Daily Archives: August 12, 2008

You’re Not The Boss Of Me

Melmoth’s overwhelming joy at the finely balanced ending of Assassin’s Creed surely strikes a chord with any seasoned gamer out there. Haven’t we all got a bunch of Stupid Final Boss/Mission stories? Maybe you spent the entire game collecting an arsenal so vast your character must have a wheelbarrow piled high with military ordnance, the game glossing over the couple of minutes between pressing “3” and “4” where you chuck your shotgun on top of the pile and rummage around for an assault rifle (“… crossbow, nope, tripod mounted heavy machine gun, nope, oh for heaven’s sake I had it just a minute ago… I’ll be right with you, sorry for the delay… under the flamethrower, there it is! Right, thanks awfully for waiting *BLAM*), only just before the end you’re conveniently captured, and pitched into battle against the most fearsome opponent ever seen armed only with whatever you can grab from the room you were locked in (if you’re lucky and the enemy were following The A-Team’s Guide To Encapturement, this would be a fully equipped workshop with enough power tools, hydraulic components and advanced electronics to whip up a rudimentary Battlemech; more often it’s someone’s office, and you have to do battle armed only with a stapler and a mug emblazoned with “You Don’t Have To Be Crazy To Try And Fight Someone Armed Only With This Mug, But It Helps!!1!”) Maybe it’s a battle that defies any previously encountered logic, so instead of just shooting someone a lot you have to start up a generator to provide power to a PA system, insert the right CD, find a hat and cane then do a quick tap dance routine to the sounds of “From Enslavement To Obliteration” causing the boss to lower his guard. At which point you shoot him. Maybe it’s just a monster with fifty times the health/armour/firepower of anything seen up until that point.

There’s a couple that stick in my mind. In Knights of the Old Republic I spent many happy hours slicing down waves of evil Sith with a couple of lightsabres, then got pitched into a boss fight where (as far as I recall) only a certain subset of force powers were any use at all, all of which I’d entirely ignored in favour of the Stab People With Lightsabres A Lot abilities. Then there was Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, where the final mission starts with fighting through the mansion of your mortal foe, shooting your way through a couple of hundred of his minions, not a cakewalk in itself. Then! The boss himself, in the grand tradition of all games ever insanely tough and heavily armoured, requiring a solid half hour of being shot right in the head before he’ll contemplate shuffling off this mortal coil. The end, right? Oh no. Now the mansion’s on fire, and you have to get out of there within a fairly tight time limit. Not really expecting that, I was lightly flame grilled the first time, and had to fight through the minions *again*, and the boss *again*. So you escape. And then! AND THEN! There’s only a bleedin’ car chase or something, where you have to catch a Ferrari, starting from a bicycle. Or you might have had your feet nailed to a block of concrete, I can’t remember the details as I was a bit busy smashing a keyboard into fragments at the time.

I can see the theory, you want your players to have a sense of achievement at the end of everything; without a Stupid Boss Fight there’s the risk of The Great Anticlimax, where you give some ruffian a light slap only to discover he was the Evil Mastermind Of Everything and you just defeated him. I have a habit of saving up consumables in RPGs (potions, wands, rings with limited charges etc.) “just in case”, so there were a couple of instances (especially if consumable effects stacked) where I’d find myself in the final battle pumped up on more alchemical narcotics than a participant in the Tour de France and followed by as many summoned minions as would fit on screen, so maybe the old “I’ve been captured” routine does have its place. Every game also has its really hardcore fans, some of whom can complete a level blindfolded. Using only two fingers of one hand. While suspended upside down in a straitjacket. In a tank of water. Sometimes you get the feeling they were the ones doing QA on that final encounter, and it was tweaked until they stopped filing bug reports reading “LOL EEZY!”

Preferable to a Mandatory Stupid Boss Fight is some sort of optional insanity, like unlocking a new ludicrous difficulty level after completing the game. That way normal mortals get to see that last cut-scene, and That Guy subsequently gets to work up a light sweat against three times the normal number of opponents, constantly respawning. Guitar Hero III is an excellent example of this, after defeating the final boss in the game, the credits roll and you unlock and get to try and play along to Through The Fire And Flames by Dragonforce, which is a very silly song on many levels. At least, Guitar Hero III *would* be an excellent example… if it wasn’t for the fact that the final boss battle is really, stupidly hard itself. So near, and yet so far…

Ass arse in screed.

I finished Assassin’s Creed the other day. The more observant and pedantic amongst you will note that I said ‘finished’ and not ‘completed’, and you would be well within your rights to raise such a point, and I would give you a look of sheepishness in response, because I have merely uninstalled the game and placed it on the shelf of ‘games that I pretend I might play again some time but secretly just leave out on display because they give me gamer cred’.

As the name suggests, it’s a long shelf.

