Review by CrimsonGear80
"Don't procrastinate, assasinate!...OK, procrastinate a little."
The much hyped Assassin's Creed. Made by Ubisoft Montreal (who also made the Prince Of Persia games, the Splinter Cell games, and the Rainbow Six games), this one was supposed to be the it game that defined the next-generation of video games. If of course by it, you mean The first hugely hyped game of the next generation that became a big disappointment. Don't get me wrong, Assassin's Creed does have some redeeming qualities, but it also has some big problems as well.
Let me start off by saying that I will not reveal AC's twist to the story that happens within the first five minutes of the game. It's true that most other review sites have revealed it already and most people already know about it, but you never know. Someone may want this game for Christmas or something and may be avoiding anything AC-related that may spoil it for him. So, I'll just talk about what everyone does know.
You play as Altair, a member of a brotherhood of assassins who do politically motivated murders in the late 12th century in the Middle East during the Crusades. During an attempt to kill one of the leaders of the Templars, a group of Christian knights who are enemies of the brotherhood, Altair royally screws it up. The botched assassination allows the Templars to follow Altair to the brotherhood's home turf, the city of Maysaf, and launch an all out attack. The brotherhood is able to fend off the Templars for the time being, but Altair's mistake supposedly costs him his life. However, Altair wakes up some time later, stripped of his rank and privileges in the brotherhood. He is told that if he wants to restore his rank and honor, he will have to carry out nine assassinations on men that are profiting off of and helping to extend the length of the holy war. Altair agrees and the adventure begins.
When you factor in the twist, AC has a pretty interesting story that most people will want to see through to the end. However, the openness of the ending will either have people loving the possibilities that the next AC will bring, or be disappointed at the abrupt conclusion. I guess I would be in the former category, and am looking forward to the story's continuation. So what could go wrong? Well
Just like GTA, AC is a non-linear sandbox style game. You'll be exploring what is quite possibly the biggest, most detailed open-ended world so far on a game console. It's also impressive in that the world is supposedly recreated very accurately to what the actual cities and landscapes looked like in 1191. Besides Altair's home city of Maysaf, three other cities await exploration: Acre, Damascus, and Jerusalem. There is also an open field called the Kingdom, which serves as a hub between all the cities. Each city is filled with buildings, towers, marketplaces, churches, and people basically living their daily lives. Even the Kingdom has villages of people and camps full of crusaders scattered all around. Like I said, it's a very well created world and is definitely one of the most impressive.
Controlling Altair is also very impressive. Basically, each of the face buttons on the controller controls a part of Altair's body. Altair has two modes of movement: low profile and high profile. Low profile is pretty much what you expect it to be: Altair moving slowly and doesn't draw attention to himself. In this mode, use the analogue stick to have Altair walk slowly, press the circle button to gently push his way through crowds of people, and press the X button to blend and cause Altair to act like one of the many scholars that are walking the city streets. Pressing the triangle button will enter first person mode, and if Altair's health bar is full it will activate eagle vision. Eagle vision has Altair using his gift of intuition to spot people who are his enemies, his allies, and his assassination targets. Each person in eagle vision is color-coded, so a red person is an enemy, a blue person is an ally, etc. The square button will have Altair attack with his selected weapon. Altair's main arsenal consists of his sword and his hidden blade, and as you progress you'll also earn a short blade and throwing knives. Altair can assassinate people in low profile mode by selecting his hidden blade, moving right next to his target, and pressing square. He can lock onto targets by first facing them so a white hue forms around them, and then pressing the L1 button. By locking on, Altair can even stealthy assassinate targets from a ledge or rooftop.
But how do you get on those rooftops? Well, by holding down the R1 button, Altair will enter high profile mode. Basically, this will allow Altair to move faster, but he will draw more attention to himself. Altair will jog instead of walk, and standing still and pressing circle will cause him to grab and throw people to the ground. Pressing X will cause him to jump, and holding down X while moving will cause him to sprint and enter free-run mode. Free-running is probably the best part of AC, as it allows Altair to jump across rooftops and climb even the tallest buildings in the holy land. Just point him in what direction you want him to go and he pretty much does the rest. Imagine Altair as Spider-Man without the web-slinging and that's pretty much what free-run mode is. If you think you can't climb something, then you'll pretty much be surprised when Altair can. Anything that protrudes form a building can be a used by him for a foothold or to grab on to. You can then climb up onto rooftops and use free-run to jump across to other rooftops, scaffoldings, and well, if you think you can land on it, chances are that Altair can. Free-running is essential in exploring and traversing the cities and in making quick getaways from the many guards that patrol them.
Guards in the cities have three alert levels that are displayed in color code at the top-left of the screen. A green alert level means that Altair is anonymous and can move around freely without being bothered. A yellow level means that the guards are suspicious and any unusual acts done by Altair can trigger a red alert level, which basically calls every guard in the city to chase after Altair. If that happens, your best bet is to free-run on the rooftops to break their line of sight (the alert will turn back to yellow level) and find a pile of hay or one of the many rooftop hiding spots to crash in until the status changes back to green. In the beginning of the game, guards won't watch you all that much and it's pretty easy to free-run across the cities without drawing too much attention. But as you complete more assassinations and get more notoriety, guards will become cautious almost all the time and give chase at the sight of Altair. At this point in the game, it might be better just to combat them to get then out of your hair.
