Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Assassin's Creed - Slightly Off Target

This upcoming holiday season, Ubisoft plans to launch Assassin's Creed Revelations, a game that promises to be as good as it is ambitious. In order to provide better insight on the game, I plan to (re)play and review the previous games to gear up properly. And what better game to start off with than Assassin's Creed? Released in 2007, the game is a really good start for the franchise with many positives. However, there are some flaws that, while small, stand out and slightly bog down the experience.

When you first put in the disk, you can't help but wonder exactly what's going on, like maybe your copy is faulty. After that surprise, the game hits the ground running. There is plenty to explore in the game world, with three large cities connected from one common area. Exploring these beautifully constructed environments is never a problem, as there is often more than one way to get to your destination, either by sneaking through the crowds or performing great leaps across rooftops. Should you need to get away, you can hide in plain sight or become more covert inside piles of hay or small structures. This allows the player to feel more like a ninja and a warrior within the body of Altair.

What helps aid with this is the contextual button mapping. The action buttons correspond to various parts of the body, the context of which can be changed to suit high and low profile actions. For example, Altair can use his legs to dodge during combat or sprint ahead of pursuing city guards. This control scheme is very intuitive and lets the player feel another layer of immersion while controlling the character. While it is good, the practicality of this system in combat can be called a little into question. While fighting, it is possible to miss the precise timing required to counter an assault, which happens more often than not, and needing to take out one guard at a time can be frustrating and tedious as later points in the game simply increase their damage or health count to make sure it still takes around the same number of hits to take them down. On top of this, it is easy for the AI to overpower you, if you're not careful, to the point where you are sandwiched between two enemies and about half of Altair's health disappears before he can fight back. While the combat system could have been improved, I was still able to use it effectively in most situations.

The lengthy narrative is difficult to explain in words, so I won't try to explain it here. What I will say is that the funnest bit was experiencing the ongoing struggle between the Assassins and the Templars, two organizations who want world peace but wish to achieve it in opposing ways. The major twists come near the end for Altair, but Desmond Miles' time outside the Animus is equally interesting as he finds out more about exactly who he is and what the world is like. The story path during the different "levels" for the most part go like this: Altair is given an assassination target, goes to the city where they are located, and goes to the Assassin's Bureau. After this, he investigates to learn more about his target before he can get the go ahead to perform the assassination. Once the target is dead, he returns to the bureau to show proof of the kill and moves on to the next target. While exciting at first, this formula gradually feels more repetitive due to lack of mission variety. Thankfully the last two portions of the game throw the player for a loop and offer something new.

Should you decide to do something other than the story missions, there are plenty of collectibles to find in the form of hundreds of flags scattered around the game world. However there is no real in-game reward for finding all of them, making the process feel a bit pointless, even more so on the PS3 version.

Assassin's Creed isn't a bad game at all, in fact being a genuinely fun experience. However, the flaws that are present stick out so well because of how good everything else is. I can recommend this title to anyone who wants to play through it once for the thrill that comes from the vast exploration available and interacting with the engaging narrative, despite the repetitive nature.

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