Assassin’s Creed a worthy adventure…

Title Assassin’s Creed
Developer Ubisoft
Type Third person Sneaker
Platform(s) Xbox 360, PlayStation 3: Windows sometime in 2008
Kelly Score ™ 92 / 100

I believe it is appropriate to note that I am not a historian before I say anything about Assassin’s Creed. Furthermore, I am not a religious person- I’m an agnostic. These two things together mean that my opinions regarding the religious or historical content of the game Assassin’s Creed should be taken with a grain of salt.

Assassin’s Creed is an open-ended third person sneaker with a strong role playing element. It is single player only, with no multiplayer or online elements other than XBox Live achievements. The main character- the guy you play- is oddly sort of a secondary character within the game itself. You are Desmond Miles, a young guy who finds himself kidnapped and held within a lab at a shadowy pharmaceutical company’s offices. The majority of the game is played through Desmond’s “genetic memories” using a machine called the Animus. You spend your time playing through your recovered memories of an ancestor named Altair: an assassin, Hashshashin, or Fedayeen during the period of the Third Crusade.

The plot involves completing a series of assassinations, partly to restore Altair’s status within his guild, and more importantly to disrupt the plans of the invading Templars. A secondary plot involves discovering why Desmond has been kidnapped and forced to live through his ancestral memories. Something is going on in modern times, something sinister and based on ancient rivalries and power struggles. The story is presented through a series of slightly interactive cut scenes (you can change your point of view and move slightly) with first rate voice acting.

Visually, Assassin’s Creed is first rate. The graphics are beautiful with lots of light and very realistic city-scapes. You can immediately tell Acre from Jerusalem based on the architectural styles in place. Performance was smooth and consistent: something I really appreciated while trying to run away from chasing mobs of guards. The sound effects, including crowd sounds, creaking of leather harness, and footsteps on various surfaces were all masterfully done.

The game play is well-suited to the console controller. Combat involves opportunistic blocks and counter moves, sneak attacks, and “power” strikes based on visually timed presses of the trigger and action buttons. Most of the fights are up close and personal: Altair re-earns his weapons and skills, but his only distance attack is a thrown dagger. Against more powerful foes like the Templar Knights and your assassination targets, these thrown daggers are not “one shot” kills- you have to come in close and either use a sneak attack with your concealed blade, or fight a “hand to hand” battle with your sword. I was a little disappointed by this: the teaser movies I saw, including the ones in the released game, show Altair with a crossbow strapped to his back. In the actual game you never get this weapon- I kept hoping it would come later on, but it never did.

This led to one of the few negative comments I can make about the game. A true assassin would likely want to kill their target from concealment: perhaps with poison, a trap, or with a longbow/crossbow from a distance. None of these options are available in Assassin’s Creed: the only way to perform a “true” assassination is from mere inches away, with a concealed blade. Every major target in the game is surrounded by highly attentive guards in highly public places- I didn’t find a single opportunity to get them alone with that “six inches of steel”. So all of my major assassinations involved more or less a massive frontal attack. I could pick off all the surrounding guards except for the last half dozen or so standing right next to my target. This led to exciting one against six or seven melees, but didn’t quite result in what might be considered traditional assassinations.

“Silent” assassinations against minor targets are, however, quite possible in Creed. You can walk through a crowd, pick any miscellaneous target you like, and kill them without drawing attention until their body falls to the ground- this leaves plenty of opportunity to get quietly away, and it was at these times that I felt most like an assassin.

Another game defining type of activity for me was “roof running”: climbing, jumping, and hanging from whatever elevated positions I could find. This reaching for the sky had a game system advantage as well: Assassin’s Creed requires you to get to “high spots” in each area in order to see the surrounding land and “refresh” the memories you have of your ancestor. So climbing a tower in Damascus helps you find nearby opportunities to gather information on your targets.

Which leads to another interesting aspect of the game. It is necessary to learn about each major target before you attempt to kill them: the local guild leader must approve your plan, and to get this approval you have to demonstrate adequate knowledge. You complete a series of mini-missions in order to gain information about your target, things like picking the pockets of a contractor working on something for them or beating information out of one of their flunkies. Typically you only have to complete two or three such missions out of six or so that are available in order to get sufficient information. I enjoyed these little missions enough, however, that I usually completed two or three more than I needed.

It is also possible to wander around town and look for citizens in need of help. These missions are always the same: kill some guards and rescue the citizen and, as a reward, get some help from the local citizens to escape or bypass guards in the future. Even though they are always the same, I still found them enjoyable. I would have enjoyed more secondary missions with perhaps a bit more depth: but Assassin’s Creed isn’t a role playing game in that sense so perhaps it is unreasonable to expect that kind of openness. Traveling from city to city is accomplished via convenient (and freely available) horses: the horses are extremely well animated, and I spent a lot of time riding around in circles admiring their walk, trot, canter and gallop. Once you have travelled to a city you can elect to skip the intermediate ride across the kingdom.