Combat in AC is also pretty fun, but it does have a downside. When you enter combat, your enemies typically surround you, and you can then target them with L1, and point the left stick in the direction of the enemy you want to target (ALA Prince Of Persia). Without holding the R1 button, Altair can go on the offensive. You can press square to attack with your weapon, circle to grab an enemy, and X to perform a step in the direction you point to. When you hold the R1 button, Altair enters defensive mode, and block incoming attacks automatically. You can press circle in this mode to counter enemy grabs, X to dodge, and square to counter attack with the right timing. Attacking opponents may just seem like button mashing, but doing that will probably get you killed quite a bit. Instead, AC's combat rewards good timing. For example, you press square for an attack, then as soon as Altair makes contact with an enemy's weapon (or with the enemy himself) you press square again to keep the combo going. You repeat this until you kill the enemy, most likely with one of the many awesome finishing maneuvers that Altair can perform. Altair can add some oomph to his blows by holding down the square button instead of tapping it. You can also get the timing down for counter attacks and kill most enemies in one strike. Besides his trusty sword, Altair can also use a short blade for quick attacks against multiple enemies, and his hidden blade, which can only be used for counter attacks, but ALWAYS guarantees an instant kill. The downside to combat is that once you master the timing, battles become too easy. Sure, enemies become tougher as the game progresses, but people who have mastered the button timing and counter attacking can devastate platoons of enemies rather quickly. This may disappoint some who want more of a challenge out of their sword fighting.
So, how does one go about assassinating a highly regarded political figure in the 12th century holy land? Altair first starts in Maysaf, where he is giving his assassination assignment by his master. He then must head to the Kingdom and go through it to the city where his target is located. Altair is able to ride a horse through the Kingdom and on the outskirts of each city to make his trips go faster, although later on in the game your given the chance to just bypass the kingdom altogether and jump straight to the city of your choosing. Each city has three districts: poor, middle and rich, and each district has a target to take out. Three cities, three districts, nine targets. After sneaking into the city (usually by blending in with scholars) you have to make your way to the assassin's bureau located in the city. You have a GPS at your disposal at the bottom-left of the screen that marks objectives and the like, and you can open the city map by pressing the select button. Once you make it inside the bureau (it's entrance is always located on a roof) you talk to the brotherhood member inside and get info on where to start investigating to find the whereabouts of your target. After this, Altair must always locate one of the many view points located in the cities section, which are basically the tallest structures in that particular district and are marked on the GPS as an eagle symbol. When you climb the structure and get to the top, the option to synchronize will be made available by pressing the triangle button. This will usually reveal an investigation mission or two that Altair has to do in order to start the actual assassination mission. This will also reveal save citizen icons, where Altair can save a citizen being terrorized by the cities guards by entering into combat with the guards and killing them. This will cause vigilantes to appear, who can aid in Altair escapes by slowing down chasing guards. However, these are totally optional and don't have to be done.
The actual investigations consist of four things: eavesdropping by sitting on a bench and hitting triangle to listen to a conversation, interrogating a suspect by following him to a secluded place then pummeling him till he spills his guts, pick pocketing a item of interest off of some unsuspecting idiot, and finally by performing a task for a brotherhood informant (usually eliminating a couple of soldiers or performing a flag-collecting challenge). There are six investigations available for each assassination, but only three are needed most of the time to satisfy unlocking the actual assassination. Once your ready, you go back to the bureau and get a blessing from the guy there to start the mission. Assassinations usually consist of getting into the area where your target is and performing the deed itself, and for the most part are well done and enjoyable. Part of the enjoyment is the fact that you can do these assassinations in anyway you want. You can stalk your prey and do it stealthy, or you can charge in and do it directly, it's your choice. Doing it directly though is usually a much tougher choice. Anyway, once the deed is done, the some dude has just been killed bell sounds throughout the city and guards will immediately give chase. You must lose them and get back to the bureau to inform the guy there that the deed is done, and that's it. You get transported back to Maysaf, get a rank and equipment restored to you (apparently when you are stripped of your rank in the brotherhood, you magically forget how to counter attack, dodge, and parry and must earn those abilities back) and start on your next assignment.
When I say that's it that's it. The biggest weakness of Assassin's Creed is that up until the finale, the entire game is doing the same thing over and over again. You always go to the bureau, you always find the view points, and the investigations remain exactly the same for the entire game. I can only pick pocket, eavesdrop, and collect the flags of incompetent brotherhood informants enough times until I say dear god, this is booooooooring!! This leaves only the actual assassinations with the only form of enjoyment mission-wise, but these only last about ten minutes until it's back to repetition city. This incredible tediousness will probably have some people just getting turned off to the game.
