Review by bluej33

"A few fun parts of the game are completely destroyed by several problems"

Assassin's Creed: Altair's Chronicles, from what I understand, is the prequel to the console version of the title Assassin's Creed. However, just a few screenshots from both titles alert you immediately to the fact that while the games share the same name, they're drastically different. Altair's Chronicles is not a free-roaming, beautiful-looking title in which you pretty much do as you please and kill who you want. But there are still some redeeming qualities to the title, and the real question is whether or not the game's multiple flaws really get in the way of that fun.

But before I really begin, I'll take some time to briefly describe how Altair's Chronicles works. You play as Altair, with really no reference to the huge premise of the original Assassin's Creed. A mysterious Chalice has been taken by the Templars, and for whatever reason, Altair is required to go and retrieve it. He'll need three keys to get into the temple where it's supposedly held, so he begins the hunt. This will take you through a number of really linear objectives, where you've just got to go find so-and-so or chase somebody who has information for you. The gameplay is quite linear as you progress toward your specific goal -- usually finding somebody with information or one of the game's few assassination targets -- but things get a bit more complex when you start to get attacked by the game's many guards.

Combat is decent, I suppose, though at its core it's really juts a bunch of button mashing. X and Y buttons control your strong and weak attacks, respectively, and you can create simple combos by pressing them 2 and 3 times, respectively. As you progress further into the game, you'll gain more combos -- that the game “teaches you”, but in reality you can use any combo at any point in the game -- you'll just have to figure it out for yourself. You also have the option to assassinate people that you creep up behind, but this is kinda useless because it just takes up time with a slow-motion scene that you'll see several times throughout the course of the game, plus there's no reward for assassinating somebody as opposed to just killing them with your sword. Finally, most of the techniques are pretty useless, as you can just hit Y fifty times in a row until your opponent's dead. A more balanced and difficult combat system would have helped out Altair's Chronicles.

There's also quite a platforming element to Altair's Chronicles, and this is probably the part of the game that is most fun but also, at times, most infuriating. Running and jumping across buildings is a lot of fun, especially once Altair learns the ability that allows him to climb up walls. You'll also be able to do some pretty sweet jumps (more so once you learn the triple jump ability), running around and killing the occasional roof-top guard can be a lot of fun and quite exhilarating. But there are also quite a few challenges that come with the platforming; for example, you may need to grapple across a large gap, swing from some conveniently-placed ropes, or avoid traps. The traps, in particular, are ridiculously annoying. The camera always looks at things from a side-scrolling perspective, so there are times when you may be jumping and can't even see what's ahead -- or worse still, you may not even be able to see Altair. There are also a ton of structures in certain parts of the game, and these can get really annoying. The game automatically makes transparent a structure that Altair is behind, so that you can see him. But sometimes this just doesn't work, and so you're left to wander around aimlessly or be mercilessly beaten up by an unseen guard.

Another pretty significant problem with the game, and one that affects both combat and exploration, is the fact that there are certain context-sensitive actions Altair can pull off. For example, with certain bosses (all of which are incredibly underwhelming, by the way), you can only damage him by inputting a set button sequence. But, for one of the inputs to work, for example, you'll have to be in some precise spot, so you're left to dance around your foe waiting for the X button prompt to show up. And even once you get it, it could disappear if you so much as rotate Altair 90 degrees. The same goes for object interaction; for example, you can pick up crates to put them on switches, or slide them around and drop them on unsuspecting victims far below. But sometimes the input prompt just won't show up, so you're climbing around the box and running around it trying to get it so appear. It may not seem like a huge problem, but it's actually a real detriment to the game and gives an impression of lack of polish.

I feel bad about rattling on about the game's issues, but it's a sad fact that there are just several key problems with this title, and one of them is the incredibly weak story. I know little about the console version of Assassin's Creed, but I have heard about the “existential, morally ambiguous ramblings” of Altair. Such is nowhere to be found in Altair's Chronicles, as the dialogue is flat and boring and Altair never is really developed as a character. The Chalice, which you're supposed to be after, has no value to you as the player because you're never really given a reason to find it. There are even a few instances where you have the choice to, say, assassinate somebody, which at first I found pretty cool. However, it has no real effect on the game; how cool would it be, for example, for the dialogue to change based on whether you allowed people to live or die? Or if it somehow effected the outcome of events later in the game? But it doesn't work that way, and so these assassinations that you'll be pulling off are meaningless and rather useless.

One of the high points of Altair's Chronicles, however, is the graphics and music of the title. The visuals or pretty nice, and Altair looks great in motion as he runs through busy streets, jumps from building to building, and fighting off guards with some pretty impressive combat animation. The color palette is not vibrant or particularly life-giving, but the down-to-earth sort of hues that the game uses makes everything look grittily realistic. The music also contributes nicely to the immersion of the title; the Middle-Eastern music is well-done and sounds great. Indeed, these aspects of the game contribute to the game's best parts, as you flee from guards climbing and leaping around the roofs of a city with crowds of people below and awesome music playing in the background.

I suppose that, if one tried, it would be possible to overlook the problems that I've so far chronicles with this title. However, the biggest flaw with Altair's Chronicles and the one that will likely prevent you from purchasing it is its length: it only took me about 5 or 6 hours to complete, and that was including the several times I had to replay areas because of poorly designed puzzles or environmental structures that disallowed me from seeing what I was doing. Admittedly, the game has a very forgiving save system, but this is pretty much canceled out by the fact that there are some areas that I probably played 20 or 30 times before finally completing them (by sheer dumb luck, I might add). But aside from these immensely frustrating sections of the game, Altair's Chronicles is really an easy game; combat is mindless, the platforming, while fun, is fairly easy, and the bosses that you'll occasionally go up against are complete push-overs. It might be worth a rental, but it's very foolish to shell out 30 bucks for a frustrating game that is, for the most part, easy to complete and will last only about 5 hours.

All told, Altair's Chronicles does have some good bits, which I've already discussed. However, despite the fact that the raw fun of the title can sometimes be obtained, it's inexcusable for a player to have to undergo this much frustration to reach it. And then, when things finally start coming together and you start to have some fun with the title, you'll find the fun bit over and back to boredom. The ending seems incredibly long, drawn-out, and completely outlandish, despite the fact that the game is so short. For the last hour or so, I kept expecting the game to end; even once I half-defeated the final boss, he lays down a stupid ultimatum and Altair accepts willingly (what the hell?! He's an assassin! KILL HIM!). It's a decent game at best, but don't purchase it, because it's honestly just not worth it.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 03/19/08

Game Release: Assassin's Creed: Altair's Chronicles (US, 02/05/08)

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