Review by XCommander

"Ubi's successor to the Prince is a man named Altair"

I wonder if anyone else has noticed that lately, with the advent of the internet's monarchal position in the informational media hierarchy, a sort of backlash to things that receive praise before they are released. It's not only in games; music and especially movies have the same sort of problem. It almost seems like most review outlets are too afraid to be criticized for giving into hype. Call it the Rise of the Robots syndrome if you will.

Why even mention that in this review? Assassin's Creed is a very noteworthy victim of such anti-hype media. Around the time it was announced and displayed, the game was subject of elaborate hype, praise, and hope. It seems that towards the release of the game, it took an elaborate u-turn into being nothing more than an average game. I don't think it takes a brain surgeon to realize the culprit: mediocre scores from influential media sources (most notably IGN and EGM). I remained interested in the game despite some less than stellar reviews, because after reading some of the complaints said reviewers had, it became apparent that this would probably be one of those anti-hyped games. Nothing confirmed it more to me than a few of my friends blatantly ripping on the game, despite not playing it, solely based around several reviews. Fortunately for me, when purchasing and playing the game, my intuition was accurate. Assassin's Creed is an incredible experience, and really makes a great game for most people to enjoy.

I think it would be unfair to describe the main storyline in the game, considering there is an essential twist early on. It's sort of a game-specific twist, because it is not readily apparent in any media screenshots or literature regarding the game. Most of the aforementioned feature references to the bulk of the game. You “play” as Altair Ibn La-Ahad the “Son of None.” Mr. Altair is a member of the famed Hashshashin Muslim sect of the middle ages, specifically in the year 1191. This is around the same time as such groups as the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitalier, who are both featured in the game. I know this is essentially a background to the story, but that is really all I can describe without blowing major plot points. It's almost like Assassin's Creed is unfairly designed for story description.

The way the game is played can best be described as essentially a fully mobile puppet show. Certain buttons belay certain functions Altair can complete. Each button can likewise be pressed in either an active mode, which makes Altair's actions attract attention, or in a stealthier mode which is slower but allows for Altair to gain the essence of camouflage.

“Hashshashin” became one of the bases for the modern term “assassin,” and assassinations are knowingly the focus point of the game. Altair is armed with a myriad of weapons: the two most notable include a rather large, sharp and intimidating sword, and a device implanted into an amputated ring finger of the protagonist that works as a means of stealth impalement. Altair travels the crowds of three medieval realms of Israel: Jerusalem, Damascus, and Acre; along with the Hashshashin base of Masyaf. There is also a vast kingdom to explore that connects these various cities.

Exploration, to go along with assassination, is another key element of the game. One of the striking features of the game is its beautiful rendering of landscapes, whether municipal or farmland. The textures and the like are so awe inspiring. When climbing on top of skyscrapers (that's how tall some of these medieval buildings are—skyscrapers), you can see down to various structures and it's just great to look at.

It becomes apparent early on in the game that being stealthy is a key to Altair's continued success as an assassin really is. The streets of the cities are populated not only with denizens weary of the reach of the hand of the Hashshashin clan, but even more intimidating is the ever present watch of the guards. While they are not tremendously difficult to vanquish due to a very innovative and intuitive combat mode, they have a nasty habit of calling for their fellow guard cronies at the most inopportune moments. In merely seconds Altair can be surrounded by eight to ten of these guys. And if he doesn't kill them off quickly, there is a chance that even more can come. In this case it's up to Altair to make off as quickly as possible to avoid fighting the guards and use his talents to slip away from sight.

Utilizing his extensively thought out control scheme, Altair certainly can disappear. One of the good ways for him escaping is climbing up on buildings. This can be dangerous however, because of archer guards high atop lofty buildings. There are good places to hide up there though, such as flower beds. Also in running on the streets, jumping through merchant's shops provides a way of getting through to a hiding spot quicker and without guards chasing you, because of the fact that they don't want to jump through the messed up merchant stands. It's like a modern day videogame equivalent of the Aladdin chase scenes. In the end, it's up to Altair to find shelter in bails of hay, benches, groups of monks that look specifically like Altair, or the aforementioned flower beds.

The game is divided up into specific missions requiring you to eliminate specific targets in relation to you finding a specific Templar-held treasure. They are given to you by a specific guru of the Hashshashin temple of Masyaf. While on the hunt for information regarding each target, there are some things you can do such as interrogating enemy informants, listening in on conversations, and even performing mundane tasks for fellow Assassin members. Each of these will provide different information regarding the carrying out of specific assassinations.

This isn't just what you can do either. There are other tasks available for you to accomplish which don't necessarily aid you in your current quest, but they do add benefits and completions. These include rescuing civilians from the clutches of persecutors, which can bring allied monks and vigilantes which can aid you in your quest, and collecting flags and killing Templars. The most interesting task, however, is finding viewpoints. These are high up in the air, and are extremely fun to reach via the extensive climbing skills afforded by Mr. Altair. These bring blips on your map which shows you where to find other objectives available for Altair to discover or seek out to complete. These high reach viewpoints end up becoming one of the key aspects in the fun factor and spectacle of the game.

You can't also go through a review without mentioning the absolutely breathtaking fluid animations of all polygonal characters in the game. Of course this is most notable on the protagonist Altair, but even ordinary townsfolk move with grace and realism. This is truly one of the key elements in making this game a next-gen experience. It would simply not be possible at all on the previous generation's consoles. While it may be following the mode of Ubi Soft's previous Prince of Persia franchise, it's taken several levels upwards. One has to play the game to experience such amazing graphics and animation.

The animation becomes part of the gameplay as well. Altair can move throughout the towns at either a brisk running pace, or slowly pushing people out of the way. In the Kingdom, essentially the Overworld of the game, Altair also gains the ability to ride upon a horse. The horse isn't quite as fun as say, galloping on Epona in Zelda games, but it's certainly interesting and quite a quick method of moving. It's done in exactly the same way as Altair's motions are. It's also just as fluid as you expect it to be, given the previous tenets of the game's graphical engine.

The game is also rounded out by an excellently composed soundtrack full of renditions of Middle Eastern themes and medieval hymns. The most excellently done soundtrack is the one of being chased after completing an assassination; it brings to the attention the tenseness of the situation surrounding our Altair. Whilst being well composed and having some memorable tunes, it's one of the lower factors of the game, simply above average.

In all, the game defies the mediocrity that was allotted to it via some early reviews of the game. It's a spectacle and simply an amazing game to play. I didn't even mention the major twist involved in the plot, which turns the game completely on its heels (while still making it interesting of course). Of course the game isn't perfect, but it's a pretty damn good one.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 02/15/08

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

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