Review by APBadger1
"A promising story and interesting concept destroyed by shoddy gameplay and repetitive busywork."
'Assassin's Creed' is a lot like several other Ubisoft games; tantalizing and beautiful on the surface, but deeply flawed underneath. The truly horrible thing is that one sees what it could have been, with some refinement. I will say at the outset that I do like the game, but reviews aren't about personal opinions, are they? That said, the game is very good in several significant areas, so let's get that out of the way first.
Despite what others may say, I feel the game weaves a well-constructed and fascinating narrative, which is told in two layers that I found equally interesting. One is the central thrust of 'Assassin's Creed', the tale of the master assassin Altair, one of the Hashshashin Shiia mystics. This layer takes place in 1191, just before the end of the third or 'King's' Crusade, led by former enemies Richard I of England and Philip II of France. The story is interesting and well-crafted, although not particularly complex, as Altair struggles with the conflicting information he is confronted by. The story supposedly has an historical basis and Altair is supposedly targeting real historical figures. While this may be true, I would not look at this as being historical fiction by any definition, and take all of these claims with a grain of salt. Ubisoft's characterization of the Hashshashin Muslims is shaky at best.
The other layer, which is interesting in different ways, is more of an adventure-game affair, and even has several obstacles which, if removed, lead to more information about the story. I wouldn't call them puzzles, though. Perhaps conundrums would be best. This layer, if fully explored, provides a lot of random information that drums up enthusiasm for the next episode.
Visually, the game looks fantastic. The four cities featured; Jerusalem, Damascus, Acre, and the Assassin camp Masyaf, are richly detailed and convincing. Apart from the almost complete lack of interiors, I was almost totally convinced by the seething, adaptive environments. The people populating the cities are rich and varied for the most part, and I found it difficult to detect any repetition of character models, except perhaps in the guards. As it is with many aspects of the game, the veneer of the visual environment does begin to wear thin, as the same speeches are constantly repeated and Altair is accosted by the same annoying beggar woman with the same speech(I punched her in the face several times), and smacked by the same annoying schizophrenic guy in a loin cloth (I punched him as well). Apart from that, there are few complaints about the visuals. Clipping is virtually nonexistent, except when Altair is perched on a beam high above the city and his robe drapes through it.
The game also sounds good, although the sound definitely receives lower marks than the visuals. Not because of any shoddiness or poor quality (Ubisoft saved all of that for the gameplay) but because it is so repetitive. The same speeches abound as Altair wanders through the cities, but this is perhaps not as annoying as it sounds. The voice acting ranges from good to top-notch, except for one crucial spot; Altair. Philip Shahbaz, the relatively young and inexperienced actor hired to voice Altair voices him like a young and inexperienced actor. His performance is cold and emotionless, although I was eventually able to get past in and enjoy the story. I think Altair would have benefited from an older actor, such as Ed Harris. He sounds too young to be what he is.
The game would have benefited by some sort of time-passage system. I know I would have loved to stand on the Dome of the Rock and watch the Holy City sleeping under a vast panoply of stars. As it is, the sun is perpetually at noontide, at looking at the cities in that way isn't a bad thing by any means. Altair's work would also seem to be easier by night. At least, I'm sure it would be if the poor design and shoddy, repetitive gameplay didn't make it so easy in the first place.
The Assassinations intended to be the central feature are tacked-on and highly repetitive. Virtually everything in this game eventually degenerates into a swashbuckling, Errol Flynn style sword-fight, although you can, and sometimes must, run and hide from your enemies. Often allowing you to hide in what literally amounts to plain sight by posing as an Imam bedecked with weapons, this feature is pathetically implemented, and pales in comparison to titles like Io Interactive's 'Hitman', or even Ubisoft's own 'Prince of Persia' games, both of which clearly served as inspiration for 'Assassin's Creed'. Fighting so often would be alright if it was more entertaining. As it is, the simplistic, single-button combat scheme and rhythm-based attack system are easy to learn and easy (but unnecessary) to master. When fighting in city streets, the camera also tends to get stuck behind the edges of buildings, although it usually corrects itself quickly, some tighter programming could have removed this altogether.
The idea of insertion, investigation, and strike is an interesting (not to mention tactically sound) idea, but it degenerates into embarrassing, repetitive, almost arcade- or minigame-style exercises. After you've done it once, you'll always know how. Another annoyance is something I feel console gamers should start getting a bit more upset about; the lack of a 'save game' option. Although the game saves frequently, we need to start insisting on this feature.
'Assassin's Creed' will at least keep you occupied longer than many of today's single-player games, it took me about a week to finish, although I didn't play every day. The truly tragic thing is what this game could have been, if Ubisoft had spent as much time on the AI and gameplay as it had on the interesting story and beautiful setting, this might have been one of the best games of the year. I would have been willing to wait until 2008 if it would have meant a better game. As it is, I think the Holiday Rush killed this title. Ubisoft needs to learn not to keep their eyes so firmly on the sequel, and maybe the next game will actually be good.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 11/21/07
Game Release: Assassin's Creed (US, 11/13/07)
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