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Game: Assassin’s Creed
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Year: 2008
Reviewed: 2008
Platform: PC
Genre: Third Person Action/Stealth/Thingy
Reviewed: ValkyrDeath

It’s quite rare to discover a game that has a genuinely unusual setting or premise rather than the few genres that most games seem to fall into. It’s also rare to find a game that has unique gameplay and isn’t just another first person shooter or some similar genre. So it’s great when a game like Assassin’s Creed comes along and actually does both. Setting it during the Crusades makes for a game that genuinely feels different, (although there are some science fiction elements present in the game). The gameplay does take elements from several different genres, but it combines them in a way to make something that’s completely new.

Assassin’s Creed tells the story of Altair. Rather unsurprisingly, given the title, Altair is an assassin. During the course of the game, he is sent to assassinate various targets around three different cities. So it is quite strange when you first load up the game and are greeted with a rather futuristic looking setting. It seems a guy named Desmond, a distant descendant of Altair, has been kidnapped by a weird group of people from a big corporation. The idea is that the memories of people’s ancestors have been passed down via DNA, and a machine, known as the animus, has been developed that allows these genetic memories to be replayed. Exactly why they’re doing this to Desmond is something that is revealed throughout the course of the game.

Assassin's Creed Acrophobia
Attempts to cure acrophobia were rather harsh in those days.

As mentioned, the gameplay mostly consists of being assigned a target and then heading off to conduct the assassination. If there’s a flaw to the game, it’s the fact that these are quite methodical, with each assassination following the same basic pattern. The first thing you need to do when you enter a city is to find a high structure to climb in order to get a good view of the area. From here you spot various possible investigations that you can carry out. For each assassination there are six possible investigations, but you only have to do two or three of them each time, although you can do more if you so wish. It’s a good job that you don’t have to do all the investigations, because towards the end of the game these can start to get repetitive, due to the fact that each of them is one of a small number of different types. The basic investigation types are eavesdropping, pickpocketing and interrogation. Eavesdropping is completely straightforward, merely involving finding a bench close to the target and sitting and listening to discover information. Pickpocketing has you follow someone and attempt to pick their pocket when their attention isn’t on you. Interrogation is pretty much just following someone until they get away from guards and then beating them up until they’ll tell you what you want to know. The PC version has a few more types of investigation that weren’t in the original version though, such as stealthily assassinating archers from rooftops, or destroying merchant stands. These do add a bit of variety, but the investigations could still do with being a bit more varied. As mentioned though, the fact that you don’t have to do them all balances this.

The actual assassinations are far more interesting than the investigations which precede them. In several of these you will have some choice as to how you approach it, whether you want to charge in fighting and confront all the guards or keep a low profile and stealthily assassinate the target before running away at high speed to evade capture. And thanks to the mechanics of the game, either of these is a perfectly valid option. While it doesn’t seem in character to get into huge battles at every assassination, it’s certainly possible with the well designed combat system. Meanwhile, moving slowly and not doing anything to draw attention to yourself will usually give you plenty of opportunity to get close to your target without any suspicion.

The sword fighting in Assassin’s Creed is actually implemented more thoroughly than in most pure combat games. It manages to completely avoid the usual button mashing problems by using a more realistic timing based combat system. For instance, if you manage to time your attack just as the enemy is swinging their sword at you, you’ll perform a (usually fatal) counter attack. This sort of system makes the combat feel more dynamic and much more in your control. Of course, running away is usually also an option, and it’s these chases that provide some of the best action in the game. Whether it’s every guard in the city chasing you down after you’ve finished the assassination, or just the nearby guards who have noticed you after you’ve drawn attention to yourself by accidentally bumping into someone in the streets, you’ll quickly be entering high profile mode and running down the streets. There’s various ways to evade them, but the first thing you have to do is get out of their line of sight. Then you can avoid them by losing yourself in a group of people, sitting with someone else on a bench, diving into a haystack or any of several other hiding places.

The most fun is when you climb a building and take off across the rooftops, jumping from building to building to escape your pursuers.  Climbing and jumping are both made effortless in the game, taking some of the acrobatic style of the Prince of Persia games but removing the need to judge the jumps perfectly, as Altair will take care of that for you. Since there’s a lot of jumping involved, it makes sense and means you don’t have to worry about falling off the buildings every ten seconds, especially as, even in a computer simulation, Altair doesn’t have the Prince’s power to rewind time. The city layouts are also very well designed so that you can find places to practice your acrobatics everywhere you go.

