Assassin's Creed ReviewGreg Knoll
People either loved it, or hated it. Fans made it the fastest selling franchise of all time. They called it gorgeous, stylish and incredibly intuitive. Critics and cynics said the exact opposite—claiming it was slow, redundant and agonizingly bland. Given the history of games with such exposure, Creed may be doomed to a debate more fierce than the great Chrono Cross debacle of 2001. So before that starts, I take it upon myself, using my superior deduction skills to finally determine who’s right.
They both are.
The story is a mix of both positive and negative aspects, and starts out very confusing. Instead of taking on the role of a monk-like assassin during the Third Crusades, I initially found myself playing a timid bartender named Desmond in a modern day setting. He’s laying there, on a futuristic apparatus, while a doctor and his assistant are spewing scientific jargon. Odd… I haven’t felt this out of place since I was playing Roxas in Kingdom Hearts II. But that’s only the beginning, and Creed introduces a very unique twist, and ingenious idea by way of a second plotline seen through Desmond’s own toils and torments.
Desmond is actually a distant descendent of Altair—the assassin I was expecting to play. And locked within Desmond’s genetic coding are memories from Altair—memories the doctor wants. For what reason, it’s not yet apparent, but to get them, the doctor manipulates you back into the strange machine known as the Animus to extract them by forcing you to live out your ancestors past.
It’s here where Altair takes over, but at the beginning he’s nothing like an assassin. He’s brash, arrogant and has no problem announcing his presence to the intended target. And on the first mission I played, that ego becomes his undoing. Instead of safely leading his team to success, he taunts their victim and walks right into a trap. Most of Altair’s team loses their lives, and one his arm.
As punishment, Altair’s status as a top-ranking assassin is revoked. He’s forced to re-learn the creed and codes of his brotherhood, through nine different missions, and nine assassination targets.
When the game gets into the action, I understood why so many people raved about Creed. Altair has a vast array of skills and tricks he can use to accomplish his daunting task. He can slow his pace, bow his head and his disguise as a monk to join a group of them and sneak past armed guards into the city or a secluded area. He can re-work his entire demeanor to portray himself as a peaceful priest to avoid a suspicious soldier.
Or, he can cast it off instantly and charge down the streets at a blinding speed to escape pursuers, with the speed and grace expectant of an assassin. Drive him towards a wall and he’ll instinctively clamber up and work his way towards the nearest foothold. He’ll automatically zigzag his way to the top, finding the next niche to ascend while you doing nothing more than move the analog stick. This is crucial for working your way to the top of the city’s highest towers, one of the game’s most important and memorable tasks. Altair sits perched atop the tower, the camera pans around him and draws back, unlocking a part of the map that was once clouded over. The game’s incredible graphics and beautifully rendered medieval landscape give a view unlike any other. The first time I stood on a fifty-foot structure and watched this, it blew my mind. Then the game encouraged me to jump, I leapt off to see the ground rush up at a nauseating rate, only to land harmlessly in a pile of hay, and my blown mind was fully scrambled.
And that was only part of it. Altair’s inhuman acrobatics also lend to his survival. The swift killer can leap across rooftops with ease, over huge gaps between buildings with little effort and over carts as if they were matchbooks. He can balance on vertical poles with one foot, or swing one-handed from horizontal ones. Altair can even leap on a beam and immediately sprint across faster than most people could run on solid ground. All of this is done seamlessly and without a pause in the assassin’s movement. Chases, even random explorations were far more intense, allowing me to focus on the action, instead of what I needed to do next on the controller.
But by far the most exciting thing Altair can do with his skills is end someone’s life. He can be slow and silent. He’ll bow his head, clasps his hands in prayer and sneak up to an enemy. He grabs them by the shoulder and buries the hidden blade tucked under his sleeve in their stomach. Before they even fall to the ground, Altair goes back to his somber state, leaving other guards in a panic looking for the culprit.
Or he can take the more stylish route, and announce his presence. He charges forward, shoves crowd members aside and leaps into the air. The soldier turns on him, tenses, sets to cry out a warning but it’s already too late. Altair’s weight drives his enemy to the ground and the blade gets buried in his victim’s jugular. Altair is up in a blink, racing through the streets as the alerted guards attempt to hunt him down.
The first time I did any of that I was awestruck. Even the fifth time it was exciting. But the game forces you to endure the same tasks nine times: surveying the city, pick pocketing, eaves dropping, gathering Intel until finally you assassinate your target. Very little is revealed story wise—even with the occasional swap to Desmond—throughout three quarters of the game. Minus Altair not jumping where you wanted, or not being able to swim, the repetition was Creed’s biggest drawback. It’s bad. I’m not going to lie. In fact, it was so dull a lot of people called it quits halfway through. I was almost one of them. Tragically I would have—and some gamers did—miss out on one of the most mysterious and intriguing endings of all time. The last twenty-five percent of the game blazes by at a fevered pace and throws you into battle after epic battle, culminating in one of the most intense and chaotic finales that left me wanting more of the game to play; left me eager for the sequel.
Call me crazy, again, but I’m a fan of Assassin’s Creed. I loved it for the same reason I do The Exorcist or The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. A majority of it, yes, is drab and repetitive. It drags in most places but there’s no denying its style and ability to deliver a twisted, compelling story when you’ve all but lost hope. Assassin’s Creed is close to greatness that I can’t help but hope for it to achieve that with the sequel. It’s not flawless by any means, but if Ubisoft listens to the fans as well as the critics for Assassin’s Creed II, it could be marked as the foundation for a very promising future.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.
May I have the strength to lead with compassion. May I have a resolve strong enough to inspire it in others. May my heart be true, my motives virtuous, my spirit valiant. And whether I fail or succeed, may I at least be brave in the attempt.
About the Author: Greg Knoll
Bio | Email | Twitter | Facebook