I typically don’t read reviews for video games, despite writing a few myself. The exception used to be when I watched X-Play, but that was back when they didn’t try to be so serious & their reviews had some humor to them. But even without reading any reviews, I managed to hear some of the negative opinion of Assassin’s Creed, most of which consisted of a not-so-subtle abbreviation of the game’s title. But as any celebrity will tell you, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Anything that gets a game’s name out there, even if it’s because it’s so spectacularly bad, will often be enough to entice people to try it themselves. But does Assassin’s Creed deserve the flames it receives?
If you didn’t know anything about the game before playing, you’d probably expect the game to be a historical reimagining. But technically speaking, the game has a futuristic setting. The story has two main characters: Desmond Miles & Altair. Desmond is the main-main character of the series. A man living in the future, he is more or less kidnapped by a mysterious organization. They plan to use a device called the Animus to probe into his genetic memory in search of an ancient artifact. The ancestor in question is Altair, the main character you’ll be playing as through the game. Altair is an assassin in the Holy Land who is tasked with assassinating nine targets seeking to coerce the land into a new world order. Along the way, you learn that the people you’re assassinating & the company holding you prisoner are the same, & seek to use the artifact in your memories for, although honorable in goal, unethical in methods end.
Most of the gameplay takes place inside the Animus’ Holy Land. In each stage you’re given a target to assassinate. But before you can do that, you have to investigate & perform various tasks through the cities you visit. You can pickpocket, eavesdrop, interrogate or speak with informants to gain valuable information on your target & how to eliminate them. Once you’re investigated enough, it’s time to strike. Your target will reveal himself & it’s your job to take him out, then flee. Because killing someone in broad daylight obviously attracts a lot of attention, you’ll have to run & hide from the guards after the deed is done. Although this is supposed to be a stealth game, Altair is capable of fighting one-on-one, & sometimes has to. But the biggest draw of the game is the free-running/parkour. The city skyscape is the perfect place to run, climb & assassinate from, & pretty much the entire city can be traversed from the roofs of buildings.
Story: Although I typically don’t like sci-fi games, I did enjoy the story in Assassin’s Creed, probably both because most of the gameplay takes place in the past & because the setting isn’t so much sci-fi as futuristic. Aside from the Animus, we’re not shown anything futurey. Another aspect I liked was the whole Altair redemption thing. Altair starts the game being an arrogant twat, but over the course of the missions becomes more at peace with himself — although it’s hard to tell from his voice actor sometimes. The rest of the story is interesting but predictable. I could tell right from the beginning the corporation imprisoning me was the bad guy, & the betrayal at the end is no shock either. The main story is the basic religious conspiracy stuff we’ve seen before, although the Piece of Eden artifact, from what little we see of it, is interesting. People have complained about Desmond being flat as a character, but I don’t think that’s fair. We don’t really get to see much of him, & when we do he responds as someone who’s trapped & confused would. It’s for the same reasons that I can’t fault the game for ending on a cliffhanger. It was meant to be part of a series, so not everything’s going to be spelled out at the beginning. So overall, despite the generic overarching plot, the unique features (Altair, Animus, etc) raise the story up above average. Score: 4
Gameplay: As someone once said, “Repetitive gameplay is repetitive.” The tasks leading up to assassinations are all the same. You arrive in the city, go to the Assassin’s Bureau (the DMV for killers, apparently), climb some buildings, eavesdrop or pickpocket some people, maybe save a civilian or two, then head back to the Bureau to start the assassination proper. Repeat eight more times. At least you don’t have to do all the events in the city. You usually only have to do two or three investigations to proceed. Moving on to something more fun, the parkour is well done. The cities are large & running around the rooftops is fun. Climbing to the top of tall buildings just to hurl myself into conveniently placed haystacks is fun. My only real complaint with the parkour is you have to constantly hold down the right trigger & A button, which will cramp your hand up a lot. It would’ve been better with a toggle. I have other complaints as well, which I’m sure people have pointed out before. Why can’t Altair swim? How do guards automatically know I’m an assassin when I’m just standing around? Do I not look pious enough? But the biggest sin this game commits (in my opinion) is claiming to be a stealth game. Sure, you’re an assassin. And you can take out guards with your hidden blade, which is always fun. But your stealth options are limited. You can’t hide in the shadows. You can’t hide in a haystack & pull a guard in as he walks by. You can’t peer around walls. Even your throwing knives have a short range. Half the time you have to fight guards anyways. And while we’re on the subject of combat, I didn’t like that system either. As with the parkour, you have to hold the left trigger to block, access counters & grabs. And since enemies almost always block, combat becomes a long sequences of blocks, counters & grabs until someone die. This could be overlooked had the last memory block not been just combat. Not only combat, but 20 to 1 combat. My poor hand can’t take it — even as I type this it hurts. But as much as I harp on AC’s gameplay, it’s not bad, per se. Everything works. It’s just not as good as it could’ve been. While I don’t want to be penalized for messing stealth up, at least give me more options to go the sneaky route. Score: 3
Visuals & Audio: I really don’t have much to say here. The graphics are nice. Everything seems to have this dirty, grimy look to it, which lends to the aesthetics of the game. Once you’ve gotten rid of the blue cyber walls, the city’s look suitably vast. I like that there are “glitches” during cutscenes where you can zoom in on the action, because sometimes you’re far away & can’t really see what’s going on. I also liked that sometimes there are these cyber symbols floating around characters when you lock on. It’s a minor detail, but it adds to the feel of being inside a machine. I can’t really speak much for the music either, because I didn’t notice too much. There isn’t much music, to be honest. There were only two scores I can comment on. One is that the chase music is suitably upbeat & frantic, getting you in the spirit of running for your life. The other is a random score that has an epic sound that I really liked but couldn’t say what the name of it was. So overall, average. Score: 3
Replayability: Low. Given how often you repeat the same objectives, you probably won’t feel like playing through the whole thing a second time. The only draws to continuing after you’re done is if you’re an obsessive perfectionist & absolutely have to collect all of the flags, or because you can kill bystanders with no penalty. In other words, you can take revenge on the clingy beggar women or lepers who like to push you around. Score: 2
Overall Score: 3
Final Words: It’s hard to properly review a game that’s meant to be a piece of a bigger series, but I will say this: The flaws of this game have not dissuaded me from playing the other games in the series. Especially since they’ve supposedly fixed some of my complaints. So if you haven’t played this yet, rent it.
Title: Assassin’s Creed Console: 360, PS3, PC Rating: M Developer: Ubisoft Montreal Publishers: Ubisoft Release Date: November 13, 2007