Assassin's Creed Hits High On Target
A despotic regent takes the stage and is set to execute five innocent people in front of a raging mob. A group of scholars prays for their souls by the side of the stage and begins to pass in front of the crowd. The instant the despot turns around to execute the first victim, a white hooded scholar breaks ranks and climbs onto the stage. He moves behind the despot as a blade descends from his wrist. In an instant the despot is dead and all hell breaks loose, but the assassin is gone. Harm no innocents, hide in plain sight and do not compromise the brotherhood. Your name is Altair and this is the Assassin’s Creed.
Ubisoft Montreal’s new game franchise, released Nov. 14, has created quite a stir in the past year with its stellar CG movie appearances at E3 and the Tokyo Game Show. Does the game really live up to all of the initial hype? From my standpoint the answer is a resounding yes.
The game’s story actually takes place in two different times. At first we are introduced to Desmond Miles, a bartender with a mysterious past who has recently been caught by a multinational pharmaceutical corporation, Abstergo. The company is interested in accessing what it calls “genetic memory,” the very idea that the memories of our ancestors are housed within our DNA. Miles is placed into a machine called the Animus so he can relive past events.
Miles relives the past events from the year 1191 A.D. during the time of the Third Crusade. Enter Altair Ibn La-Ahad (which in Arabic translates to “Flying Eagle” and “Son of None”), Miles’ distant and badass ancestor and the character that the player takes control of for the majority of the game.
The genetic memory begins with Altair (pronounced Al-tie-ear) as a master assassin who has been sent to recover a treasure from the Templars. His cocky attitude leads to botching the recovery job and violating all of the tenets of the brotherhood’s creed. For this he is punished by being stripped of his rank and equipment, and is told that he must kill nine targets in order to regain his honor. It’s this central hit list that makes up the main plot of the game.
Ubisoft Montreal did an amazing job recreating the cities of the 12th century. Graphically the game is beautiful. Textures look very realistic, and by extension this aids in environmental interaction as many of the surfaces can be climbed or scaled. In fact anything in the environment that sticks out more than two inches is interactive for the player. The game features three cities that are open for exploration: Damascus, Acre and Jerusalem. The assassin HQ is located in the town of Masyaf and all of these locations are linked to a central area known as The Kingdom. Crowds are also very realistic, from the meaningless chatter of townsfolk to the rabble rousers voicing their opinions on the Crusades. For example, the city of Damascus has over 45,000 non-player characters (NPCs) walking around. Some carry jars on their heads and will get upset if you run into them causing, their jars to break. Others are thugs that can be pick-pocketed for additional weapons. Still others are drunk and will push you if you get too close. However, not all of the NPCs are bad or a hindrance. By attempting save citizen quests, vigilantes can be recruited to aid you when you need to escape from guards after an assassination, or scholars can help you in hiding from the guards or sneak you into restricted areas. Best of all, these massive cities, once they are fully unlocked, can be seamlessly traversed from end-to-end with no load times.
AC’s gameplay is fine tuned and innovative. It features a unique marionette control setup, which is the first of its kind. The scheme is set up with different buttons corresponding to different body parts. Sword fighting is a good example to illustrate the control setup in action. The button corresponding to the left hand must be pressed to swing the sword while the right hand is empty allowing the player to grab an opponent. The legs button allows for stepping toward or away from an opponent and can later be used as a dodge button. The control scheme is also very contextual. Holding down a trigger button can allow for moves that are very high profile, such as running or sprinting, but will draw more attention from guards and crowds. Not holding this trigger allows for a set of low profile moves, such as walking or gently pushing aside people in front of you. However, despite your low profile, your best efforts at killing these targets will cause guards to instantly chase you. These chases are fast paced and adrenaline-packed, and given the backdrop it almost makes you feel Indiana Jones-esque when you are either trying to escape or deciding to stand your ground.
Sound also plays a big part in the game as the actual sound effects are perfect. My favorite is that when the horse runs on different terrain a different sound can be heard depending on whether the terrain is a wood bridge, rocks or dirt. The orchestral score, on the other hand, is not as memorable as it could be.
Overall, Assassin’s Creed is one of the year’s best games, a term that I do not use lightly. Despite some more repetitive elements the game’s intriguing plot keeps you embroiled in the corporate conspiracy as it unfolds. Altair is cool, focused and enigmatic. His mystique makes the player want to keep going to find out what happens. Th e high level of interactivity coupled to massively explorable environments hides surprises beyond just visual eye candy. This is a must have game, and one that has set the bar that much higher for the stealth action genre.