Sunday, February 17, 2008

Thoughts on Assassin's Creed and Mass Effect

I finished Mass Effect last week and just tonight completed the XBox 360 version of Assassin's Creed and I am sorry to report that while I was not disappointed with either game, I was unimpressed. I bought both of these games in advance and picked them up at the video game store on the day they were released. The fact that it took me over two months to complete them should give some indication as to how I felt about playing them.

2007 was supposed to be the year that XBox 360 really hit its stride and at least in some regards, it did. However, it could be argued that both of these games were to have provided a benchmark for the future of not just the 360, but video games in general. A lot of hype was in the offering about just how much each game would matter to gamers and the industry at large. It's no secret that Bioshock snuck up and stole many of the accolades that were supposed to be reserved for both Assassin's Creed and Mass Effect. It should be acknowledged, though, that Bioshock also got its fair share of pre-release press coverage, but it should also be noted that for all practical purposes, Bioshock delivered.

I don't think the same can be said universally of Mass Effect and Assassin's Creed. True, both received rave reviews from press and public alike. But not all were impressed. I would include myself in this latter group. (Full disclosure: I have only played a downloadable demo of Bioshock and probably won't buy or rent it. I can't help it: I don't like first-person shooters, which is unfortunate, because it is the most proliferate genre available on 360).

I could go into a detailed personal review of both Assassin's Creed and Mass Effect, but suffice it to say that I found both games lacking in several elements. First of all, both were too talk-y. This could be expected of Mass Effect, as it is a role-playing game and excessive story and dialog are part and parcel of the genre. Mass Effect also lacked difficulty and appeal in regards to combat and much of the game is spent on elective missions, which offer scant variety both in design and execution.

Assassin's Creed is an action game and as such, should have scant gameplay interludes to accommodate dialog. Unfortunately, Assassin's Creed exhibited a lack of discretion in regard to story progression and suffered because of it. As a result the player is forced to sit through many long exchanges between characters and without subtitles, which , for me, made the game difficult to follow. Assassin's Creed also suffered from gameplay repetition and clunky controls.

The various problems with these two games, however, give me hope. Why? Quite simply because imperfection gives vast room for improvement. Both games are great examples of pain-staking attention to detail, not to mention an emphasis on creative innovation. These franchises will surely see at the very least one sequel each so the developers will have a great starting point to create a succession of games that improve with each subsequent release.

In a way, it's almost a blessing that Mass Effect and Assassin's Creed were unimpressive, because I can't wait to see what the future holds for each franchise.

Upcoming 360 releases I'm looking forward to:

  • Ninja Gaiden 2: If Ninja Gaiden 2 is even a replication of Ninja Gaiden, then it is easily going to be one of the best games of 2008. Here's to hoping the notoriously difficult game will find a way to make the sequel somehow even more awesome than the original.
  • Star Wars: The Force Unleashed: There has yet to be a game that delivers on the potential of playing as a Jedi. This could/should be the one.
  • Too Human: There have been problems in delivering this game but from what I've seen, it looks amazing.
  • The Bourne Conspiracy: It will be interesting to see if the cinematic elements translate well to a video game. I've seen some fighting videos and it looks impressive, but I don't think Matt Damon's involved, so the authenticity factor takes a hit.

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