Hot Times in the Middle East
Very few games take place in 1100 AD. In fact I can only think of one game that does, Assassin’s Creed. The setting alone makes Assassin’s Creed a very special game, but other than that the game is a success on a number of other levels. The game has a strong story, great gameplay, and stellar graphics. The game is kind of shallow but very ambitious, a great starting point for this franchise.
In Assassin’s Creed you play as two characters. One character is Desmond Miles. Miles is a man who is kidnapped by the Abstergo Corporation and forced onto a machine called the Animus which allows Miles to act out the memories of his ancestors and for the doctor Warren Vidic to also view these memories. Miles doesn’t know why he is being used by the doctor except that if he doesn’t use the machine he’ll be killed. Luckily the doctor’s assistant, Lucy Stillman (voiced by Kristen Bell), is the voice of reason keeping Miles alive and befriending him along the way. It is only revealed well into the story what the doctor’s true intentions are.
The other character you play as is Altair. His memories take place in 1100 AD during the crusades. When we are first introduced to him he is a very arrogant person. He breaks some rules during a mission to recover an artifact and is stripped of his rank. To regain his rank the leader of the Assassin’s Order, Al Mualim, has him assassinate nine people through the game. For every person he assassinates the higher rank he achieves giving him more abilities and equipment. Through the course of the game he becomes less cocky and more curious all on the way to finding out the true reason for assassinating all the people throughout the game.
For an action game the story is very strong and in depth, worth paying attention to. Interactive cut scenes help keep your mind in the game which is good because you’ll be playing this one for a while. The game is long or short depending on what you want to devote your time to. The core of the game has you assassinating your targets. However, to do so you need to gather intel from the three cities in the game. Each city in the game, Jerusalem, Acre and Damascus are divided into a poor, middle, and rich district. Your first task is to sneak into the city. Once you do that you need to scale high points, large buildings that allow you to view the lay of the land. Once you synchronize from the high point you can do the various missions in the game. The missions usually end up giving you information about the target you’re about to assassinate such as where his guards are located, his weaknesses, where he’ll be, etc. You can view the information you gather on the pause screen. Some are the form of letters which give the game a bit more depth if you read them. Some have maps on them in the form of an, “attachment,” which I thought was a nice touch. Once you gain enough information you report back to the leader in the Assassin’s Bureau of each respective city. When you report to the leader with the required info he gives you a feather that you mark your assassinated targets with. When you gather all the info from each city and perform an assassination completely undetected it feels very rewarding.
While doing these missions is entertaining for a while it does become somewhat repetitive. There are only a handful of missions none are unique. You basically end up doing the same thing nine times through the whole game. All the cities have seven to nine high points. You basically have to scale all these to see all the missions. Then there is a mission to save various citizens throughout the city. In return you either get a scholar, that allows you to hide, or vigilantes that distract guards that are attacking you. Both are barely useful, but if you want an achievement you can do them all. The main jobs that provide target information are pickpocketing (you pickpocket information from someone’s possession), informant missions (the informant will give you information if you do a race to pick up flags or if you assassinate a number of targets), eavesdrop (you sit on a bench and listen in on someone’s conversation) and interrogation (you pummel someone until they give you the information you need). Most of these provide very little challenge except for the informant missions that get kind of harder later in the game due to the increased awareness of the guards. You aren’t required to do all the missions to perform an assassination but the extra info will help you out. Either way the repetitive nature of the missions make the game kind of tedious.
A lot of joy that comes from the game goes into the things in between the missions. Free walking and scaling buildings is quite a joy. Using throwing knives to take out guards and silently assassinating your targets is fun. The combat is deceptively deep and becomes more fun as the game goes on when you unlock more abilities.
The world of Assassin’s Creed is pretty huge. In between the three cities is the kingdom, a massive open environment full of mountains, towns and other goodies. Unfortunately the game offers no incentive to explore this massive world. You can find flags in this area and Templars to assassinate. You can do the same thing in the cities. There is no benefit from doing this other than unlocking achievements. I would also imagine if you had no idea where the flags or Templars were it would take you a very long time to find them. I personally found all Templars, flags, and did all the missions and it took me quite a while to finish this game. If you did the bare minimum the game would be shorter, but I have no kind of gauge on how long the game would be if you didn’t do everything. You can fast travel once you’ve been to all three cities but I do think the developers deserve to have their massive world explored at least once.
One thing that does not disappoint are the graphics. The scale of the game is huge. Crossing a desert to Jerusalem actually feels like a long journey. The buildings are massive and detailed. Once you get to a high point the draw distance is quite impressive. As you run around the rooftops Altair animates beautifully hopping on wooden beams, swinging on poles and leaping from high points. The cities have a great atmosphere. Each city has a special hue. Jerusalem is greenish, Acre has a blueish hue (probably because it’s close to the water) and Damascus is more reddish. Smoke rises from chimneys and mist wafts through the air. You can even tell when clouds pass by overhead, an odd yet welcome sensation. The cities are bustling with activity from common citizens, to the poor begging you for money, prophets spouting their propaganda and guards too of course. The buildings are finely detailed down to the feces seen under the birds that fly away on the edges of the roofs. Even famous landmarks such as the Dome of the Rock are in the game. This game is full of nice touches for people who recognize these cities. The character models are pretty good too. The citizens are varied, though you’ll see them a lot, there are enough different ones to keep things convincing. Fighting guards results with a spectacular blood spray thanks to a sword through the sternum. Even three years after release the game has some of the best graphics on the system. There are a few stutters here and there but overall the graphics are a pleasant treat for the eyes.
The sound is also well designed. Sound effects from the clanging of swords to birds fluttering away as you run by them are all very convincing. The music is subtle while you explore the world, but the tempo picks up while you are in battle. There is also a nice little tune that plays when you accomplish a mission, along with some other high tech sounds. The voice acting is reasonable, not bad at all. Everyone speaks English in the game even though you are in Arabic countries. The doctor explains the Animus automatically translates the language to English so they can understand, which should dispel any disappointment of not hearing native speakers through the whole game. Kristen Bell and the rest of the crew did a good job.
Assassin’s Creed is a great game. It’s very ambitious in it’s design, and though it falls short with the repetitiveness of some aspects of the game the core game is still strong. The story is satisfying, assassinating targets to uncover they mystery of the game will have you hooked to the end and the graphics and world are something to marvel. This game didn’t live up to it’s full potential but it is still a success and worth a playthrough.