I believe that games are pleasurable for two reasons: their ability to immerse us in their worlds and the innate kinesthetic satisfaction we derive from tight and powerful gameplay.
ASSASSIN’S CREED: 4/10
The game’s characters and sceneries are profoundly beautiful. The animations, real-time interactions with NPCs and environmental effects are a celebration of physics and often reflect nature to a degree where wandering the world occasionally touches your spirit.
However, these elements are ancillary to the story, presentation and music elements, which steamroll nearly all the immersion created by the raw visual aesthetics.
Due to a game concept that was likely implemented to explain the presence of an overwhelmingly complex and clunky HUD and give the designers a lazy way to transition between plot points, the game actually takes place in modern day. You play the role of a test subject who has been tapped for his “DNA memory”. Your DNA memory contains the memory of your ancestor- a Crusade-era assassin. Your job is to go into these genetic memories and re-play them. Not only is this plot unbelievable to anyone with a 7th grade understanding of genetics, but the way the scenes play out (and they are scenes- you have extremely minimal control- i.e. it’s watching boring dialogue) is plodding, predictable, circular and KILLS the immersion. If a game wants to make you feel like a badass assassin in the crusades, than it needs to MAKE YOU A BADASS ASSASIN IN THE CRUSADES. There is never a moment where the game allows you to pretend you are actually the assassin, as the HUD, the map, the RADAR (in the crusades? really!?), the immersion-killing false boundaries within the city, the visual mechanism for highlighting enemies, the way the game jumps between “memories” CONSTANTLY by going between DNA “memory blocks” all reflect the games futuristic aesthetic which manifests itself as little geometric blips in a blue-aura fog. Even the loading sequences put you in this futuristic fog just to try to pull you out of any suspension of disbelief you may have arduously developed.
Other infuriating immersion-killing mechanisms include: a very limited design palette for hiding spots, Assassin “Bureaus” in each city, your health being tied to how “synched” your actions are to your “memory”, drum and bass techno soundtrack (that feels awkwardly out of place considering the game’s setting and is usually devoid of any compelling melody), a generically systematic and unexplained way of opening up the cities to you, the way you suddenly lose your abilities at the beginning of the game because you are demoted and the excessive cut scenes which accompany every mission, which are poorly voice acted and quickly become redundant and predictable.
The one thing this game does well (besides its raw looks) is the obstacle-jumping and climbing. Once you hold down the right trigger, your character goes into a mode where everything can suddenly be climbed and hurdled. Like a game such as Tony Hawk, the game allows you to pull off spectacular acrobatics with minimal button pressing. It feels EASY, it feels like you are an incredibly talented athlete and it feels FREE as you roll, jump, climb and swing through the gorgeous city rooftops (until you hit the designer-imposed false blue-aura boundary, that is). There is rarely an obstacle which does not have a hurdling/climbing animation associated with it.
Every other element of the gameplay is atrocious. The combat feels sluggish, delayed and ultimately completely unstisfying. It is button-mashing defined: you press one button to strike repeatedly, with some counter moves thrown in. The fighting animations are so slow that by the time you’ve mashed your button six times, your character is just starting his attack animation. The counter-move timing is unpredictable and requires more luck than skill. The combat feels like a FMV game on Sega CD: smash some buttons at the right time and maybe something good will happen. We have nearly perfected fighting games, why can’t we perfect fighting in other games (God of War and Devil May Cry, excluded)? Fighting is more watching than playing, thus, when you do eventually slay your enemies, there is no satisfaction. This is compounded by a sketchy hit-detection system, clunky fighting animations and a consistently-frustrating camera.
If only fighting was the worst. The other game mechanics for the terribly boring and repetitive “assassin” duties you must perform such as pick pocketing and eavesdropping are, again, clunky, oftentimes nonsensical. This is work, not play.
So what about the great payoff of assassinating your target? Don’t expect to be mercilessly fiber-wiring your target after cleverly positioning yourself ala Hitman; nope, here you will press a button, wait for your delayed animation to play and then (if the unpredictable hit detection deems so) your target will die in your arms as you hug him and he delivers an absurd heart-to-heart speech about why you shouldn’t have killed him. Ugh.