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Late to the Game: Assassin’s Creed

This game is simply not that good. I do not know how it got a dozen sequels out of it, but playing the first did not make me want to play any others. It’s too repetitive and colorless.

First thing I gotta complain about is the poor PC port. Couldn’t see the opening movie, but could hear it. Took forever to figure out a way to get my XBox controller emulator with it, and then it wouldn’t save the configuration. I ended up just leaving the game on all the time, so now Steam thinks I’ve played Assassin’s Creed for 142 hours. Either the data miners at Valve are going to think I frickin’ love staring at sand-gray buildings or I’m really bad at the game.

assassin's creed viewpoint city
Weather Report: Brown with scattered taupe

That, coupled with the fact it takes about ten minutes to shut down the program. First you press escape, then exit. Except it’s “Exit Memory”, not exit game. You go back to the animus (more about that later) which does its hi-tech, green-blue thing. Then you need to exit animus. Then you slooowly get out. Then you have to press start and say Exit Game. Except you don’t. Now you’re back at the main menu, which forces you to select your save profile again to get to the screen where you can finally get back to Windows.

altair viewpoint assassin's creed
Hmm, now how do I get down?  Ah, I got it — a 50,000-foot drop into a hay bale should be okay.

OK, a bad UI can be forgiven–game designers may not be savvy about intuitive interfaces. So then the game starts, and you get plunged into a small tutorial level taking place in Heaven. It shows you all the skills you’re not going to need to get through the next level, which is some cave. Except you don’t know who the hell you are, or where you’re trying to get to or who you are. And this is kinda more important here than in most games, because you’re really some poor schmoe bartender being transported back via “genetic memory” in some kind of time-travel/hyperbaric chamber. So identity is thematic here.

Speaking of the animus (the horizontal TARDIS) what the hell is the point of this machine? There is no gameplay associated with this framing device. You slowly walk to your bed, then walk back to the chamber, then back to bed, then back to the chamber. All this place does is serve as exposition. It’s just a little break between assassinations. I played Candy Crush Saga on my iPod while they were going on.

And you need those breaks because the gameplay is repetitive. Every mission is the same. Go into a city, run madly through the streets and rooftops until you reach one of the three destinations where you do some mini-game that is either “assassinate 1-3 guys without triggering a witness”, “pickpocket someone”, or “sit on a bench”. They give you way more of these than you need to complete the mission, but every one is the same thing. No eye-opening story tidbits or easter eggs, no leveling up (you only get new abilities after each mission). Just gameplay extending, meaningless collectibles.

altair assassin's creed
Fifty citizens need to be saved, held by the exact same guys, saying the exact same things each time.  I was expecting one of them to tell me about their arrow to the knee.

I was hoping from something close to Dishonored, but it’s really Prince of Persia: Open World. It doesn’t matter how stealthy you are, or how patient you are, nearly every objective is the same — fight some guys. And the combat is ridiculous. It’s not designed to be the core mechanic, but there’s so much of it (all the Save Citizen missions, and all the other times you trip combat). It’s sluggishly slow, consists of single sword strokes against single opponents (even though they surround you and take potshots). It doesn’t let you throw knives or do a sneak-behind throat slash or use any of the tools you gain throughout. The actual gameplay is more based on parkour — how can you run efficiently so you can climb walls and jump gaps.

And then, after I went through all that, hours and minutes of gameplay more monotonous than an arcade game from 1985, it ends on a cliffhanger. A cliffhanger?! All I wanted to find out was why anyone cared about shoving this Joe Blow in Michael Jackson’s old oxygen tent. And after all that you still don’t know. They make you play the second game. Fuck that, Ubisoft. YouTube was invented for a reason.

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.

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