Review by bluej33

"Don't let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy"

Okay so consider this: writing introductions to reviews sucks, a lot. I've been complaining about this for a while now so I've got something of a solution – two solutions, actually: one) waste your time with introductions like this one that appear substantive but, upon completion, are revealed to be nothing more than a few lines of fluff so that it looks like I wrote an introduction or two) title every one of my reviews henceforth after a line from a song, and then spend my introduction either a) discussing how that song line is actually perfectly representative of what this game is all about or b), in the case of my choosing a pretty obscure line, flaunting my borderline-hipster taste in music and generally acting like an arrogant [insert your own expletive! (make sure it's a noun, though)].

Phew. Glad that's out of the way.

So, Assassin's Creed: where to begin? The game is a huge, disoriented mess. It's scattered all over about three different, very distinct genres, is constantly suffering a massive identity crisis, and at times is indescribably frustrating – I almost stopped playing more than a few times. And yet despite the absolute hate-ability of Assassin's Creed, I find myself inexplicably, almost irritatedly appreciative of it.

For all its promised thrills, you'll actually find Assassin's Creed to be a pretty slow game, for the most part, and this is one of the title's most apparent problems. You can move around at a a whopping four – yes you read that right, four – speeds, ranging from an infuriatingly slow crawl to a useful-for-running-away-from-guards-who-want-to-kill-you sprint. Yet despite these purported options, during the later parts of the game, moving around at anything faster than a normal walk will immediately identify you as an assassin – because after all, every eleventh-century Jerusalem guard knows that only assassins are capable of running. You'll have to learn to accept the fact that you'll have to move very, very slowly so as not to raise suspicion. And while it is something you can come to grips with, it feels very out of place in an action game.

And this is an even bigger problem in the overworld – the area between the three shockingly close ancient cities in which you'll conduct the game's nine assassinations. You've got yourself a pretty nifty four-speed manual horse, available in three colors: black, white, and gray. As fun as it should be to gallop through the game's canyons and across the many impressive vistas you'll encounter, riding too quickly clues guards in to the fact that you're on your way to kill somebody.

This fact itself isn't so frustrating as the end result of this stupid identification mechanic: you'll spend a lot of time running away from people without making any real progress. There are a variety of really easy, boring, cookie-cutter missions throughout each district of each city, and you have to complete a set amount before you can attempt the actual assassination. But absolutely nothing is more frustrating in this game than having guards start attacking you because you accidentally knocked over some woman's water jug, and then spending ten subsequent minutes trying to flee from some ridiculously persistent soldiers. It just feels like such fluff and the lack of some sort of AI logic in situations like these is infuriating.

So I guess it's not really necessary to say that Assassin's Creed misses the mark in terms of atmosphere? That was another category that could have made Assassin's Creed interesting, but the complete unpredictability of guards in particular just kills it. For example, you can low-profile assassinate a citizen not ten feet from a group of guards and it'll take them fifteen seconds to even notice there's somebody bleeding out on the ground in front of them. On the other hand, you could bump a guy carrying a box and cause him to drop it, upon which happening veritable hordes of guards will start attacking you.

Plus there's the fact that with Assassin's Creed, you've seen pretty much everything there is to see within the first hour or so. Each of the game's nine assassinations play out nearly identically, with some small setting changes but nothing really all that drastic. It would have been wonderful to have some scenarios that require a touch of creativity to complete, but instead pretty much every assassination goes the same: infiltrate bad guy's “lair”, sneak up on him, stab him/throw a knife at him/hit him with your sword, then run like hell until you lose the ensuing soldiers. Nine times in a row.

So yes: I hate Assassin's Creed. So much. In addition to everything I've already mentioned, there's also the fact that the end of the game pulls a complete 180 from the sort of stealthy gameplay you've come to expect and turns into a different-but-still-really-frustrating mechanic of “kill as many people as possible with your sword.”

And so while the game alternates fairly frequently between sword fights, chases, and stealth, the only really successful mechanic is the latter. Sneaking around on rooftops, silently taking out guards, and scouting out new areas of the map is the most enjoyable part of the game – which, considering this is all about being a freaking assassin for God's sake, is actually pretty depressing.

I've struggled for a while now trying to identify just what it is that makes Assassin's Creed at the least bearable and at the most, dare I say it, fun, and this is my conclusion: Assassin's Creed is a game like Heavenly Sword or Prince of Persia, in that it's very visually satisfying. That's not to necessarily say that the game looks pretty (which, by the way, it does) so much as it is to say that just watching Altair is a lot of fun. He's an assassin, after all, and he behaves like one that way he scales buildings and leaps from pretty spectacular heights into frighteningly small piles of hay.

Most viscerally satisfying, however, is the combat. It's a really simple system and in terms of gameplay is actually really boring. You have plenty of combat moves, but the only one you'll really use is the parry because it's the only way to take out large groups of soldiers. (And by the way, soldiers are only ever in large groups. Seriously. They're pretty social beings, apparently, and it's difficult to catch one by himself.) But even though you'll only use this one move, there are so many different graphical representations of this move on-screen that you just don't really get bored of it. Parrying once may just cause Altair to block the blow and kick his assailant in the crotch; another parry might result in Altair slashing a knee and then stabbing his opponent while he's down. Naturally this admittedly entertaining spectacle doesn't make up for the game's fundamental flaws, but it does make it at least worth a look.

Assassin's Creed is not a fun game, and yet it's one that you should at least consider playing (though certainly not buying. Certainly not). It's a game that, I suspect, is as fun to watch as it is to play – maybe even more fun, actually. Such an oddity among traditional video games in no way validates Assassin's Creed's underlying faults, but at the very least it's an interesting, ambitious, and hugely flawed title which, if you can, you should probably give a rent.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 08/24/09

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

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