Review by Arctic_Sunrise
"Nothing is Certain. Everyting is Permitted."
The Middle East, during the Third Crusade. A dangerous time to be alive, and an easy place to be dead. Armies march upon each other with deadly intent, blood is spilled wide on a daily basis and the people live in fear.
Enter Altair, respected and feared assassin. Afraid of none, death-bringer to the corrupt and unjust. And as it happens, the blood-letting ancestor of a seemingly Average Joe of our own time...
It is this epic world into which we, the gamers, are thrust in Assassin's Creed, and the experience is, quite honestly, breathtaking.
Story: 9 / 10
There's nothing like a good, hearty plot to get our video-gaming taste buds excited, and Assassin's Creed delivers the proverbial feast. Straying from the conventional formula, it chooses to give us the story's original angle from the beginning, rather than stretching it out over the course of the game. We learn from the outset that we are in the shoes of a man named Desmond in our own timezone, strapped into a machine named the "Animus." This machine allows the user to explore his or her own genetic memory, effectively walking the path of that memory in the form of his or her ancestors. Weird idea? Certainly. Innovative and engaging? Most definitely.
Through Desmond, we are introduced to Altair, who is everything you could ask for in a main character. He's cold, unfathomable and a servant to his honour and Master. He kills when and where he is needed, without remorse or malice. He is, in short, the perfect vessel to show us this varied world and its intricate schemes. What unfolds through the memories of Altair's deadly efficiency is a compelling and enjoyable storyline that - in between all the blood and the skulking about and the gleaming knives - keeps us interested throughout .
Gameplay: 9 / 10
In the realm of what defines a good game from an astounding game, Assassin's Creed does not disappoint. The sheer variety and to the extent it has been polished here is wonderful. Not only are we given a character who personifies the meaning of "cool," but we are spoiled and given all of his most stylish and dramatic moves at our fingertips. Sword-fights with flourishing, dancing moves that exude sheer awesomeness, free-running across sprawling cities at rooftop or street level, diving without a care in the world from soaring towers, all these are possible and more, and they are all executed with pleasing smoothness. Care to take on fifteen city guards on your lonesome, sir? We cater to that. Leaping from beam to crane to rooftop, silently killing guards as you go, madam? Why yes, we do that too!
The focus of the game is, of course, assassination and the preparation leading up to it. While it is possible to simply cleave your way straight into the blood spillage, it would be like stealing from yourself to do so. There is quite a lot to be done before you slide the hidden blade into a target's ribcage, such as pickpocketing persons related to the target for sensitive information, slugging it out with propagandists in order to make them talk, performing a favour for Informers or just sitting unobtrusively on a bench and listening to conversations not meant for your ears. These mini-games allow you to gather information on your mark and choose the best way to eliminate him, and add a bit of variety to Altair's brutal business.
In addition to these target-related mini-games, you will also find many persecuted citizens of the cities you will frequent, being shoved around by corrupt guards. If you rescue these people from their plight - which, as you might guess, involves a lot of steel against steel - you will be rewarded with one of two kinds of allies. The first, Scholars, allow you to quickly switch from being pursued by a dozen heavily-armed guards to walking calmly, unnoticed in the midst of the crowd. The second, Vigilantes will deliberately hinder guards and fleeing targets, allowing you to make a quick getaway or finish what you began. Very useful. Lastly on the mini-game menu, we have the Viewpoints. Each city is chock-full of minarets, towers and church steeples that Altair can clamber up. Once at the top of these, you can "synchronise" with the genetic memory, revealing more of your map and any nearby mini-games you have not yet completed. This synchronisation also provides an excellent excuse to stare in wonder at the entire city spread out before you, just before leaping off into a conveniently-placed cart or pile of hay. It's delightful stuff.
It all comes together to formulate a seamless repertoire for us to enjoy. There's nothing quite like the thrill of hurtling through the city with the city guard hot on your heels, diving and swinging through bazaar stalls, leaping from balcony to balcony, stopping only to slay those who get in your way with a well-placed throwing knife. This is gaming as it should be.
And yet, there's a minor spanner in the works here, and its name is repetition.
