Assassin's Creed

BY Zach Hines  //  November 22, 2007

Not to be missed.


e sees you. You see him, but you don't see him, and that's exactly what he wants. You think he's just one of the many traders filling the busy streets of Jerusalem's market district. As you begin to push your way through the sea of bodies, you feel an icy chill run up your back. You casually look over your shoulder to convince yourself that nothing is there, and see that where he once was there is nothing more than a small bit of dust hanging in the air reflecting the sunlight. Now he is above you, perched on a rooftop watching your every move. Though you are assailed with the din of the packed streets, an eerie calm settles over you and you suddenly feel very alone. It is at that moment that you feel his sting. It came from behind; you never saw it coming, barely even felt it from the shock. As you lay dying you look up at him clothed in white, and you, bathed in red.

Assassin's Creed, developed by Ubisoft Montreal, is a game set during the Third Crusade in 1191. You are Altair Ibn La-Ahad, an assassin (the term derived from "Hashshashin" or "Eaters of Hashish," in reference to the assassin's use of drugs for their often politically motivated attacks). It falls to you to let the blood of those who are keeping the violence of the Crusades alive. The game will have you visiting cities such as Acre, Damascus, and Jerusalem as they appeared in the 12th century — sent there on missions to kill a few to save the many.

Your mission: kill a few,
save the many.
As you may have already learned there is a purported "twist" to this game, one many reviewers are very much displeased with. But it is not really a twist at all. A twist implies a singular event designed to take a story, going down one path, into another direction. AC does not do this. The twist is actually revealed at the onset of the game, plays an important part for the entirety of the story, and is no reason not to play.

Assassin's Creed, sharing many features with stealth action games such as Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid, differs from them most significantly in its emphasis on hiding in plain sight. One of its hallmarks is freedom of movement. Altair can climb virtually anything in the game that sticks out just enough for him to grab hold of. You are truly free to traverse the massive cities as you deem fit. One of the great joys of this game is simply climbing the face of a building to jump from rooftop to rooftop with a fluidity not seen in many games prior. Climbing and environment interaction is fairly easy to pull off with many movements seamlessly linking one to another.

Traverse the places you go
as you deem fit.
Combat is fairly well executed. You can either play it cool and quietly assassinate your marks with a hidden wrist blade, or you can play the aggressor and go in, swords drawn. You can attack first where timing leads to greater success, or you can place yourself in a counter-stance and respond to enemy assaults with vicious single-stroke kills. While the combat is fun and stylish, it is one of the few areas in which the game drops the ball a bit. At times, the controls can become a struggle to work with. Sometimes, when in defensive stance, you can't change your direction fast enough to block an attack from an angle, and it is easy to take yourself out of combat with the button configuration set up the way it is.

Another combat related issue is that of the AI. At times, enemies seem completely oblivious to your actions in proximity to them. For example, there are places in the game where two guards will be standing within ten feet of one another. I was able to walk right up behind one of them, stab him in the back, and stand there waiting for the other to respond. More often than not the second guard would simply turn around and walk the few steps to his fallen comrade wondering what befell him...while I was standing over the corpse. Issues like this can kill the sense of immersion really quick. However, the game functions well and has very few gameplay issues aside from these.

Graphically, this game is a joy to behold, with the stars of the show being the cities themselves. The locales are painstakingly realized to really make you feel as though you are traversing the streets of busy middle-eastern cities during the time of the crusades. There is a level of detail that permeates everything in the game, from the dirt and grime on the building façades to the shining metal of Templar helmets. Take a moment to climb the highest peak you can find wherever you happen to be, and simply look around to marvel at how far games have visually progressed. Dust hangs in the air through sunlit windows, blood stains the shine of virgin blades, and people move throughout the streets with a purpose and look of reality hardly seen elsewhere. As you play through the game, you will see just how important the crowds can be to your success (remember when I said "hiding in plain sight?"). Altair himself has so many actions and animations associated with him that he feels alive, and not like some wire-frame puppet. Visually, this game is a feast.

Assassin's Creed is also quite successful in its aural approach. The game relies heavily on many different sound effects layered one over the other to create a very lifelike feel. As you walk the streets, or leap from rooftop to rooftop, you'll hear zealots preaching, guards shouting, people bickering, church bells chiming, and birds flying overhead. Again, the idea here is commotion; the business that filled the streets of the Middle East during the game's setting. Imagine walking down the busy streets of New York and you get an idea of Assassin's Creed. The musical score of the game is also well done, appropriate for the time period and geography.

You are the fish, they are the sea:
hide in plain sight.
One problem I do find with the sound design is Altair's voice. For the most part, the voice acting is very accurate. The Templar and European knights either speak with an English accent or in French, while locals speak with a discernable Middle Eastern accent. However, Altair has no discernable accent of any kind. He sounds like Stan Smith who lives at 123 Anywhere Street. There is nothing special to his voice, which I find quite distracting. He is obviously Muslim, based on his affiliation with the Hashshashin, so shouldn't he sound the part?

Assassin's Creed is a great experience, and one that I would recommend to any gamer if only to experience a game heavily steeped in a period setting. If that doesn't necessarily appeal to you, AC still has much to offer in exploration and movement, as well as brutal yet graceful combat. The game isn't perfect, but it delivers solid gameplay with a truckload of eye candy. If you like to slink through the shadows, look down upon the masses from on high, or get your hands dirty in dark alleys — then Assassin's Creed is a game not to be missed. Just remember: Everything is permitted, nothing is real.

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