Review by RustyAim
"A good game that could have been amazing"
When one describes game as classic or even just good there are various elements to come to mind. Classic games can be groundbreaking games that pave the way for a whole new type of game, redefine gaming as we know it or they can be games that are still enjoying years or even decades after their release. They can also be all of the above.
Assassin's Creed is a game that could have fallen into this category. Indeed, it nearly did.
There are a lot to like about Assassin's Creed but there are also things not to like.
Let's start with the things to like.
The order in which you perform the nine assassinations is somewhat open ended. The first and last will always be the first and last. However, the others occur in blocks of two to three. In those blocks, you can choose which order you do the assassinations. Having this freedom is nice and allows for some re-playability.
The cities are gorgeous. Each has a unique feel to it with different music, looks for guards and the populace. While the game isn't about sight seeing, I admit that there are times I find myself amazed by how nice things look.
The horseback riding between the cities is fun (though you'll eventually gain the ability to quick travel between cities). This game isn't about horseback riding but I admit that it's still enjoyable and a nice diversion.
The controls are adequate. Not perfect but not bad either. I did get a little confused at first but once I got used to them, they were all right.
So, where does the game go wrong? Unfortunately, the game play is where its problems unfold.
You collect various bits of information about your target before each assassination.
These information gathering sessions involve various mini missions. There are six potential in each assassination though you only need to complete three (two in early assassinations). This allows some freedom of choice as you can do these mini missions in any order you choose and don't need to do all of them. If one proves too difficult or annoying, chances are there will be another you can do in its place.
There are also combat mini quests involving saving citizens which involve fighting a group of guards. Success in these will grant you scholars you can use to get past guards or vigilantes that can block pursuing guards. Unfortunately, especially early on, you'll find a lot of citizens that need you to save. It doesn't take long before it gets repetitive.
Discovering where to go to find the people for the information gathering or citizen saving missions involves scaling tall buildings to get a birds' eye view of the area. This was one of the places where some of the game's issues come into play. Climbing the buildings is fun but only for a while. When you need to climb eight or more per assassination mission, it starts to feel more like work then play.
Unfortunately, these climbing tasks as well as others are required in order to increase your health bar (though you also get a new health-bar after you succeed in an assassination and return to your character's boss). Every time you scale a view point or save a citizen, you'll gain a single point. Once you reach 15, your health bar will increase by one and the count resets to zero.
Once you get down to it, with the exception of the actual assassinations, you'll do more or less the same tasks before every assassination.
If a mini mission requires a re-try because something went wrong it's annoying but tolerable in that things should be challenging to give a sense of accomplishment when you win.
The mini missions while not too difficult get harder as you progress. Unfortunately, to make them more difficult, the game adds more elements such as jar carriers, insane people, beggars, drunks or box carriers that can expose or disrupt you and cause you to fail the challenge. Unfortunately, rather then feeling like being an honest challenge, it sometimes feels as though the game is being cheap as possible in order to make it harder.
Assassin's creed does not have the ability to save or load at any time. Instead, the game has checkpoints before tough battles, if you pick up one of the flags strewn about the cities, when you complete a mini game, scale a viewpoint and synchronize or save a citizen. If you die, you go back to your last checkpoint. If you exit the game when in a city, you'll reload at the Bureau for that city with whatever tasks you completed still completed. You will not reload at the save point.
This system usually isn't too much of a problem. In tougher mini games or battles where in other games one might quick save a lot, the lack of ability to do this might cause aggravation. I however, understand why they did this as being able to quick save right in the middle of challenges would probably make them too easy. However, it would be nice to be able to continue from a checkpoint upon exciting and re-entering the game.
Speaking of battles, if you're looking for swordfight duels where each is tough and epic but rare enough to emphasize the stealth option and keep from slowing the game down, I think you'll be disappointed. A lot of the battles are against multiple opponents. Although you have a collection of moves for use in battle, once you learn counter attack, defeating even large groups is a matter of timing. Different enemies seem to require different moments to hit the counter attack button. Unfortunately, if you can't get the timing down, you'll have problems. I find that tough battles are sometimes no problem. Other times, they're a struggle.
One thing that annoys me is the difficulty in using stealth kills for most of the assassination targets. By stealth, I mean, killing your target without alerting the guards and then getting out of there without anyone attacking you. Often, trying to do so (where it was applicable) causes nothing but headaches. To be honest, it's usually easier to just rush in and pursue the target if he runs. Even if you do manage to sneak up behind him and kill him without a fight, there's a good chance his guards will attack you. Fighting the target along with a dozen or so guards or killing the target and then having a dozen guards chase me is a scenario I know all too well. This just doesn't feel right. Yet, the game seems fine with it. As one might imagine, having all this buildup only for the stealth assassination to fail is annoying.
These next two points seem minor to point out but they are still issues. One is citizens you save. They'll see you kill the guards and then ask what happened when they see the bodies! Another is pick pocketing. When you succeeded, the person appears to know it's you that stole the item they had. Yet, they'll never pursue you or summon guards.
The other side of the story, the real world aspect of it while interesting enough, sometimes feels as though it's getting in the way. The game would have been fine without the sci-fi aspect. Knowing that Altair's adventures are a simulation within a simulation takes some of impact away. As it is and without spoiling the ending, the way the characters on the sci-fi side talk and react, it's clear that Altair's adventures are more or less just a game (or perhaps an interactive home movie) where it's the ending they're interested in. Granted, they make this clear from the start of the game. However, it does make it feel as though I just watched a group of people watch a movie just so they could see the end of the movie.
Overall, Assassin's Creed is a good game but it feels as though it could have been an amazing game.
I think it's still worth playing especially with the sequel coming out later this year and that the price on Steam is reasonable.
Graphics: 9/10. This is one part where the game excels. It's gorgeous. You may find yourself playing just to see the in game visuals.
Sound: 8/10. Things sound like they should. Voice acting is decent. Subtitles would have been nice, as would have translations when characters spoke in languages other then English (or other then what you have set as the primary language).
Controls: 7/10. Adequate but not perfect. It gets the job done; I'll leave it at that.
Story: 7/10. Without giving much away, it gets you from point A to point B. It's interesting enough to want to continue but it feels cliched.
Gameplay: 5/10. The repetitive nature of much of it is what brought the game down and keeps it from being a classic. It almost turns what should be fun tasks into chores. Some of the difficulty sometimes feels like the game being cheaper then providing an honest challenge. Big battles are fun to watch but slow the game down and get repetitive after a while.
Overall, 7/10: Assassin's Creed has the elements to be classic game that people talk about for years or even generations to come. While the groundwork is there, it just feels like something is missing.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 04/24/09, Updated 06/17/09
Game Release: Assassin's Creed: Director's Cut Edition (US, 04/08/08)
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