Review by Wolverine109
A valiant effort that just didn't work.
A valiant effort that just didn't work.
To be honest, I must congratulate Ubisoft Montreal for having the guts to make and heavily promote a game that isn't a first person shooter. In recent years, shooters seem to have become the "safe" option for developers and publishers, and as such we have been inundated with them. Just prior to purchasing Assassin's Creed, I found myself growing increasingly tired of FPSs, even though the ones I was playing were, admittedly, quite good (BioShock, TimeShift, Halo 3...). Thus it can be said that I did enjoy the game on another level, the fact that it wasn't a shooter, but even so, it was still abysmally disappointing.
In the interests of keeping this review pretty much "spoiler free", I can't say much here, other than what has already been revealed through trailers and previews and so on. The year is 1191 AD; You take the role of Altair, a master assassin. However, in a key mission which takes place at the start of the game, you make several mistakes which break the sacred tenets (a word woefully mispronounced by the voice actors) of the Hashshashin clan to which you belong. As such, you are stripped of your rank and weapons. Al Mualim, the leader of the clan, offers Altair the chance to redeem himself, and to earn the right to again call himself an assassin and gain possession of his weapons once more. To do this he is presented with a list of nine key figures in the Third Crusade, whom he must assassinate to free the Holy Land from their corrupt influence. And so you, as the player, set off to explore the kingdom and three major cities (Acre, Jerusalem and Damascus) as well as Masyaf, the home of the assassins, in order to find and eliminate these targets. As you take down each one, more of the story is revealed and Altair finds himself questioning the justice in his actions.
The story is good in theory, but not told fantastically by any stretch of the imagination. Some of the main twists are very predictable which isn't really all that interesting, and the ending was (in my personal opinion) really quite awful. The key aspect to the story is the historical accuracy, something which the team at Ubisoft has taken into very careful consideration. The cities and the assassination targets all existed more or less as they appear in the game, in the year 1191 AD (according to what resources we have available anyway) and the targets themselves all disappeared or perished in that same year. This sense of accuracy is very impressive, and it has given the story some extra value from my perspective... others however, may not find it as engaging.
At first glance the graphics look incredible, and in truth they are for the most part. There is an astounding level of detail, incredible lighting effects (almost everything is self shadowing) and nigh unparalleled draw distances mean you can get to a high point and look out across the vast cities below you. However beyond all that there are also some key issues that become apparent. While most of the textures are impressive, those on the characters in the game are not. The folds in cloths look drawn in, the facial animations are fairly poor, and the frequently appearing beard of Al Mualim looks laughably bad. As insignificant as these things may seem, in this day and age it's all the little details that really make up the quality of a games visuals.
The other major problem was the physics. In any game, poor physics can really damage how believable what you are playing appears. While the free-running aspect, and climbing of buildings works well, the combat and other little things look ridiculous. When Altair slashes an enemy with his sword you see a pathetic spray of red to indicate the blood of the victim, not at all realistic. Even so far as when you sit atop some of the view points, Altair's robes which are hanging behind him go through the poll or plank upon which he is crouching... in my mind, that is just a poor effort.
Still, despite all that is wrong with it, the graphics are still fantastic in a lot of ways, in fact they are probably the best aspect of the game, depending on your opinion.
Hmm, what can be said about the sound? Well let's start with the soundtrack, it's really quite good. Fits well with the ancient and epic feel of the game and creates a sort of emotion within the player. Not as stupid as I make it sound, but rather, when you are being chased by 7 or so guards, the music in the background becomes fairly fast paced and exciting, which does improve the game to an extent. The in-game sound effects are also amiable, with little details that could easily be missed, such as the sound of a sword being driven violently into an enemy, but add to the overall effect.
On the other hand, the dialogue is weak and lacks emotion. Yes this is the sort of thing that is more important in movies and so on, but with games this day and age (particularly one as story driven as this) dialogue is of integral importance, and Assassin's Creed is found to be lacking.
Despite saying that the game is story driven, it is in fact the game play that is the central focus and potential selling point. It claims to let you fight incredible battles, traverse incredible locations within the superbly recreated Holy Land, assassinate key figures, and utilise a new free-running technique to escape your enemies. Well to give you some sort of insight into it, I will divide this section into 2 key areas: Combat, and everything else...
