"You know when someone asks you how your day was, and you want to tell them how great it was, but actually it's been a pretty miserable day? You're stuck trying to come up with something to tell them that's good, something other than "I've got a wicked case of Jock Rot" or "my pet rock died." You need a stand in. For me, the stand in of the last week has been Assassin's Creed. "
You know when someone asks you how your day was, and you want to tell them how great it was, but actually it's been a pretty miserable day? You're stuck trying to come up with something to tell them that's good, something other than "I've got a wicked case of Jock Rot" or "my pet rock died." You need a stand in. For me, the stand in of the last week has been Assassin's Creed.
I'm going to be unique here at Honest Gamer and do my review for the PS3 version, which was pretty much exactly the same as the 360, though slightly prettier in its rendering.
Assassin's Creed was one of the early titles for the PS3, so I'm admittedly a little late in my review for it. For those who don't know the game, you play as assassin Altair (three syllables, folks) in the ancient Middle East. Except you also play as Desmond (two syllables). Or rather, you play as Altair and you walk around a sterile environment getting pieces of the plot as Desmond. You see, the catch of the game is that you're actually just relieving genetic memories stored within Desmond. This works better as a plot device than you might actually think. Discovering the plot through Desmond's perspective ends up being a fairly immersive experience, somewhat akin to the Valve method of just tossing you in the game. You don't know anything about Desmond's world except what few glimpses you get of it through the windows of your prison and what little information you can glean from the two scientists holding you captive.
Indeed, immersive is the name of the game in Assassin's Creed. Immersion is the game's highest selling point, and by Allah it does it well. First and foremost, the game looks beautiful. Desmond's sections are admittedly a little stale (what did you expect a medical prison to look like?), but Altair's sections more than make up for this, and besides, you'll spend most of the game playing as Altair. The middle east is large and detailed. Birds soar overhead. Clouds cast varying shadows as they pass in front of the sun. Citizens roam the cobbled city streets in bustling droves. Light reflects off metal and glass work, and moss creeps in the cracks of stones.
Perhaps most impressive is Altair himself. His character animations are perfect down to the smallest detail. For instance, when you're running and then change to a walk, he doesn't do the usual instant animation shift of most games. Instead he slows to a trot, lets his momentum carry him a little further, and then finally slows his legs down until he's strolling. The fluidity of motion in the game is astounding, especially considering the openness of the environment and the sheer number of ways Altair can move in it.
That brings us to the other selling point of Assassin's Creed, its open environment. Until now, most games have been expanding on the horizontal plane, allowing the player to explore more space. However, Assassin's Creed expands vertically, allowing Altair to climb nearly any structure in the game to bring movement and exploration to new heights (literally). The ability to run up a wall, grab a ledge, swing on top of it and leap to the next building isn't only cool, it makes maneuvering through the cities a free roaming blast. And did I mention it looks beautiful while you do it? Like with basic movement, climbing is animated with a loving touch. Altair's hands don't repeat the same motions while he moves stoically up the side of a Mausoleum His hands actually find and grip the stonework, or window sills, or wrap around the stalks of moss. His body shifts its weight, and he readjusts his legs to give him more leverage. In a word, he climbs realistically, and since you'll be watching him do this a lot, the details really help keep you in the moment.
At it's core, Assassin's Creed feels a lot like a Grand Theft Auto game on Ritalin. It's a non linear free roam experience but with a high degree of focus. You travel an open map to different objectives and complete missions at each objective. You run from guards and have to get of their sight or kill them all to escape. Unlike Grand Theft Auto, though, the game remains focused on the main mission, which is to righteously assassinate some dudes. There's no girlfriends to date or burger joints to stop at for a bite.
Essentially, the gameplay works something like this:
1) go to one of the holy cities and get an assignment from the local guild
2) explore the city while looking for clues on how to complete your assignment
3) complete your assignment (AKA brutally slaughter some mo-fo's)
Now take those steps and repeat them fifty times, and you've got Assassin's Creed. Unfortunately, this repetition is the curse of Assassin's Creed, the marinara stain on its disco suit. Once you've played one mission, you've played them all. Throw in the fact that the cut scenes consist of characters standing and talking to each other for long periods of time (highlighting the one bad thing about Altair, his bland voice acting) and you've got a recipe for potential disaster.
However, despite this, the game manages to hold its own and hold the player's attention. Like in Grand Theft Auto, getting around is an experience in itself, especially when you're being chased by guards and leaping off rooftops and running up walls to escape them. And though the missions are repetitive, they always end with a bang (or a stab, rather) that makes them worthwhile. The assassination that ends each mission is full of action packed fun and lets you approach it from any direction you wish. Then, too, the story is bizarrely engaging, despite the stale cut scenes. Do be aware that this is the first game in a proposed trilogy, so the story doesn't end. That's a bit of a downer, but Ubisoft isn't known for leaving their games hanging, and if that gives them an excuse to make another Assassin's Creed, then I'm not going to complain. Oh, and by the way... did I mention it looks beautiful?
There are other things I could complain about, such as the controls taking some time to get used to, but for me the game experience was so immersive and held my attention so well that I was able to ignore the issues with the game and simply enjoy it. There are games out there with more intuitive systems and complex objectives that yet completely failed to hold my attention in the way Assassin's Creed has.
A lot of people have complained about one feature of the game, that it's boring and stodgy to be stealthy in it. I agree, but I don't think it's a fault, since the game doesn't penalize you over much for being unstealthy. Or rather, there are key moments where stealth is neccesary, but it doesn't force you to do it all the time. In fact, I'm going to be presumptuous here and say that everyone has been playing the game drastically wrong. You wouldn't pop in GTA and then proceed to drive by the rules of the road, would you? The very point of Assassin's Creed is to do what you want when you want to do it, and the real fun comes from getting away with it.
Let me just go over the highlights of my gaming experience in the last few days:
- running down a dead end with a cadre of guards on my tail only to run up a wall and leap off it, landing behind the guards and taking off while they stumbled into each other
- throwing guards at each other and impaling them on their own swords while the sun glinted off the blades
- stabbing annoying beggar women many times
- getting chased to a high dilapidated tower only to leap off and land in a hay cart two hundred feet below while a hawk sounded a shrill cry and the guards ran around like chickens with their heads cut off
- soaring off a high rafter to land knife first on the back of an unsuspecting Templar, then calmly integrating myself with a group of scholars while people panicked and turned the marketplace into a mosh pit
- stabbing annoying beggar women many many times
If any of these experiences appeal to you, give Assassin's Creed a shot. Is it the best game ever? No. But I can't say I understand all the complaints it's been garnering. It's a steal (no pun intended) that will hold your attention and make a worthy addition to anyone's game collection.
Community review by zippdementia (July 17, 2008)
Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.
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