Assassin’s Creed Review: Nothing is True, Everything Is Permitted
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Genre: Historical Action-Adventure
Platform: PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Release Date: November 13th 2007
ESRB Rating: M – Mature
With Assassin’s Creed III on everyone’s minds it’s time that we here at Addicted-Gamers took a look back to where it all began. The original Assassin’s Creed, almost five years old now, was easily one of the most unique and awe-inspiring titles to come along in years. Standing side-by-side with other releases like Mass Effect, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, and Bioshock Ubisoft’s newest IP is counted among the core contributors that made 2007 one of the best years in gaming history. So ladies and gents, let’s take a look back at the beginnings of one of the most iconic contemporary video game franchises…
When first loading up Assassin’s Creed the player is met with something entirely unexpected, or at least it was a bit of a surprise when the game first released (not so much anymore…). Rather than being thrown right into the Medieval Holy Land as assumed the player is introduced to Desmond Miles in the year 2012. Appearing to be nothing but a working stiff, there doesn’t seem to be anything incredibly special or exciting about Desmond on the surface. However, as we soon discover the multi-billion dollar corporation called Abstergo isn’t too interested in Mr. Miles himself but rather the secrets hidden within him. Enter the Animus. This piece of technology proves to be the key to unlocking Desmond’s secrets and becomes the pseudo focal point of the entire series. Accessing what’s referred to as “genetic memory”, the Animus enables the subject to relive the lives of any and all ancestors within their bloodline. Specifically, Abstergo is interested in a man named Altair Ibn La’Ahad: a half European half Arab assassin who lived during the Third Crusade. The corporation’s objectives unknown, Desmond is forced by a Dr. Warren Vidic to relive Altair’s memories as the assassin sets out on a bold task to eliminate nine evil men in Damascus, Jerusalem, and Acre.
At the time the science-fiction influences within Assassin’s Creed were kept fairly under wraps until the game hit shelves. Surprisingly though, the mix of these elements with the historical side actually ended up producing a very thrilling and cerebral series of events that kept the player guessing and then second guessing throughout the game’s entirety. However don’t be expecting much character development or emotional drama to support this. In fact, while Ubisoft did a great job creating a very linear and exciting plotline it’s hard to find any sort of connection to the few characters presented throughout the game. At the time, both Altair and Desmond lacked the volumes of back-story and progress they’ve accumulated over the years and so upon meeting them for the first time they came off no better than cardboard cut-outs. That all being said, Assassin’s Creed surpasses expectations in terms of its thought provoking and philosophical attributes but performs poorly as a character-driven and dramatic experience.
Praises and criticisms of the game’s story-line aside, Assassin’s Creed wouldn’t be anything without a living, breathing world for all these events to unfold within. Thankfully, this is one of the most significant pieces of the Assassin’s Creed franchise that Ubisoft has continued to perfect and evolve with each release. Much like in the titles which came after it, this game’s world is more or less divided into a number of key locations: Jerusalem, Acre, Damascus, Masyaf, and a large rural area that acts as a traversable locale giving the world scope. Naturally, the most important of these places are the three main cities where a majority of the game take place. Aside from the brilliantly rendered and life-like qualities which the game’s graphics possessed at the time, the most important feature that Assassin’s Creed‘s visuals had was the noteworthy attention to detail and design which each of the cities received.
Damascus is very much under Muslim control and Islamic elements pop off the screen. The mid-day sun shines brightly off of the domes atop mosques, Saladin’s soldiers patrol the bustling streets, and the chants of the muezzin echo along the rooftops. Acre, a recently sieged city now under Christian domain, is a shadow of its former self as the dead lay wrapped and wait for disposal or burial and rubble provides a reminder of past violence and sorrow. Then Jerusalem, the Holy City itself, stands resolutely as a reminder that all faiths and peoples can live side by side in civility as Islamic, Christian, and Jewish architecture, influences, and peoples stand strong in spite of the continuing battle between Saladin and Richard the Lionheart. All three of these locations each have their own unique feel and are amazingly realized on both a historic and artistic level. Players will easily find themselves captivated by their surroundings and words cannot truly express the awe I, and probably many others, felt the first time Altair ascended some tall structure and looked out onto any of these cities laid before them.
This in turn brings us to another incredible feature of Assassin’s Creed which had and certainly continues to intrigue and entertain gamers: free-running. Given that the game puts the player into a fairly open world inhabited by rather large and detailed urban areas travel and general movement is a key part of making Assassin’s Creed work. Rather than restrict players to the crowded and dusty streets though Altair is given the freedom to virtually go wherever he wants or needs to be. The general rule of this game and for the matter the entire franchise is that if it looks like you can climb it you can. Buildings of all shapes and sizes can be scaled and rather than reaching your objective by navigating alleyways and marketplaces the player is encouraged to take to the roofs for easy access to all areas of the cities. Yet what probably makes this portion of the game the most entertaining and worthwhile is that it provides a challenge – certainly not the most difficult – but a challenge nonetheless. Scaling some of the more impressive structures inside the game world takes thought as no route up is ever blatantly straight-forward. This challenge is then made even more exciting if Altair is trying to outrun and escape pursuing enemies which tend to display the same physical prowess.
