Assassin's Creed Review

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Graphics: 8.0
Sound : 6.0
Gameplay : 6.0
Multiplayer : N/A
Overall : 7
Review by Kerim Senkal
Perhaps it was the heightened anticipation, the unbridled eagerness I had before playing this game that lead to my disappointment. After all, it had been quite some time since a game had percolated my interest as much as Assassins Creed. I suppose that when one’s hope is raised so high, one exposes them self to an incredible let down. Unfortunately, the hype preceding the release of Assassins Creed carried me near the heavens, only to be put to sleep in midair. Far from what I expected, and far from being a pleasant surprise, Assassin’s Creed left my eyebrow permanently cocked as it confused from the start.

Actually, an argument could be made to support the idea that this game was designed to thrust you into a world of confusion, in step with the character you embody in the game. At the start, you find yourself in a busy square, well in the past, not quite knowing what to do or where to go. The image is a little blurry and choppy and, as if it were a tutorial, control instructions scroll by on screen, although much too fast to be learned. You stumble through the crowd bumping into people with clumsy control of the character and think, “huh, is this the game?†Then the screen fades further and Desmund Miles awakes from a blurry dream to find himself attached to a machine with scientists observing and discussing just how far they can push him before he, for lack of a better word, dies. Now you realize that this game is not what you expected. Not ridding an ancient world of its scum and tyrants, but rather, attached to a sophisticated machine in the present, or not to distant future, scientist tap into your brain to force you to relive memories of your ancestors that have been locked in your DNA. That’s right, MEMORIES LOCKED IN YOUR DNA! An interesting concept, although completely impossible, but that’s for another discussion , one that might take place in the MIT cafeteria perhaps. So, if you’re keeping score, this game has blown its “big twist†within the first five minutes and started with confusion followed by (at least for me) disappointment, not a tasty cocktail.

As the story begins to unfold, you may have to go shave a few times as it seems to take forever. Long cut scenes both in present and past offer a deluge of information that might leave you pondering whether or not to get up and walk out of the theatre, oh wait, this is a game, not a movie. Someone should have broken the news to developer Ubisoft who seemed very taken by their own cleverness. Yeah, so were the writers of the Sopranos, and fans weren’t at all impressed with that ending. The onslaught of cut scenes with endless and drab dialogue had me groaning and losing interest. Once I had to restart the game because I realized that I wasn’t paying close enough attention. It seemed as though every time a character had a chance to add some dialogue it went on for five minutes and really said nothing except for vague warnings and cloaked references to the main character being tricked or fooled. While on the subject of characters dialogue it brings to mind the confusing choice of voice actor for the main character. Sure, while in the present Desmund Miles is a twenty-something American bartender, but that same character voice didn’t quite flow in the portions taking place in the past. The accent seemed comically out of place and the delivery of the lines were far from inspired.

Initially there is about a 40:60 action to cinemagraphic ratio, and although fully equipped with all weapons and abilities, you have not yet learned how to use them and soon are stripped of most of them, adding to some of the frustration. As times goes on and missions are completed, of course, your weapons and abilities are regained.

As far as the action goes it is a little perplexing, in order for most missions to be done successfully, maintaining stealth is key. A difficult proposition considering the freedom you have to go anywhere, kill anyone and generally slip back into anonymity with ease. The latter is obviously much more fun and exciting. At times I found it more enjoyable to ride into one of the many villages you encounter when traveling from city to city, and dispose of every single guard and soldier in it. Killing one guard in stealth mode would alert all the other guards and initiate an exhilarating chase, which often showcases some of the finer points of Assassin’s Creed. Free-running and climbing are two very agreeable features of the game. Usually if something seems like it can be jumped on or off or scurried up or into, it can. The ease of leaping from roof to roof may seem a little simple but it is very fun at the same time. Especially when considering that persistent guards will not hesitate to follow you up or shoot arrows or throw rocks at you. Climbing is complex but innovative and intuitive and lends to the fantastic vertical aspect of this game, which may be its finest point. Very much like rock climbing you must look ahead to find your next grab or foothold and finesse button and thumbstick to move from grip to grip, as all the architecture is fair game.

Dangling from an overhang and puling yourself up to the highest point of the tallest building will showcase another dazzling feature of the game which is the amazing scenery and visuals. Set in 11th -13th century Middle East during the 3rd crusade many aspects of the game were very well researched and historically accurate up to and including the Hashshashin, the assassin clan of which Altier (the character you are in the past) is a part. Even the nine people Altier is charged to dispatch were all real people who lived in the period and records show had been murdered or mysteriously vanished. The three main cities the game takes place in, Jerusalem, Acre and Damascus are incredibly detailed and marvelously recaptured. If you were able to glimpse into the past and peer out a window into 11th century Jerusalem, you would have to think this is what you’d see.

