• Review: Assassin's Creed

    Single Issue III (Written by Gen. Chris)

    Assassin's Creed (2007)
    Assassin's Creed
    Stay your blade from the flesh of an innocentHide in plain sightNever compromise the brotherhood
    Assassin’s Creed is set during the twelfth and twenty-first centuries. In the present, bartender Desmond Miles has been kidnapped by the mysterious Abstergo Industries. Forced to use a device known as the Animus, Desmond relives the life of his ancestor, the Assassin known as Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad. Abstergo hopes that Desmond can synchronize with Altaïr enough to allow them to view a later memory, one that holds great importance to the company.

    In the past, Altaïr’s story is one of redemption. On a mission to retrieve a relic known as a “Piece of Eden”, the Assassin breaks all three tenets of the Creed of the Brotherhood in his attempt to not only retrieve the relic, but kill Robert de Sable, Grand Master of the Templar Order and the enemy of the Assassin Brotherhood. Failing both to acquire the relic and de Sable, Altaïr returns to the Assassin Castle at Masyaf. One of the Assassin’s that had been with Altaïr during the mission returns with the Piece of Eden, and tells the leader of the Assassins, Al Mualim, of Altaïr’s failure. Demoted to the rank of novice for breaking the Creed, Altaïr is offered the chance to redeem himself by assassinating several targets throughout the Third Crusade-ravaged Levant. In addition, an artifact known as a Piece of Eden becomes a force to be concerned with...

    Onto the aspects of the game. Set in the Levant, Assassin’s Creed takes place primarily in three cities: Acre, Jerusalem, and Damascus, with a fourth location including the generic “Kingdom”, which is sort of a midway point between the three cities, and is used for traveling between the three cities and the fifth and final location, Masyaf, which is a castle that is home to the Levantine Assassins as well as a village. The three cities are home to a variety of foes, from guards to Templar soldiers to the assassination targets. Considering the game is an older one for the current generation of consoles, I was very impressed with the graphics. Every single city has its own unique look, and every district of each city (which are unlocked depending on the memory sequence that Desmond is currently on) also have their own distinctive looks compared to each other. Climbing the various viewpoints of the city offers the player a glimpse of the cities (and the kingdoms), giving the player a chance to see just how large these cities are. Of course the cities are not nearly as large as other open world games, but you still have a high variety of alleyways, main streets, rooftops, etc. Utilizing the viewpoints also makes more of the map viewable on the HUD and the map itself, making it easier to find back alleys and such. Again, the maps are not as large as later open world games, but each one is varied enough to offer an interesting experience for each and every location.

    Ironically, the assassinations themselves are where I sort of did not enjoy the game. When you acquire a new target, you first go out and gather intelligence on the target. Whether it involves beating the living daylights out of a guy who knows information or eavesdropping on guards or other people, the intelligence gathering missions are by far the most annoying part of the game. Not because they are difficult, because they are simply not. They are just incredibly repetitive. The assassinations themselves are sometimes also rather difficult to pull off as well, often leading to more like a skirmish between the target and his guards than a silent take down. Of course, that is probably more to do with me trying to figure out the controls than an actual problem, but the degree of difficulty can get highly frustrating at times. But aiding Altair’s quest is his “Eagle Vision”, a sort of sixth sense that allows him to see when things are not right or discover who his target is. When you use it, enemies turn red and the main target turns gold. This does simplify matters for the player, but the degree of difficulty can be a turn off for some players, especially if, like me, they played the games out of order.

    Other gameplay mechanics feature in Assassin’s Creed. Altair can get around the city rather fluidly with his freerunning, and each city can be your playground. When running around the country or city, you are typically being watched by nearby guards. When you do “high profile” things such as running on rooftops, climbing up buildings, or killing people, that tends to draw attention to yourself. When you draw too much attention, guards will come after you. You can avoid this by blending in with scholars, not always running and bumping into people, and avoiding guards when climbing or running along rooftops. If you do manage to attract unwanted attention, there are really only two options: run and attempt to escape and hide in hay stacks or rooftop gardens (many if not most of the guards are capable of climbing as well) or fighting. If you cannot escape easily (especially after assassinating a target: the whole city goes on alert and guards will come after you on sight), you will likely be forced to fight and kill a number of guards before you can escape. This leads to a rather interesting combat system.

