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Ultimate Assassin 3

Okay, so it’s no secret by now that I like stealth games. I like to keep my eye out for any stealth games in the indie scene, but there typically aren’t many to be found because stealth is not easy to do well, and if you do it badly then the game will turn into an adventure in tedium and frustration.

Case in point: Ultimate Assassin 3.

On the surface Ultimate Assassin 3 actually seems like a pretty solid concept. You’re dropped into an warehouse-esque building with guards patrolling around, and you have to assassinate some dude dressed in green (possibly symbolizing capitalism) and then escape through a manhole that doesn’t appear until after the target is dead. You can see the guards’ vision when they’re anywhere near you, and you have to avoid being detected since you can’t kill the guards and can only withstand a few shots before you die.

We’ve seen this all before, so the game gives you two abilities to make the experience more interesting and to give you a bit of an edge; you can use a speed boost and you can turn invisible (but only when standing still). Both of these drain your energy bar. Once you get the hang of using your abilities it helps a ton.

So this sounds pretty cool, right? Well there’s more to it than that, trust me.

The big, glaring flaw in the game is that the enemy AI pathfinding is pretty much completely random. They generally move in one direction and turn every once in awhile and they won’t turn around too often (until they go into alert mode, in which they’ll go completely haywire) but the directions they walk in and their general movements are arbitrary and randomized to the point where you can never predict how to evade the guard’s sight until he’s already moving toward you. Oh, and if that isn’t enough, the location of the escape manhole also appears in a randomized and unpredictable location.

It isn’t a big deal in the early stages of the game, when guards are fairly sparse and you can easily move around them, but later levels are so crowded that you’re going to die a lot in each level of the Hard stages before you can finally beat them.

Expect to see this a lot.

And it’s worth noting that you’re not dying because you aren’t good enough. You’re dying because the guards happened to go in unfair directions. In other words, it isn’t really about skill. There is skill involved, but in the end it really all boils down to luck.

You can argue that this is to make it more “realistic,” since guards aren’t always going to move in rigid unchanging patterns, but if you’ve played the game yourself then you know that the guards in this game do not act realistic. Guards that move like clockwork would be more realistic than these attention-deficit children that stare at walls and will go hyperactive and start running in circles as soon as one of them sees a suspicious figure.

If you ask me, a stealth game should at heart be equivocal to a puzzle game. You have to analyze the situation and come up with a carefully timed maneuver to evade detection. Afterwards you can feel proud of yourself for having the necessary skill and strategy to pull it off. Ultimate Assassin 3 is at its heart equivocal to cranking a slot machine. You’re going to get it eventually, but you just have to keep trying until you get a jackpot.

The tutorial made sure to emphasize that the game is all about patience, and I guess it is, but likely not in the way the game designer thought.

Not pictured: Fairness

There are certainly other criticisms aside from that, though. The areas all look the same; gray buildings littered with brown crates. There are a lot of levels but they feel very repetitive, and this feeling gets worse once you realize that some of the later levels are literally copy-pastes of old levels with more and more idiot guards sprinkled on top.

I feel bad for ripping on a game that’s clearly trying to be the exact sort of thing I love. But sadly, it’s not enough for a game to let me play as a ninja to make me like it. It also has to be a good game, and that’s where UA3 falls flat on its face.

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8 responses

  1. It’s funny that that game is ‘about patience‘ because it features extra rewards in each level if you manage to make it under a given time limit.

    In practice I just found myself rushing each level along a predetermined path, hoping that the guard AI would spazz out and they wouldn’t notice me.

    July 8, 2011 at 2:13 AM

  2. Sounds like the developers got lazy; instead of balancing the game and actually planning out levels and solutions, they just randomised things so that they didn’t have to try and be intelligent.

    On the subject of stealthy indie games – I don’t know if you’ll have already seen it but there was a post on Twenty Sided a while back with a couple of interesting looking ones.

    http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=9479

    July 8, 2011 at 3:20 PM

    • JPH

      Already knew about both of those beforehand, but still, good read. I’m definitely excited about Monaco.

      July 8, 2011 at 10:14 PM

  3. I think there’s a major problem with stealth games compared with others, like action games. Stealth is binary, either you are discovered or you aren’t, while action games usually have degrees of failure, hit points or some such, so you can get hit several times without dieing. Even in this game, you can take a few hits before dieing, but not many, so essentially as soon as someone sees you, you lose.

    Usually stealth games have 2 possibilities when you get discovered, either its like this and you basically fail as soon as you get discovered, or you fight your enemies and it degenerates into an action game, like Assassin’s Creed.

    Is there any way to have multiple degrees of failure without having it degenerate into a fight, like multiple levels of being discovered rather than just two, being detected by guards or not being detected by guards. Seems like having more different states will increase the margin of error and make the game more fun, without any need to fight guards and turn into an action game.

    July 8, 2011 at 7:42 PM

    • One could argue that the Hitman games seem to have this down: the more you ‘fail’ at being stealthy, the more alert the guards become, which correspondingly makes your job all that more difficult. And if you do end up in a murder-frenzy shootout, and live, you can always return to stealthing around afterwards.

      Your weapons and health items, in this case, act like a sort of Screwing-Up-Buffer. Every time you make a mistake, you pay for it in ammo and hitpoints.

      July 9, 2011 at 6:00 PM

  4. Eldiran

    Yahtzee’s game Art of Theft actually has multiple degrees of failure. The mission only fails when enough alarms go off. An alarm goes off each time a person or camera spots you (from then on the person or camera is inert). It works pretty well.

    If you haven’t played it, it’s here:
    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/content/games/yahtzee/artoftheft

    I had a lot of fun with it. Not flawless, but a great execution of a modest sidescroller stealth game.

    July 8, 2011 at 10:39 PM

    • JPH

      Art of Theft! Good game. I still need to go back and finish that.

      July 9, 2011 at 3:50 PM

    • Started to play it and I’m really enjoying it. I rarely have the patience to play stealth games, but the fact it takes multiple alarms before failing really makes it more appealing. thanks for suggesting this game.

      July 9, 2011 at 6:57 PM

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