Stay your blade from the blood of an innocent
Hide in plain sight
Do not compromise the brotherhood
So says the Assassin’s Creed, something that Altair Ibn La-Ahad, member of the Assassin’s Order lived by, back in 1191 during the Third Crusade. It’s also something that bartender Desmond Miles, safe and sound in 2012, would soon discover firsthand, as the memories of his ancestor would become extremely important to the folks at Abstergo Industries. Using a device known as the Animus, Desmond would become Altair, and through this connection, the secrets of his memories would be revealed.
So begins the tale of Assassin’s Creed, a game whose hype was also long in the making. This game benefited from a massive amount of publicity, from the numerous stills of the very attractive producer Jade Raymond, to the use of media embargos from Ubisoft, in order to try to keep the modern day portion of Assassin’s Creed a surprise. This would have made far more sense if everything weren’t explained in the first five minutes of playing. I am going to assume that if you are reading this, you have at least heard of Assassin’s Creed, released last year on the Xbox 360 and PLAYSTATION 3 consoles. While the overall story arc takes place in 2012, it’s the story of Altair, his fall from grace and his rise back to the top of his order – all of which will require your time and attention. From Masyaf, to Jerusalem, join Altair on a quest for redemption on a mission of peace… well, peace by means of murder.
Assassin’s Creed was released to the consoles with an immense amount of hype and fanfare last year; from television and print ads, to commercials in movie theaters, we were all exposed to this game. One of the advantages of having to wait almost six months to be able to play the game on the PC platform, is that you get time and separation from all of that hype. This separation will make for a better evaluation of the game itself, as well as giving us an opportunity to see if the newly added content is worthy enough for me to recommend double dipping to be able to play on the PC, as well as the console. Just how good would a 3rd person game like Assassin’s Creed translate to the mouse and keyboard of the PC? Read on and see.
Much like Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia series, Assassin’s Creed (AC) makes use of a robust and very free flowing form of play control. You control Altair similarly to how a puppeteer commands his puppets, with buttons to control the feet, hands, and face. This control allows you to run, pretend to be a priest in prayer, and sprint as easily as walking down the road. Essentially, using a combination of the mouse button, the shift key and the space bar, you can make Altair do practically anything.
This control of Altair’s movements also makes it easy to climb, which is good because in AC you will be doing a lot of climbing. It becomes important, particularly when fleeing the guards and soldiers you encounter and occasionally anger to the point of having to fight or flee. This will often involve highly entertaining, frantic chases around the city, across rooftops and will often end with either combat or hiding in a bail of hay until the guards lose interest in you.
The hands buttons allow you a host of options, related to combat and your Assassin skills. You will also gain the ability to grab and shove people, a handy thing to remember when fighting on a rooftop or near a cliff. Still, combat and killing are the main tasks you will face when using the hands commands.
Combat itself is a form or rhythm-based gameplay, involving attacks and counterattacks. This requires concentration and fast timing, which will likely require lots of practice and repetition. In fact, if you are unable to grasp the counterattack, you will likely be incapable of completing AC. You will also have a few different choices when it comes to you weapon selection, from your sword to your hidden blade and your throwing knives. These different weapons will offer you different strategies for approaching your enemies. The hidden blade and throwing knives are great options as they allow you to kill your enemies swiftly and, in most cases, quietly.
Your face buttons control your ability to lock onto to targets for the purposes of eavesdropping or, in combat, for the purpose of allowing you to aim your projectiles or focus on a specific enemy. This is also necessary for pick-pocketing, a great tool for obtaining more weapons or just getting detailed intelligence from an informant. You also have the ability to activate the Eagle Eye ability, which essentially changes your perspective so that you can see which people are allies, which are targets, and which are enemies you may need to avoid.
AC is a sandbox style game in the truest sense of the term. You will travel across the country-side on horseback, going from locations like Masyaf to Acre, Damascus, and Jerusalem on your journeys. Each of these cities is its own small world, with various merchants, beggars, and rogues wandering the streets in addition to soldiers and the occasional hidden Templar agent. Unlike the Grand Theft Auto series, for example, there are only a few things you can do in AC that are outside of the main storyline. These include collecting the hidden flags located throughout the world (I will cover this later), rescuing civilians from guards and bullies, and going to observation points and viewing the area around you. Some of these activities will help you gain more health for your character, while others seem to be more for personal satisfaction.
Your main objective in AC is, of course, to assassinate specific targets. This is accomplished through the gathering of intelligence from informants and people throughout the city. This actually gets accomplished from activities such as pick-pocketing, eavesdropping, interrogation (beating info out of somebody), and assisting informants through tasks such as assassinating guards and collecting flags.
Things become repetitive after a while, as you basically do same exact tasks prior to being able to track down and eliminate your target. In fact, if you do the minimum they require of you (sometimes two tasks, sometimes four), then you can immediately get the approval required to make your kill. While I am a bit of completionist and gathered every scrap of intel for every mission, I never really got much out of doing all of the tasks. While you do gain a bit of extra information, I never really saw a specific benefit from doing all of the tasks. I should note that the more tasks you complete, the more health you receive, so by the time I had finished my 6th assassination, I had maxed out my health bar.
"The presentation of AC may feature some of the best graphics and sound effects seen in a PC game in some time."
The presentation of AC may feature some of the best graphics and sound effects seen in a PC game in some time. The huge cities and sweeping vistas presented to you are nothing short of stunning. I found myself doing the observation points, just to gain a sense of how huge the world I was playing in really was. The colors were a tad muted, yet still vibrant enough to make the world seem alive.
