Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hating on Games

Normally, I spend my time telling you about games I like, and why. This time, I'm going to hate on a game: Assassin's Creed. I played about two levels of this game before trading it for something more useful, like ten GameCube disks I could use as stylish coasters. Let me see if I can force my mind beyond the mental barriers I erected to protect myself from the memories....

In Assassin's Creed, you play Altair, an assassin in the Holy Land. Actually, you play a memory of him, locked up inside his 21st-Century descendant. This is the beginning of the land of suck for me. When you are forced to "play" this guy, he's trapped by a nefarious high-tech organization seeking the location of a fabulous treasure. It's locked up inside this doofus' head. First, memory is not genetic, so sticking a descendant inside a brain-reading machine isn't going to help. It's a similar device to what pulled me out of the Underworld sequels; memory is not in the blood, either. Second, you play the aforementioned doofus, who's relegated to wandering around an office and reading e-mails. Sounds more like The Office video game. Dull, dull, dull.

Okay, so the majority of the game is spent "remembering" what Altair did, which means playing Altair. The mechanics of climbing towers and stabbing people in the back was fun for the first three or four times I did it. After that, it became a world of suck. Here's how:

1) Stance: You adjusted Altair's stance as he moved around the world, from innocent (and slow as hell) walking to aggressive (and slightly less slow as hell) running. If you run, you have a good chance of knocking over a peasant, or attracting a guard's attention. This always happened whenever I ran. Some guard would run up behind me and start pummelling me. Keep in mind, I had no idea I was running near a guard, because he was *behind* me. Apparently, no one was ever late for a caravan, or church, in the Middle Ages, because if you ran, guards would beat the piss out of you.

2) Pickpocketing: You could, if you were stealthy (which often involved not running) pick someone's pocket for important information. Nice. But if you screwed up, the guards were on you like rats on papayrus. Apparently, you did not want to start shit up in the Holy Land, or you were toast. Shit, Jerusalem was safer back then than NYC is today. More importantly, you could only pick pockets of certain marks. It's not like you could pick a merchant's pocket for a little coin. So let me get this straight, technically, if the game doesn't take into account picking the pockets of ordinary people (since I can't) then I'm getting the snot beat out of me for nothing. Which brings me to bitch #3.

3) A complete lack of economy: Can I buy better knives? Nope. Can I buy healing? Nope. How about some ersatz knucklebones of a saint? Nada. I can pick pockets, but not really, because there's nothing to spend money on. Also, one of the side quests involved beating up Templars who were guarding relics. The Templars are even more badass than the town guards (who were already more Robocop than Robocop), and they're a bitch to kill. My reward for doing so? Did I get the relic? Nope. So my reward for getting the piss beat out of me is... nothing. Gee, this game is FUN! There are merchants all over the place, would it have killed Ubisoft to give me a merchant screen with some stuff to buy?

4) I felt railroaded: I happened to stumble upon my mark in the second mission, while I was out exploring. I knew he was my mark. Now, the game boasted that I could tackle my target any way I wanted. I tried walking into his lair, a church, using the non-threatening walk mode. The guards went apeshit and killed me as soon as I entered the room. Hmmmm. Obviously, back then you went to church only at specific times, otherwise you were assumed to be an assassin and beaten silly (really funny, the guy is in charge of an infirmary, so it's not like I might be a leper looking for some healing. Nope, I MUST be an assassin!). Let's try climbing through a hole in the roof. Nope, apeshit again. The game was not satisfied until I investigated (which meant going through all the sub-missions), learning the name of the dude I already knew I had to kill. In fact, even though I was told I could kill my victims any way I wanted, I really had to do it the way the computer wanted. Unless I wanted my Middle Eastern ass handed to me.

This game taught me all kinds of useful things about game design. If you're going to include an element in the game, then include it. Don't go half-assed. If I can pick pockets and steal relics, then you're suggesting an economy. Give me something to spend the dough on. Don't include useless elements like the frustrating walk/run mechanic. And provide a variety of things to do, instead of "you must complete these six sub-missions cuz we said so." Needless to say, I'm not buying Assassin's Creed 2, even though they swear they fixed the problems.

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