Assassin’s Creed Review
Crusading in the Cause of Bad Assery!
Let me be blunt, Assassin’s Creed is not a stealth game. Assassin’s Creed is a bad ass simulator. And by bad ass simulator, I don’t mean that it’s a simulator that is sweet as hell (although it clearly is simply due to the nature of that which it seeks to simulate); I mean that it simulates the experience of being a total bad ass.
You play the role of Altair, a too cool for school first-class assassin extraordinaire. Unfortunately, his rebellious shenanigans quickly get the best of him, and after horribly botching a mission by giving the creed a heavy-handed bitch slap, Altair finds himself demoted to the level of a new recruit. Altair then spends the rest of the game trying to return to his former position as a high-ranking member of the assassin’s brotherhood by assassinating 9 key individuals.
The game also has a second, very distinctive setting and lead character. Although the idea of having a play with in a play seems to be rather common, I believe this is the first time a game has told a story within a story before. You also play as Desmond, a current day bartender who has been kidnapped by a mysterious corporation. The corporation uses Desmond’s “genetic memory” (an old crackpot scientific theory that attempts to explain how birds know where to fly every summer for migration and other similar instincts) to relive important events in the life of Desmond’s ancestor, Altair, in order to find the location of a certain item. The modern day portion of the game seems awkward at first and plays like a simple adventure game with wonky controls, but as the game progresses, Desmond’s discussions with corporate entities and the subversive feeling that comes from sneaking out and hacking into computer terminals really give the game’s story a sense of scope and help accentuate the importance of Altair’s actions in the past.
Speaking of which, the game’s story is definitely one of its strongest points. Altair struggles with the moral ambiguity of his actions, constantly being faced with opposing views on the justification of his assassinations. As Altair gleans more and more enigmatic clues from his target’s dying words, he loses certainty in the righteousness of his master and his mission. By the end of the game, it is clear that Altair has had a maturation of character and the somewhat predictable twist at the end still manages to create an exciting and dramatic ending that most certainly delivers.
The mission structure in Assassin’s Creed plays a vital role in defining the look and feel of the game. Before Altair attempts to assassinate a target he must first gather information about the target. This follows a distinctive formula. When Altair arrives in a city district for the first time, he must find a very tall building to climb to the top of. From here, Altair can see other lookout points that he can climb to the top of. When Altair climbs a lookout point, he scouts out the area surrounding it and picks out various areas of interest. These areas include citizens being abused by guards, brotherhood informants, and people you can get information from through pick pocketing, interrogation, or eavesdropping. Once Altair acquires a certain amount of information, he can attempt his assassination. This style of mission structure takes full advantage of Assassin’s Creed’s open-world environments and makes sure that there are no empty, un-used, un-explored spaces in the world. Also having to lay the groundwork for each of your assassinations really draws you into the world and makes you feel more like an assassin. Finally, it gives each mission a natural build-up to a dramatic climax when it finally comes time to strike your target.
The core game play elements of Assassin’s Creed succeed tremendously. Key to the experience is Altair’s ability to parkour, or free-run. Altair is able to effortlessly leap from rooftop to rooftop, grasp small ledges, land on slender poles with pin-point accuracy, and make daring leaps of faith in a very intuitive fashion. You simply hold down right trigger and the A button and point yourself in the direction you want to fly. It feels very natural and to put it to the test I gave my room mate Paul the controls to try it out. To Paul, the Xbox 360 controller is a foreign instrument and feels about as natural in his hands as a pair of nunchaku or a 6-foot long surgical scalpel. Despite this, in about 5 minutes Paul was soaring over the rooftops of Damascus like he had been doing it his whole life. The whole experience of free-running in Assassin’s Creed simply feels natural. Occasionally, it does meet with small glitches and hang-ups however that feel like smacking into a brick wall and it completely kills the sense of flow. These are rare enough to be forgivable however and you learn to account for them as you play.
The other core game play element is the game’s combat. You will wind up doing a lot of at least one of two things in Assassin’s Creed, no matter how stealthy you try to be, and that is running or fighting. As I said before, this is not a stealth game, and the game makes this quite clear as it always puts the city on full alert when you kill your target and you make your escape. Every guard and his grandmother recognizes you when the city is on alert and even if you do evade and outrun the guards, unless you’re right by the assassin’s headquarters in the city, they’ll be right back on you after you take two steps away from your hiding spot. Eventually near the end of the game, the final climax even tosses the whole idea of stealth out the window and forces you to fight huge waves of soldiers. All this is fine however, because the combat in this game makes you feel unstoppable, so much in fact that a lot of times you won’t even feel like bothering with trying to evade the guards because of how easy it is to kill them. The combat relies on timed button presses and counters. If an opponent attempts to strike you while you are in a defensive stance, even if it’s from behind, you simply press the x button and Altair pulls off a quick, stylish, and sometimes brutal looking counter. When on the offensive, you time you’re x button presses as your sword collides with the enemy until you eventually pull off a combo kill where the camera angle changes to one more dramatic as Altair does some kind of quick killing animation. When you pull off a kill, it is usually accompanied with interesting camera cuts and a brutal quick animation that doesn’t interrupt the flow and really gives the combat a sometimes cringe-inducing sense of violence. It is beautifully designed as it is simple enough that anyone can feel like a bad ass but complicated enough to keep you feeling engaged.
The game only has two real drawbacks. The most obvious one is that you can not skip cut scenes. The cut scenes are fine and interesting the first time you see them but if you fail a mission and have to retry it, they make you sit through the same 5 minute cut scene again. This quickly becomes tedious and is at its worse when trying to replay different levels in the game as you have to sit through the whole level introduction and all the intermittent cut scenes as you replay the level. Thankfully, if you fail some missions a few times it gives you a quicker more condensed form of the conversation but this is such a basic and simple feature and is such an annoyance that there really is no excuse for its exclusion. The other issue with the game is that once you’ve completed it, there simply isn’t much left to do. There aren’t that many optional citizens to save and once you have saved all of them, that’s it. There are also flags hidden about the cities but it isn’t really all that interesting hunting them down and it just feels tacked on.
Aside from these minor drawbacks, Assassin’s Creed is an excellent experience and well worth $18. It is a fantastic single-player adventure with a remarkable story and makes for damn good gaming on the cheap.
Is this game worth 18$? HELL YEA! Rating: A!