Well it’s finally here. After much anticipation, marketing hype, countless hands-on previews, Jade Raymond love letters and a plot sworn in secrecy - Assassin’s Creed from Ubisoft Montreal Studios has arrived. With so many publishers playing safe by lining their pockets with numerous regurgitated first-person shooters, it is publishers like Ubisoft that every now and again decided to go against the grain and release a title so much unlike any other. The closest title plucked from Ubisoft’s library of titles that you could closely match Assassin’s Creed to would be the Splinter Cell franchise. Remove the black figure-hugging, stealth-suited agent and replace this with a hooded bad-ass assassin with all manner of bladed weaponry strapped to its body, surely Ubisoft are on to another winner here? Let’s find out...
Reviewing Assissin’s Creed has had me in a bit of a dilemma. If you have followed this game in its entirety then you will probably know about the “hush-hush” backend story. For those that have not and would like to avoid this then you might want to skip the next two paragraphs.
When loading up Assassin’s Creed you will be soon aware of what is going with its story. With its technical presentation we all knew the game would be set in some form of future and this is apparent immediately when entering the game. Your character, Desmond Miles, is brought out of a mind state, into a laboratory based in the near-future. This is when you think to yourself, “Where are the 12th century castles, horses and Temple Knights? Did I even buy the right game?!” Well this is probably a good time than any to fill you in on the story.
Your character Desmond, a barkeeper, has been kidnapped by a group of eager researchers working for Abstergo Industries, who are developing a project called the Animus. The Animus is a device capable of retrieving past memories from its subject and its ancestors and relive through them as if they were their own memories. Desmond has been selected by this agency due to being a direct descendant of Altair, a member of the Assassin’s Creed during the Third Crusade of the Holy Land. These researchers are interested in one particular memory from your distant relative, and it’s at the beginning of the game you see they are struggling to retrieve it, due to Desmond’s sub-conscious rejecting the memory of that particular event. To be able to reach this event the researchers decide to ease you in by playing out subsequent events leading up to this memory and it is at this point when the game beings and we slip into Altair’s leather-strapped boots.
The game begins with your character Altair failing to assassinate the leader of The Templar Knights, Robert de Sable and recover the Assassin order’s treasure. For failing to do so, Altair is stripped of his rank, skills and weapons, with an offer to redeem himself by the leader of the Assassin order, Sinan. You are told to ride into the Kingdom and assassinate nine Templar leaders who are said to be exploiting the hostilities created by the Third Crusade and to help stabilize the Kingdom, allowing Sinan to bring a new age of peace to the Holy Land. Throughout the story however, Altair begins to question his orders as he discovers further knowledge from each of his targets, their intensions and conspiracy stories.
Your journey begins in the city of Masyaf where you begin to learn the basics of controlling your character. With all your weapons stripped you are left with your bare knuckles to do the dirty work and it is only achieving a successful assassination will Sinan offer you pieces of your equipment and skills back to you, so you’re best off seeing to those nine targets as soon as possible! Striking your target in Assassin’s Creed isn’t as simple as looking through the local phone book for their address and knocking on their hut door. First you have to travel to your destination, one of three available cities from the 12th Century: Jerusalem, Damascus and Acre. This is done by some four-legged horse power available to you at the gates of Masyaf. The journey to each city can be a lengthy one, but once you have visited all three you are able to warp to each one, saving you precious horse riding time and prevent you from getting a little saddle sore! A map of the Kingdom is available though most parts will be blank, making it difficult to plan your route. To bring these parts of the map to life you have to visit and scale the many towers, some guarded, located around the map. These towers can be easily spotted, not only because they are tall, obviously, but each tower in the Kingdom and in each city will have an eagle circling around them. Climbing these towers you bear witness to some of the best seamless character modeling seen in any game to date. Seeing Altair shuffle, grasp, hang, jump and scale his way so effortlessly up buildings will make even Spiderman envious! Pressing Y at the top of each tower will give you a panoramic view of the land beneath you and in turn unlocks the viewable area on your map.
Once you have reached each city entrance you will see that it is guarded, and your way in can to be done by blending in with some local allies. This will enable you to get past the entrance guards and get yourself into each city without anyone landing a blade and losing an arm or a head! Once in the city you can either start to climb the nearby towers to unlock objectives on your map or you can visit the Bureau. This Bureau is not to change your local currency but to meet your brothers of the order, who will tell you where to look in the city to be able to find out more about your target, where they will be, at what time and how and when best to attack them. Throughout the cities there are countless numbers of characters going about their own business, all avoiding each other as they stroll about their day, ordering food at market stalls or joining others in listening to the more vocal inhabitants.
