA memory files, apparently. I "lack the confidence to step into my ancestor's memories." I "need to be eased in." That's what she said. Really, she did. The doctor's female assistant said this stuff.
0:10 Now I'm back in my Persian garb, in a stark white purgatory with odd symbols flashing all around me. "Warning, data stream unstable," a computer voice intones ominously. I'm "subject 17." Makes me wonder what happened to the first 16.
0:13 The R trigger toggles between low profile and high profile modes. A neat idea for controlling an assassin.
0:14 Sprinting requires holding two buttons and then moving the control stick? Ugh.
0:15 The computer is matter-of-fact in discussing how to assassinate a soldier. It's a bit creepy.
0:17 I can hide in hay piles, rooftop gardens or ... groups of scholars? One of these things is not like the others.
0:18 Amazing how holding down a button and walking slowly can make soldiers ignore a guy in the big white assassin's coat. Meanwhile, the assassin's creed is explained: Never hurt an innocent person, always be discrete, never compromise the clan. Reminds me of Asimov's laws of robotics.
0:19 My wife, who's watching me play, doesn't understand why the computer/modern lab stuff is necessary: "It doesn't add value. In fact, it probably subtracts." So far, I have to agree with her.
0:21 I jump right into a confusing scene where a few other assassins and I are killing an innocent for some reason. They tell me I'm breaking "the creed" but I tell them that isn't important, that we can do what we want in our quest for treasure under the temple mount. Looks like my character's gonna be the "bad boy" of the assassin world.
0:24 Believe it or not, I'm already stuck. I'm in a very dark cave and I don't know where to go. The radar is indecipherable.
0:25 I turn up the brightness in the options and now I can see where to go. The game automatically jumps me across thin beams as I run towards them. Pretty cool.
0:26 We find the Ark of the Covenant (that was fast) but some French guy wants to take it, too. The other assassins and I have an academic debate about whether or not we should kill these guys to get the treasure. I try to pay attention, but my character's voice acting is so horrendously bad that I have a hard time taking the whole thing seriously.
0:29 So we decide to assassinate the French guy, but as I try, he stops me and sends me through a wooden wall with a message for my master: The holy land is theirs. The whole scene comes off a little overwrought.
0:30 Even though the French guy let me live, I hear, "Men, to arms! Kill the assassins!" So does he want me to live or not? Oy!
0:32 After a quick "Intro to wall-climbing," section, the computer snaps me ahead to a "more recent memory." I have to deliver my message to the "master" in the tower.
0:33 Just for giggles, on the way to the tower I assassinate a random civilian in broad daylight on a busy path. People stare at me as I do the deed, but they keep walking initially. It takes five seconds or so for the citizens/soldiers to notice and for the alarm to be sounded. By that time, I'm a good 10 meters down the road and out of harm's way. The much-ballyhooed crowd dynamics aren't wowing me yet.
0:36 "Best hurry. I'm sure you'll want to put your tongue to his boot," my brother says as I get to the tower. The other characters get great voice acting and animation. My character sounds like he's reading the nightly news.
0:38 I tell the master that my mission failed. He's understandably upset. His eyes are dead and creepy. One of the assassins I left behind limps in and talks of his dead brother and my arrogance. He found the treasure while I ran away. This looks bad for me. Just in time, word comes that the city is being invaded and I have to help out. Hooray for plot points!
0:42 My combat strategy so far: Jam the X button. It works pretty well.
0:44 Whoops. While trying to kill a guard, I accidentally kill a fleeing civilian. It's not my fault -- they're freaking EVERYWHERE and jump right into our fight paths. Ugh. Also, I've found a new, more efficient mode of attack -- throw them with B, then stabby stabby.
0:45 Not that I mind finally having some action, but after all the setup for stealth and such, it's a little odd to fall straight into a balls-out melee.
0:46 Just as I'm getting close to my target, the attackers break off their invasion for some reason. I fast-forward to a new memory again. What is this, "Sliders"? "Quantum Leap," maybe?
0:48 The French guy from before has taken over our city and is laying siege to the assassins' fortress. Our leader says we don't fear death due to starvation or dehydration. Um, speak for yourself dude. I like eating and drinking, myself.
0:50 The game tells me to take a leap of faith into a pile of straw. This has the potential to be really cool, but instead it just feels scripted and phony.
0:52 The game is still teaching me how to do stuff, after more than 50 minutes of gameplay. Seems a little overcomplicated to me. Too much tutorial and too little game, thus far, for my tastes.
0:53 I like the freestyle climbing controls, but I can't help thinking that Prince of Persia: Sands of Time did it better. More streamlined.
0:55 I climb to the pre-assigned "trap" point and drop a bunch of logs on the enemies. Feels a bit anticlimactic. "You did well to drive Robert from here," says the master. "Tell me, do you know why it is you were successful? You listened." So is the whole game going to be following linear instruction? Lord, I hope not.
0:56 The master gives me the girliest slap I've ever seen during a dressing-down. Meanwhile, he goes over the tenets of "the creed" that I've already heard during the tutorial. Repetitive, much?
0:58 "Every man we've lost today is lost because of you," says the master. He calls me a traitor. He's gonna kill me and... he does? Really? I did not see that coming. Back to the lab. The assistant wants to pull me out, the doctor wants me to stay in. "What's another hour or two," he asks. It's what I need to evaluate this game, that's what.
Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? I feel like I barely got through the tutorial in my first hour. So far the game shows a lot of ambition, but some problems with the execution. I'd give it another hour or so to prove its worth, then I'd probably move on.
This column was based on a copy of the game rented from GameFly.
Want to know more about Games for Lunch? Check out the FAQ here.
Go to Kyle Orland's blog for even more Games for Lunch.