I just killed my last Templar – quite stylishly I might add by countering his attack and sticking my hidden blade through his neck – netting me 40 gamerpoints bringing me to the full 1000.
I got Assassin’s Creed back when it was released in November 2007 and looking at my achievement history I completed the whole game in 5 days, 165 points short of the full 1000. Assassin’s Creed is an entirely single player affair so what were these missing points if they were not of the ‘kill 1000 people in ranked multiplayer’ ilk? Collectables.
Collectables have been around for a long time, hidden items squirreled away in games rewarding the inquisitive gamer (or the gamer who bought the strategy guide) with extra ammo, a secret level or unlockable extras. As mentioned in a previous post, Tomb Raider: Legend is my idea of well thought out unlockables (and achievements for that matter). There are only a few artefacts to be found on each level and are often in plain sight but a challenge to get to. Putting the effort into getting them rewarded the gamer with unlockable outfits, concept art, character bios and cheats. Assassin’s Creed has no less than four hundred flags (touch to pick up collectables) to find and sixty Templars (footsoldiers of the game’s villains) to kill throughout the game’s world.
Finding at a guess 90% of these is not a challenge- there are so many of them you run into them when simply bounding from rooftop to rooftop when evading the city guards. The problem comes when you have found most of the flags and Templars in a city but are missing one here or there. It is not a challenge to reach those scattered about the rooftops and streets – Assassin’s Creed’s much lauded parkour-esqe gameplay makes this easy – but instead it is finding those hidden in a shadowy corner where you would never venture, or in winding alleyways that you are often flying over rather than travelling through. Yes in games of old I would be saying that I was being rewarded for diverging from the path to the level exit and exploring that side corridor- but in such ‘living world’ games exploring every street would take an inordinate amount of time and wouldn’t be very entertaining. It is an exercise in endurance in the face of boredom, not a smart addition to the core gameplay. In fact after going through the entire game world again trying to find the half dozen remaining flags and Templars (online guide in hand, check out the very useful assassinscreed-maps.com) I had to admit defeat and accept that I had missed them somewhere, forcing me to restart the game again from the beginning so that I could grab each flag and Templar methodically. I can only surmise that the flags were an artificial attempt at extending playtime beyond the core game, an incentive to buy the strategy guide or an afterthought. Though it is wrong to assume that everything you do in a game should be directly rewarded there is absolutely no benefit (save gamerpoints- I would not have bothered if I was a PS3 gamer) for collecting the flags or killing the Templars.
In my opinion any sequel should feature far fewer flags, all of them easy to spot but placed on the top of the tallest and hardest to climb structures, rewarding the player in some fashion for collecting them. They would also be flagged on the map once picked up so that the gamer isn’t forced to retrace their steps later in the game to work out which flags they are missing. That way the gamer would face a challenge in getting to the flags but then be rewarded with both unlockables and a sense of satisfaction.
Despite some negative backlash from gamers shortly after the glowing praise from professional reviewers on release, Assassin’s Creed is a good game and worthy of a play. Graphically it is simply beautiful: from the first time you ride in to Jerusalem on horseback to when you climb the tallest church in the game and survey your surroundings, it is quite a masterpiece to look at. In terms of technical merit the vast, detailed cities that make up the majority of the game are impressive, as are the visceral, action-packed sword fights and the ability to climb just about any surface in the game accurately (the protagonist reaches for handholds rather than simply moving across a wall texture). There is an argument to be had that in creating such a beautiful, technically brilliant game they forgot to put in the gameplay- it is quite repetitive and simple to play. On balance though, it is worth playing both as a piece of entertainment and as a milestone in games development, just don’t expect to be picking it up again for another play after the end credits roll.