Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: 4/8/2008
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Nothing is true. Everything is permitted. This is a saying heard throughout Assassin’s Creed and it really sticks with you. So does the thick plot that has come to take the game industry by storm as well as one of the greatest game characters of all time: Altair. The plot is actually weird at first because it’s a sci-fi story. You are actually Desmond Miles capture by modern world Templars. They stick you in an Animus and use your DNA to access your ancestor’s memories to find the Piece of Eden which can be used to control people’s minds. That one ancestor is Altair set during the crusades. The second story is of Altair who ends up losing his rank and status among the Assassin Brotherhood by failing a mission due to eagerness and stupidity. Your master, Al Mualim, sends on special missions to assassinate key leaders throughout the holy land (Acre, Jerusalem, and Damascus) to keep them from taking the Piece of Eden and using it to win the war.
As you can see the plot is very interesting with a lot of twists. How is the game though? You have a huge open world that is full of side missions and hundreds of buildings to climb. Assassin’s Creed has a parkour climbing system as well as a puppeteering system. You control each of Altair’s limbs in two different states. The “socially acceptable” state allows you to use eagle vision which can show enemies and key targets. You can gently push people away from you and this is key because is you’re running around the city knocking people over the guards will come after you, and towards the end of the game everyone is highly suspicious of you and just a few people knocked over will have the entire guard on your tail. The third thing is obviously combat, but if you hold down the run button you start climbing buildings, grabbing people to toss them, and jumping around.
Assassin’s Creed really tried to introduce crowd psychology into the game and it works here but does feel limited. If you climb buildings people will react by stopping and staring and saying things accordingly. If you use ladders people don’t mind so much. While using rooftops is faster and keeps you away from most guards you must watch out for guards on rooftops who will shoot you with arrows if you don’t get down, kill them, or move away quickly. The climbing works well enough, but there are some controls issues, clipping issues, and other issues with the camera. When Altair is facing a different way then the camera he will jump towards his way instead of the way you’re telling him too. Also, if you run around a pole or near a crate he’ll start climbing it instead of just jumping over or going around. This can get downright frustrating when you are running away from a dozen guards and trying to find a hiding spot.
The game also introduces anonymity via a symbol near your health bar which stays white when no ones suspect you but will turn yellow when you are watched and flash red when guards are on to you. When it does this getaway quickly or kill whoever is watching you. Don’t just kill out in the open or people will run around screaming and call guards. Get away from dead bodies quickly because guards will come by and try to find who killed them or citizens will give you away. If you are caught you need to kill all guards after you or hide. To do this you must break their line of sight and the symbol will flash yellow. When it does find a hiding spot quickly before it turns red again. You can hide on benches between people, stacks of hay, in groups of monks praying, or draped boxes on rooftops. Stay there for a few seconds and you will be anonymous again. You can avoid all this chaos by just jogging, staying calm, don’t flail around and jump around like a monkey in crowded areas, etc.
This whole crowd system is really something else and works well, but feels repetitive and predictable because of the recycled sayings, animations, and it always happens the same way. The combat is the same way because while you can gain new abilities it feels like a counter fest. You can attack with a sword or short sword, throw daggers, but most guards always block and you just stand there with the block button held down and wait for someone to attack and then counter which is usually an instant kill. This gets repetitive and the combat isn’t as deep as it could be since combos are limited, and animations are repeated often. It does control well and feels smooth so I guess that’s better than broken.
The most repetitive thing and the game’s biggest flaw are the constantly repeated missions that repeat dozens and dozens of times. You can save citizens, do some time trial flag gathering missions, escort missions, assassination missions (probably the most fun), interrogation, eavesdropping, pickpocketing, and climbing tall buildings to find viewpoints to put more missions on your map in that area. Sure they are fun at first, but after you have saved the 30th citizen, or climbed the 50th building it gets old and you just want it to end. Some more mission diversity would have been nice.