Mixed in amongst the crowds are the cities guards. Behaving anything other than normal will get their attention and you will have one of two icons appearing on your display. A yellow eye icon will tell you someone is watching you curiously, if this eye turns red then it’s time to blend into the crowd and become invisible as you are being watched with suspicion. This normally happens if you are caught killing someone or come face to face with guards in an area where you are not supposed to be. You can reduce this threat by breaking the onlookers’ line-of-sight, which will turn red to yellow and from yellow to natural. Failure in not breaking line-of-sight for a period of time will lead you to being a serious threat and will alert any guard nearby, and it’s at this point you can either literally run for your life or defend yourself until the threat disappears and the guards are disposed of. This can bring some intense action to the streets and rooftops of the city where you can face anything from three to a dozen city guards at once. Being able to knock your foes off high rooftops makes for some fun gameplay moments in Assassin’s Creed, but the more humane approach is its free-running your way to safety. Holding down the RT and A buttons will make you effortlessly hop, skip and jump your way across rooftops, balconies, wooden beams, concrete pillars and basically anything that has a ledge or flat enough surface to it. Making this feature so simple leaves you to worry about where to jump to, which is important when you have a dozen guards on your tail! There are also two other ways of losing your tailing foes, either by jumping into rooftop huts or on a nearby street bench, both of which are widely available on rooftops and in the streets below.
Within each city there are three zones, the poor, middle-class and the rich. Each zone is unlocked as you progress through the game as there is one target to assassinate in each of them, which makes up for the nine total targets in the game. You are forced to collect a minimum number of intelligence on each of your targets before your attack and to do this you need to complete at least three out of six intelligence missions, whether it is by eavesdropping, pick pocketing, or interrogation. Also located around the city are a number of citizens that need “saving” from the hostile local guards, freeing them from these guards will give you the ability to blend in with more of the local allies in the city, which is handy if you wish to lose any heat from tailing guards.
The combat in the game takes some getting used to. You will not be able to button mash your way through this, instead you have to dodge and parry your attackers to gain the upper hand and defeat your opponents. At times you can have up to ten or so guards circled around you, so to make things simpler, by holding down the RT button you can block all attacks, but in time an enemies strike will get through so this shouldn’t be relied upon all the time. The art in Assassin’s Creed’s combat system is with timed counter attacks, waiting for an enemy to make his move and then hitting the attack button to counter it. Doing so can open some gruesome counter moves such as seeing Altair shimmy to the side and plant his short sword into his foe’s scalp. There are four main weapons equipped on Altair’s person: long sword, short sword and throwing knifes, fists and his hidden blade, a retracting blade attached to the underside of Altair’s left arm and is an ideal weapon of choice for applying that discrete first and final blow to the neck. Each weapon has its own merits and uses, the short sword being a favourite for multiple encounters, fists will not attract any guard nearby, while the hidden blade will give you the ability to sneak up to a person and give a one strike kill.
When it comes to graphics there aren’t many next-gen games of this type that you can compare it to other than the upcoming GTA series and San Andreas. Ubisoft’s Montreal Studios has created a rich and detailed environment for your character to explore. Walking into each city with its bustling crowds going about their business mixed with the atmospheric city sounds and daylight effects, each turn of a corner makes you believe you’re walking amongst a living and breathing city. Looking down on the city when perched on top of one of the many towers in the city you can see the detail and enormous draw distance of the game with people clearly viewable walking the streets below. A lot of time and effort has gone into the textures of each city with Acre proving to be my favourite of the three cities. The main characters and even the guards and city crowds have had a lot of time in each of the models and prove to be very detailed even when viewing up close. The only problem I faced was the odd stuttering, some tearing in places and big case of the shadows being drawn in front of you. There is also many cases of clipping occurring that could have been addressed, though these are mainly obvious during cut scenes and you barely noticed them during play. This will not spoil your enjoyment in the game and when you consider the grand scale of the city around you and its detailed characters you can easily dismiss these glitches.
Assassin’s Creed does not fail in the sound department either. From the voice acting to each of the cities noises and its characters everything is of a high standard and never makes you cringe during any heavy dialogue cut scenes. The music score brings life to the game and doesn’t make it off putting in any way. At times you will only hear the sounds of the city or the wind if you are climbing up a tower, it is only during an event when the music seamlessly joins in to add excitement or effect, and this works extremely well without being distracting or damaging the overall experience.
Assassin’s Creed is a game that should at least be tasted by any gamer. The sheer attention to detail that has gone in the game, both in plot, visuals and audio makes your experience in the game a memorable one. The combat system, though tricky at first, eventually becomes intuitive and fun to mess around with. Whether you will return to the game on completion of the game is another matter. With the lack of online features this game will probably not get played once you have completed the story and collected all the achievements. The first few hours play is enjoyable, and once you have grasped the combat mechanics you can start to toy with the guards and have some lengthy battles. But once you have played through the first few hours of the twelve or so hours required completing this game, you start to stare repetition in the face. Before you know it, climbing towers, collecting flags, killing countless guards and riding horses can start to become a little tedious when all you seek is the next part of the story to unfold. Like any sandbox game, Assassin’s Creed can be played at any speed or level as you like, and I think it would be more appreciated if it was played in a more leisurely pace, to help you soak up the atmosphere and the amount of detail gone into such a game. We don’t know if there will be any sequels coming from this franchise, but judging from the storyline there is definitely room for more!