“The term 'Assassin' derives from Hashshashin, a militant Ismaili Muslim sect, active in the Middle East from the eighth to the fourteenth centuries. This mystic secret society killed members of the Abbasid and Seljuq élite for political and religious reasons.” Stuff the Wikipedia quote and let’s get straight to the point of secrecy. Something an Assassin is supposedly quite the expert with and yet, Ubisoft found a rather difficult task when it came to keeping tight lipped about the Assassin Creed story line’s major twist, in that its right at the beginning.
You play as Altair, a member of a secret order of Assassins with a rather American sounding accent for a native of the twelfth century Holy Land. A Holy Land in which all major cities are next door to each other, kind of like the Medway towns
. Only within two minutes of booting up the game, or if you’re a strange chap who actually reads the little instruction booklet you’ll have discovered that this is all a filthy lie. You actually play as a dullard of a barman in the nearby future, captured by an irritable scientist and forced to relive an assassin’s memories through the Animus, a Matrix like jack-in bed which can access the memories of the user’s ancestors embedded in his DNA
which sounds very much like something I would expect from a comprehensive school boy’s Ritalin fueled ambitious science project gone rather awry.
The great thing about this for anybody latching themselves onto our bland heroic barman and dodgy accent aside, badass twelfth century killing machine is that you never really die. You just get desynchronised from your ancestor’s memories and as such the Animus just hits the reset button. Which isn’t unlike the Prince of Persia’s death sequences being nothing more than a frightful nightmare of the protagonist, perhaps because the Prince of Persia series was concocted by the same company that brings us Assassin’s Creed.
The progression of this story isn’t all too linear either. The essential narrative is there, split up into six chapters but with the freedom to tackle each mission in whatever order you like. Meaning if one city of titanic proportions accommodating magnificent architecture with beautiful lighting effects and a zestful population of guards, beggars and merchants is starting to bore you, you can visit another city, which is exactly the same. The buildings, colour tint and inhabitants are all different, but the general feel of each city is all too similar. It’s more like visiting the same city at different times of the day, of which the game lacks, as its always sunny. Apparently assassins need their beauty sleep.
Don’t count this as a negative point though, while the cities feel the same you’ll soon find they aren’t as each one has a different layout, ranging from world’s best obstacle course No.1 to world’s best obstacle course No.3. You’re free to go wherever you want running, jumping, leaping, diving and misjudging the distance from point a
just enough to fall sixty feet to your death. I mean, desynchronisation. Which is really fun after the jig is up when yet another Crusader with a sixth sense for assassins spots you jabbing an archer in the spleen and an almost Starsky and Hutch like rooftop chase
A rare case this isn’t, as almost every Crusader in the Holy Land appears to be at one with The Force
and are outstandingly quick to spot an assassin, raise the alarm (which everybody except you is able to hear) and begin to give chase. This may perchance be thanks to the scores of blades Altair is carrying in broad daylight and the suspicious cloak pulled over his face not unlike a happy slapping gimp standing outside a Tesco’s car park every Saturday night undoubtedly plotting to earn another ASBO. The only way to avoid being caught in this irritating game of “spot the sociopath” is to blend in with your surroundings by walking slowly
. Galloping through the Kingdom because you may be in a hurry to get from one city to another is apparently akin to a colossal neon sign flashing the words, “ASSASSIN AT WORK”. Walking in-between a group of scholars and gently pushing townspeople aside rather than shoulder barging them to the ground is a much more socially acceptable way of progressing through the Holy Land. Forgive me if I do not share Ubisoft’s enthusiasm for being polite every minute of the day, it doesn’t exactly scream adrenalin rush.
As a matter of fact the best way to bring your true identity to light is to openly start eliminating as many guards and townspeople as possible as you finally lose it when another beggar stops you in your path just as you were about to pickpocket an important figure in a very crowded market. Slicing across the jugular of these vexing women is a clear cut way to invite all the Crusaders within three miles to a bring your own stabby thing party up your own arse. Grabbing these women by force and shunting them straight into a wall is however, much more socially acceptable than accidentally knocking over the empty jar a middle class resident was carrying through the streets, although they still run around screaming to the townspeople about how much of a git you are. Which is particularly annoying as people voice this opinion of me quite frequently.
Controlling Altair is different to what you’d usually expect in an action/adventure game, in that the character is controlled like the horrific love child of a Jim Henson creation
and a Panzer IV Ausf. A tank. The action buttons are designated to different limbs while the shoulder buttons trigger low and high profile versions of each action. This all works quite well by taking a potentially complex control scheme and making it simple, unfortunately “Simpleton” is the exact thought running through your mind as you try to swiftly turn around. Much like Resident Evil
characters, Altair takes his sweet time deciding which way to go while you decide whether to continue holding right to turn him around or go and put the kettle on. The bumper buttons are unassigned; one could have been used as a quick turn and the other as a command button to shank Lepers in the shin before they try to push you directly into the path of a band of Crusaders. That said the controls are fairly easy to get used to. The game employs the same jumping system as The Legend of Zelda
, where the game essentially does it for you. Meaning you’re lazy and only really holding one button while legging it across the city rooftops.
Assassinations make up a very small amount of the game and are over before they even start. The introduction of the target, cinematic sequences taking place while you move through the crowd to scope out the immediate area and committing said assassination while doing your best impression of Leon
is immensely cheerful, in a very dark sense of the word. Completing the required tasks before doing this takes far too long though. First you have to go through more plot development where the game slaps you in the face with freemason conspiracy theories like a wet fish
, then journey through your home town, then the over-world in order to get to the city housing the target, then carry out the same menial tasks you did in the previous mission, occasionally decking a merchant who may have realised you’re attempt to lift a few knives from his back pocket and then finally its time to stab someone of significance. Only that’s encompassed by cut-scenes that put Metal Gear Solid 2
’s codec conversations to shame, in which the player is required to look out for context sensitive glitches and mash the controller in time in order to make the scene more interesting to watch.
Combat is more than just pushing and shoving sharp pointy things into the necks of unsuspecting guards minding their own business. Its handled in quite a realistic manner, in which going balls out hack and slash against the enemy will result in looking a fool, because the enemies know how to block and parry your attacks. Making use of the counter system is the easiest way to take out enemies rather than just slashing at them but this means having to wait for somebody to attack you and far too often I found myself surrounded by large groups of hesitant enemies who would wait for me to attack first and if I did, I’d find myself on the wrong end of a long-sword. That said the fighting’s actually not bad, executed correctly a counter kill and combo kill will trigger a brief cut scene, which can look great if you quickly string several of them together making Altair look like an unmitigated badass. The exception being the final last hour where the amount of foes you encounter is on Master Chief versus Covenant levels and things just start to get silly.
For the most part I like Assassin’s Creed. It’s not bad but it’s not exactly worthy of a Game of the Year nomination either. It’s a new IP with original ideas and an interesting if sometimes laughable plot, unlike the many clones, sequels and unnecessary remakes cluttering up the shelves of my local gaming outlet and I was consistently entertained and thus compelled to see it through to the end despite a finale that rivals Halo 2
in exasperation which might provoke you into printing off a photograph of the development team (like this one
) and wiping your arse with it.