Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Platform: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC
Genre: Third-person, Stealth, Action
Release Date: November 13th, 2007 (Xbox 360 & PS3); April 8th, 2008 (PC)
Ubisoft Montreal brings us Assassin's Creed, historical fiction at it's best. Though plagued by various problems Assassin's Creed tries to bring something unique and breathtaking to the table. Only time (and my review) will tell if they succeeded!
The game begins with Desmond Miles, a 20-something bartender, finding himself kidnapped by the multi-national pharmaceutical conglomerate Abstergo. There is immediately more to Desmond than his unconfident demeanor would suggest. In truth Desmond is an assassin, or would have been before he ran away before his training to seek a life of normalcy. Desmond is forced by Abstergo to use the Animus, a machine that allows subjects to relive the pasts of their ancestors through the decoding of genetic memories. All for some information Abstergo believes is buried in Desmond's DNA. Unfortunately due to Desmond's inability to access the information directly, he must relive the past leading up to this crucial memory Abstergo wants so badly.
Alta´r Ibn La'Ahad, one of Desmond's ancestors, is an assassin living in Masyaf in 1191. The Third Crusade, led by King Richard the Lionheart, is in full swing and cities like Jerusalem, Damascus, and Acre have heavy Crusader presence. Alta´r through arrogance and rashness compromises an important mission to obtain an unknown artifact from Templar clutches. During the mission Alta´r attempts to kill Robert de Sable, leader of the Knight's Templar, but is forced to retreat leaving his comrades behind. Upon reporting his failure to his master Al Mualim, Alta´r is stripped of his weapons and his rank. To redeem himself he is tasked with nine assassinations, each one restoring some of his weapons and rank within the brotherhood.
Assassin's Creed is a good example of what I like to call prioritizing. Alta´r and Desmond are rendered superbly though 99% of the game's other characters and facial models are mediocre at best. Even Lucy Stillman, an Abstergo employee modeled and voiced by Kirsten Bell, looks like Sarah Marshall with a bad plastic surgery job.
And while graphics are hardly the focus of this game it should be noted that substantially larger attention was paid to the locations. For a history buff such as myself it was amazing to research the cities in the game as they were in 1191 and see Ubisoft Montreal nail it. Seeing the ruins of the fortress at Masyaf and walking in and out of it as you progress through the game is truly a wondrous experience. Great detail was paid to these locations and each is beautifully transplanted into the game straight from the pages of one of histories most tumultuous times.
The Sound in Assassin's Creed is great on the whole. Character voice acting is great, and the sound effects are clean and well recorded. My only complaint is the lack of original dialogue for non-player characters. Many of the citizens of various cities will all take notice of Alta´r's actions and comment on them. The problem with this is there seems to be only 3 different comments these NPCs can make and at the frequency you hear them it gets old fast.
As for the music I have to say hearing the very adventurous Middle Eastern inspired songs remind me of some of the music in Raiders of the Lost Arc (which is hilarious because the Arc appears in the game!). The music is all regional fair and is every bit as exotic and exciting as the game play can be.
In Assassin's Creed you will spend most of your time in the Animus playing as Alta´r. The nine assassinations he undertakes creates a cycle in the game that unfortunately tends to wear on the player. Before a mark may be killed Alta´r must move through the city completing sub missions that gather information and confirm the targets guilt.
Unfortunately there is no real bonus for going through the time to complete all of these tasks. I thought the better my information, the easier my assassination would be but the game simply isn't that intuitive. In fact your only real reward for seeking all the information is a single hash mark toward a new bar for your synchronization bar. Something easily obtained by doing nearly everything else in the game. I'm normally a completionist but due to the extreme repetitiveness of these sub missions I would recommend completing only the minimum amount necessary to get on to the real fun. Trust me, it'll save you from being burnt out halfway through the game.
Once the sub missions are out of the way it's time for the assassination! The assassinations are truly the heart and soul of the game. Each mark is a challenge in their own way so you are always kept on your toes. The adrenaline-packed antics as you jump from boat to boat to assassinate the leader of the Knights Teutonic, a deranged doctor in a Hospitalier fortress, or a paranoid book-burning scholar really make the game worthwhile. Above all else the diversity of assassinations make you forget how dry and repetitive the sub missions are.
As the name would suggest the creed by which assassins live plays a big part in the game. Although you have the freedom to kill or hurt anyone on the streets doing so will decrease your synchronization with Alta´r. This can be difficult to resist at certain times when beggars or mental patients get in your way harassing you. Your synchronization with Alta´r serves as your health bar and is also reduced from falling long distances and taking damage from attacks. Synch can be restored by following the creed; remaining low key and not harming innocents.
One thing about the game that is troubling is the controls. Often when trying to climb a wall or simply turn Alta´r didn't want to do what I would tell him to. This unfortunate difficulty controlling the character makes him feel clunky and obtuse. Be wary of accidentally jumping from high places and getting stuck on walls and corners as well.
Combat is thankfully much more fluid and user friendly. Because of this fights against as many as 10 guards at once are situations you can skillfully fight your way through. Blocking is intuitive and will automatically deflect attacks from any direction as long as the button is held. And true to an assassinĺs skills the game has counter-kill and combo-kill mechanics. These are a must for combat and once mastered will easily allow you to fight any number of enemies. Dodges and counter-grabs are also possible allowing a very wide range of responses for different situations.
A very surprising aspect of combat I love is the morale system. When fighting large groups of enemies, watching friends and comrades die around them will cause guards to become demoralized. Some will throw up or gag and some will even run in fear. Getting hit however will reinforce their will and they will become tougher to counter or attack.
Of the weapons you receive, the hidden blade, the sword, and the dagger will be your main focus.
- The hidden blade is of course used for stealth assassinations and can be used even while hanging above a target or running. The hidden blade is completely ineffective against in a straight fight though, as it is parried easily.
- The sword is capable of power strikes that can break a defending enemies guard, as well as combo kills that can be performed by timed strikes or counter kills which can be preformed by pressing the counter button as an enemy is about to strike you.
- The dagger, once unlocked is a much faster weapon that allows for easier counter kills and combo kills, but otherwise is weaker and takes more hits to kill an enemy.
Also unlockable are throwing knives. These will allow you to kill from a distance but be careful because they're limited and you must replenish them by pick pocketing brigands around town.
In between assassinations and missions is of course travel. Seeing as how the year is 1191 there's obviously nothing available aside from horses and your own feet. After traveling over the "Kingdom" to your destination once though, you can choose to fast travel to any destination you've been to before. The only reason for not doing so is to try to find view points (used for revealing new areas on the map), flags, and Templars in the Kingdom. Finding Templars in all areas and each flag in each area will net you an achievement/trophy but not much else.
Unfortunately the game lacks the ability to return to the Animus once the story has been completed. Not to mention the game only allows one save file per storage device so starting a new game will overwrite any previous save data you may have. However, other than flag collecting, the only reason to jump back into the game is for the story so perhaps these drawbacks aren't such a big deal in the grand scheme of things.
Assassin's Creed is a great game despite its problems. Ubisoft Montreal provides an exciting conspiracy ridden romp through the pages of history. Delightfully, many of the characters are historical figures and although liberties are taken with them to fit them properly into the story, their inclusion adds to the depth of the gameĺs superb story. If the ending of the game doesn't leave you wanting more I don't know what will. Despite any negative criticism you've heard from anyone (including me) I do highly recommend this game to anyone who enjoys a stellar historical fiction plot or brutally fun stealth based action game.