Assassin's Creed View
You can see for miles, and there’s not even a sewer level in sight! Hooray!

The graphics are also some of the best around in any game. The cities look stunning, while all of the character models look incredibly realistic, with some of the smoothest movement animations I’ve ever seen. The cities also seem alive with a great many people wandering the streets. It actually feels crowded, rather than the usual five or six people who usually constitute the citizens of cities in most games. The immersiveness of the environments is also helped by the sound effects. Voices are everywhere, giving a realistic background noise to the city, as well as the general sound effects being of a high quality and the voice acting being first rate.

 So the game is very good, but it’s not completely flawless, so I’ll have to mention some of the flaws here. Firstly, there’s that common annoyance, the unskippable cutscene. The cutscenes actually keep you in some control of Altair, so you can move around in a small area, and while this interaction is welcome in some ways, it also means there’s no way to just hit a key to skip the scene, since it’s happening in-game. You’re always blocked off by a dense crowd to keep you from getting too close to the characters you’re watching, meaning you’re stuck sitting through the cutscene, which is fine the first time, but tedious if you’re replaying the game soon after. You’d think that in a game where you’re often getting a message telling you that it’s fast forwarding to a more recent memory, they’d have the perfect way of actually integrating the skipping of cutscenes into the game, but unfortunately they didn’t bother. It’s especially annoying when, after an assassination, you have to go through a lengthy discussion with the victim before they die.

Then there’s the last section of the game, which suddenly forces you into a long linear section of fights from which you can’t run. Suddenly you’re forced to use combat when through most of the game it’s been a choice. Too many games seem to think you can’t have a proper game ending unless it involves lots of fighting, even when that’s not the style of the game, and it’s one of those things that really annoys me. If it’s a game about being an assassin, the ending of the game should be fitting to that, and not to something that seems to have come straight out of a fighting game.

One final annoyance, and it’s a very silly one, is how long it takes to exit the game. You go to the menu and choose exit, but it turns out that just exits the memory that you’re reliving at the moment and takes you back to the animus menu. Clicking exit there takes you back into the modern world section of the game. From there you can go to the menu and choose exit…at which point it takes you back to the main menu of the game as if you’d just loaded it up. Then you can click exit again and finally get out of the game. Surely they could have put a direct quit feature from the menu. If I’m quitting from the current memory, then it’s almost certain I’ll want to quit the game, since it’s not like there’s anything to do in the “real world” section of the game until you’ve finished the current memory segment anyway.

To end on a positive note, the game is a good length. It should take around 15 – 20 hours to complete, and could last a lot longer if you choose to do all the investigations, collect all flags in the various regions and kill all the Templars scattered around the world, all of which are optional side missions in the game. Assassin’s Creed might have some problems, and there was definitely potential for it to be a better game than it ended up as, but it’s still an enjoyable and original game, as long as you can live with its flaws.

Save System Review: There’s no manual save, but the game saves automatically every time you achieve anything, so you never lose any progress. This is fine for nearly the whole game, and only goes wrong in the final linear fighting section. If you quit the game during that, you’re sent right back to the start of the section. But it’s only one small section of the game, so mostly it’s ok.
Graphics: Some of the best graphics of any game, with high quality character models and amazing looking environments, along with some of the most realistic movement animations around.
Sound: Good voice acting and sound effects help to make the game a more immersive experience.
Bugs: The game is forced into widescreen with black borders if you don’t have a widescreen monitor, but it’s not a major problem. In fact, I didn’t even notice it until I took screenshots.
Gameplay: Brilliant and unusual gameplay, let down only by the repetitive nature of the investigations, although some new investigation types help to compensate for this in the PC version.
Storyline: The game has a reasonable storyline, although nothing too spectacular, but it does have some intriguing aspects to it that keep you wanting to know what is going on.

Arbitrary Final Score: 3 stars

Should Altair have been left in the animus? Would you like to go back in time to before you played this game? Discuss Assassin's Creed on our forum.