Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Nablopomo and other aliens: Day 3

Today: Assassin's Creed and the art of multitasking.

Well-Rendered towers has been in possession of a copy of the original Assassin's Creed for over two years. For some reason, it's the special edition. One of these days I might just have to send the limited edition postcards to someone.

No-one's ever played this particular copy all the way through. Several people have tried, but they've only managed to play for a few hours before their eyes glass over and they start drooling.

Assassin's Creed has an interesting premise that I fawned over last week. You play as Desmond, who has been captured by a mad scientist (do mad scientists exist beyond the plots of B-movies and video games?) and made to control his ancestor Altaïr, a crusade-era assassin. Unfortunately, the really fun bits of the game (assassinating people) are diluted by the boring bits of the game, which are repetitive side missions and unskippable cut scenes.

The side missions are probably the worst part. Most video games which offer side quests, optional missions or mini games make sure that they give you an incentive to complete them. Broadly speaking, there are three ways of doing this. You can either:
  • Make each one different, so the undertaking of each one is a voyage of discovery and thus a reward in itself
  • If the challenges are of a consistent format, ensure that each is successively more difficult or complex than the last
  • Reward the player for undertaking the challenge. Ideally this should be in combination with one of the other two.
Assassin's Creed, shockingly, does none of those things. There is no difficulty curve whatsoever. Altaïr has to trundle between Damascus, Jerusalem and Acre, but you wouldn't know it because all three cities look exactly the same. The side quests are exactly the same in all of the cities and there are an unforgivable number of the absolute worst one, the "rescue citizen" activity.

This consists of beating up some guards who are molesting an innocent member of the public. The fight system is sticky, slow and unrealistic, and when you've finished, the rescued citizen will tell you how grateful they are (often in an inexplicable West Country accent). This is the worst bit. Thirty seconds isn't a long time if you're having fun, but when you're listening to a speech that you have heard countless times before (there are only about four versions of the "thank you, mysterious stranger" speech) it is an age. Worst of all, you have to stand there are listen to it, you can't even run off.

Each of the three identikit cities is divided into a "rich", "middle" and "poor" district. There are about 8 citizens in each district who need saving. And there are three cities. That's 8 x 3 x 3 = 72 times you have to go through this tedious charade. And that's just one of the side quests.

To me, this kind of repetition in a video game is unforgivable. It means there is no incentive to actually play the game, however good the plot is. It's like if you were trying to watch a film, but someone kept pausing it and wouldn't press "play" again until you'd done five star jumps. Except it's worse than that because at least star jumps keep you fit.

The plot itself is really quite interesting, so it's a shame that it is told in such an abysmal manner. That is, you are literally "told" everything by various non-playable characters in a variety of entirely static cut scenes. Even when you assassinate someone, they spend a good minute or so waffling away at you, justifying their evil schemes etc before they actually die.

To put this in perspective, I've managed to complete my entire weekly quotient of work on my course (web applications with the OU) during the monologues in Assassin's Creed. Rescue a citizen, write some notes on information structures whilst they thank me. Chase down an infidel, answer questions 1-5 on my mid-module assessment.

I am not joking. Is this a good advertisement for a game? Contains frequent scenes of such abysmal dullness that you are forced to do homework to keep yourself entertained?

Answers on a limited edition Assassin's Creed postcard please.


  1. It sounds awful. I confess I have Assassin's Creed in my to play pile and it sounds like I can just leave it there awhile longer!

    I hate being forced to re-visit cut scenes and dialogues over and over. What were they thinking?

    Congratulations on getting to day 3 of NaBloPoMo!

  2. To be entirely fair to Assassin's Creed, it's not as bad as I'm making it out to be. The free-running aspect is great fun, as the the flag-collection.

    It's just that its bad points stopped me enjoying the good points yesterday. I've invested quite a bit of time in it, so I think I will go back and finish it.

    Nablopomo does seem to bring out the instinctive side in me. Usually I have a couple of days editing my posts.

    For a more balanced (and, I think, fair) view that is also great fun to watch, have a look at Yahtzee's review of the game.