Assassin's Creed Review - 28/11/2007

Few games generate the amount of hype that Assassin's Creed has done. Its shiny next-gen graphics, mouth-watering parkour system and intriguing storyline have made it one of the most anticipated games of all time. Not only have Ubisoft created one of the must-haves of 2007, but they have created a game that deserves a place in gaming history.

The storyline plays a major part in the player's immersion, but the so-called spoiler (if you don't want to know, skip to the next paragraph), that has been held back from us gamers since the news broke out that it was in development, is wasted on you in the first 2 minutes. Doctor Warren Vidic and his assistant Lucy have kidnapped your avatar: Desmond Miles, so that they can use his ancestor as a puppet to gain vital information from the past in order to help make the world of tomorrow a better place. I won't spoil it for you, but it's based around a theory that when humans pass on genetics to their children, their memories go along with them. So the brain is effectively a database of the Earth's history. And maybe, just maybe, they've got a machine that'll let them find this info out.

The graphics are brilliant, as are the draw distances and the historical accuracy. The cities of Jerusalem, Acre, Masyaf, and Damascus are beautifully put together and they look just how you'd imagine them to. There's an overall beige feel to them, with all the sand and heat displayed. And, speaking of heat, the shadows are the best this generation. In real time you can see your shadow changing shapes and appearing on walls as you scarper between buildings and under cloth-shelters. It really shows what can be done on the systems, and it's a pity that the game isn't set in a more colourful environment. If you take Creed's lighting, Ratchet's colour and Uncharted's water and mix them together in a stew fit for a king, then we'd start to see which of these next-gen consoles really is the best. The characters are well designed and there are loads of different models that you can find around the town. The three districts are fleshed out with different guards, and different people. Like, for example, you'll never find a sadistic mental patient who constantly lashes out at you in the rich district, but you'll also never find a really fat guy with a turban in the poor district. The faces are slightly on the average side, bar ten or eleven of the more important guys, but all that can be forgiven thanks to everything else that is presented so stylishly.

There aren't many traditional cut scenes in Creed as you can move your character around with plot-related action going on around you, and you can stop it from happening if you like by simply trying to assassinate the key element. There is, however, something Ubisoft call a glitch. Not a glitch like the flying Altair glitch, which I'll talk about later, but a glitch where a white code appears on screen and pressing any button takes you to a different viewpoint. It's a nice idea, but it never really adds to the atmosphere of the game as intended.

Sword fighting hasn't really been nailed into a game like this before, developers haven't found a balance between tactical combat that makes you think, and easy combat that looks beautiful but doesn't challenge you enough. Assassin's Creed falls into the latter category. Basically, when you're mid-way though the game, you can just hold block and wait for an enemy to lunge for you. If they try to grab you, hit circle and you'll do one of many slick counter-grabs. If they try to stab you, tap square to make Altair dodge it and then do a counter attack. You can also jab X to make your character move out of the way and set yourself up for an easy kill. All three work, but all three are frustratingly easy to pull off. There isn't much skill needed, and there aren't really any combos possible. It's just holding R1 to block and then your choice of three to counter. While this may sound tedious, it does mean that you get to see the beautiful set pieces most of the time. There are quite a few different sequences that you can trigger which are different depending on Altair's situation when you jab square. It's all well and good, but it makes the fighting one of the title's downsides.

One upshot is the free running, as I mentioned above. Altair knows all the tricks in the book. He can climb, vault, jump, dash, traverse, leap, tip-toe and swing. All of which help you get from A to B much quicker. While on paper this sounds complicated, it actually makes a complex looking task easy and enjoyable. Holding R1 tells Altair to run. Holding R1 and X tells him to sprint and climb anything that gets in his way. If he is on a rooftop then holding R1 and X will make him dash between pillars, roofs, planks and walls. The free running is why you need to buy Assassin's Creed...

...Unless you are expecting a stealth based game reminiscent of Hitman or Splinter Cell. As you will be disappointed. While you can use stealth, most of the time the better option is to kill all the rooftop guards, making sure you haven't been seen, and then get into a position where you're ready to swoop in for the final kill. The majority of the guards are a breeze. Pressing up selects the hidden blade, and then walking up behind them and pressing square assassinates them. Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. Quite like most of the game. When you are moving through the cities, the guards play a big part in how quick you go, and what you look like. In the top right corner is a symbol that tells you whether you are being watched, whether a guard is suspicious of you, or whether they're after you. When guards know an assassin is about they're set to 'informed'. This is where you have to blend. Blending makes your avatar set himself up to look like a monk, or a scholar praying. It makes the guards unsure as to whether you are the assassin, or just an ordinary guy. But, if you bump into a guard, or they get to see you're face, this could all change.

The whole structure of Creed is based on a simple, go here, find these, go here, kill him, basis. When you first travel to one of the four cities, you check in at the Bureau. Then you have to climb some viewpoints to locate side missions to complete. When you have met the allocated target of the mission, you are told to go back to the Bureau and tell him of your findings. From then on, you will be on your own and have to kill the man you have been assigned to assassinate. Most of them require little thinking power and you can probably complete the whole game in about 15-20 hours. Not the longest of games, but it's not the shortest either, and if you stay on and complete all the side missions like finding various flags and killing templars it can last you quite a while. Although there's no incentive to actually do the flag missions unless you're an achievement junkie.

Assassins Creed is quite like Grand Theft Auto in many ways. GTA brings a lot of people in because you can just doss about and kill whoever you like. Creed's similar, it's just that when you kill allies or innocent people your sync bar lowers, which can kill your avatar. It's at its best when you're just wandering around rooftops at full speed assassinating guards along the way. But unfortunately as you pass through the game it becomes more of a chore the more you do it, and the lack of variety in the gameplay really shows. Repetition slowly seeps in and ultimately dirties what could have been an almost perfect title.

The glitch I mentioned earlier is where at random points during jumps Altair freezes leaving him floating in the air. It happens once or twice a day, so be careful, as it can waste ten minutes booting it back up again.

On the whole, Assassin's Creed gets a lot of things wrong, like combat and structure. But the graphics, storyline, and free running whole-heartedly make up for it. It has sold brilliantly and has got some great scores and so a sequel is obviously on the cards. If Ubisoft can sort out some of the above issues then maybe Creed 2 can be a diamond, not just a flawed gem.

- Tyler Roberts



Ubisoft Montreal
360 - PS3 (PC/DS '08)