Then we come to enemy AI. While not downright terrible, it is very sub-par. They lose sight of Altair very easily while chasing him so it's always pretty easy to get away from them. I once lost a guard who was about three feet way from me, and facing me, just by hanging off a roof. The guards that patrol the rooftops are also pretty stupid. When they spot Altair, they warn him to get off the roof, wait for about 30 seconds, and then shoot him with their bows and arrows. Of course, before that can happen you can usually eliminate them with a throwing knife or other means. The rooftop guards also stay in their spots when the city is on alert, and never give chase when Altair runs right past them. In combat, enemies find the best course of action is to wait until Altair kills one of them until another one can attack. Lame. I also thoroughly enjoy how guards have the same free-running abilities that Altair have. Guess they all went to the same school. I also enjoy how the various drunks, madmen, and poor people wandering the cities ONLY pester Altair, and no one else. It's also awesome when they appear out of nowhere while you try to pick pocket a guy. I also find that in the historically and accurately based game, NO ONE besides Altair rides a horse, which leaves the guards in the kingdom enforcing the also historically accurate people riding a horse over 10 miles per hour must be criminals and must be killed law at a HUGE disadvantage.
Also, while the brotherhood has trained Altair to scale any structure, kill any enemy, and leap any rooftop, they apparently forgot to teach him how to swim. Go figure. I also don't get the penalty for killing innocent civilians. One of the rules of the Assassin's Creed that Altair must follow is to never kill an innocent person. So what happens when you do that: some of your life is taken away and you must wait the whole of TEN SECONDS for it to come back. Oh noes, how will Altair survive? How about next time Ubisoft, killing five innocents results in Altair's life bar being permanently lowered? Just seems like a better punishment, eh?
All in all, AC's graphics are pretty damn impressive. Cities are faithfully recreated and have huge draw distances. The various other environments you'll come across, mostly in the Kingdom, are also very impressive. They are also all fully interactive, and immerse you deeply in the world. Altair himself has some superb animations, from his climbing and jumping, to his combat finishing moves that cause blood to squirt out of his enemies and stain his blade. Altair is also very detailed, from his white cape to the various weapons that hang off it. If you preordered the game and got the free art book that came with it, you'll read that Altair's wardrobe was designed to resemble an eagle coming down on it's prey, and Ubisoft definitely nailed that look. Other character models and animations are OK, but not as good as Altair's. Cut-scenes are done in-game with you still able to control Altair, and are pretty slick. All in all, a very impressive piece of art
But this piece of art has some huge smudges on it. For one this games got screen tearing, some of the worst I have ever seen in a game. It is truly distracting. There are also many framerate drops, but only a few of them ever hindered gameplay. Then there is the freezing issue. Now, while it hasn't frozen on me as many times as it has other people, it did freeze on me a couple of times which cause me to restart my PS3. AC definitely could have used another few months in the oven to cook, but the holiday season forced their hand. It's unacceptable that a game ships with any type of freezing problem or game-ending glitch, and AC is not exempt to that.
(This isn't the first time I've run into horrible glitches in an Ubisoft Montreal game. My first run-throughs of Prince of Persia 1 and 2 ended with game-ending glitches that forced me to start the game all over again. Ugh.)
Sound in AC for the most part is decent. Cities are brimming with life with much dialogue being spoken by its citizens, even though a lot of lines are repeated. It is pretty cool though when they see Altair free-running and say comments like: He's going to hurt himself or I've never seen anyone do that! Voice acting by the main cast is actually pretty good, except for Altair who sounds too American to be in this time period, and doesn't really have any emotion behind his lines. There's not much music in the game, as it takes a back seat to the atmosphere, but what's there is OK. So all in all, a decent effort.
YOU STILL AWAKE?
During the game, you can find hidden flags in all the cities and the Kingdom with a little exploring. You can also complete 60 optional assassinations on Templars hidden throughout the world. Once you beat the game, which can take between 10-50 hours depending on your patience, all you can do is go back to any previous assassination and do it over again. The reward for doing everything the game has to offer is pretty much nothing, making replay value something only for perfectionists.
So in one-way Assassin's Creed lives up to it's hype, and in the same amount of ways it doesn't. While free-running, exploring the world, the story, combat, controls, and the actual assassinations are pretty fun, they are balanced out by extreme repetition, sub-par AI and various tech problems that shouldn't have existed. I must recommend this for a rental first before committing to the Assassin's Creed.
It's a good thing this is the first part of a trilogy, and fixing problem are what sequels are for. Right Ubisoft?
+Huge open-ended world with lots of freedom
+Free-running is awesome!
+Combat is fun
+Assassinations are enjoyable
+Great graphics and animations
-The extreme repetition may bore people to death and force them to quit the game
-Combat becomes too easy once it's mastered
-Sub-par enemy AI
-Framerate drops, baaaaaaaaad screen tearing, and freezing problems.
-Historically accurate game isn't very accurate in some areas
-Replay value only for perfectionists
-Assassins can't swim? I call B.S.!
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 12/03/07
Game Release: Assassin's Creed (US, 11/13/07)
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