I’m a terrible assassin.
Over the years I’ve been more than a little late to many of gaming most popular franchises, most of them were due to lack of interest or funds. But back in November I had the chance to sit down with Stephen Totilo (of Kotaku) and close friend Steve Bowling to discuss the long running series Assassin’s Creed. Of course I knew plenty about the games, how they had evolved and branched off over the years, but I had never actually picked up a controller to play one. Both Stephen and Steve seemed so jazzed about the series as a whole that I decided it was time to give Assassin’s Creed a shot.
I picked up Syndicate, the newest in the series, on sale in January and then... I got busy. So busy in fact that I didn’t even boot up the game until recently. You know how it is with titles on your backlog. I meant to play it, but there was just so many other games to try and important adult things to get done.
When it comes to gaming my background is heavily influenced by the colorful and crafty likes of Nintendo. My go-to titles are Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country and Banjo Kazooie. I don’t really do realistic visuals or extreme violence. I think I’ve purchased three mature rated games in my life, and one of them was Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. Though... it’s a bit hard to compare a 1997 FPS on the Nintendo 64 to a 2015 stealth assassination game on the PlayStation 4.
Needless to say Assassin’s Creed was going to be far beyond my average outing. I didn’t feel the need to start at the beginning of the storyline as I already had a good understanding of the “you’re in a computer program that let’s you go back in time” shenanigans that span the series. Also, Victorian Era London is kickass. The look of the city and the corruption throughout is just very appealing to me as someone who enjoys history. Tally ho! Off to London I went.
If you’ve never played Syndicate, I’ll do my best to keep this as spoiler free as possible. No promises though, chaps. I mean you already knew about how you have to kill the queen, right?
Syndicate stars twin assassins Jacob and Evie, both with unique skills and witty banter. Also, they look like actual real people. The problem with realistic visuals, at least from my perspective, is that they beg to be compared to the real world. And while Syndicate looks stunning in all it’s grimy London glory, I can never stop myself from feeling like I’m just watching a bad CGI movie. The uncanny valley is alive and well.
I suppose that’s the advantage of the cartoony environments and ridiculously proportioned characters I normally deal with. They don’t demand comparison to the real world, because they stand no chance. They are what they are - caricatures of real world ideas. I don’t look at Link and think, “Why, that’s not what a elf boy with a fairy should really look like!” Because that would be ridiculous.
It’s really the characters more than the setting that tend to pull me back to the real world and make me think why is he running like that? or who is she looking at? It’s just small things in the way the characters interact or move. But still, it’s the most realistic game I’ve probably every experienced. Well, aside from Night Trap, but that had full motion video, so it has an unfair advantage.
The tutorial missions for both Jacob and Evie were a good way of introducing me to basics, and so making me realize I’m about as stealthy as a garbage truck barreling through a crowded mall. Apart from that one part in Ocarina of Time where you have to avoid the guards, I’m pretty much the worst at not being seen. My instincts are always to attack. Attack until I die and if that doesn’t work just attack from a different angle and most likely die again.
I’ve learned you really can’t play Assassin’s Creed that way. Because the enemies are much smarter than your average Goomba. They call for backup. They work together to beat you to a bloody pulp. Which they did to me various times throughout the tutorial. Which is unsettling. Because the tutorial should be the easy part, right? It should be too easy if anything.
I’m sure there are thousands (millions?) of players out there who busted up every baddie in the Syndicate tutorial with ease, but I certainly had a time of it. Eventually I got a bit better. I snuck around, I fought on top of a train, I jumped off a tall building - Assassin’s Creed stuff. I was enamored with the upgrade system, as I am notoriously bad at spending upgrade points and the thought of doing it for two people made me even more concerned I would pick the least helpful improvement.
After officially making it to the sprawling London streets with no more tutorials looming over my head I decided to pick a mission to kidnap a local thug. How hard could that be?
Turns out pretty hard for me. My first thought, even after my assassin training, was just to run in and tackle the guy. This was a bad idea, as ol’ boy apparently had every family member and friend within a ten foot radius. Maybe I interrupted his birthday party. Regardless, I was very quickly murdered and my man ran off into the smoggy sunset.
I tried again, being sure to stay stealthy and blend in with the crowd. I was more accustomed to actually assassinating folks at this point, and the whole kidnapping aspect had thrown me off what little game I had to begin with. Once again I made too big of a spectacle and once again I failed. How do you apprehend someone in broad daylight with out anyone noticing?
Six more times I attempted to take this clown into custody. I got shot, stabbed, and on four occasions just parkour’d myself to safety before things got too bad. I just couldn’t do it, and it was beyond frustrating to me. In a blind rage I decided to just pick a new objective where I had to save orphans from some horrible factory. I went and took care of those wankers in no time, freeing the local kiddies from their 9 to 5 fate. It was certainly a good feeling. I completed the next few missions with relative ease, but the unkidnappable man still alluded me.
Then Overwatch came out and I dedicated my life to getting murdered in that game.
I have a feeling I will return to Assassin’s Creed down the road. I don’t think I’ll ever buy the newest title when it launches or even go see the movie staring Magneto, but I can see why others love it so much. It’s a well thought out title with a beautiful setting and a lot to do. It’s interesting that when you watch streams of people playing games like Assassin’s Creed they make the gameplay look so effortless. It’s honestly impressive. Being good at games my just be the timing of a button press, but damn if it doesn’t make all the difference in the world.
The moral of the story is: Trying new series and genres is an experience worth having. Improving as a gamer in a foreign digital setting is time well spent. In the last year I feel like I’ve strayed from my normal gaming safe space and it has made me experience fantastic titles I would have otherwise ignored. They don’t always become your game of the year. In fact sometimes they fall exactly where you feared they would, but that’s the kind of gamble you should be willing to make from time to time. It’s exciting!
So go out and play some games you might not normally be inclined to pick up. Despite some struggles you might just enjoy yourself.