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Technology at it's most pointless

Rant: Assassins Freed

Assassins Creed

A couple of years ago, I was browsing around my local branch of JB Hi-Fi and in the discount bin, I came across a cut-price copy of the original Assassins Creed.

It proved to be a reasonably entertaining game, with an intriguing storyline; the chief protaganist, Desmond Miles is kidnapped by members of a sinister organisation called Abstergo, a corporate front for the Knights Templar. Desmond’s captors explain that human DNA is actually a complex set of ancestral memories, which can be viewed by placing the subject in a device called an Animus. The Animus allows a subject to “re-live” the memories of his/her ancestor(s) in a sort of Virtual Reality environment and in doing so, “unlock” memories which are then recorded by the Animus. It’s a sort of Medieval-Arabic-Ninja-meets-The-Matrix

Abstergo is after particular memories from one of Desmond’s ancestors; a member of the Ismaili Assassins sect named Altair ibn-La’Ahad. Desmond is forced to take part in the experiment and is transported via the Animus back to Jerusalem, during the time of the third crusade.

The first game had a number of basic flaws; you have to spend a fair bit of time running or horse-riding backwards and forwards between various middle-eastern cities and the Assassins mountain stronghold of Masyaf. Some tasks were fairly repetitive and you are forced to sit through some rather long cinematic clips…fine the first time, but after you have seen them 3 or 4 times they do get tedious.

Trying to click on a map icon is also sometimes a hassle. You click on the icon you want 5 or 6 times and nothing happens. Then suddenly the map bounces and you find you have selected an item or location you didn’t want.

There is also no manual game-save facility. Instead, the game decides when and where it will save itself; there’s nothing wrong with an auto-save facility, but why not allow players to save game positions when they want and not when the system decides?

But by far most annoying flaw is the use of a “camera” facility which follows behind the character as he moves. In combat situations and in some in-game puzzles, the camera has a hugely aggravating habit of swinging round at odd angles at critical moments; one minute you are fending off sword blows from a pack of guards and without warning, the camera suddenly swings back behind a nearby tree or bush and you find yourself fighting blind!

I don’t know who at UBISoft was responsible for beta testing this functionality, but whoever it is/was, deserves to be stabbed in both eyes with one of Altair’s fancy switchblade dagger wossnames.

Despite the flaws, the game was still interesting enough for me to acquire cheap copies of the three sequels that followed; Assassins Creed II, Assassins Creed: Brotherhood and most recently Assassins Creed: Revelations. This trilogy features a new hero, in the form of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, another of Desmond’s Assassin ancestors from the Italian Renaissance.

Very annoyingly, the first two sequels both had the same camera problem (although a number of the other problems had been solved). It was such a hassle and spoiled the gameplay so much that I was reluctant to play further AC games and it was only because I found a really cheap copy of Revelations on eBay that I decided to give it one last go. Fortunately UBISoft seem to have sorted out most of the camera bugs in Revelations and although I haven’t finished playing the game yet, so far, so good…

Now the raves; the game graphics for all games in the series are superb and each game has a richer and more developed world than the one before. Both sound effects and theme music are very atmospheric and provide a real emotional edge to the gameplay. The background history of the story is interesting and later sequels contain quite in-depth historical notes and references for many of the real-life characters of the time (such as Leonardo da Vinci and Nicoli Machiavelli). Although why this information has to be displayed when the player tries to view the city map is anyones guess. rolleyes

Each game in the series contains more intelligent characters and more developed tools, weapons and objectives. Movement around the world is more efficient as the hero learns to swim (in the first game the hero drowns if he steps in water more than a foot deep). By the time Revelations was released, the hero can make custom-built explosives, use a hook to ride zip-lines around the city and recruit/train others to the Assassin cause.

For reasons known only to themselves, UBIsoft introduced one of the most bug-riddled and frustrating DRM systems I’ve ever seen, when they launched Assassins Creed II and it has continued with the subsequent sequels. When I installed Revelations recently, the DRM facility subsequently downloaded over 600Mb worth of updates, taking over 3 hours! I then discovered that because I had not run the installation in Windows 7 “Administration mode” that I could not login to the UBISoft server and could therefore not register the game. I had to uninstall the whole thing and start all over again. mad

When I eventually managed to get the game installed and registered, the DRM interface kept trying to go online (I had specifically adjusted the settings to remain offline) to such a degree that I was eventually forced to unplug my internet connection. I also discovered that the DRM had surreptitiously installed a couple of plugins in Firefox, which I had to disable as well!

While this type of system interference might (and only might) be partly justifiable for multi-player scenarios, for single-player mode it’s WAY over the top and in my view completely unnecessary. In introducing what falls just short of a root-kit, UBISoft seem to have taken the Assasins’ motto (“Nothing is true; Everything is permitted”) a step too far.

While I’ll play to the end of Revelations, I have no intention of ever buying another title from UBISoft.

And if the bastards ever get down my neck of the woods I’ll give them a taste of our creed (Shoot first and ask questions later? Ed) wink

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6 Comments for: Rant: Assassins Freed

  1. Visitor Comment # 1

    Don’t get me started on the 100% synchronisation thing in AC:Brotherhood and AC:Revelations!

    By all means, provide a way of making the game more challenging, but for Gods’ sake, allow the player to disable it if they want!

  2. Author Comment # 2

    Good point Gaz. I missed that one.

  3. Visitor Comment # 3
    Desmond : (Visitor)

    Happiness playing AC is looting the corpse of your first target, before your last target has hit the ground.

  4. Visitor Comment # 4
    Altair ibn-LaAhad : (Visitor)

    Here’s a great walkthrough for AC:Revelations.

  5. Visitor Comment # 5
    Altair ibn-LaAhad : (Visitor)

    Nothing is true, everything is permitted

  6. Author Comment # 6

    Thanks for the tip – here’s another great walkthrough with 100% synchronization…for the record :-)

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