Review by oneshotskye

"What happens when Prince of Persia meets the Crusades"

Assassin's Creed is awesome.

And that's all anyone needs to know, really: Assassin‘s Creed is awesome. But a four word review doesn't do much to sell the product, so let's begin with the basics: The game is a stealth action-adventure title developed by Ubisoft Montreal, who use the newly designed Scimitar Engine to make our protagonist, Altair, punch, climb, and fly through the streets of Jerusalem with the utmost of fluidity. And he needs that agility - Altair is a member of the Hashshashin sect of Islamic assassins who finds himself demoted to the lowest ranks of the organization after he abandons the titular “Assassin's Creed” and botches an important mission, thus proving that hubris gets you nowhere in life. That takes us to the “present”, where Altair is assigned a series of assassinations to stay the tides of war.

The first thing that people tend to notice when observing a trailer for Assassin's Creed is how amazing the graphics are, a casual observation that turns into a jaw-dropping experience when you boot up the game for the first time. Simply put, Assassin's Creed is beautiful. The areas are huge, the colors are crisp, and the characters move as realistically as one would believe a man would move while leaping twenty feet between buildings. The first time you scale a minaret and get an aerial view of Arsuf, be prepared to be amazed by every crumbling wall and boarded window that you can see for a ten mile radius, a view that is enhanced tenfold if you have access to a HDTV. Amazingly, if you exclude the opening CGI movie that plays before the title screen, you never relinquish control during the game. You can fiddle with the camera during the opening sequence and you can change your focus during the game's numerous cutscenes. You can even practice your attack combos while the game is loading up one of the three main cities. The only issue preventing the game from achieving an all-around graphical gold medal is the fact that the faces lack expression. Some of the encounters are emotionally-charged (especially those that occur in the present/future/white room), and though the lips always sync up to the voices, the characters tend to only look blankly at one another. When your character is desperately asking for an explanation to explain the situation he finds himself stuck in, shouting as though his life depended on it, it's admittedly disappointing to see him staring absently at the other person.

But that drawback is easy to ignore. You can run around while the doctor is speaking to you (following along with the “never give up control of your character” notion), or you can sit back and listen to the characters' dialog like you ought to. The story is fascinating, and as long as you don't take a detour to collect King Richard's flags, you'll find that there is never a long dry spell in its narrative. The characters enunciate well, which is a good thing, since everyone aside from a few key characters is speaking in heavily accented English. Those lacking the Arabic and French accents have American ones that fit their parts well, even if they do have a tendency to stray into the dreaded overacting territory. Your character is the typical rebel badass with the typical gruff voice that growls his lines. The doctor featured in the intro sequence sounds scholarly and his assistant possesses a nondescript young female voice that chimes in every now and then. And they all look good while doing it.

Just like your protagonist looks good climbing across the various Middle East cityscapes in the game, which you'll be doing with both great frequency and ease. The game employs a marionette system that is simple to master: You use the A button to control your legs, the X and B for your arms, and Y button (designated for your head) allows you to survey the surrounding area. These controls change according to whether you're in a low profile situation, high profile, or mounted on a horse, and thankfully the right hand corner of the screen is devoted to reminding you what the buttons do in each particular situation. Most of the time you'll be running around on rooftops, holding down the A and RT buttons to have your character leap from scaffolding to dome to whatever else the city has erected along its outskirts. If you can see it, you can climb it, which provides you with a great deal of freedom during the exploration treks you will probably find yourself performing.

Besides the acrobatics, you'll be spending a good deal of time jumping in and out of combat. Since the game is fairly open-ended about your goals, you can engage and avoid enemies in a number of ways. The most obvious solution is to fight the city's knights, either through the sneaky assassination kills or openly unsheathing your sword. The handful of weapons can be used to quickly dispatch your problem through a series of combo hits and counter attacks. Both of these hits can be accomplished through tapping the X button repeatedly, and since the AI is on the dull side - most fights they spend their time standing around in a circle like the incident is a heavily-armed dance-off - you should soon find yourself victorious. Unfortunately, the slaying of this armored annoyance also causes new ones to arise when new enemies discover evidence (i.e. dead bodies) strewn about the alley. You could jam the X button to victory again. Or you're second option is to escape, which basically brings you back to the acrobatic aspect of the game. Steer Altair through the narrow streets of Acre, then maneuver him up buildings or use any number of hiding places available to you: There are benches and groups of scholars that you can use to blend into the crowd. Press A and there! - you're instantly camouflaged thanks to a flock of white-robed men. Or if you'd rather hide, you can run into rooftop canopies or bales of hay that are best (or most impressively) reached by performing a fifty foot dive off a building.

Flag capturing was already mentioned briefly, which is one of a few diversions your character can indulge in. All side quests are a “collect them all” fare; by that I mean that you can set out to ascend to the top of all viewpoints, or save all the poor citizens in a city, and with each side quest having at least a dozen components to bring a completion checkmark next to the task, you can find yourself wasting hours trying to kill every last Templar. Doing these tasks does not go unrewarded - aside from Achievement points to look forward to, Altair's synchronization bar (think: futuristic health bar) raises when you complete a certain number of these side quest components. You'll need that synchronization energy when you set out to finish the game's various assassinations, which is accomplished through a series of small assignments. Some of these assignments are simple - for example, eavesdropping is as easy as sitting on a nearby bench and targeting your person of interest to hear what he has to say - but others are downright frustrating. More specifically, I'm talking about some of the assassination information sequences, which essentially require you to stealthily take out a person's target before he'll spill the beans about your mission. What's so aggravating about this job is not the taking out of the adversary, but the fact that if you're caught (and believe me, you will be), you're forced to slay the other guards, run back to the informant, and listen to him explain the situation to you once again. Run out a second time, and pray you won't get caught again, because if you do, it's time to listen to the man complain a third time, a fourth, and his diatribe can get old really fast.

Thankfully, there aren't a whole lot of information sequences to get through, and you'll be spending most of your time sneaking through the streets and having fun. Because this game is fun. And beautiful. And innovative, with the introduction of a new control scheme that gives players more command over their rebellious assassin as he hops in and out of the shadows. People who have enjoyed Prince of Persia's atmosphere, or the sandbox feel that games like Gun or Crackdown or the ubiquitous GTA series possesses, or anyone who is interested in trying out a Game of the Year contender is best running out to their nearest gaming retailer and snatching up a copy of Assassin's Creed. They'll be happy they did, because Ubisoft produced one of the most enjoyable titles of 2007.

Pros:
- Engrossing storyline that throws in a couple twists and intriguing characters along the way.
- Game contains some of the best graphics seen to date, with nothing pre-rendered and everything bathed in rich color and intricate detail. Oh, and did I mention that almost any location in the game can be climbed? Because it can.
- Intuitive and innovative control scheme that allows you to easily hop from rooftop to rooftop.
-Satisfying sound quality overall, with quality sound effects (the offstage shout of a religious zealot, the unsheathing of a sword, the breaking of a terracotta vase) and fanfares, and the voice actors are generally well cast.
- Long game that should last you over fifteen hours to completion, with a huge map and plenty of side missions to keep you entertained even longer.

Cons:
- AI is a bit on the stupid side, and running from them can become repetitive after a few encounters; this holds especially true when you're trying to complete some of the intelligence gathering missions.
- Some of the voice acting is a little over-the-top.
- The writing on the map is too small to read easily; you can pull up the legend and squint at the tiny, Dead Rising inspired writing blurb next to the picture.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/27/07

Game Release: Assassin's Creed (US, 11/13/07)


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