All of this eavesdropping, free-running, sword-fighting and saving citizens is fantastic and glorious to do, but there is a lot of it. There are nine assassinations in all, and each one involves the same process - complete the mini-games, work out your plan, take out the target. Rinse and repeat. The controls are very straightforward and you'll find yourself at home with them very quickly. After you've got used to the excitement of jumping and climbing your way around a big Middle Eastern city and been involved in countless gore-filled, dramatic battles with guards, the repetition does nag just a little. It should be said though, that while this is repetition, it's the kind that keeps you coming back for more. Assassin's Creed is incredibly addictive and truly will have you telling yourself; "Just one more go."
Graphics: 10 / 10
Visually, the game is a masterpiece. If Da Vinci had made videogames, this is what you could expect to see. Ranging from impressive castles protruding from rocky bluffs in the morning sunlight and gardens with blossoms floating through the air to cities of mosques, castles and cathedrals stretching all the way to the horizon, an open-mouthed stare of awe when confronted with this is perfectly acceptable.
The animations of the characters are excellent, whether in the heat of battle, running in terror or walking calmly down the street. Altair himself is beautifully animated, right from every audacious swipe of his blade to every lithe leap from beam to beam. Something that I found particularly impressive was his climbing of structures. Unlike many games, in which the protagonist will simply be seen to ascend unaided, Altair actually uses the cracks and crevices in walls to make his way up. He will pull himself up and balance on window frames, the undersides of balconies, iron rings and latticeworks. If it looks like you can get up it, our hero will swarm up it in a beautifully animated and realistic manner. So much so, that you find yourself forgoing the many ladders provided just to watch him do it. Assassin's Creed skimps on no small details.
Combat scenes are also magnificent, with swords running enemies through and emerging covered in blood, Altair heavily booting guards in the gut and watching them collapse or roll away, each glint of sword against sword bright in the middle of the battle. Counter kills, available when earned, are particularly astounding to watch in all their gory glory. Guards, targets, other assassins and townspeople are highly-detailed and add palpable realism to an already rich game environment.
In addition to the usual graphical expectations, which are exceeded here, we are also reminded now and then that we are strapped inside the "Animus" and playing through the memories of Desmond's ancestor through sprinklings of indecipherable code and currently inaccessible areas walled off in a swathe of blue. These visual "glitches" suffice also to give the player the opportunity to change camera angle in cut-scenes to dramatic effect. The loading screens consist of a featureless blue landscape with flickering code in which the figure of Altair can be controlled. Even the menu screen is effectively a playable area. It all works very well to combine the ancient setting with the science-fiction edge without being too overbearing.
Sound: 9 / 10
From every painful wrench of the sword through a foe's stomach and screams of the crowd as they witness the violence to every grunt from Altair as he lands heavily or takes a fist to the jaw, the sound sets the scene excellently. Outspoken citizens will stand surrounded by crowds of eager listeners, lamenting the evils of society or the follies of war for all to hear, and these will echo around the city as you travel around. Armour jangles and clanks realistically, and merchants yell their wares from behind their stalls. When up high, the wind whispers and whistles around you in way as to make the height come to life.
Dialogue is well done, with the voice-acting of the main characters being believable and suitably constrained. Altair's dark character is reflected in his voice, but equally is his occasional regret, guards will call out in fury if they find a dead colleague, and townspeople will remark in confusion and amusement if they witness the main character climbing a building. It serves to maintain this alive and colourful world, and coupled with the music - which kicks in just when it's needed, say, at the onset of battle - we are given yet more depth to an already engrossing experience.
Replayability: 8 / 10
Rushing through Assassin's Creed would be a grievous crime unto yourself, but if you must, it won't take you a great deal of time to finish. If, however, you take the time to climb every viewpoint, save every citizen, and collect every flag, there's reams of gameplay here for you to enjoy. The whole experience is one that continually awes you and keeps you coming back for more, even if it is just to run across the cities as you wish and immerse yourself in the involving environment. Repetition issues aside, most gamers will find themselves craving that extra hour of gameplay, even weeks after purchasing the game.
Overall then, Assassin's Creed is an astounding game very worthy of your time and effort, and delivers a wonderful, memorable experience that I wholeheartedly recommend adding to your collection. Renting simply wouldn't do the game justice; this is one title that deserves a proper place of honour on your shelf.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 11/26/07
Game Release: Assassin's Creed (EU, 11/16/07)
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