The tongue of the slanderer is brother to the dagger of the assassin.

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.

Do you:

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.

5 thoughts on “The tongue of the slanderer is brother to the dagger of the assassin.

  1. Jon

    It’s interesting that riding a horse in the game is illegal while stealing a horse, on the other hand, is totally ignored. Sounds like a government ruled by the media to me, they’ve only passed laws on what the average non-horse owner thinks.

    The game is deeply flawed with it’s logic (if we start rating games on logic we’re screwed though!) and more so the repetitive gameplay and so it’s hard to say if it’s a game to recommend. I think if you play it in smaller doses so that you don’t have to do the same thing 20 times a session it’ll play a lot better.

    For me though the world they created was more than enough for me to love the game. Sure it’s flawed, but the free running, climbing, cities and assassinating with the hidden blade more than compensated. I actually liked the combat too, it makes a change from just hammering attack all the time.

  2. Melmoth

    Oh, free running, good point, I’ll try to remember to talk about that at length in the final review; it really is quite fantastic, very liberating, right up to the point when you get commentary from the general public like “I wonder why he’s doing that” “He’s going to hurt himself if he’s not careful” and “You’re an assassin and I’m trying to trying to provide ambiance with this stupid comment”.

    One boggles at the developers trying to provide such background realism to the game, and then failing in such a fantastic immersion-jarring manner.

    Still, I’m three assassinations in and continue to feel like playing it, so it can’t be all bad. I think your ‘flawed but ultimately enjoyable’ summary is going to prove true for me too.

  3. Jon

    One thing that struck me as I played is that the game is better if you play as the developers intended. If you tank it up all the time you can complete the game easier, but you miss the point of sneaking and assassinating.

    Sometimes you just can’t avoid a massive scrap though :)

  4. mbp

    I started Mass Effect but I left it soon after I first got to the city / hub place. Running round the city talking to people felt just too much like KOTOR. Even though I loved KOTOR once I don’t need to do it all over again. Do you think I have judged too soon … Is Mass Effect really worth sticking through?

  5. Melmoth

    For my sins I never completed KOTOR, I think I was temporarily distracted by Counter Strike or a photoshopped picture of a mouse in a waistcoat, or something.

    From what I did play of KOTOR, I think Mass Effect is very similar, and the reviews I’ve read (Including this one on Enigmatic Diversions that I read just this morning) it seems that Mass Effect is indeed comparable to KOTOR, and that KOTOR was actually the better game.

    So I think you’re probably right in your judgement that Mass Effect will be a very similar experience to KOTOR, and although the story in Mass Effect is quite good, I think it’s fair to say that it’s probably not far enough off the beaten track to provide a unique enough experience if you don’t want to repeat KOTOR.

    Having said all that, Mass Effect is still a very good game, and you could find worse ways to pass some time if you’ve got nothing else to do.

    Also, the ‘running around talking to people’ thing doesn’t last too long in Citadel, and after that it’s mainly action orientated as opposed to the many many ‘running around talking to people’ missions that KOTOR has, as I recall.

    And then there’s always the naked blue-skinned alien action, if you’re of the Kirk persuasion…

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