Saturday, November 24, 2007

Assassin's Creed: Initial Experience

Well, so far I'm a little underwhelmed. I actually thought the beginning of the game was quite clever -- a send up to bad tutorial/learn as you play design where the player is overwhelmed with onscreen instructions that are taught too quickly to be effectively learned and ingrained. It left me feeling initially overwhelmed and frustrated, which was exactly what I was meant to feel as the main character waking up from a puzzling and confusing voyage into the matrix. It kind of broke down the 4th wall in a cool way like Eternal Darkness did with its insanity meter.

Next came the actual tutorial (which was even called a "tutorial" within the fiction of the gameworld) and it had some of the same failings of other sub par tutorials: Lessons taught in uninteresting and disconnected ways, little opportunity just to learn by doing, and the constant worry that if I missed one of the instructions that I would never be able to retrieve it again. For instance I still can't remember the color coding scheme for the Eagle Eye ability (and can't seem to retrieve it via any of the in-game options).

Pacing was also a bit off. There was a lot of dialog. Badly written dialog. For a game that marketed itself heavily as a cinematic experience, not enough time and effort was spent on writing. The marketing movies (that had little if any dialog) were all spectacular. In-game, however, there is a lot of talky-talk that is just pitifully bad.

The game's fiction also makes explicit the deus ex machina elements of mission advancement because memories can be arbitrarily "advanced" when a task or goal is completed. Yes, there is some efficiency from the player perspective (no need to walk all the way back to the lair after a mission is done) but because it seems arbitrary it seems like it happens without my intention.

Another key annoyance is one I also experienced with Metroid Prime: Give me cool powers to start the game -- then take them all away and make me go through a boring tutorial in order to get a few of them back. And, likely, several tutorials in order to get them all back. Ratchet & Clank never did this -- and I felt cool from moment one (and only felt cooler as the game progressed).

I had reasonable expectations for this game -- I assumed that it would sacrifice gameplay and accessibility for a cinematic story experience. It seems (so far) that the sacrifice has been made. I'm worried that I will not get the story content that I expected in return.

A couple of production value nits to pick (normally I wouldn't do this, but this game really has been marketed on the strength of its visuals and production values):

  • For a next gen title, there are a lot of graphical glitches. Maybe they aren't as noticeable on a smaller LCD screen, but on my projector there are lots of really ugly moments so far (especially with regard to shadows and characters).
  • Characters don't seem situated in the world. They seem to be floating. This has been most noticeable in the cut scenes between me and my master (his feet just don't seem to attach to the ground). I realize that at some point we need to get away from simply putting dust clouds under footsteps, but I just find it distracting when characters don't seem situated.
  • Default movement seems a little slow and sluggish. It does set the mood, but can be frustrating if I just want to cover some ground. This is especially noticeable when I'm back in the lab.
  • Did I mention really bad writing? It's a combination of too much exposition and not enough Hollywood magic. Dialog is a tough thing to do well and the game so far has dropped the ball.

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