Though I will go into it in more depth, the combat can be summed up quite simply: it isn't any good. You start the game with all your weapons and abilities; however you lose them pretty quickly and slowly regain them. However while you are constantly being told you have access to a "new weapon", in actual fact most of the time it is simply a damage upgrade, which appears to have little effect anyway. Thus, you only have 4 weapons in the game: Fists, interrogations only, otherwise they are useless. Your assassin's blade, only good for one hit killing enemies when they don't know you are about to attack them, in other words; it's useless in a fight. Your short blade/throwing knives, these can be useful but not to any great extent, you can get by without them. And finally, your sword, the staple weapon and the one you will probably use most. So you have a sword, that's cool right? Wrong. It's incredibly one dimensional (you have one attack button which has no combos associated with it) and about the only useful thing you can do is counter attack. Guess what? As astounding as it may seem, counter attacking your way through every damn fight in the game is not fun. And the enemies themselves, they are more or less all the same; just guards with swords. Admittedly, as you progress further in the game the guards start using counters and guard breaking attacks on you, which is a little interesting but not nearly varied enough for it to remain interesting for long. So once more, to re-iterate what I said earlier: the combat just isn't fun.
So obviously, the well publicised free-running ability in this game is the focus here. And while it is fairly impressive, it becomes stale and boring about halfway through the game. The idea was to essentially, take away that feeling that you need to look for blatantly obvious things you can climb on (for example, ladders) and instead let you make use of realistic physics to climb on anything. Well, it doesn't quite live up to its expectations. The objects that you can use to climb a wall (such as grooves, or blocks jutting out, and so on) are themselves blatantly obvious, and they are absolutely everywhere. So in a sense, you can climb practically everything. That may sound good in theory, but it's less exciting when you find you can just pick a wall at random and, 99% of the time, climb up it with ease. It would have been more interesting if you actually had to think about what you were doing, and too actually look for ways to get up to the rooftops. Incidentally, you have very little control over the climbing mechanic: you basically just move the thumbstick in the desired direction and the climbing is done for you. However, one of the more fun aspects of the free running is the actual running. Being able to run across rooftops and casually use precariously places wooden beams and the like to continue without falter. It does look cool when you're doing it, although once again you have little control over it: all you do is hold down some buttons and away he goes. More interaction and control from the player would have been more involving and exciting.
Another key problem in the game play is the layout. You find the city you need to be in, go to the Assassin's Bureau, go out and find some view points to expand your map, do some investigations (which include: interrogation, pick-pocketing, informers and eavesdropping), return to the Bureau, go find and kill the target, return to the Bureau again, and finally, return to Al Mualim. This is cool the first 2 or 3 times, but then you realise that you have to do the same exact thing another 6-7 times and this becomes the major portion of the game. You may have heard people claim this game becomes very repetitive, well it does. If you enjoy doing it, then you might stand it, I for one found myself getting very annoyed by the 6th and 7th kills, wishing for something different.
There are also serious issues in the way the game has been programmed. The guards can start chasing you for the stupidest reasons (such as bumping into someone on the street), while having no idea where you are when you walk around pretending to be a scholar (head down, hands together in prayer). The streets are filled with some complete idiots as well, including beggars who constantly single you out of a crowd to harass for money, and drunks, whom if you go near while give you an almighty push. They do it to no one else but you, and it is mighty annoying. Push them away, you are liable to get chased by the guards, kill them, you lose health (for reasons I can't explain, otherwise I'd spoil something). Simple AI programming like this has somehow been overlooked making the game less fun and just incredibly problematic.
Some may pick up this game and love it, many more however, may pick it up and get easily frustrated and annoyed thanks to a large number of flaws in the game's design.
Game Play: 3/10
None; really. Once you've beaten the main story arc you can play around and find some stupid items in the game (like hidden flags and such) for some medial achievements if you wish. Otherwise, the story itself is not good enough to deserve a second play through, and there are no multiplayer or online features to provide any sort of further amusement. This is one area where the game has failed incredibly.
Replay Ability: 0/10
Not hard at all, although some parts can get frustrating. It is really the lack of sensitivity in the controls that makes the game at all tricky. Depending on how quickly you aim to play it, it is of decent length; I would hazard a guess at around 10 hours. Not really sure how long it took me to beat, I kept putting it down to play other games as I got bored of it frequently, but did eventually put it to rest so to speak. Basically, if you're looking for a challenge, look elsewhere.
Looking back through my review, it could be said that I have been overly critical. However, this game was hyped to an extraordinary extent, ultimately building expectations that just could not be met. If you are thinking about getting this game, I would suggest it as a rental at best. It could easily be beaten in that amount of time and has no replay value to speak of that could entice one to need to actually purchase it.
Rating: 2.0 - Poor
Product Release: Assassin's Creed (AU, 11/21/07)
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