What Has On Assassin’s Creed
Honoring The True Assassin
by Nicholas Capozzoli
©2012 Nicholas Capozzoli
Let me preface this piece by saying that I’m thoroughly impressed by what I’ve seen of Assassin’s Creed 3. In fact, I gave it “Game of the Show” honors for E3.
But do you recall the debut trailer for the original Assassin’s Creed, unveiled back at E3 2006?
It’s still the best game trailer that I’ve ever seen, and I vividly remember how amped it made me for a game that I had never actually seen in action.
Remember the scene? A public execution. As a knight at the gallows decries the actions of the accused, a figure appears on a tower high above the crowd. A split second later and he’s gone, vanished in the time it takes for a single ring to sound.
He’s on the ground now, and moving with purpose. He reaches the gallows, and dispatches the knights in a flourish of violent attacks, finishing the leader with a signature leap and hidden blade.
Then it’s off to the races, as pursuing guards struggle to keep up with the assassin’s acrobatic free-running moves. He reaches a church, makes a dramatic turn, then melts away into the crowd with casual ease.
It still manages to give new chills, even six years later.
But you’re probably wondering why I’m talking about an old Assassin’s Creed trailer when this article purported to be about Dishonored, aren’t you?
As much fun as I’ve had with the AC games (mostly the original), my enjoyment has always been marked with a touch of disappointment that they never quite matched the vision conveyed in that original trailer.
The games have always had a troublesome relationship with stealth gameplay, and the viability of combat means that the series has always skewed towards dramatic action.
I don’t mean to slight Assassin’s Creed for being a little different than an early marketing video. It wouldn’t exactly be the first game to do so. The Assassin’s Creed games simply struck a different path, and it’s proved to be perfectly enjoyable and successful.
But that brings me to Dishonored, a new IP by developer Arkane Studios. At this year’s E3, we got to spend a little time with the game, sampling a gameplay trailer and a hands-on demo.
Coming away from Dishonored, I found myself thinking back to that Assassin’s Creed trailer from years earlier. That’s because Dishonored struck me as a true realization of the concepts shown in that old video , perhaps more so than any Assassin’s Creed game had ever achieved.
Our time with Dishonored began with a hands-off demonstration, showing an assassination mission at a bathhouse called The Golden Cat. The level was played through twice, once with stealth techniques, once with direct confrontation.
That portion of the presentation is up for public consumption on the interwebs now, so I won’t deign to rehash it in its entirety.
Sufficed to say, it makes for an impressive look at the flexibility of Dishonored‘s gameplay. In fact, co-creative developers Harvey Smith and Raphael Colantonio promise that the game can be completed without killing a single soul.
That’s great news, though I suspect that I’ll have to get my hands a little dirty on my playthrough. A typical stealth mission for me follows a formula: spend ages meticulously planning my route, accidentally get spotted as soon as I step out from cover, then be forced to kill everyone. [Ed: That's what I do!]
My hands-on time with Dishonored proved no different, save the fact that getting caught invariably resulted in me getting killed. I’m sure that with practice, it becomes easier to pull off the slick killing moves of the hands-off demo, but my initial impression is that direct combat in Dishonored is a dangerous proposition.
When confronted with more than two, I found that the surest bet was to flee.
It’s therein that the Assassin’s Creed trailer seemed rather pertinent.
There seems to be a real play between stealth and combat in Dishonored, that there will be times when the situation favours confrontation, and times when the best bet is to get out of Dodge.
Either way, I think that success will depend on cunning and creativity, not on the ability to counter-kill everyone that looks at you cross-eyed.
There’s enough opportunity for sneakery to make a fast food mascot jealous (to say nothing of Corvo’s profoundly creepy mask).
And though Dishonored is a first person shooter, I’m happy to report that Corvo appears to be surprisingly nimble.
He’s able to pull himself onto ledges quickly, a feature which most FPS players will find to be remarkably refreshing; and, the “Blink” teleportation ability can be used in tandem with leaps to make crossing Dunwall’s rooftops swift and graceful.
Blink operates, according to Smith, in a squashed sphere that makes it most effective for horizontal movement. I gave the ability a workout during my playthrough, and was pleased by its utility: you can even teleport with bodies in tow, which should prove helpful with hiding corpses.
You’re limited to a set number of learned abilities, so expect to have to pick and choose which best compliment your style of play.
They cover a wide spectrum, ranging from a blast of wind to Fus Ro Dah your enemies off high places, to a stealth-oriented trait that turns slain foes into ash. Each looks unique, powerful, and fun to use.
All combined, that looks to be one of Dishonored‘s major successes: you’re given a versatile toolbox of abilities, and the settings that you find yourself in are a veritable playground in which to use them.
Whether you elect to play as a saint or the grim reaper, it looks like you’ll find that Dishonored‘s mechanics work with you, rather than against.
It wasn’t a perfect showing, of course. During the hands-off portion we noted some quirky animations, such as a pair of guards who reacted to an attack of plague rats with the same struggling motion, performed in perfect unison.
Explosions looked a bit rudimentary, as did the bloodletting effect from a violent knife slash or spell.
More troubling, to me, were a few flaws found during our hands-on time. There was a noticeable pop-in that occurred among distant structures, and the water of the nearby bay had a curiously inert, stagnant look to it.
For a game that appears to feature the ocean as a setting mainstay and thematic inspiration, dull water effects would be a curious problem. We’re hoping to find those concerns dissipate as we get more looks at Dishonored in action.
Dishonored certainly invites more looks, regardless of a few graphical niggles. You may have heard Arkane’s design leads speak to the use of a “painterly” artistic style.
I had initially assumed that this referred to a generalized aspiration; indeed, marketing for Dishonored has utilized “painted” style concept art deep into the development cycle.
Come E3, I was pleased to find that it’s actually much more literal than that: surfaces in Dishonored are given a brushed, multicolored texture that mimics the effect of an oil painting.
I couldn’t agree more, and it looks like Arkane’s new game has style in spades.
The real assassins?
Assassin’s Creed 3 is certainly nipping at its heels, especially after such a strong showing at E3 earlier in the month.
But every time I think of Assassin’s Creed, I think of the promise of that original trailer.
Then I think about how Dishonored looks to be realizing it, and how good its looking doing it.
It’s going to be a good October.
©2012 Nicholas Capozzoli
Filed under: Console gaming, E3 2012, Editorial, Oxcgn Special feature, PC Previews, PS3 News, PS3 Reviews, Xbox 360 Tagged: | arkane studios, Assassin, Assassin Creed, Assassin's creed, Assassin's Creed 3, Creed, Creed 3, Dishonored, Harvey Smith, Ubisoft