So it's at the point that Summer finally decided to show up that Nathan came down for an all-too-short weekend and brought his copies of Assassin's Creed 1 + 2 with him (for me to borrow). There was little to stop me playing them since I was finally at my wit's end with Mirror's Edge. I hope the trophies are more attainable in the sequel! Grrrr...
(I should note that I managed to get 56% of the trophies, which makes the trophies in that game more attainable than in Wipeout HD, except that I find Wipeout to be much more an awarding game, Mirror's Edge feels like a workout.)
Anyway, today's been my second day of playing Assassin's Creed (1). The story is rather sound. I don't think a single game has ever made me more delirious and confused than the start of this one. It suddenly gave me an idea of how to make a Survival Horror game even more terrifying. But scary this game is not and pretty soon we get an explanation. Desmond Myles was kidnapped and forced onto the Animus, which is a special bed designed to find memories of your ancestor encoded in your genes and make you relive them. Yeah, this is in the future. I like the way that the theory behind the science of genetic memory is explained, even the reason behind the hypothesis is given. (Certain birds set off on their own to mating grounds, but how do they know where to go if they've never been?) That's true science fiction: there's no way that the technology can exist but the science seems feasible.
Anyway, the kidnappers are actually an international corporation (a pharmaceutical company, that's always the bad guy in video games) looking for something. They believe Desmond's ancestor knows where it is, but when they first look for the memory, it fails to materialise, so they have to start with a clearer memory from further back in time. So who is this ancestor? In walks Altaïr (Al-ta-yr), an assassin within the Caliphate of Damascus in the late 12th Century. They don't actually say any of this out loud, it's just that I studied this stuff during my time at Uni and the depth of the research done really impresses me. Playing this game gives everyone an introduction to medieval Islamic social history, I promise you that!
Seriously, the detail is stunning. The multi-ethnic/cultural diversity, the architecture (Jerusalem is filled with Byzantine churches), the differences in living standards (you can tell who's rich just by looking at their bright colours)...
As for gameplay, the controls are very fluid. They change slightly depending on context but they're always on display so you can check. It's very easy to move and the fighting mechanics are very believable, I genuinely find it (relatively) straight forward to take on a group of guards. Point is, Altaïr is very responsive so you genuinely believe you're controlling a top assassin. It doesn't explain why objects have a massive invisible shield though. When walking through a crowd Altaïr is able to shoulder past someone and grip them when need be to get past. But he can't do the same thing with a tree. No, he has to walk all the way around it. Same with Desmond, for some reason he can't walk right up to a table and touch it, he has to give it a meter's space. Funny thing about Desmond, while playing as Altaïr you feel you're experiencing an authentic life and you have all these abilities and tricks. When the Animus shuts down for the day, you're suddenly just Desmond, who can only walk, run and activate cutscenes by "pressing any button". It's like a dumbed-down version of Heavy Rain. Another odd thing is that the 'real world' (the future) always looks like you're seeing through a screen, like when you watch TV. You know you're just reliving a memory but Altaïr's world seems much more real.
I also can't help making comparisons between this game and Hitman (any of them). It's simply because it utilises modern day assassination techniques. Agent 47 will rarely carry out his assassination wearing the suit he entered in because, let's face it, intimidating bald men in a suit and tie tends to be too suspicious in...a lot of places. It's also thanks to forensic science that Hitman encourages the player to kill the target without going near them (whenever possible), using objects in the room to make a kill look like an accident. Also, best idea to make sure no one sees you doing anything suspicious and the kill is best done isolated. Not in Assassin's Creed. You kill in broad daylight, hide in plain sight and the enemies are never smart enough to look for you. For some reason, you never sneak into a building/room to kill someone, you just wait for them to appear and kill them with everyone watching. Also, for some reason your physical description is never properly spread around, meaning the guards have seriously short term memories. I know Altaïr's face is hidden by his hood but I think someone walking around in a well-worn white robe with a sword at his side and a dagger on his back is pretty damn memorable. And yet walking in the middle of 4 scholars with his head bowed is enough to hide him. It's like the guards always expect their culprit to be running. Also, when getting away from enemies you have to be out of their sight in order to successfully enter a hiding spot (makes sense) such as a hay stack (very logical-you're completely submerged and they'll never think to look through it) or simply sitting on a bench between 2 people (illogical-if a guard was looking round they should instantly find you). Also, in any Hitman game people become suspicious if you act weird (like running, climbing or walking away from a just-discovered murder scene) but in Assassin's Creed (1) climbing up buildings simply make onlookers comment on your insanity.
Here's a tried-and-tested assassination technique: walk up to a person, stick your hidden knife into their neck, turn around and walk away. Even if people were walking towards you, as long as you keep walking away they will never suspect you.