When critiqueing a peice of art or entertainment, it's important to consider the purpose of it's medium. If the movie adaption of "The Godfather" was simply the text of the book scrolled across a screen for 10 hours, it would get horrible reviews and people would probably ask "why not just read the book?" Gaming, as a medium, has one unique trait that sets it apart from other mediums: interaction. It could be argued that more interaction equals a better game, and many gamers, when faced with Metal Gear Solid 4's ten hours of cut-scenes, asked "why not just watch a movie?"
I personally feel interaction is just one of the elements to a great game. I loved Modern Warfare 2, even though the interactions were limited and the consequences often terribly contrived. It did little to push the medium forward, maybe even pulled it back a touch, but it was like kinda-sorta-playing an AWESOME action movie, and I was entertained.
What really kills me, though, is when an otherwise great game gives the pretense that you have total control of a situation, only to akwardly yank it away at the last moment every time. Yes, I'm looking at you, Assassin's Creed 2.
I liked Assassin's Creed 2. In some ways I even agree with the almost universal acclaim it recieved. I enjoyed the free-running, I liked the combat, and I loved the beautiful sights that Renniasance-era Italy had to offer. I was thrilled that both games in the series brought us to settings that no other games ever dared to touch, and then gave us an intruiging story to explore them with. I also enjoyed the sense of freedom I had through most of the game to do as I pleased, taking in all of the awesome setting at my leisure. Ezio was even less of a bitch than Altiar, and the characters were actually enjoyable.
But it drove me crazy when the game would bring me to the point where I was supposed to finally assassinate a target, then have me sneak up and prepare for it perfectly, only to take that control away and show me a cut-scene of how things played out. Even worse, the cut-scenes usually involved my character failing despite my precautions against that exact outcome, or raising far more attention than I should have after having waited for the perfect moment to strike.
I admit, The Animus System even offers a completely reasonable excuse for the limited interactivity that all games suffer from: you're re-living someone's memories, so you can't stray too far from history. So the game stops you from killing a lot of innocent people, or going somewhere Ezio shouldn't be yet. This is a pretty cool mechanic, and an important moment like an assassination is something that obviously needs to play out accurately. But that doesn't stop it from being extremely annoying.
Even worse is that the game is so spectacular up until that moment. I mean the act of infiltration, the thrill of the hunt. The controls and mechanics are fantastic, from using your environment to draw near unnoticed, to sitting inconspiciously on a bench and watching your target's movements. The game makes you hungry for the kill, has you waiting patiently for the climax, and then it cuts your balls off. It doesn't even matter how you approach the situation, the outcome is always the same and it's usually a let-down.
The game seriously gives you a case of blue-balls. It sets you up to think, but then tells you what to do. It makes you try to be sneaky, and then tells you that it didn't really matter. It makes you try to hurry to save someone, and then kills them anyway. It lets you kick the shit out of someone only to initiate a cutscene where, wait, the guy is actually kicking your ass.
The game constantly dangles perfection in your face. It's like the developers went to The Princess is in Another Castle University of Game Design, where after 5 years of learning how to almost make good games it's like "Sorry student, but your diploma is at another college."
Assassin's Creed 2 has a lot going for it, and there's a lot to love, but it constantly disappoints. The sense of freedom gained from the fantastic free-running mechanics sets you up to actually use your wits, but all of the coolest moments are turned into cutscenes. Like when you're sneaking up on a target and a cut-scene plays where you get caught, and then a cool assassination turns into a dumb chase.
But I guess a lot of games do that. I can't count how many times while playing a game I've had to think "I wonder how close I can get to that before a cut-scene happens? I hope one doesn't while I'm trying to explore." and other such nonsense where you're more trying to guess how the game is trying to make you experience it than actually experiencing it. But it's the unbelievably untapped potential in Assassin's Creed 2 that makes it a perfect example of a love/hate opinion I've had on a game recently.