I kill you in the name of peace.
If I hadn’t grown up to be a video game reviewer, I think my second choice may have been an Assassin. After all, I am a qualified marksman, and I even won a couple trophies in archery when I was in High School. I have disposed of countless rodents, insects and arachnids with Ruthless Efficiency and a Callous Disregard for life.
And just think of the perks! You make your own hours, possess your own arsenal of death, and blood stains are easy to get out. You can tell mysterious, cool cover stories to dates, and your customers never, ever, turn up later to complain. Plus all the hashish you can eat.
Which is probably why I’ve had so much fun taking on the job in Assassin’s Creed. This beautiful, sprawling sandbox title turns the Crusades of the twelfth century into your personal playground of murder.
King Richard seeks to capture Jerusalem for the greater glory of the Christian church and the Pope has assured him that his victory over the heathens in Acre made baby Jesus smile. The sultan Saladin, on the other hand, is not smiling in the slightest as he tries to defend his homeland from the infidel dogs who are making Muhammad angrier than a Danish cartoon.
Meanwhile, the mysterious Templars seek to pull the hidden puppet strings and control the world for themselves, so that centuries later, they can fake the moon landings, run the world bank, and kill the electric car.
And you, a simple bartender in year 2012, are caught in the middle. Wait, what? As crazy as that sounds, you’ll actually spend most of the game as your distant past relative, Altaïr, who was the leading assassin of the day. Held against your will by the Abstergo corporation, you are forced to relive your great-great-great-great-grandassassin’s memories, which are still stored in your DNA and can be accesses through the miracle of modern science known as the Animus.
While you’ll spend some time exploring your small prison in the laboratory, trying to solve the riddle of your incarceration, you’ll spend the vast majority of your time exploring the dusty streets and cities of the ancient Middle East. And I do not exaggerate when I say these are the most beautiful, fully realized cities that have yet to grace a video game, from the wooden docks to the vaulted ceiling of a grand bazaar and the towering heights of a cathedral cross. I got your next-gen right here.
Use your uncanny climbing skills to ascend a tower or minaret, reach a vantage point (one of the game’s many optional goals), and prepare to have your breath taken away. The vast expanses of Damascus and Jerusalem spread out beneath you, basking in the dappled, glowing sunlight. You will be momentarily stunned when you realize that every building, every street, every mosque and church spire you can see is really there, waiting for you.
Then you leap, gracefully landing (hopefully) in one of the many conveniently placed hay carts that dot the city, cushioning your falls and providing handy concealment. Hay is the assassin’s best friend. Your dives aren’t your only graceful moves either. Whether you’re running, jumping, scaling a wall, or artfully dispatching an enemy, your precise agility would leave a panther hanging his feline head in shame.
The city is truly your playground, as you wander and unravel the politics of the day seeking the latest soft, fleshy target of the Assassin’s Guild. All your primary victims, by the way, are real historical figures. Assorted mandatory and optional side missions can also aid you in your goal. Pick the pocket of a courier to gain valuable information, or rescue a citizen from corrupt guards and their friends may come to your aid, helping you to sneak into a castle or tackling guards that may be chasing you. A weaker mission type has you collecting flags, Tony Hawk style (for the completionist, there are hundreds of hidden flags), and there isn’t quite enough variety, but hey, they’re optional, right?
I wanted to complete them all, however, just to give me a side task while I played around, exploring the nooks and crannies of every city. Assassin’s Creed has been getting some mixed reviews, and I know why. You can take some people to a park, and they’ll come back an hour later with the information that it has 1.2 miles of path, a regular slide, a twisty slide, and some swings. But they won’t have actually played on the slide, enjoyed a sunny day, taken off their shoes to run through the grass, or climbed the tree that they forgot to catalog. The goal of Assassin’s Creed is to play the game, not get to the end.
That doesn’t mean that there’s no room for improvement. The game could use some more depth, both in missions and perhaps an economy, allowing more interaction with the many markets, which are only currently there for show. The assassinations themselves could also use some more alternatives. While you can investigate for information about your target and how to get to him, the kills always work out the same way. There’s no puzzle elements to the killing, and often no way to devise a stealth kill, like you can in the Hitman series. Instead, you just stab them, usually in public, and then flee…
Flee back into those glorious city streets and across the rooftops to sound your barbaric “Yawp!”, because that’s where this game really shines.