Thursday, January 28, 2010

“Nothing is impossible. Anything is possible.”

Throwing another video game onto the flaming wreckage that is my credibility, the royal we here at Castle RMWC are a sucker for medieval related things, and Ubisoft’s 2007 release Assassin’s Creed drops you into the middle of the Third Crusade as one of the mysterious and feared Hashashin/Assassins, but then it also promises a crazy twist!!

So, uh, its not really a twist if it takes place before anything else. Turns out, the main character is just some guy in a white hoodie in a fairly generic near-future setting that gets kidnapped by a fairly generic sinister corporation. The reason for this is that he’s a descendant of an actual assassin from a time period that is very interesting for EvilCo. and they plug him into a machine called the Animus which can apparently let you access “genetic memories” and live through them for something like “genericsciencefictionbullshitpsychobabblerubbishmillenniumhandandshrimp.” Anyway, its at this point that you’re seriously considering returning the game because you wanted to stab medieval peasants in the throat when it turns out that this Animus device is going to be the excuse to plop you down into the Crusades as one of your ancestors AND THEN you get to stab people.* Though its with a purpose. EvilCo.’s looking for some kind of MacGuffin that your great-great-great-great-great-great-great granddad was involved in finding and losing.

Desmond Miles: Nolan North voices our “Hero,” a bartender in a white hoodie that looks suspiciously similar to the uniform of his ancestor. Subtle. Anyway, he spends his time in the stark white apartment/lab getting yelled at by one of EvilCo.’s scientists and encouraged by one of their other, cuter, techs. He spends the entire game half-heartedly denying any connection to the Assassins and playing video games reliving his ancestor’s life, so he’s a blank slate of a character.

Altaïr: Philip Shahbaz voices Desmond’s much more physically active ancestor, they do share the trait of not having a backstory worth notice. A high ranking member of the Assassins, he’s pretty proud of himself and lets that get in the way when a mission goes pear-shaped and some of his buddies get killed. Demoted and nearly killed by his boss for his failure, Altaïr doesn’t exactly come across as a contrite or apologetic guy. Actually, he’s kind of a dick. Anyway, in exchange for not killing him outright, his boss assigns him to kill nine high profile targets (Christians and Muslims) who are “needlessly extending the crusade.” And if that sounds like a flimsy reasoning to you, give yourself a cookie. Our boy Altaïr does become the badass of the game as you pick up new skills and weapons for him (like his signature hidden blade: a nasty little wrist mounted switchblade), and he’s got some impressive le parkour moves that help him get around town. And when you can get around town by climbing up the Dome of the Rock AND the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, walking on the ground seems so passé.

Warren Vidic: Phil Proctor voices the Scientist of Abstergent Asbestos Asberger’s Sbarro Abstergo (you know, I’ll stick with EvilCo.) Industries who passively, then aggressively shoves Desmond into the Animus to get that information. If he had a moustache, he’d be twirling it.

Lucy Stillman: Kristen Bell voices the EvilCo. tech who gets friendly with Desmond, ostensibly because you’ll catch more flies with honey, but, well, there’s a pretty obvious twist involving her.

Al-Mualim: The awesome-voiced Peter Renaday voices Altaïr’s black-robed boss, the highly intelligent and dangerous “Old Man in the Mountain.” Based in the mountain fortress of Masyaf, Al-Mualim talks quite a bit about peace and freedom, but the facility itself is run much like a cult, and he does send people out to murder other people through a vast network of bureaus, so, you know, he's totally trustworthy and wouldn't possibly be lying to you.

Robert de Sable: Jean-Phillipe Dandenaud voices Altaïr’s archenemy in the game, the Templar Grandmaster and the last of the nine guys he’s sent to extinguish. On the surface, Robert’s a bigger dick than Altaïr, but there’s more to what the Templars are trying to do than simple crusading.

There are also the 8 other targets and Richard the Lionheart makes an appearance, but its not worth going into them.

Simon Peacock and Amanda Wyatt were the voice over directors and Jade Raymond was overall project producer. And there’s way too many people and departments to go any further into who did what. Visually, the game is impressive when you’re running around the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The world is beautiful and character animations are solid. Facial details are less interesting, which I guess is a strike against it, but if you’re spending all your time zooming in on your character’s face, then you’re doing it wrong. The game does get a bit repetitive in its structure.

Written by Corey May and M. Dooma Wendschuh the story is…not what I’d call good. The whole storyline about an assassin who screws up royally and becomes an expendable tool against high profile targets as punishment is a pretty decent, standard story, but then the sci-fi story feels badly developed and shoehorned into what was otherwise an interesting tale of dirty intrigue and politics. The other issue I had is that Altaïr is held up as a tortured but ultimately righteous good guy, but he’s really not that likable of a guy, or heroic. He’s really more of a self-righteous, arrogant ass who’s convinced he’s doing the right thing and bringing peace back to the Holy Land, when ultimately, he’s just another agent of discord. I mean, one of his targets only becomes a paranoid, would-be tyrant only after Altaïr has killed several of his other targets before him.

And I’m not going to go into all the historical…liberties taken. Not gonna do it. Just… Its not worth it.

Jespery Kyd does a great job with a moody, sometimes electronic, sometimes more orchestral sound. It is quite awesome.

There are a lot of flaws with Assassin’s Creed. A lot of flaws. At its worst, the game’s plot feels like it belongs in a Sci-Fi Original Movie. At its best, it’s a fluid, largely open world city crawler that encourages you to freerun across anything you can, not because you get a lot of rewards for it, but because its awesome. The sequel apparently fixes a lot of the flaws of the first one while playing up the great stuff. Still, the core appeal of the first game, to run around committing shenanigans in lushly designed medieval cities, is a solid one.

*Note, we here at RMWC do not actually advocate stabbing peasants, or any other kind of people in the throat, even if it is in a lushly designed Medieval city, and even if you do so by means of a flying leap from a belltower. Just don’t.

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