Ubisoft’s massively hyped Assassin’s Creed is an interesting one - an ambitious mix of history and science-fiction, with action and stealth gameplay. Ubisoft and Jade Raymond, producer of the game, certainly had no trouble drumming up a massive buzz for the game - but did the game come through with the goods?
Assassin’s Creed loosely follows real-life events during 1191 in Jerusalem, Acre, Masyaf and Damascus. You play as Altair, a member of the Assassin’s Brotherhood, and your task is to assassinate nine targets that the Brotherhood have chosen for you. Each target requires you to gather information from the city. This can be done in a number of ways - assassinations, eavesdropping on important conversations, pickpocketing useful documents, completing tasks for informants, or beating someone until they talk.
Altair moves convincingly and fluidly. You feel like you are controlling an real object with mass, which is something that has been tried before in many games featuring mechs or robots - and most of the time, failed miserably. Holding R1 puts Altair into high-profile mode, which when combined with an attack will lead to a crash tackle followed by a knife to the throat, rather than a stealth kill from behind. When combined with X, it activates free-running mode - which allows you to climb just about anything, and make massive leaps from building to building - turning the massive city environments into Altair’s playthings, and the best way to escape from trouble.
To find your assassination targets, you’ll need to find view points in the city - high places where you can “synchronize” and look for places or people of interest. This gives you a breathtaking 360 degree pan of the city - the draw distance is massive, it’s just a shame the framerate never keeps up.
Despite a premise with potential, the story fails to inspire throughout the game. I put this down to it being told, for the most part, with in-game cutscenes that feature decidedly uncinematic, static shots of stationary character models - made worse by the dry, unconvincing performances from the voice actors.
The game is amazing for the first couple of hours, but starts to wear thin due to repetition. You’re doing the same thing again and again in a different environment. It does work if you’re the kind of gamer that plays in half-hour stints, but fails if you’re looking for a game to get lost in for a night or weekend.
Ubisoft made a bad choice in how to go about increasing the difficulty of the game towards the end. While Heavenly Sword made the combat deeper as you progressed, introducing attacks that could only be blocked in certain stances, or not at all, Assassin’s Creed merely throws more opponents at you.
This in turn works against them by repeatedly reminding the player of how lacking the combat system of the game is. Combat consists of holding the R1 button to guard, and using Square to attack, or using correctly-timed presses of Square to perform an insta-kill counter-attack. Later in the game, when there’s 20 guards circling you waiting for an opportunity to have a crack, this becomes mind-numbingly boring.
The stealth aspect of the game also disappointingly shallow. You can kill a guard and walk away - provided you walk really slowly and bow your head. If your cover is blown, you can just run around a corner and sit on a bench. As the game progresses, you’re more and more likely to end up having to kill the guards. I want to be able to hide in the shadows, or change into a different outfit, or bribe a shopkeeper to hide me - or a million other things that are actually plausible ways to avoid detection.
Assassin’s Creed fails as an action game, and fails as a stealth game - however as a tech demo of a really awesome engine that Ubisoft have built, it’s fantastic. I can’t help but think Ubisoft would’ve been better off making the game last for five brilliant hours rather than 10+ average hours - perhaps going the episodic route would’ve worked. I would put a large sum of money on Assassin’s Creed 2 being a 95+ game - but what we see here reeks of being rushed to a Christmas release no matter the cost.
Despite the flaws, I strongly urge you to rent the game - as it’s a great game until the repetition hits home, and of course, tolerance to repetition varies greatly from player to player.