While it’s cool to be an assassin, sneaking up behind a guard and shoving a punch dagger in his gut, and then running away while he falls to the ground without anyone suspecting otherwise is satisfying you must look good doing it too. Assassin’s Creed looks amazing, even today, and the PC version sports DirectX 10 graphics with some slightly higher resolution textures. The game looks a lot better than console versions and is well worth another play through just for that alone. While the graphics are amazing technically, artistically the game feels very Middle Eastern with a great soundtrack to support that, voice acting, and the whole game feels true to its time. The architecture is great, the clothing, lifestyles, and jobs people do in the game, but it all does kind of look the same with a lot of greys, browns, and whites.
Overall Assassin’s Creed is an amazing experience with a story you will talk about long after you finish the game, great crowd simulation, and the true feeling of being an assassin. If there was some more mission diversity, visual diversity, and smoother controls the game would be perfect. This is a game you can not miss and every gaming fan should play this.
I played the Assassin’s Creed franchise in an unusual order, starting with Brotherhood and then playing the next two games before coming back to the series’ roots because it was a franchise I was very interested in. So interested in it, that a question about the series is in fact what landed me on this site. But that’s a story for another time. I tried my best to play Assassin’s Creed without any bias of the future games and I found that AC is a fundamentally flawed game which nevertheless is still good.
The first thing I noticed, whether it be while playing on an unofficial Mac port or the Xbox 360 version was that the game looks stunning. The graphics still hold up by today’s standards. The views are pretty and the buildings well designed. It is such a shame then that they all look so similar. Going through the numerous cities in the game should feel different, but you’ll find it hard to differentiate between the cities, let alone the three districts each encompasses. Only Masyaf and the way-too-large Kingdom look different from the rest.
The repetition doesn’t just apply to the city designs however. Despite the fact that there is somewhat of a “leveling system”, almost all of the important things are given to you after your first and second assassinations so there is no real sense of progression and combat quickly becomes a bore. Other then during the final battles, you’ll find yourself being able to kill 25-50 guards with no issue. This makes large-scale battles incredibly boring. Also, running away/hiding from guards is way too easy. The AI is so dumb that if you get out of their sight for just a few seconds and then sit on a bench they will not notice you when they finally catch up.
But even more troubling is how tedious the investigation missions get. Before each of the assassinations you must investigate the whereabouts of your target. This involves completing at least 3 (or 2 at the beginning of the game) investigation missions. While a novel idea on paper, this quickly gets boring and during some of the later parts of the game you will be so bored of this process that you will be begging for the game to end.
But all is not bad with this game. The assassination missions are for the most part excellent and unlike the repetitive investigation missions each plays out differently and can be tackled in numerous ways, with stealth being the most satisfying way. The story is excellent but reading my description of it may confuse you. Desmond Miles, a bartender, has been kidnapped by a medical company called Abstergo for unknown reasons and is forced to relive the memories of his assassin ancestor, Altair, using an object called the Animus. It’s got a few large plot twists and while the Desmond plot isn’t very important in this game it really takes off in the future installments.
Altair starts off as a snobby jerk but he really matures as the game progresses. The enemies of this game, the Templars, aren’t the typical “big baddies” you are used to seeing in other games as they seek the same goal as the assassins: world peace, but have different methods of obtaining it. Sometimes you can’t help but agree with the Templars, but then you see what despicable things they do and that all goes away.
Another important part of Assassin’s Creed is the free roaming/parkour. You can climb basically everything and that never gets old. There are some beautiful sights to be seen from the higher buildings and jumping off of ledges on very tall buildings into hay stacks without getting harmed will always bring a smile to your face no matter how ridiculously goofy it is.
The atmosphere in the first game is very different from the rest. The excellent soundtrack has a sort of creepy vibe to it which makes sense considering the modern story is about a man who has been kidnapped. The controls work very well and feel fluid with a controller but using a keyboard and mouse feels very unnatural for free roaming and you are probably going to have to adjust the settings for things to feel right.
All in all, Assassin’s Creed is not a great game but is nevertheless a good one and is well worth playing, I do not regret playing it as it gave me an insightful look on the roots of the series and was an all-around enjoyable experience despite being very repetitive. If you’re a fan of open world action-adventure games and/or history then give Assassin’s Creed a try.