Review by zeshin_reloaded

Reviewed: 12/18/07

This assasin hits its mark, but may not be for everyone

After months of waiting, Assassin’s Creed is finally here. Ubisoft has promised us an open-ended social stealth game wherein your goal is to assassinate a specific target. Of course, there have been many games before that have failed to live up to expectations, such as Fable. Does this assassin hit its mark or does it miss by a long shot?

Based on previews and most of the featured media, you would be led to believe that Assassin’s Creed is about a middle-eastern assassin named Altair who must thwart the efforts of high-end conspirators to rule the entirety of the Crusades-era holy land. In actuality, it’s not. Assassin’s Creed is really about a bartender named Desmond Miles who is kidnapped by a mysterious company and forced by a Doctor Vidic to endure the machinations of his “DNA-Memory” viewer, the Animus. Apparently, Desmond’s ancestors knew the location of some elusively stated object that Vidic and his superiors desperately desire. And the only way to find it is by looking through the eyes of your ancestor, Altair, through DNA-embedded memories. The plot is thankfully straightforward enough to support the convoluted premise. It gets more complicated later on, but the twists are rather interesting, even if they are a bit predictable by the time you get there. Still, if not predictability, someone would have called it a “Deus ex Machina” element, so it all works out for the best regardless.

Assassin’s Creed is one of those types of games that you will either end up loving to death or wishing that it were dead. It is an absolute delight to see the fruits of your careful strategy and planning when you finally do slide the steel into your target. Too bad these moments are few and far between. In order to achieve these moments, you need to perform anywhere from four to nine investigations in the city to discover the optimal method of slitting your target’s throats. How well you enjoy these sub-missions is all depending on your tastes.

If you enjoy repetitiveness for the majority of your goal-oriented gameplay, you’ll be filled with glee at what this game has to offer. The missions can be as simple as eavesdropping on some schmuck’s conversation from a nearby bench. Or, they can be as difficult as racing-to-collect-pointless-flags missions given to you by even bigger schmucks. Honestly, it is slightly depressing when you realize that you’re about the only capable assassin in your clan since most of, if not all the others seem to be too busy suffering back problems and having the sheer idiocy to be seen by the enemy to do any work. The rewards for these missions also range from being very useful (maps of enemy archer’s positions) or incredibly asinine. An example of the asinine stuff would be this:

“Remember, the only thing more dangerous than a drunken sailor is one who’s angry.”

Really? I’d have never assumed that surly, seafaring drunkards were even more of a threat to me when they’re cantankerous. I always just assumed that something like an enraged grizzly of fifty archers with arrows pointed at my head would be more dangerous than that. I was wondering, do you think guards are more dangerous with their swords drawn? I have to assassinate 5 guys in less than 3 minutes without being seen first before you’ll tell me? Okay then, see you shortly.

Altair handles surprisingly smoothly. His movements never seem mechanical or unnatural, especially when he’s scaling walls and buildings. While it does seem nice, it isn’t particularly interactive. Climbing and the “platforming” segments across rooftops really are just a matter of holding down the A button and the control stick in the right direction. That’s not to say it’s necessarily a bad thing. It certainly saves you the embarrassment of making some stupid moves you’d otherwise make in other platformers.

The swordplay is also loads of fun. Instead of making the enemies take your swords like the *misogynistic plural term* they do in other games, they do a pretty good job of blocking your attempts at making their anatomy meet your arsenal. You are given access to an increasing inventory of weapons as the game progresses, including throwing knives, a short blade, a long blade, and Altair’s personal hidden blade concealed under his missing ring finger. Combat becomes more of a rhythm game, timing your blows correctly and countering their efforts to skewer you. The counters themselves are wonders to behold, usually involving some inventive move on Altair’s part and a copious amount of resulting blood. The environment can also be used in some fun ways, like throwing an enemy off a rooftop or tossing them into nearby construction platform or shop stand that will crumble down on them. Some people, namely the ones who have been bred on Dynasty Warriors-esque combat may not like the combat in this game, but it still remains as a sophisticated and fresh new approach to melee encounters.

The social interactions cannot go without comment either, as they are integral to pretty much everything else in the game. This is sort of where the AI begins to falter. You can quietly assassinate some Joe Somebody in the open, blend in like a scholar, and have no one suspect you. Later on, your allotment for devious mischief will decrease, since your exploits previously put the guards in an even more suspicious state to the point where they will attack you just for walking closer than five feet. When the guards are after you, the only way to shake them off is by breaking their line of sight and hiding in a rooftop “thing” (some kind of shade structure, I assume), group of scholars, a bench, or a pile of hay. You can also try and kill all of the guards after you, but since the combat is balanced in a way that more than one enemy is significantly dire to your survival, it’s better to just run most of the time.

Two major annoyances are certain types of citizens you’ll encounter. First and foremost are beggar women. They are the most annoying things you will ever deal with in your street wanderings. These *misogynistic plural term* will get right in front of you and constantly wail out how they need your coins because of their unfortunate plight in life. Even if you try to get away from them by wall scaling, they’ll start chucking rocks at you that cause Altair to lose his grip. They pestered me so much that I simply made it a habit to silently kill any that were bugging me. Another, far more detrimental kind of persons is the lepers. These guys will shove you if you get too close to them for no apparent reason. It’s especially bad because they draw attention to you when you’re attempting to pickpocket someone or follow a target silently. It’s especially bad later because their unwarranted violence almost instantly brings guards down upon you.

I can’t really fault them for not making the AI totally life-like. I may not be particularly tech-savvy, but I can imagine that programming the NPC’s to act as they already do was a monumental task itself. Asking anymore might have delayed Assassin’s Creed by a significant while. It’s not even as though the lackluster AI is game breaking, it’s just a little annoying every now and then.

Ubisoft, being as big as it is, has the ability to pour some nice amount of cash into production, and it shows here. The cities are incredibly detailed and the character animations are fluid and transition very well in cut scenes. I’m going to assume that Ubisoft did their homework on the setting because it all feels rather genuine and nothing seems too odd or out of the ordinary for the background, aside from the obsession with flags lots of characters seem to have.

One complaint is the voice acting. While most of the other flaws in the game can be readily forgiven, this cannot. Altair, while not bad on his own, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to have an American accent while everyone around him speaks in an Arab accent. Otherwise, most of the other characters have decent, if not good voice work going for them.

The music is pretty good, but rather forgettable. It helps raise your adrenaline during fights and escapes rather well, but doesn’t do much beyond that. Certainly nothing to the extent of Shadow of the Colossus.

It’s hard for me to recommend Assassin’s Creed to everyone because I know not everyone will like it, though not because of quality. It is a very well executed game with great visual presentation. What I know is that there is a significant portion of gamers that will become frustrated by the repetitive side-missions and lose interest, even though I enjoyed them. It’s definitely at least worth a rent. If you don’t like it, then no harm done. But if you become even a little intrigued, then you’ll be treated to an original game that plays like a dream and ends on a high note. I would personally like to see everyone fall in love with Assassin’s Creed.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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

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