Review by Dan_pentagram

"An Assassin's Shame"

Developed by Ubisoft and released in late 2007, Assassin's Creed was everywhere. Hype after hype and magazine cover after trailer was unleashed like it was a craze spreading across the world. Assassin fever was definitely in the air. The only problem I find however is that games like this manage to rouge up enough media attention and get sales into the millions but generally lack something special.

The interesting concept about Assassin's Creed is that it has in fact two storylines intertwining each other, one set in present times and one set way far back into the past. Simple bartender, Desmond Miles, is held against his will by a scientist working for Abstergo Industries. Miles apparently holds some key information within his DNA that the company needs and uses him as a test subject in the Animus. This Animus is a machine that decodes the memories of the guinea pig's ancestors that is locked away in his/her DNA. Pretty complicated stuff!

Miles in fact has a very interesting ancestry that leads back all the way to 1191 in the Holy land where Muslims and Christians are at war against one another and Assassins sneak in the shadows and the Knight's Templar rule the streets. Altair is the main protagonist here and is sent on a mission by ‘The Master' to retrieve an important treasure from Solomon's Temple. Unfortunately for Altair, Robert de Sable stands in his way and he returns home empty handed. As punishment for breaking three tenets that are held closely to the Assassin Brotherhood, Altair is stripped of his rank and must in turn kill nine important characters in the land to reinstate his honour and learn the true meaning of the Creed.

In an adventure game like this where freedom is everything, the storyline must be cohesive and addictive, yet cleverly gelled together to keep players hooked and wanting to carry on rather than generally exploring at their will ignoring the concept of the game and causing havoc. Sadly, Assassin's Creed falls apart pretty much from the get go. The medieval story of the Assassins war with the Templar, where forts and castles bring the landscape to life really explodes on the screen. It's interesting, has some historical fact and overall brings at least some emotion to the game meaning for some parts character sympathy or even possibly player relation can be seen. It's got a pretty good script, staying true to the times and positively enhances the realism of the whole game.

Ah, then the whole DNA machine comes in. It's badly presented and stomps any advantages the other storyline has away. It's really used as a marker or a break in the gameplay and what this ultimately means is that it halts the progress when things just start to pick up. Tension is let down and the excitement just flutters away as you wait for the lame, laborious cut scenes between Miles and the scientist to end. It tries too hard to mix history with science fiction with a little futuristic franchise and it just doesn't work. It makes things way too random and significantly too farfetched. It does have a nice twist at the end, but you have to question if it's worth ploughing through it just to see it.

It's pretty hard to criticize the game's graphics when they are so aesthetically pleasing with fantastic lighting effects used to create a world so vibrant yet so raw. It makes a brilliant atmosphere that has no concept of technology, just land that seems to endlessly go on and on and on. 3D rendering is accurately modelled to create yet more realism and an added depth to things which just means things flow smoothly together. Buildings are wonderfully crafted together to create towns and villages and it uses a superb array of different shapes to keep things varied and different.

Desmond Miles and Altair obviously are well designed with great facial recognition meaning you feel like you are playing as a human being rather than some weird hybrid developers only hoped would surpass. Animation is used rather well also in terms of mannerisms when reacting to speech, such as a shrug of shoulders, raised hands and other minute details of body language that give the game are more polished feel. However other characters, unimportant ones at that, generally tends to be less developed with scrunched up faces that lack any measurement and often result in being a more PS2 look.

Taking a leaf out of the Tomb Raider and Prince of Persia series, animation works rather well here for this sandbox title with swings, jumps and leaps all looking perfection with very little glitches and careful detail added in for extra appraise. The whole body is used when performing the death defying gymnastics which again gives the game a whole next gen look. I assume real body motion detection was used in creating the style, which is not only high budget but pretty impressive in terms of execution because it looks and feels of very high standard. The only little annoying thing I found was the efficiency of the animation when riding a horse tends to be less vivacious with stops and starts when jumping over road blocks and obstacles.

I don't quite understand why but whenever the word medieval is mentioned, everyone suddenly jumps out with Latin. And that is exactly what type of musical score is included within the game with dark tones of orchestral beats with men chanting Latin from all angles. It isn't awful or badly done however, just probably a little predictable, but then again it does fit right in with the theme and setting of the game. I don't think it is used to great effect though with perfect chances missed at creating tension or excitement. Silence and wisps on the hand are used fantastically to create a sombre awe inspiring atmosphere when exploring the lands. It gives a wonderful calming effect throughout the game, one that sets the mood and delivers throughout.

