The curtain rises, a lone eagle gives out a plaintive cry. A crowd bustles about a busy scene of execution. A demogogue rants. The newest title from Ubisoft dives into this world, examining a fictional history detailing the Third Crusades. Assassin's Creed, billed as an action adventure, mostly lives up to its potential if not entirely all of the promises of its hypemachine. Graphics and gameplay mostly carry this title about the life and times of arrogant assassin Altair, about whom the game is centered.
A slice of heaven
The graphics are the first thing that grab you about AC. The beginning rendered cutscenes are fluid poetry, small moments of slick stealth action that draw you forwards vicariously into the slightly less stellar, but still impressive game engine. The graphics are good and the designers know it, often showing money shots of their handiwork as you unlock viewpoints, places of high terrain from which a selection of different objectives can be revealed. Cloth moves in a convincing fashion and so does Altair, who raises the bar by looking cool and competent even while hanging from a small wooden peg on a wall. Crowds are convincing enough, though after awhile they blur into a string of 'peasant' 'peasant' 'guard' "Oh, look a beggar."
Oh, the beggars...
But that is a rant best saved for later. Suffice it to say, AC looks good and didn't skimp on the details. Hay trails from Altair as he emerges unscathed from a hundred foot drop into a hay pile. Clouds pass over the sun, briefly darkening the scene. Smoke trails from war torn quarters of a city. A few clipping issues and a general uniformity to the city districts prevents perfection, but it's a near miss.
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Assassin's Creed Screenshot (PS3)© Ubisoft
Ubisoft kept the inner secrets of the title under tight wraps, but seconds into the introduction you will be swiftly inducted into the mystery. Over the course of the game, a little more of the story will be peeled back to reveal a larger context. These elements usually come at well paced intervals, and are no great drawback from the main action.
The main action can be broken down into three areas. Killing things, sneaking around learning stuff, and going places. The combat mechanic is the gem of the system, mixing cinematic camera angles and intuitive context sensitive buttons. Battles are fast paced and a joy to watch in action.
However, the AI wobbles wildly unable to decide whether to be smart or stupid. The camera in small spaces will also give a bevy of difficulties, resulting in many instances in which combat continues while staring at a potted plant, or the corner of a building. The game encourages stealth in the beginning whether drawing the attention of too many guards leads swiftly to being kicked back to the last checkpoint, but once counter kill and some of the other abilities are restored, combat becomes almost too easy provided a modicum of skill. The only real point of contention is the voice acting.
It's good, but doesn't do enough to vary some of it's lesser bit parts. Before the end, you'll hear "Please sir, can I have some money" or "I'll teach you not to steal." in your sleep. The beggars are a perpetual thorn in the sides during the city segments, and nothing useful can be done with them save throwing them about for entertainment.
Nothing is true, everything is repetitive
Assassin's Creed is a flawed glory. While it giveth graphics and compelling gameplay with one hand, it unconvincingly tries to hideth its imperfections and various quirks behind the other. A bevy of small, frustrating blemishes exist like the chaotic AI, camera angle issues and overly repetitive gameplay. Twitches are bound to develop in players being harassed by the hundredth beggar or railroaded by the beginning cutscenes introducing each of the targets. These in the final estimation draw away from the experience. Although a perfectly sound story reason is given for cordoning off a player into specific sections, it and effects like it constantly remind of the unreality of the situation despite a sparse and elegantly designed heads up display showing only a health bar. The map, which is spartan but informative, adds to the underlying tone of the game. The game is all about expectations. Go into it expecting a good action title, and that is what you shall receive. The tale of moral relativism and the corruption of noble ends to evil means loses a little in the translation only because the overall presentation pushes you to arms length. "Just one more level" becomes "Come ON, do I have to do 3 more missions?"
Thankfully, the game allows freedom on the amount of content one is willing to put up with, though clearing out each city is more useful than gathering flags. Flags, hidden across the landscapes of the cities and the kingdom itself are mostly a side adventure all their own for the hardcore explorer. To anyone else, they seem a exercise in masochism.
The real question we come to at the end of the game is... What just happened? Everything wraps up for the sequel waiting in the shadows, leaving a lot of space for things to happen in the future. While one chapter of Altair's life closes, another chapter of a different sort opens on an intriguing batch of concepts, many of which the player is left to riddle out for themselves. Although Assassin's Creed breaks a little new ground, it mostly treads the familiar pathways of the action adventure game.
Does its positives in graphics and gameplay balance the negatives of its frequent camera issues and repetition?
That answer is in the end left up to the gamer.. and perhaps, a leap of faith.