The two other incredibly important parts of the gameplay of Assassin’s Creed are obviously the combat and the actual missions which Altair is sent out to complete.
As previously mentioned our assassin’s task is to eliminate nine different targets – three in each city (with each city being sub-divided into three districts). For the most part there is no set order in which to complete these missions though you’re not given access to all nine targets right off the bat – instead you may have two or three of them open to you at a time. Traveling to the appropriate city, Altair then must make contact with the local Assassin’s Bureau to be briefed on the individual he is to kill and what he needs to do in order to achieve this. Unfortunately, this is where the game becomes repetitive. Before assassinating a given target Altair has to complete a number of side missions which act as information gathering opportunities. These missions take four different forms: Informant, Interrogation, Eavesdrop, and Pickpocket. Each of them are pretty simple and no two are ever alike but their simplicity ends up coming off as bothersome, especially towards the end of the game. In addition to these four side missions there are also two other activities called Eagle View and Save Citizen. Eagle View has the player usually scale some of the larger buildings inside the city and when prompted to press a button that reveals the surrounding area previously covered by a fog-of-war on the map. Aside from the impressive views and achievements that this action offers it also helps to pinpoint the locations of the aforementioned side missions. Save Citizen on the other hand does have a more helpful result if completed. These missions typically have Altair face off with a number of guards who are harassing some innocent civilian. By intervening and killing these enemies the player unlocks either a group of vigilantes or scholars which provide possible escape options when being chased after. Vigilantes will grab a hold of your pursuers and sometimes even fight them while the scholars act as a blend option – allowing Altair to disappear within the ranks of similarly clothed men.
The assassination missions themselves are anything but what you’d expect them to be. While they do involve killing your specified target the game itself surprisingly doesn’t really play out as its name would imply. Rather than Assassin’s Creed being a medieval version of Splinter Cell, the player will instead find themselves openly confronting those they seek to kill rather than striking from afar or from the shadows. Each main mission usually presents some kind of unique setup and event which Altair must work his way through in order to succeed. For example one mission has you stalk a Knights Hospitaller doctor from the rafters as he makes his rounds to his unwilling patients while another has you openly and aggressively chase down a slave trader. The game is very much action oriented and even if you can manage to stealthily kill your target the result of this is usually every single guard in the area alerted to your presence – putting Altair right in the middle of a fight that either has to be violently resolved or incites a lengthily and sometimes frustrating chase. While the game doesn’t exactly suffer for not being a stealth-based title it certainly could be disappointing for those expecting it to be.
Finally we come to the combat of Assassin’s Creed and if there’s one persistent gripe about the series in general it certainly revolves around this. Despite being cinematic with its thrilling kill-cam animations the actual fighting in the game tends to devolve into one of two things: it either turns into a button-mashing fest or it simply has the player abuse the heck out of the counter-attack move. Enemies can only be attacked one at a time and they can only attack Altair in the same manner which certainly makes seven on one battles far less tense and easier than they should be. Attacking simply relies on the player spamming the appropriate button and usually an enemy can manage to block a majority of your incoming swings. Aggressive combat varies only in the ability for Altair to grab an opponent and throw them around. However if anyone out there plays the game like me than a majority will simply rely on the counter-attack in order to dispatch their foes and its easy to see why. After the player unlocks the ability to do so (which is fairly early on), Altair can then counter an incoming attack by defending and then properly timing the press of a button. The result of doing so is a brutal insta-death that sometimes plays out via a kill camera animation. This makes combat more of waiting game than anything else and depending on how you like your melee fighting in games it could very well make or break your opinion of Assassin’s Creed altogether.
On the one hand it’s easy to look back on Assassin’s Creed and judge it by the standards put forth by current games and the succeeding installments within the series itself and in doing so realize that in comparison the first title wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. However it cannot be forgotten that that’s how it’s going to be with every game when looked back on years later. At the time Assassin’s Creed was absolutely mind blowing and even though it did have its setbacks then and now it still was an entirely unique and enticing experience – something which the industry has been lacking over the last couple of years. If you’ve never had the chance to play this game now would be a great time to do so – to see where it all started before diving head-first into what could be one of the best games of this year: Assassin’s Creed III.
+ Brilliantly crafted cities and environments that hit the nail on the head historically and artistically
+ Provides an absolutely thrilling and thought provoking plot that taps elements of philosophy, history, and science-fiction
+ Free-running is what makes this game what it is
- Information gathering missions become repetitive and down right tedious
- Button-mashing/timing combat will not appeal to some
- Story lacks any true character development or drama – the small number of characters the game offers up are paper thin and boring