I found the character models themselves to be the only slightly less beautiful aspect of the game. The cities seemed almost full of the same person again and again. I suppose in order to make a city this big, they couldn’t create a different model for each character, but when you get into large battles and everybody looks the same, it does detract a tiny bit.
The musical score for AC is also quite stunning, producing the correct music whether you are gazing out at the city before you or running at full tilt away from a group of soldiers.
I wish that I could say the same for the voice acting, as it is not quite up to the same high standards the musical score and graphics handily met. While I appreciate the vocal talents of Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars, Heroes), I found most of the other voice talent to be a bit over the top. The voice of Altair sounds like an American trying to sound like he is from the Middle East, which of course the game glosses over by saying that the Animus allows Desmond to hear everything in English so he will be able to understand it.
Perhaps I am nitpicking, but I just felt like Desmond/Altair’s respective voices just weren’t up to par with some of the characters targeted for assassination. I also dislike how nearly everybody, be they Crusader or Saracen, sounded the same when it came to actual combat.
Although a bit repetitive, AC was actually a fairly challenging game. Initially, you are able to avoid much of the combat and focus solely on your target, making stealth a key factor in the early game. Sadly, your success as an assassin makes the later part of the game far more combat intensive, leading to some tense and fairly overwhelming battles. I cannot stress enough how vital it is to learn how to counter attack.
The game took me right around 20 hours to complete. This time included doing everything except collecting the flags scattered throughout the cities and the countryside. The game seems to take a while to get around and figure out what you need to do, but by the last few assassinations, I was able to get through an assassination with missions and intel in about an hour and a half each. One thing that is worth noting is that AC allows a certain amount of autonomy in your journeys. Want to get into a building manned by guards? Try killing somebody near the guard post and then moving inside while it’s unmanned. If this is too much for you, you can simply kill the guards in front of the entrance and make your way inside. Another possibility is to scale the side of the building and lower yourself inside the building from the roof. I think you can begin to see the possibilities.
I feel like I will be totally remiss if I don’t spend a bit of time discussing the stealth kills. When you finally acquire your hidden blade, you are introduced to an unbelievably fun tool. Imagine the ability to walk down the street, knife somebody quietly and continue walking without drawing attention to yourself. While you are able to use your hidden blade in more dramatic and obvious capacities, it is the stealth kill that truly allows you to immerse yourself in being an assassin.
As a PC port of a console game, many of you are only interested in what the so-called “Director’s Cut” of Assassin’s Creed actually entails. In essence, the major difference between the console version and the PC is that the PC version has four new types of missions which offer up new ways to develop intel prior to engaging in a kill. These new types include archer assassination, the sometimes frustrating rooftop race challenge, the very annoying merchant stand destruction challenge, and the escort challenge. These new modes were merely included to try and add more variety to the intel gathering process. You aren’t actual able to choose from all of these types on every mission, but each kill will offer up a larger variety of mission types.
While I do own a Microsoft Xbox 360 PC controller, I chose to play AC with the mouse and keyboard setup. I am surprised, perhaps shocked, to admit that I ended up preferring this set of controls to the 360 controller that I used on my 360 version of the game. I found that the keyboard and mouse made the art of combat far easier for me to grasp. There is just something fairly precise and reassuring about mouse clicks, over controller buttons. The actual movement and running and climbing was every bit as smooth and intuitive as the console versions, and I forgot after a while that I was playing on my PC instead of my 360.
I did notice a few glitches while playing and even had my system lock-up on a few occasions. Still, even playing in Vista, with maximal graphical options and DX10 enabled, I did not experience some of the reported technical issues that others reported. I did read in the forums that the tech specs being really high were somewhat over-reported and that older computers using DX9 were able to get a solid game experience out of AC.
The only downside to playing a game like AC on the PC is that the collection aspect becomes less important. On the 360, if you collect all the flags and fulfill certain other requirements, you unlock achievement points. These points are meaningless to be certain, but at least you get something for your efforts. On the PC, you get the satisfaction of knowing that you collected then all, nothing more and nothing less. Perhaps the six months between this release and the console release could have resulted in some additional content or even unlockable content, but that was not the case.
Now, for those who only care about the summary stuff and the score, here it goes. If you were to play the first three hours or so of Assassin’s Creed and write a review, you would likely gush about it. You would have an emotional reaction to what is, presentation-wise, a remarkable game. Certainly all the core components exist to make a person have a highly enjoyable experience.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a review that focuses on only individual aspects of the game, and at some point the game as a whole has to be considered. Assassin’s Creed is an exciting game, featuring some beautiful set pieces; and the actual assassinations themselves are exciting, requiring a mixture of stealth and bravado that seems like it was taken from a film. The main problem with the game is that there is not much gameplay outside of the actual targets that you assassinate. The intel gathering portions become highly repetitive by the end of the game and sometimes seem to bog it down.
For a sandbox world, there is surprisingly little to do outside of the main game, almost the complete opposite of other titles succh as Grand Theft Auto or Oblivion, where there is almost too much to do inside the game that you sometimes forget to finish the main story.
Assassin’s Creed does provide an entertaining story and introduction to the game world, and I for one am really chomping at the bit to find out what is next for Desmond, as well as see if there is more story to tell for Altair. While this game is not the best game this year, it is an excellent game and the presentation and production values cannot be praised enough.
+Stunning graphics and environments.
+An enormous sandbox open world.
+Wonderful musical score.
-Repetitive gameplay modes.
-Some annoying voice acting.
-Slight cliffhanger ending