The last few days I’ve been playing “Assassin’s Creed 2″. Well, I’m actually yelling at the game most of the time and furiously battering my keyboard. It’s a frustrating game, as was the first instalment in the series. Both are incredibly mediocre games which got a lot of praise when first released, but are actually more hype than substance, just like Grand Theft Auto 4, for example. Sure, the graphics are pretty, the story is relatively engaging (albeit a little too heavy on the clichés and Dan Brown mythology) and the roof acrobatics in famous cities is one of the best things in both games. But in the end both games are a disappointment.
The first game was berated for being to repetitive and a lot of the “assassinations” the protagonist Altaïr could execute were basically a bunch of mini-games strung together. Get to point X, pickpocket 5 people related to target, find target, stalk target, eavesdrop, kill target. Repeat. When not watching the unskippable cutscenes or being engaged in the aforementioned routine, Altaïr could climb monumental buildings of various cities, or annoy the general populace of Jerusalem, Acre and Damascus or, and this is utter brilliance, collect meaningless flags…
The roof climbing is actually the best part of both “Assassin’s Creed” titles. But the problem with the game is that it never makes you feel clever. The game gives you a set of options — blend in, pickpocket, freerun, groups you can hire, etc. — but you’ll never be able to use them creatively.
For example, one assassination requires you to assault a village and assassinate someone who’s been pestering you for quite some time. It’s a multipart mission with the actual assassination taking place in the “finale”. Your victim stands on top of a tower while fighting ensues below. For some reason the target just decides to stay there and remain immobile for the duration of the event, so you can easily sneak up on him.
So I approached my target carefully and climbed the tower to position myself neatly behind him. “It would be so cool if I could yank him over the parapet.”, I thought. But no, “Assassin’s Creed” doesn’t allow me to perform said action. No, I have to climb on top of the tower and confront the target and his guards directly and engage in a moronic sword-fight using the clumsy duelling controls.
I’m a stealthy assassin, going to great lengths to get to my target via rooftops and getting on top of a friggin’ tower, all behind his back and the game ultimately forces me to jump straight into a group of guards and kill them all first before getting to the moment of cheesy revenge. Wahay!
Compare the above to older games like the Hitman or Thief series. In both games the protagonist has but a fraction of the so-called skills Ezio Auditore has in “Assassin’s Creed 2″. Both Agent 47 and Garrett, from Hitman and Thief respectively, aren’t very athletic or acrobatic, but the skills they do have allow me to be more clever than I’ll ever be in “Assassin’s Creed”.
In Hitman for example, there’s a mission where you need to assassinate a German terrorist — Franz Fuchts — in a hotel. The mission is featured in two Hitman games (the original and “Hitman: Contracts”) and allows you to approach and assassinate your target in several different ways.
You can kill or sedate a bellboy and impersonate him by using his clothes, or check in as a regular guest and make your way through the hotel using a stolen master key. Or you can get more creative and follow Fuchs to a sauna and kill him there by turning up the heat. The Rambo Approach is also an option if you wish to massacre everybody in the hotel to get to your target. The only acrobatics you’ll see Agent 47 perform in that mission is his awesome skill to jump from balcony to balcony. Otherwise, he’s as athletic as a wooden stick. And despite all this the game gives the player a real sense of cleverness and actually manages to convey the thrill of assassination. A feat “Assassin’s Creed” doesn’t seem to get right, even after releasing a second game. But I guess it doesn’t matter, because people buy and play the game anyway.
Anyway, this forum post by user “post-hype” on the Rock, Paper, Shotgun boards explains the above much better. I’m off to “Fallout: New Vegas”.