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.
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.
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.