    The combat was a little bit disappointing to me, but it did offer a challenge. You only have access to two main weapons: your short blade and your sword, and initially they are not very good, but throughout the game as Altaïr advances back up the ranks you receive upgraded versions. Sadly, you cannot use the hidden blade in combat except for blocking, I believe, outside of well timed counter kills. You also have access to throwing knives and once you get the hang of them they can be rather handy for taking out targets. The combat with the short blade and the sword basically consists of fast but less damaging attacks, slow but stronger attacks, and blocking + countering or dodging. You slowly gain new abilities throughout the game, with which you can practice them in Masyaf in the training square. You also gain health squares (part of your “synchronization” with Altaïr’s memories) throughout the completion of different missions, allowing you to take more hits. Speaking of taking damage, the game has a rather unique way of dealing with hits: when you fail to block or dodge an attack, Altaïr still does a blocking animation, but you take damage. In this way, the health bar / synchronization bar is basically telling you that you are not synchronizing. This becomes prevalent when you lose all the squares…the Animus desynchronizes you… Altaïr does not die. You also slowly gain health back on your own as long as you are not getting hit. It’s rather like in Prince of Persia Sands of Time: The prince is telling a story, and if he “dies” in the story, the Prince as narrator says “No no no, that didn’t happen, let me start again”. Anyway, different enemies require different methods of killing them: some can only be countered and killed, while others can be killed rather easily. It all depends on who you are facing and how many that will typically decide which weapon (the sword or the short blade) that you use. Combat can be rather difficult because of how limited it is, however, and if you are surrounded and chased, it can be rather difficult to escape and hide either in hay stacks or rooftop gardens. For an Assassin, Altaïr seems to be relatively weak in combat, but this of course is likely due to the rather small nature of the production of this game compared to later ones. The relatively minimal nature of Altaïr’s abilities in combat also forces the player to become creative in assassinations, because you cannot always just force your way through a dozen enemies and the target himself (who is typically very difficult to kill in combat compared to a more stealthy assassination), so perhaps this was somewhat intended. Overall the combat is certainly difficult, and can be rather frustrating at times when it is so easy to make mistakes. But overall difficult gameplay is not necessarily a bad thing, and can be very rewarding if successful.

    In the end, the game is a fun introduction to the series. The story, limited as it is, is interesting enough to keep you playing. The mystery in the present concerning Desmond and Abstergo go quite well with the story in the past. The upgrade progression feels natural, especially for Altair who must work his way back up the hierarchy in order to regain his weapons and the trust of the Brotherhood. The soundtrack, though limited to about a dozen songs, is simplistic yet works perfectly for the scenes they are present in. The chase theme is very adrenaline inducing, as it plays during the tensest moments of the whole game…Being chased. You think you have managed to escape the enemy, only to turn a corner and find a half dozen new guards ready to fight you. The freerunning is good in the game, and does allow the player to easily traverse the city with little to no problems outside of the occasional guard spotting you. Among the unmentioned negatives are the fact that there is not much in the way to do in the form of side activities, and along with the repetitive campaign missions outside of the actual assassinations leads to a rather dry game. Altaïr is also fairly emotionless to me compared to many video game characters, but that does not mean he is completely without passion. But his stoicism as well as his rather ruthless tendencies could be a turnoff for some players. The enemies are also not well developed in my opinion, but with so many of them it is difficult to properly develop them all, and the same can be said of the very few side characters in the game. However, despite its negatives, I feel that the game and the franchise have much to offer in the form of the tease of an overarching plot with the introduction of the Piece of Eden that is intriguing enough to improve the story drastically. Finally, it just has to be said… Altaïr is a talented young man. He can be stealthy when he needs to be and attack with absolute brute force when he doesn't. He can climb to and jump between rooftops, ride a horse and slay enemies, take on a dozen or more guards and live to tell the tale, and sprint endlessly…but swimming is completely foreign to him. Seriously, don’t fall in the water.

    As the first entry into the franchise, Assassin’s Creed offers a solid experience, interesting gameplay, and beautiful medieval locations to visit.


    Hello everyone.

    I have decided to redo many of my old Assassin's Creed reviews, and will release them when done. I am overall not satisfied with how they are now, so I am tweaking them to be more in line with how I write now. Hopefully you will all enjoy them.