The game itself requires you to complete the main missions (the nine assassinations), but exactly how you perform them and in many cases what order you perform them in is up to you. Your master generally gives you two or three targets in different cities at a time. You can complete them in any order and, once you have satisfied the local guild master that you are ready, you can kill your target however you wish. As I mentioned earlier, however, all of the targets are “set up” in a very public location once you get approval to kill them. I didn’t find any that gave me the opportunity to sneak in to their private quarters in the middle of the night and kill them in their sleep.

The basic method I felt forced to adopt was to kill all the minor guards in the vicinity, then jump into the middle of the target’s personal guards and start wailing away with my sword. Once all of the target’s personal guards were dead, I could focus on the target himself: usually this involved chasing the coward through the streets until I could corner him and finish him off. In a few instances I was able to kill the main target while most of his guards were still alive but, because of the way the combat targeting works in the game, this was more by luck than by design. Each time you are struck by a foe they become your main target, or at least that was my observation. If you knock them down without killing them, they will no longer be your target. It is critical to reduce the numbers you are facing as quickly as possible, so I would generally have to manually switch back to target the fallen fellow and kill him before he could get up. If you are meleeing multiple foes at the same time they will, thankfully, generally step back and let you fight one at a time. I say thankfully because, otherwise, the targeting would be switching so often that you’d never get one of them killed.

I enjoyed Assassin’s Creed a great deal, and am looking forward to what I understand will be two more games in what is expected to be a trilogy. There is, however, some room for improvement that I would like to see addressed in future episodes:

  • more complete/variable “secondary” missions
  • more options for assassination: a crossbow, or maybe poison, plus the ability to learn more detail about the target and thereby find ways of killing them “in private”
  • better melee targeting: Altair should be able to pick a target amongst several (a “focus” or game pause to choose a target), as he should know at least as well as I do that the most critical thing to do when facing multiple assailants is to reduce their numbers as quickly as possible. Five assailants all reduced to 30% of their health are still able to hit you five times to every one time you hit- 4 assailants at 100% health and one dead assailant are far better odds

Things I hope they don’t change include the horse back riding, the climbing “viewpoints”, the roof top running, and the “silent assassination” abilities.

3 thoughts on “Assassin’s Creed a worthy adventure…”

  1. I suspect the lack of final Assassinability is deleberate and motivated by politics.

    You were talking about “feeling more like an assassin”; well you can just imagine all the concerned parent groups, religious busy boodies and psychobabble do gooders complaints about a game that makes you feel like an assassin… especially one with middle eastern roots and trappings. “Turning our children into suicide bombers!”

    That coupled with the strange general distaste among “hardcore” gamers for the use of stealth rather than slugfests, and I don’t think you will see a proper assassin game soon.

  2. A shame really, because Thief was a great sneak game… but it never really caught on for the stated reason of more nuke em’ wanted instead of plot and different game play. Hence why FPS games bore me to tears.

  3. To clarify a bit- there was a lot to enjoy in the sneaking/open ended aspects of Assassin’s Creed. That’s why I gave it a rating of over 90%- very much a recommended title. Could it have been better? Absolutely, but not by much.

    Like any review, however, my perceptions are coloured by my personal preferences. That’s why I often spend a lot of time in my reviews explaining my likes and dislikes: someone else with different preferences would almost certainly have significantly different impressions.

    I suspect that the design choices the developers made regarding how assassinations and combat work in the game probably came from playtesting more than political correctness or the like. The fact that they placed the game in the middle of a religious war suggests they aren’t exactly hiding from controversy. The main bad guys are the Templars (Christians), and part of the plot suggests that Christ and religion in general is basically a sham. But a game where you kill the “main” targets with a single dart or poisoned drink from perfect concealment (or better yet, while in a different city) probably wasn’t as much fun as having more direct melee than is probably realistic. I’d like it if they shifted the balance a bit more towards the “silent killer in the shadows” approach for the main targets, but I can understand that they also have to make the game appealing to a wider market than just me.

    I got a good 18 hours or so of fun out of Creed, and am definitely looking forward to “Assassin’s Creed 2” or whatever they call the next episode.

    Oh, one thing I really enjoyed in Creed and forgot to mention… in several of the cities you will be assailed by beggars, drunks, and madmen. These people block your path, bump you around, and generally interfere with your objectives. I’m sure this places me firmly on the psychopath watch list, but after a while I started casually killing these irritating people whenever they got in my way. I would slip through a crowd, my concealed blade stealing the lives of pushy, irritating people without anyone noticing until they tripped over the bodies.

    There was something humorous and faintly satisfying about some drunk bumping into my character, encountering my knife, and me continuing on slowly and quietly… to be followed a moment later by a guard saying “What happened here…a murder!” One location near a decorative fountain in a town had three or four beggars and an equal number of drunks wandering around. I walked around in a circle and killed them all, then quietly sat down on a bench nearby and watched the guards getting all excited 😈

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