Review by Hanji
"Fantastic, but Flawed."
Assassin's Creed puts the player in the shoes of Altair, an assassin during the Third Crusade. It boasts fully rendered and interactive cities, strategic killings, dramatic chases, and High-Definition imagery. Although these claims are executed rather well, the game is not infallible, and certain aspects dampen its potential in ways which cannot be ignored.
Without giving too much away, you are Desmond Miles, a bartender and ancestor of the aforementioned Altar. You are kidnapped by unknown scientists from a company known as Abstergo and forced into a machine called the Animus, which takes memories from your genetics and allows you to recall them. They want a specific memory, but your mind rejects it, forcing them to let you recall a long chain of memories to ease you into the eventual goal. Early in these memories, you (now Altair) are stripped of your rank and forced to work your way back up by assassinating important figures throughout the kingdom. Each one bears a surprisingly noble defense for the actions they are killed for, beginning a cryptic mystery which Altair must unravel by assassinating more people. Every so often, your "Memory Block" ends, and you leave the Animus for a bit of the present-day story. Each plot twist is rather obvious, but still interesting, to some extent. It may give some a sense of satisfaction for guessing the story, but its so predictable it will more likely be thought of as just disappointing. The ending is insubstantial, although the quality of it depends on the player's sense of entitlement for paying for the game then playing all the way through for an essentially non-existent conclusion. Personally, I didn't think it was terrible, but felt like it could have been done much better, as could have the events leading up to it. The air of deception certainly fit Altair's job and the times, but it was not done very creatively.
The graphics are quite impressive, giving a starting area, of decent size, as well as three large cities to fully explore, as well as a large Kingdom in between. Most everything looks nice, although environmental anomalies (especially wood and rooftops) will eventually seem quite repetitive, the gravitas is dazzling however, and it all looks quite authentic. The specific models (Assassination Targets, Altair, ect.) are well done, but most random citizens seem a bit dull. Effects, such as blood, aren't all that realistic, but I thought they fit well. Either way, even after hours, the trips across the lavish environments from quest to quest never become boring. It should be noted, however, that users have allegedly experienced common freezing and frame rate problems.
There is something for everyone here. The sound varies from subtle backgrounds to emphasize the life of the world, as well as dramatic orchestrations during combat and chases to get the player in the mood. My only complaint was it seemed a bit quiet so that it was almost unnoticeable at times, but overall the tunes are well-composed and well-placed based on the happenings of the game. The effects are authentic as well, from the breaking of a pot, to the clash of steel, to the sharp ring of the hidden blade upon the assassination of a soldier.
The controls and usage of Assassin's Creed are one point where the experience both flourishes and fails. The motion is somewhat ambiguous. There are very few commands to do a specific action in a specific way. In general, you direct Altair and he follows your direction while using subtle AI nuances to choose the exact movement. When running/climbing, for example, you do not pick which hand/foot-hold to grasp, you simply choose which direction to move and Altair will do his best to go that way. While making it typically fluid and nice to both watch and do, it occasionally leaves you stuck in places you probably shouldn't be simply because there is no way to force a certain move. The stealth is balanced against the spectacular with the profile system. The controls change depending if you are in High or Low Profile, which can be toggled by holding R1. In low profile, you will walk, and can blend into crowds or lightly push people out of your way. In high profile, you run, jump, climb, grab, and do other things that would draw attention. The configuration makes the transition smooth, as you can easily go from modestly creeping through a crowd to tackling through guards and assassinating someone. For combat, you lock on and pick a weapon (defaulted as the sword). Each is useful in its own way, and good for different things. There are quite a few problems with combat, however. For one, it's ludicrously easy, you can counter any attack quite easily, which will do anything from knocking them down to swiftly killing them to elaborate and cinematic slaughters. It looks cool, but as no one can attack you during it and it can be done at almost any time, you can essentially fight through the entire town. Attacking on your own is easy, and you can switch between opponents without trouble. It's not that deep, but still fun and simple, although far more risky than countering, or just grabbing someone, throwing them to the ground, and assassinating them with your hidden wrist-blade (which works on anyone, including the last boss). Also, should you choose to run and try to escape, or stop running and get in the battle, the transition can be difficult as it depends if your locked on and if it registers you as in "battle-mode", as the controls change from Low-Profile, to High-Profile, to Battle Mode, to Battle Profile, and getting them confused often results in the wrong action, which is easy to do when