52 Weeks of Canadian Gaming - Week 2
Release Date: November 14, 2007
Developer: Ubisoft Montréal
ESRB Rating: Mature
Reviewed by: Brian Wray
For my second week of my year wanderlust in the world of Canadian gaming, I choose Assassin’s Creed. In Assassin’s Creed, the gamer takes on the role of Desmond, an everyday bartender, kidnapped by the Abstergo corporation and forced to relive the events of one of his ancestors via some type of virtual reality. The memories he must relive are not those of some uncle making a fool of himself at a family picnic, but those of Altair a medieval assassin for the Brotherhood. Assassin’s Creed is a game that shared many commonalities with last week’s title of Prince of Persia. Once again the game’s feature a protagonist with advanced acrobatic skills capable of scaling just about anything that will allow a finger hold except for trees, for some strange reason, Altair cannot climb a tree (not that there are many to climb anyway). Altair also has the ability to blend into the crowd and the amazing talent to hide from his opponents using haystacks and booths. I guess the technique to push aside a curtain and look into a booth, or to poke your sword into a stack of hay had not yet been invented at this time.
Just as Prince of Persia before it, Assassin’s Creed displays all the telltale trademarks of Ubisoft Montréal; stunning graphics, mesmerizing music and precise and responsive controls. Just a word about the music. For some strange reason, the music that plays during chase or combat sequences reminds me so much of the battle between the two Jedi (not Jedis for you Star Wars initiates) and Darth Maul in Star Wars Episode 1.
The gem of Assassin’s Creed is it’s huge populated cities. Jerusalem, Acre and Damascus are vast and bustling with activity. While walking around each burg, you can get the feel that the place is actually populated by real people. Around every corner there are sights and sounds of a bustling medieval metropolitan. Walk down any street to be greeted by merchants, people grouped together talking, women carrying jugs and beggars (oh so annoying beggars) trying to pocket some gold. These folks are not just there for the scenery as they do occupy space and will not appreciate Altair crashing into them. This virtual populace can aid or hinder Altair missions depending on how they are treated. The only things missing in my opinion beyond the smell of the city are animals and children. I did notice the game rather devoid of any children, while the only animals present are pigeons and horses (I could hear a dog, but did not see any). The cities are a joy to navigate and explore, but doing so will reveal the biggest problem with the game, lack of things to do.
(Click for larger image)
The reason why Altair visits each city is to assassinate a specific target (there are 9 targets in all to eliminate to complete the game). Before Altair can take out a target, he must gather intelligence that demonstrates the target deserves to die and what would be the best manner to eliminate the target without compromising any of the assassin’s creed. To accomplish this mission, the assassin can eavesdrop on conversations, interrogate (rough up) suspects, pickpocket or complete mini-missions for informants. A good assassin also needs to scout out the area by climbing certain tall buildings (identified by a circling or resting eagle). Beyond those key activities, Altair can also save innocent citizens from corrupt guards, eliminate “templars” and collect lots and lots of flags. But beyond this, there is nothing to do and this leads to the number one complain about the game, it’s repetitive nature.
There are plenty of areas where Assassin’s Creed repetiveness rears it’s ugly head. Ubisoft did a great job at creating textures to emulate long flowing robes, but they must have only created the one texture for when surrounded by dozens of citizens, they all look identical. This is even more noticeable when Altair walks among scholars, each one has the exact same wrinkles and creases in their robes. What most people complain about is the receptiveness to the missions. Each new mission is the same: head out to one of the 3 cities, save a dozen or so citizens, rough-up some pawns, eavesdrop on conversations, climb a dozen or so buildings to scout the area , pickpocket a few dudes etc. If gamers repeat this process 9 times (once for each target), it is no wonder they complain or repetitiveness. But unlike the texture problem, gamers can partially eliminate this form of repetitiveness if only they act like an assassin.
(Click for larger image)
Altair needs not climb every single building or perform every bit of intelligence gathering for each mission. In fact to fully enjoy the game, just do what is absolutely required to complete each mission. I played my first two missions by completing every task possible and felt a change in gameplay was required. For the remainder of the missions I decided to play as if I was an assassin. When I entered a city, I climbed the first few buildings to scout for the guild. The guild master then targeted a few locations on my map for intelligence gathering. I visited only what was required to get the approval to take out my mark. Once I got the approval, I scouted all possible routes to get to the mark, complete the mission and then to get back to the guild within the shortest amount of time possible. I would only save civilians if it aided in my mission. Now instead of performing 40+ tasks per mission, I was now doing less than a dozen. I also avoided all combat unless absolutely essential. This eliminated the repetitive feeling from the game and made the game way more enjoyable.
I have to take a brief moment to talk about the combat system in Assassin’s Creed. Combat is very similar to Prince of Persia minutes the Quick Time Event . Unlike our happy Prince, Altair often finds can be severely outnumbered by guards, but the combat system of parries, attacks and counter-attacks is so fluid that it is often quite fun to just go out and smack a guard by the head to enter into combat mode and tackle on a dozen or so of the city’s finest.
Assassin’s Creed can be a great game or a chore depending on how you play the game. If you tried Assassin’s Creed and found it to be repetitive, try it again using my “minimum action” formula and you will surely change your mind. If you are compelled to complete every task and collect every flag (for achievement purposes I suppose) then do so by replaying missions after the game is done. That will not take too long, for the game is quite short (even more so if you use my technique). The good news is that the game can be found for about $20 new, and even cheaper used.