I know I don’t normally talk about video games on this blog much, but with Assassin’s Creed III on my shopping list I’ve been replaying one of my favourite franchises. I originally wrote this review of the first Assassin’s Creed for product review site Dooyoo a while ago, and I thought I’d repost it here.
I have a lot of respect for Assassin’s Creed, a game that is far from perfect and yet has been written and designed with originality, care and more than just the cynical desire to shift the product to consumers. While it suffers from the occasional poor decision, there is no sense of haste about it. I never felt shortchanged by the game even when faced with the flaws. Its positives outweigh its negatives and it remains a title I would gladly recommend.
Promoted as a period piece and action title; Assassin’s Creed is actually a sophisticated science fiction tale. The player takes the role of Desmond, a bartender from the not-too-distant future. He is kidnapped by a sinister corporation and thrust into a machine known as the “animus.” This miracle of modern engineering is a DNA analyser, capable of picking out the memories of the user’s ancestors and representing them as a form of virtual reality. From here the game splits into two threads, the exploits of kidnapped Desmond in the future and the adventures of his long forgotten ancestor, Altair. Set during the crusades, Altair is a fully trained assassin of a secret order. Waging a secret war against the Knight’s Templars, Altair must investigate different cities in the Holy Land, kill corrupt officials and generally snoop, sneak and stab. As the narrative unfurls, Desmond uncovers connections between Altair’s investigation in the past and his own kidnapping. It’s a story that serves not only as an original and interesting backdrop to the main game but serves as a setup up for tutorials and in game instructions.
The concept of the animus also relates to Assassin’s Creed’s style of gameplay. Early on it is explained that the animus works on a “puppeteering” concept. This influences how you control Altair, providing him more with instructions to follow than control his every movement specifically. While the player isn’t detached from control, you are not expected to perfectly judge ever jump and climb. Control systems such as the “free-running” mode allow you to merely direct Altair towards obstacles and allow him to traverse them. It’s a mechanic that is new and has the benefit of allow the player to spend less time hammering buttons but does occasionally create a feeling of distance between the player and the character. However, it does create a more flexible, fluid climbing and running effect which is hard to replicate.
Altair is placed inside an open world reconstruction of the mediaeval middle-east. He must take a horse from city to city, ride the road to Damascus and stop occasionally at towers and castles to survey his surroundings, filling out his map. It has a good feeling for an open world game and solid graphics supporting the setting. At times the surroundings can be quite impressive and it’s nice to feel a part of Altair’s world. Gameplay takes you from city to city to perform tasks with each city having a nice range of differences in occupants, streets, styles. It’s definitely one of the highlights of the game.
However, where the game does fall short is undoubtably in mission variety. Most goals in the game are largely similar and require a combination of tedious, repetitive actions such as pick-pocketing or overhearing. These eventually lead you to a target to kill and the mission is over. The only real obstacle to this is the guards roaming around every corner. Far to sensitive, they will chase you down for so little as running in the street and can be torment to escape from when you’re really under pressure. They can swarm and outnumber you far too easily and it is often a frustrating exercise escaping them. Beyond the missions there is far too little to do besides explore the holy land, this gets boring quickly and at times the free-roaming world of Assassin’s Creed feels a little wasted. A more dynamic range of characters, locations and activities would really have turned this from a good game into and excellent one.
From a technical standpoint, Assassin’s Creed is quite reasonable. Released at a time when multiplatform games tended to go a bit limp on the PS3, this title has quite pleasing results. Graphics are clean and clear with no glaring flaws, the look suits the game and it runs smoothly for the most. The frame rate can take a bit of a knock when high up, surveying large areas of the world but otherwise it’s usually solid. The PS3 version features Quincunx Anti-Aliasing, unlike the multi-sample Anti-Aliasing of the 360 version. This does a great job of smoothing out the jagged edges, creating a cleaner picture, but Quincunx does tend too smudge textures a bit. This gives the game a soft focus look that some have been known to object to strongly. However, the PS3’s anti-aliasing performance isn’t brilliant and many developers resort to using Quincunx which is easier to implement. It’s infinitely better than shipping a game with no anti-aliasing (something that is becoming more common, unfortunately) and the soft focus look is a lot harder to notice than jagged edges everywhere, the overall effect is a game with a polished, professional look that the developers should be proud of.
Assassin’s Creed is not a perfect game, it is however and original game. In terms of storytelling it is a pleasurable, entertaining experience and it tries new things. In a time when the industry is clogged with mindless tat and endless sequels, Assassin’s Creed is the kind of game deserving of attention despite its flaws.