One of the things noted from many critics was the brilliant voice acting that ‘sets the storyline on fire'. Sadly I disagree. Maybe I'm too cynical, but I found it stereotypical, at times daft and mostly mediocre. Altair's broody voice seems too out of setting with the rest of the game and mostly resembles a moody teenager whilst the master's voice is at best a copy of Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Guards are often too formal whilst women in the street seem too hysterical, you wouldn't be wrong in thinking that it seemed like an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess. With little grunts and groans mixed in with general comments from the general public such as ‘Huh, what is he doing that for?' and ‘Quick somebody call a guard before he hurts himself!' seem way too funny and far too English for that matter.

Assassin's Creed is an adventure game that relies on stealth and patience and it is somewhat executed well. By gathering information on the assassination targets, that memory will become unlocked giving the player the chance to carry out the murder. Gathering information in a free roaming world isn't easy but yet again not too challenging either. Methods of getting this information include being a pickpocket, stealing letters, by eavesdropping into conversations by sitting on benches and blending in with the crowd and also by brutal force, interrogation, Phil Mitchell style.

The problem with all this wandering around is that it becomes way too repetitive way too quickly which abruptly becomes boring. At first it is a novelty, after a few times it becomes a useless way at extending the gameplay and calling it ‘freedom' to do what you want as a player. Sometimes you wish things would move around at a faster pace because what it ultimately does it slow down the gameplay and forces you to play along at the developers speed. This may be an adventure game but at times it certainly lacks a strong element of action that is often needed in today's games to offer a wide variety to a many different selection of gamers. Using the ability ‘eagle eye' is worthless too, a sort of sight enhancement means different types of people are shaded in different colours, green, white and blue all have different meanings.

The bad thing about being an assassin is that in the 1191 world, you can be easily sussed by the guards, which in turn means instant attack. So by blending in with the crowd is only going to make you unnoticeable for so long. At the player's disposal are the beautifully crafted and elaborately mapped rooftops which give you the chance at slipping into places from a height. It's weird, wonderful and somewhat original and fits nicely into to the game and to be honest never really becomes tedious, simply because it's something we cannot do ourselves.

When you are seen however, you are given the chance to either flee and hide or to stand and fight. Fleeing is an option early on in the game when you haven't got many weapons, but that just becomes pointless after a while because they seem to follow you everywhere. By diving into haystacks and rooftop balconies you can evade them, but it seems too much like Metal Gear Solid really to have any real effect. Combat isn't much better either with a one button system meaning combos and hits rely on you hitting the same button over and over again. This isn't meant to be a button basher so why act like one and the enemy A.I is ridiculous at times with a whole swarm surrounding you but only one attacking at a time. Simple, easy, call it what you like but it has been done awfully.

Replay value is a bizarre one with ‘extra' missions available such as collecting different types of flags, saving citizens from thugs, scaling buildings to open up the map via ‘viewpoints', it seems a bit like Grand Theft Auto just wearing robes and wielding knives rather than driving cars and blasting with guns. It's interesting at first but overall just falls into the pit of blandness as does the whole of the game. Because it was published in 2007, trophies weren't supported and alas it still doesn't with no download patch available. The game also won't last ages either, which to be honest isn't a bad thing. Maybe 10 hours at tops, but that's simply because you have to walk around using stealth to gather information and the lengthy cut scenes rather than by enjoyment of playing.

Overall, Assassin's Creed for me was way over hyped with little substance offering too much style with its great looking visuals, smooth flowing animation and addictive rooftop crawling antics, but sadly drowns in bad voice acting, little progression in terms of gameplay and a combat system taken straight from a child's game. The storyline is just way too overlapped causing confusion with its conflicting time periods and not even the originality of the whole tone of the game can pull it out of that pit I mentioned earlier. It's disappointing really because it has potential, but instead of taking the risks at creating a game that is high in replay value, it just acts like a stain in the PS3 history.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 04/30/09

Game Release: Assassin's Creed (EU, 11/16/07)

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