I finished playing Mass Effect the other night, it’s a good game but quite short if you fail to undertake all the side quests that it throws at you, so I was rather surprised when the end credits started rolling. Still, not a huge problem because I have Assassin’s Creed and Gears of War sitting on the back burner waiting for me. I decided to go with Assassin’s Creed first, just because I thought a bit of fantasy would be a nice break, having sci-fi’d myself out a bit for the time being with Mass Effect.
So, Assassin’s Creed it is. I’ve only just started playing the game, so here are some brief first impressions.
The game is gorgeous with a capital ‘oh I think I need to change my underwear’. The cities in the game are beautifully realised, detailed and utterly believable; the immersion factor from the scenery is approaching ‘total’ on the enthrall-o-meter. However, the game-play elements quickly whip out a silent deadly blade, stick one hand around the graphic’s mouth and stab it squarely in the back. There’re the Convenient Monks of Convenience and their incredible ability to turn up and have a bit of an aimless wander around just at the point where you might need to get into a guarded building. For those of you unfamiliar with the game, you have the ability to blend with these white robed monks, which essentially translates to you standing in the centre of a diamond formation of four monks, after which guards will ignore you. First problem: it’s the same four monks, in the same formation every time; the blending feature is a fantastic idea, but would it really have been that tricky to vary the size of the group of monks, and perhaps make the group more than four large, because that leads us on to the second problem: these must be the most stupid guards in the world if they can’t spot the odd one out, here you try:
You are a guard in front of the keep of your master, who is very wary of assassins attempting to approach him and introduce his pancreas to the wrong end of a short sharp blade. You have been tasked with guarding the entrance at all costs, and thus you examine the crowds as they wander past. You see a group of monks approaching. You inspect them more closely.
You see five monks, the first monk is wearing a white robe. The second monk is wearing a white robe. The third monk is wearing a white robe. The fourth monk is wearing a white robe. The fifth monk is wearing a white robe; he also appears to have a longsword hanging by his left leg, a small short blade strapped across his back, five throwing knives strapped to the back of his right shoulder and leather arm bracers that look suspiciously as though they might conceal blades.
a) Ask the fifth monk if he’s an assassin and trying to kill your master.
a) Raise the alarm and prepare for the fight of your life as you try to apprehend an assassin.
a) Ask your fellow guard mates to just confirm that that bloke in the middle of the four monks is clearly an assassin and that you should all probably hit him with sharp metal sticks.
b) Ignore the group of monks, clearly they’re just wandering into your master’s keep because they enjoy sight-seeing around the military garrisons of the old world.
If you answered ‘a’, well done, reward yourself with a small chocolate coated biscuit. If you answered ‘b’, oh dear, punish yourself with a small chocolate coated brisket.
The other stand-out farcical element is the journey on horseback between cities. Again the animation and scenery is breathtaking, and then you ride past a set of guards at anything faster than a gentle canter and all hell breaks loose and they attempt to chase you down and kill you. I just didn’t realise that they had such speed limits in place in the medieval Middle East. Each time you ride out is like an episode of Smokey and the Bandit in the Middle Ages, with you trying to make your way as quickly as possible to the next city before you die of boredom, all the while trying to avoid the speed traps set by old smokey, and when you inevitably set one off, a chase sequence that makes Cannonball Run look like Bullet.
I guess it’s amusing in its own way, and I now make a “Breaker, breaker for the Bandit.” “Come on back, breaker.” “Well, what’s your handle son and what’s your 20?” “My handle is Smokey Bear and I’m tail grabbin’ your ass right now!” commentary as I ride along, which brightens things up a little, if nothing else.
Other than that I haven’t really experienced enough of the game to say whether I like it sufficiently to recommend it to others (unless you happen to like cheesy ’80s comedy police chases, in which case by all means grab it, breaker breaker) but I will say that the combat feels pretty clunky at the moment, with nice ideas in the special moves available, but with the implementation leaving something to be desired. Maybe I just need more practice.
Or maybe I need to stop air-guitaring Battle Without Honor or Humanity and concentrate more on the fight at hand instead.