As for the game itself, it can be quite repetitive and tedious. It consists of basically three parts, traveling to your next destination, Gathering information on your next target and finally, carrying out the assassination. The travel is a bit sluggish, you have two choices most of the time, you can try to move stealthily and assume the look of a scholar which will keep most guards from noticing you, or you can move swiftly and take your chances battling any guards you come across. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Moving stealthily is painfully boring, you just shuffle along through the expansive countryside and one or two villages along the way. It might take an hour if you wanted to go from one city to the next without being noticed at all, not very realistic. As for the other method, while the AI in the game is not very good, the guards are capable of inflicting a good amount of damage and can end you quite easily, especially if there is more than one. So, obviously, the solution is to find a middle ground between stealth and not, but this will usually end up attracting some guards to your presence. Then the chase ensues which is where another fun feature emerges, the ability to escape. It is as easy (or difficult) as changing the line of sight between Altier and his pursuers. This can be achieved by climbing a building, but that will usually not be enough. Some strategically placed objects come in handy here, such as roof top huts or hay bails which you can jump into. You can also sit on certain benches to blend in with the other people sitting there. You hide in one of these spots until the awareness indicator at the top of the screen changes back to white (anonymous) from red (alert). If the indicator is yellow the guards are suspicious of you. Another way to escape your chasers is to jump off a building provided you are able to get high enough without a guard throwing a rock at you and knocking you off. Usually the taller buildings will have a hay bail at the bottom enabling you to perform a “leap of faith†which is an exhilarating swan dive into the hay bail below. The most exciting part of the game is running around killing enemies then trying to escape.

Gathering information about your target has you first climbing all the tallest buildings in the city to survey the area around you and open that area up on your map. It will also reveal where to get your information from, and what kind of gathering you need to perform, be it interrogation, eavesdropping, or pick pocketing. It will also show you where there are groups of scholars you can hide among or use to move into heavily guarded areas, and spots where there is an innocent in trouble. Saving the innocent will usually be rewarded by another group of scholars or a mob ( four guys) who will engage any guards who are after you, not to mention the same three or four phrases of gratitude from each person you save. Once all or enough information is collected, it is off to the local Assassin’s Bureau to get permission to perform your duty in their city. If this sounds like another five minutes of dialogue, you’re right.

Now you set out to kill your target. This is preceded by witnessing another cut scene which will show the wickedness of your target. Then it is a matter of finding your way in and getting close enough to plunge your dagger into them. Then, SURPRISE! As if floating in limbo, perhaps between our world and the hereafter, the person you’ve just killed sets out on a dissertation about how they really weren’t as bad as you were lead to believe and that there is some great conspiracy in which you are the pawn. Oh, but if only it were put that succinctly. At times you might think Shakespeare would be overwhelmed by the writing. Stealth is almost never upheld as the target will almost certainly be alerted to your presence as soon as you get near them, so, after you kill them, its off to the races once again. This time the alertness is city wide so it takes a little more maneuvering to return to anonymity, which is necessary for you to return to the Assassin’s Bureau to notify them of your success. Missions, as one might expect are simple in the beginning and get more involved as the game goes on

Controlling the character is likened to a puppeteer rigging, where each button controls part of the body. Pressing the head button (Y) will cause Altier to look around or listen. While strikes are engaged by pressing the right or weapon hand button, and running or jumping is done with the (A) legs button. Offensive moves like sword strikes or punches require holding the RT to engage high profile mode. Low profile mode enables you to move unnoticed, perform stealth kills, and use the gentle push feature. This was something that gave me a few giggles. Moving through a crowd in low profile mode, by pressing gentle push, Altier will recognize other people close to him and put his hands on them and inconspicuously move them aside as he turns his body to slink through the crowd. It was funny because you can do this to guards but, because you’re in low profile mode, it won’t raise their alarm. So you can walk amongst a group of guards pushing them in circles and making them look really silly. Maybe I’m the only one who finds that amusing, but, I did.

Anyhow, the fighting mechanics are slow to get the hang of. It is very much like fencing where your opponents attack becomes a part of your offense. You must learn the rhythm of the deadly dance, and wait for your chance to counter a strike and go on the offensive. A little bit tricky to master but once you do fighting is little more than pressing one button. There are really no special moves to master in the entire game. Although, a well timed counter will be rewarded with an acrobatic and thrilling kill, usually viewed at a different angle. With that said mostly all of the controls are very simple. One button to fight, one button to climb, one button to run and jump. I suppose the difficulty in this game is actually sitting through all the cut scenes.

Summarizing, Assassin’s Creed had so much potential, but seems to have out thought itself. The way the story unfolds is frustrating and confusing. While breathtaking to behold, gameplay takes a sideseat to exploring and inciting fights with guards and escaping. The repetition and lack of inspiring tasks makes the game more of a toil then a joy, and when coupled with the agonizingly dreary and maddeningly frequent cut scenes. Assassin’s Creed falls short of living up to the hype. It did however seem to set itself up for a sequel. Perhaps Ubisoft can up the action quotient and tear up the prescription for cinemagraphic sleeping pills.