Assassin's Creed is a thorougly enjoyable romp.
We'll get the tedious out of the way first--the plot in Assassin's Creed, while daring and unique, fails to resonate with the player. It starts of well enough with you, as assassin Altaïr during the 12th century crusades, has along with two other members of the assassin brotherhood been tasked with retrieving a holy idol called the "Apple of Eden". But things goes awry quickly and you find yourself being demoted to Recruit, so in a last effort to redeem yourself, you must assassinate nine templar key-figures that are strewn about in three major cities, all of which are based on real actual templars that dissapeared sometime during the crusades.
However, immediately after booting up the game a twist arises. It turns out that the entire thing is actually going on inside of a virtual simulator doubt the "Animus" which is explored by the direct descendant of Altaïr, Desmond Miles, a bartender that is being held captive by two researchers. So in essence, the game blends real historical events with a modern day time-line, and as the game wears on, you learn more and more about what type of connection these nine men share, and what they have to do with Desmond. It's a really cool setup, but the plot winds up being far too incongruous. There are far too many long and dry cut scenes that get in the way of the pacing, and you constantly keep switching back and forth between playing as Altaïr and Desmond, with the latter character serving absolutely no purpose whatsoever from a gameplay stand point. The ending is also very abrupt and confusing, and though there are some unexpected turns to the story, you're probably left scratching your head as opposed to feeling shocked by the end of it all.
Thankfully, the setting is in the game is stellar top-to-bottom. The three cities: Damascus, Jerusalem and Acre all ooze with atmosphere and detail and the moment where you ride your horse into one of the cities is a truly breathtaking one. Even better is the fact that Assassin's Creed features some awesome, park-our based gameplay. You can run up buildings, scale towers, catch a swing from ledges and dive head first into haystacks. The traversal mechanics make it a blast to explore the cities and catch some of the smaller details, such as officials rambling on about the hypocracy of the templar leaders, citizens getting into a fight with one another and beggars asking for a coin or two. Its a lively a believable world and save for some small visual glitches, the world of Assassin's Creed will reel you in right from the start.
So the atmosphere is excellent and moving around the city is a breeze, but what about the combat? Being that you are an assassin, much of the gameplay involves stalking your targets down more narrow pathways and sinking a dagger into their throat. You don't have a whole lot of moves and weapons, but combat, both in and out of stealth is exhilarating. Toe-to-toe fights with guards are especially cool, at least when you start to learn some counter moves. You can break their defensive stance, throw knives at them from a far, and when the moment calls for it, you can initiate a one-kill animation, which is triggered by pressing a button just as an enemy is about to attack. When performing a counter-kill, the camera moves in close and shows you some really gruesome looking kills. Enemy Artificial-intelligence isn't all that great, but some enemies do really put up a fight and sometimes forces you to run away and diminish your presence.
Speaking of which, the stealth is very simple, but mostly gratifying. The game is all about blending in with the crowd and maintaining a low profile. Hiding in a crowd of walking scholars is a great way to slink into areas unnoticed while running head first into people and guards is not. If your cover gets blown you can easily outrun your foes and hide in haystacks or small shacks to lose your pursuers, a move that becomes essential later on.
But before you can hunt down one of your nine targets, you must complete a few investigation missions that often involves eavesdropping on certain characters, pick-pocketing deliver men, completing timed assassination missions for an informant or collecting flags in a certain amount of time. Some of the missions are quite fun and enjoyable, while others, such as the eavesdropping thing is very unexciting. The missions are also repeated far too much throughout the game and after pick pocketing your seventh target or interrogating your eight official, the gameplay becomes a bit of a grind. There are some side tasks though, like rescuing townsfolk from the clutches of rouge guards or synchronizing your view with every viewpoint in the cities. But in spite of some repetition, the gameplay still remains very fun and thrilling and the controls and animations are silky smooth, so running around all over the place almost becomes too much of a habit, and the game does pick up by the end of things.
Assassin's Creed will be loved by some and maybe even hated by others, but Ubisoft has nonetheless crafted one of the most atmospheric, satisfying and memorable games of all time, one that's rich with detail from the visuals to the sound design and to the small nookies and cranies that lies in every corner, and a dumb plot and somewhat shallow gameplay structure isn't enough to sully this highly enjoyable romp throughout the third crusade.