Review by AK_the_Twilight

"A Different Kind of Stealth"

Assassin's Creed has been a high-class project brewing over at Ubisoft for years, and now the long-since-earned “Best of E3” award-winning game has hit stores. An odd mix of Prince of Persia style platforming, stealth, and absurdly-beautiful graphics has merged with some go-anywhere GTA-style exploration, all while taking place in the ancient Middle East. It took a while for me to get interested in this game (mostly my friend telling me of how awesome it was) but I finally got around to reviewing this “gem.” But is it really?

Let's get this out of the way first: Assassin's Creed is beautiful. I've played many an Xbox 360 game before, but there's no denying how smooth and massive the world is, all with only a few hitches in graphics. The world of the Kingdom is richly animated and realistically designed. Foliage moves in the wind and the characters themselves look and move the way any normal human would. But once you get over how realistically the game's engine operates, you'll venture into the cities, which are just plain stunning. They are huge, and after climbing a tremendous tower and getting a look at the cities, you realize that Assassin's Creed has a serious knack for graphical astonishment. Drop down to ground level and you see a true city world, full of individually animated city dwellers. Ubisoft also packed in some amazing sound design, from the high-quality voice acting to the hustling world of an ancient city. Hearing the world sound so alive makes the presentation that much better. Voices will overlap and echo. The sound of a merchant may subdue the sound of a villager in distress. Pack in a great cinematic score and the sound design matches up with the excellent visual effects. The cities are some of the most immersive worlds ever seen on the Xbox 360; you really begin to see a real city upon entering, full streets and vast building vistas altogether. Assassin's Creed steps up on what the 360 is capable of accomplishing, and it's a remarkable technical achievement in its own right, both graphically and sound-wise.

Assassin's Creed would look like it was an odd mix of Middle Eastern influence during the time of the Crusades. It would look like the story of an up-and-coming assassin named Altair out to assassinate nine enemies to give himself respect and trust in a secret organization called the Creed. It would look like that, but guess what? It isn't. Instead it's implanted as genetic memory from a bartender in the near future named Desmond who partakes in an odd experiment to unlock memories from an ancestral code. Yeah, it's a science fiction game. However, the game does a really good job of getting your attention once you enter a real mission to assassinate an enemy. The story is extensive and once the past and future begin to intertwine, the real story is revealed. It sounds like a bad idea, and at times, it is, but it's actually pretty interesting, at least through a single playthrough.

Controlling Altair is actually pretty interesting. The developers have long since announced their style of control, where each face button controls a different body part. The A button controls the feet; holding A lets Altair enter a “low-profile” appearance, a gameplay element that makes him seem inconspicuous and blend in. X controls the weapon hand, whose possession can range from a sword or knives, to cooler weapons like the hidden blade. B lets Altair seem inconspicuous as well, allowing him to pass through a crowd of people with a gentle push of his right arm. Y lets you enter vision, or if you're hidden well enough, Eagle Vision to see enemies or essential figures in the mission. Holding the R-trigger lets Altair enter “high-profile” mode, where he moves slightly faster, but also makes it easier for enemies to suspect him. Controls vary in certain situations, like climbing buildings or riding horses, but are quite functional, allowing the player access to the fluid action in the world of Assassin's Creed.

Altair must also monitor his Creed, a special ability used in the stealth elements of the game. Getting too close to a guard, running over people with your horse, or climbing on the outside of buildings in a busy city (basically making any type of scene) will send the guards or any other enemy on your tail. This is more dangerous in high-profile mode, where simply walking five feet from a guard will cause them to tail you for miles, which most likely will draw you into combat. Combat is moderately complex; pressing the X button at certain points in combat will allow for a stronger attack, and different attacks like tackling and counterattacking make combat smooth. It's cinematic, though it's not entirely fun when ten angry guards decide to chase you and pick a fight. It would've been cooler for a slightly more complex combat engine, but it must be merited that the developers didn't show a tremendous combo system full of useless techniques like in other similar action games.

The gameplay mostly follows the travels of Altair earning different missions and traveling through the Kingdom, all leading up to the high-intensity moments of the assassination assignments. Altair earns missions from the Assassin's Bureau, the high order that Altair must prove himself to in order to obtain respect, trust, and new techniques. These usually follow the path of exploring the Kingdom for the next city, completing simple tasks to improve your “Assassin Memory,” while finally gaining enough completed tasks to confront one of nine dangerous enemies to kill in the name of the Creed. It's pretty routine, but Assassin's Creed's immersion makes the game a bit different in certain areas. The big deal is that Altair can pretty much go anywhere in a city. The nimble and acrobatic guy can climb buildings and run atop their roofs pretty seamlessly (at the expense of his stealth, of course) and outrunning a slew of city guards on the rooftops then diving into a pile of hay is fun. It's interesting how this “Prince of Persia” style of platforming can be integrated in such a free-roaming environment, and it's even more interesting that it actually works.

But if the storyline isn't enough for you, there are side missions. If you see a villager getting harassed by some city-dwellers, feel free to step in and save them. You can also improve your map by finding high-rising towers as vista points. The main missions also provide some interesting gameplay elements, like pickpocketing, interrogating, and eavesdropping. You can also search for hidden flags, items, and templars to kill, for all you completionists out there. At first, these are pretty cool. Appearing from the rooftops to save the day is cool the first time around, and you do get a moderately interesting reward each time. The problem is that these side missions are reused to the point of insanity. You'll be accomplishing these same mission types over and over and being that they are required to progress through the game, this makes this concept much worse than it should be. So, aside from the storyline, Assassin's Creed has some interesting things to do, just not enough of them. It would've been cooler if they made the missions different or at least a bit more complex, but that's not the case here. You will most likely get bored of the missions after a while, which really cripples the game. It is fun for a while, but it just doesn't cut it in the long run.

Pros
+ Beautifully designed
+ Great sound design
+ Free-roaming acrobatics and stealth
+ Controls are easy to learn

Cons
- Story is rather ridiculous
- Combat is too simple
- Side missions are repetitive
- Stealth can be difficult in some areas

Assassin's Creed is probably one of the best looking and sounding games on any console, but just because it's beautiful doesn't mean that it's structurally perfect. Running across rooftops is plenty fun and the missions provide a good sense of action, but it just would've been better if there was more diversity or complexity to any of them. The stealth system also manages to be troublesome, as the guards are either brutally persistent or exceptionally paranoid. The combat is a bit too simple and the story seems to be pretty obscure, but there are plenty of things in Assassin's Creed to be in awe over, so these problems don't get too far in the way. It's surprisingly well done when it comes to free-roaming and the controls work as planned. You also won't find too many games with as solid a presentation as Assassin's Creed. Assassin's Creed has great moments and poor moments, sometimes successively, and it can be pretty difficult to pinpoint how good the overall game is. It's undeniably immersive and can be a blast to play, but it also suffers from some repetitive gameplay elements and a slightly sloppy stealth system. It's different enough to recommend a rental, though you should definitely try the game out before picking it up as a purchase.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 06/06/08

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


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