Assassin’s Creed

“Be at peace now. Their words can no longer do harm.” (Altair)

Let me just get this out of the way: I played Assassin’s Creed in the Summer of 2011 – four years after the game’s release. At this point, two direct sequels have been made, one’s down the pipeline and I’m not even starting to count the mobile and handheld spin-offs. This franchise is huge. So naturally, I know this game is supposed to be good.

And that’s just it – supposed to be.

In Assassin’s Creed, you take the role of Desmond, a bartender living sometime in the present or future. One day, he gets abducted and hooked up to an Animus – a futuristic machine that… well, I guess it sends him back in time. But it also sends him inside someone else’s mind. You control this other person like a puppet. And the gist of it: this someone else is an assassin. So what sets out as a futuristic-looking game is actually a stealth assassination game set in the crusader era. Neat.

The game plays fluently. There’s a system Ubisoft calls “free-run” which generated a lot of buzz, and said buzz is completely justified. The way it goes is every face button controls a part of the assassin’s body and you can switch between high-profile and low-profile. There’s no limits to what’s possible with this awkward sounding control style: fluid combat, dozens of ways to assassinate people, insanely high building scaling… You really feel like a bad-ass.

And that’s because you are. You are Altair, bad-ass assassin, tasked with killing Templars for your plot-relatedly shifty-looking assassin boss. And that’s where the tone of this review will slowly start shifting. Altair is a grade-A asshole: after he botched a mission and got some colleagues of his killed, he got stripped of his powers. The thing is: this doesn’t quite change him. He remains the same stupid asshole, and when he finally stops being an asshole, he’s just plain stupid. When the NPC’s mocked him, I was actually on their side. I kind of wanted this guy to fail.

Actually, I wanted everyone to fail. I have never seen a bunch of high-brow smug bastards united under one videogame roof. It’s like the game is telling me it wants to be cultivated and smart (it certainly looks smart, what with the mostly accurate display of the eleventh century) – but it’s not just telling me, it’s puking it out on a plate and rubbing my nose in it. The characters don’t stop talking. They don’t. Every five minutes, the game locks you in a forced perspective mode and makes you listen to some guy with a phony accent talk about the facts of life. Unless it’s Altair – like Disney’s Aladdin, he has a fluent American accent. Oddly enough, you can still move two steps in each direction in said forced perspective. So I did the only right thing: I turned my back on whoever was speaking. Unfortunately, the game didn’t even allow me this little pleasure – Altair promptly turned his annoyed-looking face back in the speaker’s – nay, orator’s – direction. A polite, smug bastard.

It doesn’t help that the gameplay is about as repetitive as it gets. You tail a dude. You pick pocket a dude. You help a dude in need. You climb a tower. You collect some flags. You sit on a bench and listen to some dude. And then you kill a dude. You do this about ten times and you’re through. That is: not counting the absurd in-between parts. When you’re not killing, you’re tossed back into Desmond’s prison cell and forced to hear evil wizard professor talk about how the Nazis were the bomb. Or something like that, I usually put the controller down during these parts and went for a cup of coffee.

Boy. Apparently, a video game can aim too high, too. It’s like Ubisoft’s undying wish to educate their audience turned a neat little idea into an awkward high school lecture. A little humor (or self-awareness) would’ve certainly helped. But then again, even with an awesome story, the game would still have been repetitive. It’s like a tech demo. A really, really good tech demo.

Now where’s my actual game?