Review by neonreaper
"Decadent scenes from my memory"
Assassin's Creed is the first game in what should be an interesting series. The game starts off with Altair, a member of the Assassin's Guild during the Crusades, trying to carry out a mission. His bold nature leads him to botch his mission, and a loss of his place in the guild. All is not lost, as he is given the opportunity to start a new career and earn back his skills and weaponry as he begins on a path to take down 9 specific targets.
This sounds pretty basic so far, but the game takes a twist right away, and it's revealed that you also play the character Desmond, a descendant of Altair. He has been captured by a big corporation to unlock memories of Altair's actions buried within his DNA. You play through as Altair, essentially through the memories of Desmond. The bulk of the game is spent in the Middle East as the assassin. The more Altair succeeds, the more memory that is unlocked, and the more locations Altair can visit, as well as more health being added.
Health in the game is measured as a synchronized memory. Typically, you'll only lose health by incurring damage in battle, however you can lose it as well by slaying innocent people, representing Desmond pursuing paths not aligned with the memory of what Altair has done. It's a fairly unique system that won't affect the gameplay much, but will affect how you interpret the game.
As the game's story unfolds, you'll learn more about the goings-on in Altair's time, as well as uncover more in Desmond's time. You tend to uncover more questions as Desmond, and the answers Altair finds don't seem to really answer Desmond's questions. The ending is abrupt and left mostly open for a sequel. There are plenty of little clues to inspect and discuss, but it really isn't a satisfactory way to end the game.
That said, the journey through the game is very satisfying, if a bit repetitive. The controls take a little bit of learning, but feel natural and easy after only a short while. Assassin's Creed takes its own approach to 3D control of a character, eschewing the standard "press B to jump, A to attack" controls you'll find elsewhere. One button controls the legs, either to run or jump. Another controls the head, which includes just dropping your head to hide. The other two control the arms. The right trigger toggles the actions you use - using right trigger buttons can often be seen as generally socially unacceptable.
Social interactions are a prominent part of Assassin's Creed - saving people from violent guards will cause mobs of citizens to protect you should you be chased by guards later in the game. Climbing around on walls will attract attention. Certain actions will raise suspicions of guards, and others will allow you to sneak by without incident. This can be a great way to either get into fights, or use semi-stealth elements to get through certain areas.
The biggest issue with Assassin's Creed is the repetition. It's evident throughout the game. The character designs are good, but in short supply. Each individual model looks great, but there are a handful of the same ones on almost any given street. It's not a big issue, but it dulls the game down a bit.
The quests Altair undertakes are a bit more of a problem. The first time through, it's good fun to do all the sorts of quests available. However, it stops being so much fun as you pretty much have to do the same quests in each area of each city. I never got tired of saving citizens because it led to constant bloodbaths and piles of dead guards, but entering a new part of town didn't carry the same excitement that it should have. Knowing you have to go through and save all the citizens and get all the viewpoints and all the other same quests seemed a bit too much like a chore, though once I dug in, I found I didn't want to stop until I was done. Repetitive, definitely. But also really enjoyable.
How is this possible? For one, the cities are well detailed, so while the repetitive citizen models might be annoying, the cities tend to be immersive. The cities are big enough to be able to spend a lot of time running around in, look great, and are also enough of a jungle gym to keep you jumping from windowpane to post to rooftop to hay. This is a strong point for the game - the controls are easy to get into and work very well for the environments you can explore. Running over to a wall, climbing up to the roof, and hopping rooftop to rooftop is enjoyable the whole way through the game.
You don't just want to climb around like a little monkey, though. You're an assassin and you will shed PLENTY of blood. The combat is all about timing, and allows you to take on tons of guards at a time. You can also find ways to escape guards, hide from guards, or gain higher ground on the guards. The AI for the guards is decent, but there are some holes that are a bit too easy to exploit. I found that climbing a roof caused the guards to relentlessly climb after me, allowing me to whittle them down as they tried to climb up. The timing for the fighting combined with the different finishing moves left me feeling very satisfied after impaling and disemboweling a pack of guards and taking to the roofs to elude the reinforcements. You have two different swords that you can use, as well as throwing knives. Ah yes, throwing knives. These are awesome to use, especially on rooftop guards, but work well in melee when you're surrounded by guards. You can pickpocket certain thugs to replenish your supply of throwing knives should you find yourself constantly using them like I did.
While the mission types are few, you will have to accomplish them over and over to gain information about your target, enough for the guild to allow you to kill the guy. You'll find yourself pickpocketing informants and agents, as well as beating up people for information over and over. This will build up to the assassination of each major target, which is usually a really fun, scripted mission. The game really should have been built on this type of mission a bit more. After finishing off each target, there's a brief bit of dialog which explores the motives the target had for his actions, and then Altair has to book it until the guards stop chasing him.
Aside from the typical missions, there are some optional things you can do. I've already mentioned citizens and view points, which I found to be fun and important to the game. View points open up more of the map, and they're often fun to climb up to and use Eagle Vision for a neat little scene of Altair way up on some structure.
There are also flags to collect; hundreds of them hidden all through the game. I found them fun to stumble across, of if I saw one in the distance, it was enjoyable to find a way to climb up to get it. I wasn't interested in reading through a guide to find every flag, and there were simply too many for me to justify combing every inch of every city to find. Still, there are plenty of people that enjoy completing such tasks.
Templars are a much better optional task than flags, in my view. These red-helmeted knights are stationed throughout the game, and are no slouches in combat. The combat in the game is certainly rewarding enough to me that I could justify hunting as many of these guys down as I could. Fighting them was fun, but using the one-shot stealth assassination was just as good. That's one of the techniques used throughout the game, as you approach a target and attack with the hidden wrist blade.
Assassin's Creed's unique science fiction story overlaying a solid 3D action game makes for a notable game and one well worth playing. The developers fell short on mission types and overall the game feels a bit too repetitive, but terrific gameplay elements and amazing design and execution of the environments mitigate the damage of repetition. The game ends without answering enough questions, but if they can follow up with a sequel as stunning and enjoyable, most fans of Assassin's Creed won't mind too much.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 07/07/08, Updated 09/28/10
Game Release: Assassin's Creed (US, 11/13/07)
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