Review by GCNZ
Assassin's Creed was marketed as the first true next-gen experience: climb anything, go anywhere, kill anyone. It is ironic then that Assassin's Creed: Altair's Chronicles - the prequel to the critically divided yet still, blockbuster hit - shuns all that made the home console versions worth playing. The unparalleled free roaming and the incredible free running has been reduced to nothing more than a series of generic, linear platforming levels. And to add insult to injury, an unprecedented number of glitches has wriggled its way into what I consider to be the cash-in of the century.
Altair's Chronicles is Assassin's Creed by virtue of name and setting, but nothing else.
The Holy Land is once again the focus of Altair's plight: to recover a sacred chalice said to give its owner the power to end the Crusades. Altair will be travelling through six different locales, from grand familiar sights such as Jerusalem and Acre to newer, more cookie-cutter areas including a desert temple and a sewer. The environmental differences sound jarring, don't they? However, due to the graphical quality being consistently poor - with blurry, jagged 3D models courtesy of Gameloft's Brothers in Arms DS engine - you won't notice the shift so much.
The Brothers in Arms DS engine allows for some rather nifty effects, though, like crumbling terrain as Altair teeter-totters across thatched rooftops, plank supports and termite-infested bridges. Luckily, Altair's an agile assassin: he can run up walls of a certain height, duck down and roll through small cracks, take leaps of faith from building to building, and even swing across smouldering wrecks with his grappling hook. Obviously, the DS hardware cannot be compared to the sheer power of the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3; sacrifices had to be made and the result is a more PlayStation One-esque showcase. That's okay. However, what can't be forgiven are the laughable animations (thank you Brothers in Arms DS) and the slack framerate (less than 30fps in most instances) - both of which combine with some poor controls to give a very jerky experience.
Some might say that Altair's Chronicles takes after the classic Prince of Persia games. There are plenty of deathtraps and platforming jumps to test even the hardest gamers. The controls are also flat-out atrocious. Altair has a start-up acceleration phase which can be detrimental when timing precision leaps. He has a penchant for scaling most things, even little boxes that you'll want to simply push into obvious spots to open up the next area, making triggering certain action events cumbersome in that you have to stop and attempt to cleanly position yourself in a specific place.
Altair tries to make ends meet by auto-targeting guards who are supposedly closest to him, but there's nothing you can do to switch his lock other than positioning yourself in a different place (made difficult by the aforementioned start-up acceleration) and this leads to most fights requiring nothing more than a steady stream of X or Y button presses; luckily the guards are virtually A.I.-less. If you rush things, Altair may get knocked about by several guards at once, at which point he'll simply be juggled to between them to death. Even if you do find an opening, Altair will probably bump into them upon retreat due to some large hitboxes - thus the cycle continues. It's not too bad on the easy difficulty level, but it's plain unfair on the higher ones.
As if life couldn't be made more unfair for Altair, he also has to contend with a myriad of glitches: some new, some old - most too ridiculous for words, but I'll try.
The quasi-3D perspective (think Crash Bandicoot, but horizontally scrolling instead of vertically) means that sometimes objects or buildings in the foreground obscure your view. This can make some tricky jumps even more of a burden than they already are. Guards get stuck in walls, they spawn out of thin air, they stop giving chase once you pass a certain point or trigger a cutscene (yes, even if you still are in the SAME ROOM!) I can probably forgive all of that - I've seen a lot of asinine programming in my days - but when it comes to dying and respawning AHEAD of where I died, or enemies jumping off a few feet above me and DYING as soon as they land on my head, it starts to get ridiculous. The worst/funniest glitch I encountered was when I plummeting to my death - the game over screen appeared for about half a second - but then I was miraculously brought back to life on the spot. A nasty ogre had just picked up my mangled body and he proceeded to combo me into infinity. I died. Again.
You pick up Altair's Chronicles at your own risk. Should you have found joy in playing the console versions of Assassin's Creed, you may want to take a look at this DS exclusive prequel. However, with a story which isn't connected to the sequel in the slightest, the lack of freedom replaced by utterly generic and infuriating platforming - no thanks to the controls - and a glitch occurring every few seconds (I'm honestly surprised there isn't one that permanently stuffs your game up... yet), Altair's Chronicles is best left in the annals of gaming cock-ups.
VERDICT - 4.0/10
Random Trivia: the music is great... when it's playing. Silence can make for a rather boring hunt at times. I once came across a sleeping guard who was way out of view, yet his snoring blared out of my DS speakers as if he were right beside me. Funnily enough, I thought it was me.
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 02/07/08, Updated 02/11/08
Game Release: Assassin's Creed: Altair's Chronicles (US, 02/05/08)
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