Review by Solid Sonic
"Making kills to pay the bills...and to save face..."
Best Features: Detailed environment full of life and plenty of space to explore, diverse gameplay mechanics, interesting and surreal narrative
Worst Features: Game tends to idle a lot, some character models look last gen at times, complicated controls
UbiSoft Montreal's recent pedigree can be wrapped up in two series: Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell and the Prince of Persia: Sands of Time trilogy. Given that, Assassin's Creed is easy to sum up: its a combination of Sands of Time and Splinter Cell. Elements from both series can be seen in Creed along with various other sources of inspiration. Its adventurous and ambitious with a few issues that could be cleaned up in the next game (its a trilogy like PoP).
On the surface, the game looks great. With a long visibility range and finely detailed environments, Assassin's Creed's world is rich and vibrant. The cityscape is lively with citizens going about their business and soldiers patrolling the streets. Characters are well-animated and move with a fluid realism. The lighting is clean with sunlight harshly shining off objects and people (though the game doesn't experience night and day cycles; everything is in perpetual daylight). All the in-game cinematic sequences are rendered using the in-game engine as opposed to being cutscenes (which allows you to move the camera and sometimes change the view of the action). Its a pretty game if you're just going for the overall look but once you look a little harder its got a few problems. The biggest one stems from the fact that most NPCs (particularly the head of Masyaf's assassin's guild) sometimes look very generic or even last-gen in appearance (it'd be a very good-looking last gen character but we are talking about the Xbox 360). Its not a major issue but for some reason I do think they could have done a little better.
A wide palette of sounds and ambient noise keeps the game immersive and down-to-earth. As you tour the city; you hear people talking and moving about. The atmosphere heavily relies on the whole idea of "little fish in a big pond" experience where you attempt to be as anonymous as possible and the ambiance greatly adds to that effect. The voice acting in this game is top-notch and is convincing. Characters speak with a wide range of emotion and don't sound scripted or forced. The music is period-accurate and heightens the mood when appropriate. I do wish the music were a little more diverse but its not a major complaint and I doubt it'd sully the experience.
The control in Assassin's Creed is full of little nuances and features that allow for exploration of its flexible game engine. Your character can move around in two modes: high or low profile. Each comes with a set of commands that affect the way you appear to the people around you. When in low profile mode, your character walks and can gently push people that are in his way. If you switch to high profile mode, you can run (or sprint) and instead of a gentle push your character does a rushing tackle. There are other features in each mode that affect your well-being in public. Each mode has its own applications and also has implications on the way you assissinate targets (low profile kills are unnoticeable until after the deed is done while high profile takedowns are seen as they happen and can alert the authorities). In addition, your character is very nimble (just like a certain Persian prince) and can scale walls and dart across rooftops with great agility. Combat is, for the most part, simple with guard and attack stances as well as easy-to-learn counter attacks. It borrows a lot of its style from Prince of Persia: Sands of Time but adds the ability to change what weapon you're wielding. However, all these features come at a price. The control in the game is heavily convoluted and will take some time to learn (especially trying to adapt to the usage of high and low profile modes of motion). The game can be unforgiving as a result but thankfully the game frequently gives you hints on how to use the controls so eventually you will learn even if at first it seems daunting.
The world of Assassin's Creed is a very engaging and rich experience. You take the role of Altair, an assassin living in the 11th century Crusades. He is a skilled and gifted assassin who works out of the ancient city of Masyaf. However, in reality...the game actually takes place in the year 2012. The character you actually inhabit is Desmond Miles; a bartender captured by a mysterious research company. Altair is actually an ancestor of Desmond and his experiences are being transmitted to Desmond by an unusual machine that can recall memories of a relative who lived in a past generation through the genetic makeup of a present-day individual. The game's unique narrative allows for a surprising amount of intrigue and is expanded by the plot that Altair himself experiences. The game has you visiting 3 historic cities (as well as your base at Masyaf and traversing the lands between via horseback) that grow as the game progresses and Altair is tasked with bringing down nine targets over the course of the game. To accomplish this, he must first gather information about his targets through a series of investigations before pursuing the mark itself. The investigation sequences can range from eavesdropping on a conversation to pursuing a key figure to your hunt for information. In addition, other objectives such as saving citizens being harassed by military personnel or collecting flags can keep you busy in addition to hunting down your targets. You're encouraged to explore the city by finding "view points" that allow you to scan the area around you and add areas that are blacked out to your in-game map (these view points also exist on the overworld). The gameplay features in Assassin's Creed are varied and well-integrated into the experience. You need to stay stealthy (a la Splinter Cell) and blend into society or risk having to deal with the guards. Knowing how to appropriately conduct yourself in a given scenario and understanding the social status system is an integral part of the AC experience. As the game progresses, Altair gains new abilities and weapons that make combat more diverse and improve ways to attack targets efficiently. While this all sounds interesting, the game's pacing can sometimes present an issue. The game has a tendency to become very idle at times, forcing you to wait for events to occur rather than making them happen yourself. It is pertinent to note that the stealth aspects of this game force this approach but it can still lead to some mental foot-tapping as you wait for the chance to begin your actual hunt. If you are patient, though, the game presents an ambitious challenge that is rewarding and full of intrigue.
Replay Value: 8
Assassin's Creed is full of different tasks that are designed to make the game fulfilling to completists who enjoy finishing a game to 100%. While the game only mandates you complete 3 investigations to be granted the right to assassinate your target, there are more investigations that can be completed to entirely finish a job. In addition, there are various items spread out over the world such as the aforementioned flags and secondary assassination targets that you can run into over the course of the game. Plus if you are the type of gamer that enjoys just spinning your wheels and exploring the world you are free to do so; even assassinating random guards for fun (you can assassinate anyone you see on the street but killing innocent people has its consequences on Altair). The vast lands between the cities are expansive and riding from place-to-place by horseback feels adventurous and daring at times. The voyage tends to drag if you are just trying to make it to a city (especially if you get lost) but if you're simply completing secondary objectives or exploring the world it can be enjoyable. And, of course, this being an Xbox 360 game means that you have Achievement challenges that can be completed. Some Achievements are earned over the course of the story and some are earned by performing other challenges. In all its a well-rounded game that blends action with stealth. However, it is a linear game in the end and that means that once it ends there won't be much else to do aside from start over but the experience is still worthwhile until its over (plus it is the first in a trilogy of AC games so there will be more down the road).
Assassin's Creed is a diverse game with an ambitious pedigree and a good development team backing it. While it has a few missteps, overall it delivers a solid gaming experience that melds stealth and action with a surreal plot. The character's are well-written and full of personality as is the cities you travel to and the people you meet (and subsequently murder). The next installment could use some improved pacing and some control simplification (as well as a graphical tune-up for the character models). The investigation phase could go a little faster if all you want to do is simply move on and not dwell on gathering information. What it did get right is its creative use of social stealth and movement through the environment. UbiSoft's off to a great start with this series and I do look forward to their next Assassin's Creed effort.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/29/07
Game Release: Assassin's Creed (US, 11/13/07)
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