Making its debut in trailer form at E3 2006, Assassin’s Creed claimed it was going to give stealth gaming a face-lift. By moving away from traditional mechanics and into an area that was unexplored. In this way, Ubisoft promoted Assassin’s as being the one game that would give the industry a well earned make-over. But, much like Michael Jackson’s face, things start to fall apart.
The story of Assassin’s Creed is simple at first, you are Altair, a member of the Hashshashin during the crusades, a group of assassin’s who target specific people threatening their interests. You are tasked with killing nine people who are corrupting the land. That is simply the bare bones of the games opening, but there is a lot more depth to the story. What unfolds is a plot containing more mystery, ignorance and uncertainty than a young boy in puberty. This leads to the story becoming very convolted by its own secrecy, and its no secret that Assassin’s Creed has some sci-fi elements to it, a twist that is sadly spoiled within the first few minutes. However the overall narrative has some enjoyable twists to it and most people may or may not enjoy its constant teasing.
One of the main appeals of Assassin’s is exploring the different cities, here the development team spent a considerable amount of time making the cities historically accurate. Once you get inside either Jerusalem, Damascus or Acre, you can use any texture that Is two inch’s or more to scale buildings and reach the top. With this being one of the more distinctive aspects of the title, it definitely works the best too. Reaching the top of a church tower and looking over the city is quite impressive. But once you get to the ‘leap of faith’ any kind of accuracy or realism goes out the window. Jumping into a pile of hay yet alone falling ten floors into one, has always been the assassin’s immediate response when he needs somewhere to hide. In fact, its still utilised today, with veteran contractors leaving a pile of hay just next to their sniping spots for easy access. This makes part of the game somewhat laughable as it shows no signs of innovation or common sense.
Juvenile hiding spots would be more forgiving if the people wandering the cities weren’t complete morons. Killing somebody in the streets can go completely unnoticed by citizens or guards. Climbing up a building comes with virtually no risk as not even the city soldiers will try to stop you. And wandering the rooftops (where you’re apparently not allowed to be) is an easy game of hide and seek as any guard that spots you will quickly forget about your presence once you hide around a corner. Here the social stealth system that Assassin’s Creed introduced doesn’t feel as fleshed out as it could be. The mechanic is either too lenient or too strict as alarms can sometimes be set off for no reason, and your left wondering what you did wrong. It’s a good idea but simply wasn’t executed properly.
When you do find your cover blown, the best option is often to fight you way out, and this is where the game shows its brighter colours. Rather than being a hack n’ slash affair leaving you with a pulverized square button, combat forces you to stay in tune with your enemies sword attacks. Countering an opponents blade at the right time will allow you to dispose of them in the most efficient way, as opposed to you making the first move which leaves you open for a strike. This makes combat generally enjoyable and it becomes harder to counter an opponents technique the further you go into the game, and a broad use of killing animations prevent the combat from becoming stale.
Thankfully, Assassin’s Creed isn’t a complete failure visually either, but is still fundamentally flawed. When the game is motionless everything looks nice; the character models stand out, the lighting effects and shadows don’t disappoint, but when you get Altair moving, you realise there are some obvious faults. Frame-rate chugs are a common occurrence, especially in moments of action, even when your jumping. Screen-tearing is a constant annoyance and does a good job of taking you out of the experience, and multiple glitches make NPC’s do things that only your mates would do when their hammered. There’s really no excuse for these and should have been ironed out before release.
However the biggest gripe I have with Assassin’s Creed is the investigation quests. Before you kill each target, you have to study up on them. Eavesdropping, interrogations, informants and pick pocketing are activities that you’ll become more than familiar with by the end. However this level of familiarity is unwanted, because your forced to do the same tasks numerous times before each assassination, it becomes boringly tedious, to the point where the game places you in a spiraling routine not unlike ground-hog day. Often I would find myself dazing off, thinking about chasing buffalo with a frying pan. Why? Who knows? But it was more fun than this.
The tiresome gameplay doesn’t help the longevity of the title either. Your looking at a twelve hour adventure, and that’s if you have the self-discipline to finish it. There are 200+ flags to collect around the game’s world, but that’s even more mundane than the unevolving main quest.
Assassin’s Creed certainly isn’t the game most people thought it would be, and falls short on many of its promises. By no means is it a horrible game, but its definitely not a great game either. The exploration and combat both succeed, but the repetitive investigation quests are a real burden to the games overall fun factor. If you’re a casual gamer, then there’s nothing stopping you from getting it, but if you’re a stealth fan or a hardcore gamer then your mula would be much better spent on something like Metal Gear Solid 4. As for me, I’m going to sulk in disappointment inside my conveniently placed hay stack.