I have to confess that I didn’t complete the game, as far as the official version of completing a game goes anyway, which is generally accepted as seeing some sort of preposterous feel-good cut scene followed by half an hour’s worth of credits, unless the game is Portal, in which case, as we all know, the credits are the best part simply because of that song. What I did do was complete the same set of missions – in slightly different areas of a couple of cities – about one hundred times, which generally involved seeking out information on an assassination target through my being a sneaky assassin sort of fellow, and then once I had the details down, I would toodle off and assassinate said target by, again, being quite the sneaky stealthy assassin. So it came somewhat as a surprise to me that the final missions (and readers should turn away for the rest of this post if they don’t want to learn of any spoilers) involve a full frontal assault on the entire first division of the army of King Richard I of England, aka the Lionheart, aka Coeur de Lion, aka that Giant Nutter Who Conquered Half the Holy Lands With His Army of Crusaders. It was at this point that I had to go back and have a quick look at the game box, and yes, there on the cover were quite clearly the words ‘assassin’ and ‘creed’, and unless I am very much mistaken, there are not many known assassins who have decided to ‘bugger all this stealth and intrigue nonsense’ and instead whipped out their long sword, which has up until now been mainly for show, and charged headlong into the front of the enemy, Braveheart style. Now there’s a reason that there aren’t many assassins known for this tactic, and that is because all of the ones who have tried it have been turned into a bloody pulp in the time it takes to say “I’m wearing the armour equivalent of pyjamas!”.

I thought I was missing the big developer’s joke, and that somewhere along the mountain path where I was fighting tooth and nail (mainly my character’s teeth against the soldiers’ bloody great six foot steel nails) there was a secret route that I needed to find, one that would allow me to stealth around the back of the army, almost like an assassin you might say, and that I merely wasn’t thinking like a ninja, or an insurgent, or a small seven year old child with enough common sense to not wade in to the pack of fourteen year old bullies blocking the path ahead. But no, apparently after having spent tens of hours as the elite parkour champion of the middle east, leaping from rooftop to rooftop with the lissom grace of an alley cat in its prime, I was suddenly unable to scale even the tiniest boulder; I mean, these boulders were so tiny there were seven year old children hopping over them and thumbing their noses at me as they escaped away from the inevitable beating that was barrelling its way up the Tedious Railroading Path of Lazy Level Design. It was more through attrition than anything else that I finally found King Richard and the man I had been sent to assassinate, and instead of just jumping the bastard the first chance he got and stabbing him squarely in the face, my character decided at this point it was best to have a little heart-to-heart with the Conqueror King. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, keep reading and I’ll tell you.

Despite believing that the story you’ve told him about his traitorous right-hand-man could well be true, the king doesn’t decide to lock-up the traitor and yourself, do some investigation of his own in order to find out the truth of the matter, and once he realises you were right, release you with a full pardon and a huge reward of gold, ale and whores. No, instead he decides to let God decide. Fair enough, we’re in the middle of the crusades after all, and God will apparently decide through a trial by combat. Sigh. Ok, I’m an assassin, and although I’m trained in the sneaky-sneaky stabby-stabby school of combat, I can probably take this over-armoured meathead, even if I am only wearing pyjamas. But wait, apparently God has decided that before I can face the traitor in one-on-one combat, I get to fight fifteen of his best heavily armoured mates first. All at the same time.

There will now be a short interval in this post as we are experiencing some Melmoth-related technical difficulties.


We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog post.

Suffice it to say that I decided, after about ten attempts, that I was decidedly bored with these shenanigans and I went and had a quick look at a FAQ to see if I was missing anything obvious. Apparently, I was missing the fact that:

a) There’s one specific move that you should spam over and over in order to try to win, but even then it will be difficult.

b) There’s no other way, be it using stealth, subterfuge or suspenders, to circumvent the fight.

c) The developers are related to small developmentally backwards marmosets.

Having read the FAQ and decided that I wasn’t going to play their version of Heavily Inebriated Streetfighter, I read on further to see how much of the game I was going to miss by throwing my arms up in the air, shouting ‘Why God, why?!’ and then launching the DVD across the room at the cat in a final attempt at bringing the game back to its assassination roots. As it turns out I was quite near the end, and the only bit left should I have decided to bang my head against the brick wall of the token pre-boss combat smack down, was to fight my former master, who it turns out can use ancient Christian relics to turn himself into a super-powered being of celestial might.

There was a phrase I uttered at that point, involving porridge, percolation and panties, but I think we’ve already reached an understanding of my feelings in this regard so I won’t repeat it.

And so, as I mentioned at the start of the post, I’ve finished Assassin’s Creed and have now moved on to Gears of War, which I may talk about at some point, but if you want to know the short version: I find it very hard to play games which involve a group of over-doped American wrestlers trying to act hard whilst grunting sounds no longer than a syllable, all of which is being presented in the nausea inducing wonder that is sHakkky CaMMmmm.