Assassin's Creed (Xbox 360) review
"AltaÔrís actions are divided between socially acceptable and socially unacceptable, and you can switch between the two with the right trigger. Unfortunately, Assassinís Creed is one of those sandbox games where the ďcopsĒ (i.e. the guards) want to kill you for every little thing that you do. And since all of AltaÔrís best and most convenient abilities are considered suspicious behavior, expect to attract quite a bit of attention from the local law enforcement. This includes the act of running, which evidently is a sin punishable by death."
Desmond Miles claims heís a bartender, but heís actually an assassin. In an unspecified future, he finds himself waking up with a start on a laboratory table with a grisly-looking scientist and his comely assistant standing over him, trying to figure out why the computer program theyíre trying to log into isnít responding correctly. Desmond is confused and angry, and demands to be let go. The doctor gives him the rundown: Theyíre in the middle of a war thatís been going on for a millennium, and they hope to use this computer system, the Animus, to delve into Desmondís ďgenetic memoryĒ and search for clues his ancestors left behind that might lead to the discovery of an ancient and well-guarded secret. Desmond agrees to enter the Animus for fear of what his captors might do if he objects.
Now, youíre probably looking over at the sidebar to make sure you clicked on the right game. And now youíre likely wondering if I submitted this review for the wrong title. I assure you that the game Iím talking about is Assassinís Creed, the very same game that supposedly has you picking off designated templar targets during the Crusades. Desmondís futuristic framing story is every bit as out-of-place as it sounds, and itís just one of countless missteps Ubisoft Montreal took in the development of their potential action/adventure classic. I canít think of a single area of Assassinís Creed that doesnít show promise. Likewise, not a single good idea in the game runs loose without some unfortunate flaw mowing it down.
The adventure is, in concept, a sandbox version of Ubisoftís acclaimed Prince of Persia series, set during the Crusades when religions clashed and bloodletting was common practice Ė they could have named the game Prince of Jerusalem and people would have caught on. You play as AltaÔr, a skilled assassin (and Desmondís ancestor) who fights for peace and sports an American accent despite America not existing for another 600 years. AltaÔr carries a stash of weapons and wears a white hooded robe Ė you know, so he can totally blend in with the crowd and not stand out in any way.
The Assassinís Creed has three tenets: Never kill an innocent person, always be discreet, and do not compromise the brotherhood. The game Ė the real game, the one that starts as soon as we dive into Desmondís genetic memory Ė begins with AltaÔr violating all three tenets, thus putting him in an uncomfortable position with his assassin clan. For this, his master kills him (?). Then later, it turns out he actually didnít kill him (???). As a chance to make up for his wrongdoings, AltaÔr is tasked with tracking down nine targets, all of whom have a negative impact on local politics. Their deaths may lead to peace, and the hunt will lead Altair to develop views on human rights ahead of their time by about 800 years.
The game was inspired by Prince of Persia in many ways, one of which being AltaÔrís obvious acrobatic expertise. This means that our protagonist can run up walls, shimmy along narrow walkways, grab onto ledges, swing from poles, and perform all sorts of crazy platforming tricks. The difference is in design. Whereas Prince of Persia presented a very linear objective in which there was an obvious set path, Assassinís Creed is an open-world game. Pulling off similar mechanics in so different an approach to design was a challenge Ubisoft Montreal met. In each of the gameís beautifully rendered cities Ė Damascus, Jerusalem, and Acre Ė nearly any vertical surface can be scaled provided AltaÔr can find objects to interact with. So as youíre climbing a building, youíve got to be looking for cracks, ledges, windowsills, adornments, anything you can latch onto. Itís a control scheme that looks complex in motion but is really rather simple. Youíll be in awe of the things you can do in Assassinís Creed, and the ease at which you can do them.
This probably sounds cool, and at first the adventure will feel like the next major evolution of Ubisoftís long-running Prince of Persia franchise. But no good idea is safe in Assassinís Creed, and Ė since the ending hints at a sequel Ė I shall express my complaints in the form of the Developerís Creed, which I hope the folks at Ubisoft take a look at before they begin working on the next one.
Tenet One: Donít give me a host of amazing abilities and then punish me for using them. AltaÔrís actions are divided between socially acceptable and socially unacceptable, and you can switch between the two with the right trigger. Unfortunately, Assassinís Creed is one of those sandbox games where the ďcopsĒ (i.e. the guards) want to kill you for every little thing that you do. And since all of AltaÔrís best and most convenient abilities are considered suspicious behavior, expect to attract quite a bit of attention from the local law enforcement. This includes the act of running, which evidently is a sin punishable by death.
Tenet Two: If you insist on making the game combat-heavy, be sure the battle system isnít crap. While mastery of the counter attack will save you a lot of trouble, combat is mostly restricted to X, which leads to a lot of senseless button-mashing against guards who arenít afraid to gang up and take you on from all sides. The frequency of encounters is bad enough, especially since youíll often be attacked for no discernable reason. But once a battle starts, itíll usually last forever since more and more guards keeping joining in. Thereís so much swordplay in Assassinís Creed that youíd think they would have spent more time making the battle system deeper. Instead, it becomes tiring before the first hour is up. Also: The blood looks gaseous. Just thought Iíd mention that.
Tenet Three: Donít bother creating a sandbox world if youíre not going to take advantage of it. All major locations in Assassinís Creed are connected by an overworld Ė but once youíve been everywhere, you can get to any city automatically without setting foot in the kingdom that divides them. So I ask: Whatís the point, especially when the overworld contains nothing of interest anyway? Furthermore, while all three major cities are rendered with stunning attention to detail, thereís no substance to them. Theyíre simply blank buildings inhabited by blank NPCs. So objective completion basically narrows down to following markers on your radar. Whereís the fun in that?
There are nine key assassinations in this rather lengthy adventure, and every one of them is cinematic, exhilarating, and pulled off with the kind of skill that belongs in a better game. The mission-based rubbish that leads up to each of them, I canít say the same about. Each quest follows the same pattern: Scout out a new area of a city, complete designated tasks to gain info on your target, and then make your strike. Most of your goals force you to perform the same eavesdropping, pickpocketing or interrogation missions repeated over and over throughout the entirety of your quest, and theyíre all accompanied by text prompts, anyway. Your only other missions usually involve laughably austere objectives. Youíve seen it before: ďSo you need some information? I can help you with that. Oh, but it seems I dropped eighteen flags in convenient locations in the surrounding area, and this heat is killing me. If you could find them for me, that would be nice. And if you could do it in less than three minutes, that would be extra nice.Ē
By its very nature, Assassinís Creed is the kind of game where itís more fun to do nothing than to stick with the story structure. The adventure is essentially the same thing over and over again, and it becomes stale and predictable before long. On the other hand, using your superhuman aerobic powers to explore every end of each city like itís your own personal medieval jungle gymÖ Well, it never gets old. Just make sure such sinful activity doesnít attract the guards, because then your super-sized playground adventure will become shrouded in a thick cloud of blood-gas.
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