So I’m in the middle of Assassin’s Creed III right now, and I think it’s time to address one of the franchise’s biggest problems — how it handles stealth missions.
I actually went over this way back on 1up while playing Brotherhood, but it seems Ubisoft hasn’t learned a thing in the games they’ve made since. I haven’t played Black Flag yet but I’m hearing a lot of the same complaints of it. I feel like when a developer makes a stealth game, there are certain things they need to do to make sure stealth isn’t frustrating. Ubisoft doesn’t seem to have learned any of these rules in regards to the main missions in Assassin’s Creed.
Mostly I’m talking about any mission where you automatically fail if you’re detected even once. If you’ve played any of these games you know what I’m talking about: the missions where if a guard sees you even for an instant you fail, or the tailing missions. Whoever designs those I think doesn’t understand what makes stealth games fun.
Automatic failure upon detection in my opinion is one of the things that pushes mainstream gamers away from stealth games entirely. I don’t mind if a game has conditions that make things harder upon detection, or even does something that invariably kills the player as long as it’s in an organic way, but using hard fail states just feels lazy and unfair.
There are other games that define a difference between detection by one NPC and full alert. I like how in Metal Gear Solid an enemy who’s seen Snake has to actually call HQ on his radio and fully describe the problem before a full alert is on. Yet in Assassin’s Creed I’ll often fail a mission because one guy saw me a split second before I stabbed him in the gut.
Stealth games in my opinion only become truly enjoyable when they’re open-ended. Stealth games aren’t really only stealth games — the best ones are stealth and action games. Stealth only really feels cool when players choose it as opposed to going into full-on open combat. Ideally players should want to do this because their environment changes based on stealth or detection.
Metal Gear Solid Ground Zeroes actually has a pretty good example of this. One of its side missions puts you in the middle of an open base with two targets to kill. If you’re detected the mission doesn’t fail immediately, but the targets will try to escape and you have to take them out before they do.
Okay, so what if a stealth mission has an objective that’s impossible without stealth — like tailing someone. There are stealth games that offer multiple ways to complete objectives. In Ubisoft’s own Splinter Cell Chaos Theory, if you need to get some information you often have the choice of interrogating people, eavesdropping on conversations, or finding notes. Actually, didn’t the original Assassin’s Creed let players choose between similar methods of completing objectives?
If the story written for the game mandates one specific gameplay path then maybe it should be rewritten. Maybe tailing missions don’t necessarily need to be in Assassin’s Creed at all. Maybe the story should service the gameplay instead of the other way around. I know they’re trying to keep things historically accurate, but Ubisoft also has to make a fun game.