Review by SilverMelee
Takes a leap of faith, but misses the mark.
I can't help but chuckle at the text that pops up when the game boots up; before we're greeted by the Ubisoft logo and the opening FMV, we're informed that Assassin's Creed was made by a "multicultural team of various faiths and beliefs." Way to dodge that controversy, Ubisoft... but seriously, Creed was a refreshing take from Ubisoft's usual fare of video games based on Tom Clancey novels, and the dev team (Ubisoft Montreal) tried to bring us something new. Now granted, they succeeded, and Assassin's Creed was a decent game, but it wasn't quite the hot title people hoped it would be.
You play as a hooded fellow named Altair, an assassin in the Holy Land circa 1191 A.D. (The Third Crusade)... actually, no you aren't! You're really a fellow named Desmond, and the game takes place in September of 2012. You have been captured by a big corporation named Abstergo, who need to access the memories of your ancestor, but can't access it directly, and they need you to relive some of Altair's memories before they can get the memory that they need. Chances are, you're confused as to how a man from 2012 can relive the memories of someone from over 800 years ago, but it's simple really: Genetics! In Creed, everyone's DNA contains memories from their ancestors, and using a device called the Animus, you can access these memories and relive them. So once Desmond is strapped in, we're sent back to the Middle Ages as Altair. Granted, I can't say much without spoiling anything, but Altair is tasked with assassinating several key targets and trying to learn everything you can before taking action against the targets.
The story sounds good on paper, but a major problem with it is the fact that the story frequently reminds you it's a game: certain cutscenes and events are followed by flashes of white, followed by a computerized voice saying it's "fast forwarding to a more recent memory." In addition, many in-game cutscenes are also riddled with what are called "glitches"; moments where the screen flashes white. Tapping a button changes the camera to a more dynamic position, giving a better view of the action, but the cutscenes should've had the dynamic camera angles from the start. Don't make me have to time button presses just so I can get a better view of a cutscene... Finally, upon completing a chapter after assassinating your target(s), we're forced to step out of the Animus, tearing us away from Altair and reminding us that it's a simulation. As a result, it becomes very hard to immerse yourself.
Altair's missions are simple in that he must travel to one of the cities in the Kingdom, collect the information he needs about his targets, and then act on them. The game's problem lies in the whole "collect information" aspect - you're going to be doing the same thing for each assassination attempt, and I really mean the same thing; eavesdrop in on conversations, pick pockets, and follow certain people into alleyways before beating them for information. The methods for doing this each time will not change at all and it gets rather boring rather quickly. Once you finally have the information, Altair can report to the bureau stationed in each city and finally carry out his assassination. After we're greeted to a cutscene introducing the target, we must use the infomation to silently kill them... sadly, even if you do manage to kill the target discreetly (and after a long cutscene full of exposition by the dying character), I always found myself surrounded by guards and the whole city on alert. From here, the guards will be actively looking for you and you must get back to the bureau in one piece. For a game about stealth assassinations, there really isn't much emphasis on the "stealth" part, is there? Hitman, this ain't.
You can replay chapters, if you like, but you'll have to start the very beginning of that chapter every time no matter what. Did I mention you start at the top of a mountain every time you start a mission and have to walk all the way down before you can mount a horse and ride to your destination? How fun... but before you start your descent from the moutain, you first have to put up with a speech from your master regardless of chapter. Oh, before I forget, I should tell you right now that cutscenes are unskippable, even if you're replaying a chapter. Hope you enjoy exposition, cause you're going to be getting lots of it.
The most fun aspect of Assassin's Creed is possibly the climbing and jumping. Made by the same guys who were responsible for the climbing and jumping mechanics in the Prince of Persia games, Altair can climb a great deal of surfaces. If it looks like it can be climbed, then it can be climbed - houses, walls, scaffolding; if you ever need access to a roof, finding a climbable surface is easy. Of course, if you want to avoid suspicion from the guards and townsfolk, you might want to find a ladder instead. Sometimes the climbing is a bit unresponsive and Altair won't move, but it worked well for the most part. When you manage to get onto the rooftops, jumping is easy enough - the game automatically times your jumps, allowing you jump from rooftop to rooftop and whatnot. Of course, mind the guards patrolling up top.
But what if you're tired of running away from the guards? It's fight or flight, and you want to fight, right? Well, Altair has a variety of weapons at his disposal: there's his retractable wrist blade, which is used for quick kills but hard to use in combat; he's got his fists, which are ideal for beating on hostile thugs without alerting guards (almost useless against armed guards, though); then he has his small blade and throwing knives, which can take enemies down at a distance, but also provide some protection for close combat; and lastly, he's got his trusty sword, which ideal for taking down any guards that stand in your way. Unfortunately, that's all Altair will get to use in combat. Sure, there are additional things like grabbing and throwing, but most fights will consist of either pressing the attack button (if you time the presses, you get to watch Altair go into a killing animation) or waiting for enemies to attack so you can counter. There's never anything to spice up fight in particular, and as such, combat gets boring quickly.
The Holy Land itself really is a sight to behold. There are three cities to visit (four if you count Masyaf, the small town you start each mission in), and they each have their own theme. Damascus has a sandy Arabian theme, where as Jerusalem is much more green and bright. Acre really stands out, since it has not an Arabian theme, but a European one; the saracens you find elsewhere are replaced by crusading knights whose tunics vary based on the district you're in (the tunics represent the real-life orders that were headquartered in the city at the time, a nice touch). While the cities are beautiful and the character models look nice, you might notice how some of the folds in their clothing (especially Altair's) look a little... flat. Fortunately, you have to look fairly close to notice that and flat textures aside, everything looks impressive.
Much of music is very ambient and calm, and although the melodies are largely forgettable, they work well with their environments. The sound effects are rather good; everything from the stomping of hooves of a galloping horse to the clash of metal in swordfights. The voice work is also rather decent, and there are a considerable deal of voices in the game, although many of them say the same thing... wonder what's up with that. Even more strange is Altair; while everyone else in the game speaks with an Arabic or British accent (though some soldiers will speak a foreign language; usually Arabic or French), the main character is the only character that has an American accent. Granted, it's not a grating accent that would throw the player off (the acting is done well), but it does sound odd amidst a sea of accents.
There's little reason to replay missions; the repetitive gameplay, the fact that you start off in a far-off location each time a mission starts, and the unskippable cutscene you have to endure each time kills any replay value. There are a vast collection of flags in each town (each area has a different flag, including the kingdom between the cities), but collecting them all will only grant you achievements and nothing more. The same goes with the Knights Templar, of which there are 60 throughout the land (including cities) that you must kill. None of it is very fun or very rewarding.
In all fairness, I liked Assassin's Creed, but too many flaws prevent it from really being a great game or even a good one. There aren't too many games that play like Creed, so it's hard to make any alternative suggestions, though if you want to see some assassinations done right, you should give the Hitman games a try (I recommend the trilogy pack on PS2). I can only recommend this game for purchase if you're interested in the sequel Assassin's Creed II and want to get the full story first or simply get a feel for what to expect (i.e., the reason I bought the game).
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Product Release: Assassin's Creed (Platinum Hits) (US, 12/31/08)
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