going in and out of engagements. On the subject of hiding/escape, it is also too easy, as you simply have to break guard vision and jump into a hiding spot. More on that later, though. Overall, the controls are effective, simple, and quite fluid more often than not. The combat, while fun, might get tiresome for some after a while, as its most efficient form really only uses one button (and one move, at that). Still, the process of assassination is heart pounding and intriguing, and the escapes are enjoyable and cinematic. The most grievous problem with the gameplay, however, is that all the fluid realism put into them is stripped away at certain points, bringing a disgusting contrast of aggravating limits. Part of this is in the indirect marionette-type movement, and some is in the sheer allowances of the game. For example, Altair can climb with extraordinary ability on the most difficult surfaces, perform amazing acrobatics and bouldering (rock-climbing) moves, yet fails at things most normal people can do. He cannot jump into assassinations (well, he can, but there must be perfect distance which is always a fluke and cannot actually be setup or controlled via the tact of the player), or climb on vines/leaves/trees, which are plentiful, or, most importantly, act freely during cut scenes. Upon finding an assassination target, the game forces you to miss plenty of good opportunities to be authentic in favor of watching some self-righteous spiel. In most cases, he could have pushed through the audience and assassinated the target while they were talking with their back turned, but this is not allowed, shattering a segment of the realism, which is an important aspect of the game. In defense, however, there are a wide variety of subtle and blatant ways to kill most targets anyway, so it's not as though the missions are without innovation. Finally, before assassinating an important target, you must gather information, which is rather tedious after the first few, especially if you wish to complete everything.
V. AI / Difficulty
It should first be noted that the difficulty is oxymoronic, as there is no difficulty. This game is extremely easy. Life regenerates quickly in battle and you must take an intense beating to finally fall, not to mention the auto-win battle tactics stated in the Gameplay section. The AI, meanwhile, is decent in what is there, but tragic in what isn't. People react well to what you do; Angry if you follow them, scared if you attack them, curious if you pull acrobatic, high-profile stunts. It gives a sense of life, although this dies after hearing their unvaried lines over and over. The soldiers, who's reactions are obviously more important, react as well. If you blend, nothing is up, if you run or cause a disturbance, they'll be suspicious. If you're trespassing or making trouble, they'll be very suspicious, and doing anything after that will result in an attack. As you progress through the game and become more infamous, guards will suspect you more easily. This is an exquisite addition, as it allows you to get used to the game with free reign to barrel around cities, before allowing a more authentic experience near the end wherein bumping into someone near a guard will generally get you caught. In combat, enemies can counter and guard and grab just like you, and they do so with some level of intelligence, although the game could be much more difficult if they'd realize you couldn't block while turned around and swinging at someone else and dare to attack you more often. A hard mode could have just been included if they worried about alienating anyone. Regardless, while the AI fares pretty well, much more should have been included. Notably during chases. You can have half the town chasing you, then sit on a bench between two people, or jump in some hay, or hide in one of the roof gardens (which are outrageously frequent and don't seem like they have any purpose for the citizens), wait a few seconds, and then they will suddenly lose all memory of your existence. The fact that there is no system of recognition or common sense among the security makes it much less interesting after a while, and, like many other aspects, critically wounds the authenticity the game was built upon.
VI. Replay Value
If you like the reactionary tact of battle, the thrill of assassinations, or simply running around town, Assassin's Creed could certainly keep you entertained long after the main story (which takes 12 hours or so). You can replay memory blocks and try new killing methods on the different Nobles, as well as collect Flags, which are placed in the towns and kingdom. Aside from those, however, there's really no side-quests or incentive to explore cities. Furthermore, the inability to skip cut scenes means you must watch all the drama each time you wish to redo something. Thus, the fun probably won't last forever, but it is definitely a game to revisit some time after being burnt out.
Assassin's Creed, despite how awful the flaws might make it sound, is a truly enjoyable and well-made game. The fact that is could have been so much better is a bit tragic in hindsight, but is more unfulfilled wishes than game breaking problems. At the very least, rent it for the interesting experience and gameplay, but if you can see yourself basking in the realistic glory of tact and beauty that is the game, a purchase is certainly suggestible, even if the journey is less infallible in analytical hindsight. Enjoy it for what it is, fun.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 11/26/07
Game Release: Assassin's Creed (US, 11/13/07)
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