Again, probably too late for anyone to really care about the review, but still worth doing I think. The version of Assassin’s Creed that I am reviewing is the collector’s edition for the Xbox360. This is the tall box version that came with the figurine.
We’re suckers, so we bought the collector’s edition. In this edition you get a nice tall box that you feel bad about throwing away, a six inch or so plastic figurine and… that’s it. *rattles the box, turns it upside down* yes… that’s all you get. No art book, no strategy guide or hint booklet. Just the plastic figurine. They didn’t exactly go all out. To make matters even more annoying they’ve plastered a ‘not for resale’ tag across the front of the game box so you can’t even trade in the game. After the wonderfulness of the Bioshock collector’s edition this was… a little aggravating. If you’re going to have a special edition and charge that much more for it you should really push the boat out a little and this just wasn’t the case with Assassin’s Creed.As to the figure itself, it is lightweight and very plastic, lacking detail and lacking much in the way of close detail. It simply doesn’t look or feel as expensive and worthwhile as the Bioshock Big Daddy figurine and now languishes on our mantlepiece, an unloved white blob. Frankly I feel a little ripped off.
In the game you take the part of the young and ambitious assassin
Altaïr (Al-Tay-Ear) who chafes at the constriction of his order and competetively tries to outdo the other assassins. At the start of the game this leads to an inevitable balls-up which leads to Altaïr being stripped of his rank and weapons, effectively busted back down to private and having to prove his worth all over again (basically introducing an advancement mechanic where your weapons choices are expanded and improved as you complete your missions.You ALSO take on the role of Desmond Miles, a bartender in 2012 he is the descendent of Altaïr and a former member of the modern assassins, sharing a rebellious streak with his ancestor that led to his leaving the group. Now he has fallen into the hands of the modern mirror of the Templars who are using him in some peculiar experiment.
It works like this. The kidnapped Desmond gets strapped down into a machine called the Animus. This is an advanced virtuality suite and genetic scanner which extracts genetic memories from the subject and extrapolates them into complex and involving virtual scenarios which the subject then steers through to unlock and confirm the memories. The Templars are using this machine to unlock memories about Altaïr from the time of the Third Crusade and to confirm information about their own past.
While Desmond chafes against his confinement and tries to find a way to escape he dives into Altaïr’s memories over and over, finding out more about himself, the Assassins, the Templars and the mysterious artefact that they are fighting over all the while unfolding a storyline which is basically about order and chaos, personal choice versus being protected and looked out for.
The storyline unfolds through these memory dives as Altaïr tries to regain his honour and his rank by assassinating various figures in the Middle East of the 1100s. In between these missions you emerge from the machine and spend brief periods as Desmond, uncovering what is going on in the modern part of the game and the correlation with the past.
The game is, for the most part, extremely atmospheric. The use of distortion effects gives it a washed out, cinematic and desert look which fits the setting and you are surrounded by the sights and sounds of the medieval middle eastern towns as they go about their business. You can also run, climb and jump just about anywhere which gives an amazing feeling of freedom as liberating as playing Grand Theft Auto III for the first time.
There are only a few things marring this atmospheric masterpiece.
1. Voices: The voice acting outside of the major characters is quite limited and so you get a hell of a lot of repetition from the inhabitants of the city. After you hear ‘What is that man doing?’ for the bajillionth time you start wishing for a button you could mash that makes your character scream ‘Climbing a fucking wall, what does it look like you dozy bitch?’. Alas, there isn’t one. I looked.
2. Repetition: There isn’t enough variety in the sub-missions that lead up to the assassination. I don’t think this is as major a beef as many other reviewers have said but a bit more variety and difference in approach to the missions would be extremely welcome as in long playing sessions especially it can start to feel a little robotic and detracts from the game.
3. Flag-gathering Missions: Pretty much all the other sub-missions fit the world and the idea, eavesdropping to hear information, saving citizens from being beaten up by guards or killing a few people and so on. One mission type however is a complete bust. You meet an Assassin agent who, oopsie daisy, has scattered collectable flags in a perfect race circuit around the streets and rooftops nearby and could you possibly see your way clear to grabbing them in the next three minutes? PAH! PAH I SAY! Get your own flags you dozy prick, I’m not running a le parkour race to pick up your litter.
Standard console type controls for the most part, push forward you go forward and so on. You can also sprint or walk, sprinting draws attention and gets you stabbed up by guards quite often while walking slowly gives you a ‘low profile’ and lets you hide more easily amongst the crowds.
Movement is pretty much completely free, you can run, jump, dive of buildings into straw and otherwise free-run just about where you like. What caught us by surprise though was thatAltaïr can’t swim for toffee and appears to react to water in much the same way Dracula does to sunlight. That our invulnerable assassin virtually exploded on contact with a bit of moisture was laughable, then aggravating.
Combat is where Assassin’s Creed really shines. Combat itself is a fairly simple button-mashing affair with a bit of timing and manoeuvring thrown in but what makes the real difference is the sheer variety of moves that you can pull. While you’re doing the same sorts of button-mashing, parry/dodge/stab button presses Altaïr is whirling around like a mad thing, stabbing people in the top of the head, running them through with his sword and performing an acrobatic display of cinematic death-dealing that seems to have a virtually bottomless well of different moves that keep what’s happening on screen fresh and interesting. Other games, particularly MMOs where you spend so much time fighting, could do with learning from Assassin’s Creed on this score. Variety is the spice of life.
Stealth is obviously an important issue and the guards can be a bit touchy, especially after you’ve just killed someone important, and come after you for so much as ‘walkin’ kinda funny’. Fortunately you have several abilities to deal with this, walking at a snail’s pace and impersonating a religious scholar is one way, as is hiding amongst them. You can befriend locals and they can hold off guards while you make your escape, or you could hide in a hay bale until the fuss dies down. Alternatively you could slaughter all the people chasing after you are run hell-for-leather across the rooftops to escape pursuit and if you have to kick a few guards down into the street to break their bones, who’s complaining?
Each mission follows pretty much the same format, which has bored some reviewers but which I don’t think is too much of a drawback. You get your mission, travel overland to the destination on horseback, climb to the high ground to scout things out, visit the local honcho of the Assassin’s, gather information and then strike the target. Yes, it’s a bit repetitive but that isn’t the game killing issue that many have made it out to be.
Occasionally in long sessions the game would unaccountably slow down and start to get all juddery, skipping from frame to frame like a ‘what the butler saw’ machine. This would usually sort itself out within a few minutes but would sometimes require the restarting of the console. This isn’t a game killer but it’s damn aggravating when you’re in the middle of an assassination.
Assassin’s Creed is a great game but lacks replay value and could have done with a little more variety and polish on some aspects. Still, the game world and story are excellent and the freedom of movement (water aside) and the ‘living’ nature of the towns you visit push this over the top into being an extremely stylish and worthwhile game.