Monday, November 29, 2010

Top Five Ways to Be a Perfect Assassin

There is little doubt that as a franchise, Assassin’s Creed is here to stay for awhile. If you have read anything I have written in the past nine months you will know that I am a staunch supporter of the single player experience and felt extremely wary about the new component. Whether the Story Mode will survive its new big brother, multiplayer, is anyone’s guess at this point. Because of the complexity of the narrative and the obvious care that went into Ezio’s Roman chapter, I am going to assume that the story of the assassin’s will continue, which makes me incredibly happy. I am completely enraptured by Brotherhood-truly like no other game before. Last year when I played AC2 I declared it to be the best game I had ever played. Well, even though the bulk of ACB lacks the narrative scope and scale that AC2 managed to pack into such a short time, the Borgia story has an intimacy that greatly appeals to my more girly side. The emotional investment combined with all of the new interactive elements have taken the blossom of AC2 and turned it into a full bloom. It truly is a phenomenal game.

If you have played the franchise since the first Assassin’s Creed you will know that it can be played using melee tactics-a lot of fighting techniques involve attacks or counters and are quite bloody and brutal. But if you choose to play the Assassino, hiding in the shadows, the game transforms from an action game into a beautiful and utterly graceful stealth experience. I find the most satisfaction in playing ‘the long game’, which may involve hiding or waiting patiently for minutes at a time. I’ve butchered enough people in my video game life, so quiet assassination suits my tastes perfectly. On that note, I’ve come up with a brief list of ways to be a perfect assassin. Your methods may be far different from mine, but I find that using the full range of choices available makes for a thorough and satisfying experience. (Note: I haven't tried the multiplayer yet, so these are all observations from playing Story Mode.)

1. Use Your Surroundings: Part of the beauty of game design (I imagine) is deliberately creating a setting so fluid that even players don’t understand that each window or beam is intentional. We just use them because they are there. But it becomes obvious if you stop and see all of the ways your surroundings can be used to set the scene for a perfect assassination. That ledge over there? Ideal for perching without the guard on the opposite roof detecting you. Hanging from a ledge where a guard lurks is a great way to use your secret blade to pull them down. That bench in the courtyard? It lets you see all of the movements while hidden between two other seemingly casual people watchers. And killing a target while sitting on a bench is quick, clean and quiet. No alarms are raised, no one chases-you merely walk away. If you see water, dive in-this is especially necessary if you are running along rooftops and find that a Leap of Faith isn’t available. My favorite hiding spots for quick assassinations are the haystacks. Not only can you conceal yourself amongst the straw and strike, you can also hide bodies to keep the alarms from being raised.

2. Ranged Attacks: I was the queen of throwing knives in the original Assassin’s Creed . Climbing up onto a rooftop with a blade in hand and dispatching the enemy all in one movement was the only way I could take out a mark without getting into a brawl and having the guards chase me endlessly around Jerusalem. Granted, I wasn’t as good of a player then as I am now, and the controls in the first game were far from as good as they have evolved to today. But it did teach me a valuable lesson that Brotherhood expands upon with the addition of the crossbow-the ranged attack is effective. Most of the time, unless there are other guards lurking nearby that you failed to see on your radar, it is swift and doesn’t alert the cavalry. Throwing knives and the gun both give you the advantage when you are near an enemy but not within reach, whereas the crossbow is perfect for more long-range attacks. If you can target him, you can kill him.

3. Utilize Others: Whereas being the lone assassin seems ideal, there is definitely no shame in hiring others to do your dirty work for you. I personally like hiring the courtesans because they distract the guards by making them happy (lusty) as opposed to the mercenaries who will dispatch the group of guards by sword and make any townspeople nearby run and shriek in terror. You can also hire thieves to divert attention from what you are doing (probably slashing someone behind the wall with a hidden blade…or just looting a chest, whatever). The most effective tool you have now, thanks to ACB, is a team of assassin’s in training, or I as I like to call them, my babies. As in, “My babies came out of nowhere and took out that entire team of papal guards! I am so proud.” You can train up to twelve men and women to assist you with most of the missions, and when they do, they gain rank until they become Assassino’s themselves. I accidentally sent six of my babies into a Borgia Tower before they were a high enough level to, well, not die, and had to start over by recruiting new ones. It was a hard lesson. Hiring others who are willing to help not only allows you to interact with your environment more often, but also eases the difficultly in many combat situations.

4. Blend In: When looking at a critical situation from above, it may seem as though you will have to take out a huge faction of guards by all of the red dots milling about on your mini-map, but look again. Are there any groups of courtesans or mercenaries to hire? Do you see a large group of townspeople striding down the road towards your intended location? Blend! I didn’t use the blending technique enough in the first two games, and in hindsight I realize that I got myself in a lot of sticky situations that could have been avoided had I done so. This time around I always looked for ways to blend in with the crowd. Once my notoriety level turns yellow or white I now run for the nearest group of hireables and discreetly duck my head. It’s amazing how quickly the guards will forget that they were chasing you after a few moments of concealment. You are then free to move on silently, strolling with the pace of the crowd, already contemplating your next target. Blending in is a great way to gain access to otherwise inaccessible places due to guard patrol.

5. Be Patient: This rule encompasses almost every maneuver in Assassin’s Creed. I find that as a gamer I am conditioned to take action or move forward at all times. But being patient will pay off tenfold in AC. Sometimes this means perching on a rooftop and making calculated decisions that may take long periods of time where Ezio is merely observing the scene. If you make hasty decisions you will be detected by guards and mayhem ensues. In some cases, being seen by guards causes you to ‘desynchronize’ or lose the mission. Even the act of running makes the guards suspicious, so slowly walking through crowded areas is essential. Sometimes watching the movement of the guards on the mini-map can be Zen-like as you analyze your surroundings and decide upon the method of attack. There is definitely an art form in taking down a quest using stealth alone. Patience is not only a virtue in Assassin's Creed, but also a necessity.

I am sure everyone has developed their own techniques for being the perfect killer in Assassin’s Creed. These are a few of my favorites, as they allow me to really feel the environment as opposed to just passing through it. And although it sounds a little corny, a sense of connectedness occurs when I follow these steps during play. As opposed to being the puppet master for a third person character, I almost feel as though I am a part of his vision, making deliberate decisions in order to achieve the highest level of synchronization. Like I said earlier, I’ve certainly done my share of hacking and slashing in video games, so it’s just lovely when one forces the player to stop and breathe a bit before taking action.

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