Innovative take on stealth-action gameplay provides solid fun!
Assassin's Creed is a historical third-person action-adventure game which was released late last year for the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3 to mixed reviews from the general gaming public. The game has finally made its transition onto desktop PCs with a few additions in the form of a Director's Cut Edition as well as enhanced graphics to take advantages of the PCs computing power. However, most of the less-desirable aspects from the console versions that were responsible for the negative press end up on this PC version too and they keep Assassin's Creed from being the classic it should've been.
Arguably the best aspect of Assassin's Creed is the wonderful and unique world created for you to explore and roam around in. The world is authentic and precise in its attention to detail and the three major cities during the crusades – Damascus, Jerusalem and Acre – have been brought to life in all their glory. Archers patrol rooftops, beggars annoy you with their constant whining for money and citizens cry for help at being harassed by guards. The game also gives you complete freedom to move around these cities in any way you please with the most impressive aspect being that never does it feel as if the developers are artificially providing you with cracks and ledges to climb on. The cracks and ledges are present as part of the architecture of these various buildings with you being able to take advantage of them because of your impressive abilities. The game is also very immersive as a result of the above aspects – citizens will pause and wonder what you are doing if you don't use ladders to scale rooftops and guards will draw their blade if you run into soldiers or cause havoc too often.
If the developers show their eye for detail in the world they have created immaculately, then it is even more evident in the game's story which is presented in two parts. In the modern world, not many years in the near future, a bartender named Desmond Miles has been abducted by a mysterious group proclaiming that he holds precious information required by them. A tool called the Animus will help the group get hold of this information which is embedded Desmond's DNA as memories of his ancestors. In the past, the year is 1191 AD and the game takes place right in the middle of the crusades for the Holy Land. You are Altair, a well-trained assassin working as part of a group of… well, assassins. After a certain mishap, you are stripped of all your weapons and abilities and reduced to the level of initiate within the brotherhood and tasked with assassinating certain targets to reclaim your lost rank and pride by your master. As you proceed with these missions, both the protagonists will come to understand their part in this gripping story, and so will you as you will also build up an emotional bond with them.
The core gameplay is pretty involving in the early portions of the game but becomes quite monotonous later on where you will just want to complete them in order to get on with the story. The missions typically require you to perform a series of investigations before you can get on with the actual assassination itself. Four new investigations have been added for the PC director's cut apart from the three – pickpocketing, eavesdropping and interrogating – which were present in the console versions. These typically involve you helping other assassins with various tasks such as destroying a set number of merchant stands or escorting them to safety after which they provide you with the information you require. Though these new missions keep things from getting repetitive for a while, they do not involve investigating of any form (as compared with the original three) and hence feel quite detached from the rest of the game. Once you complete a set number of investigations, you can proceed with the assassination which mainly requires you to focus on combat and free-running.
Combat in the game controls incredibly well with the keyboard and mouse scheme provided in the game. When the game starts off with you being stripped of all your weapons and abilities, combat can take a bit of getting used to. However, as you level up in rank and regain access to such weapons as the short blade and throwing knives, as well as the ability to counterattack and dodge, the combat becomes a bit too easy and the lack of any depth becomes blatantly evident. The counterattack especially becomes overpowering as it will enable you to tackle huge numbers of enemies with considerable ease. However, one can argue that these abilities do keep the combat from ever being too frustrating and the action portions of the game are always enjoyable as a result.
Free-running is really the forte of Assassin's Creed and is perfectly implemented thanks to the architecture of the game's various buildings and Altair's fluid animations. It is also a bit of a relief that free-running is as good as it is because your general enjoyment of the game really depends on how much you like this particular aspect as well as how good you are at it. However, it is not only a gimmick because whenever you are spotted to be an assassin by the guards, the only way to get on with things is to become anonymous again by running yourself and finding safety in one of the many hiding spots available to you which is easier said than done.
Combat and free-running aside, there are certain other aspects that help keep Assassin's Creed fresh and unique when compared to other games out there. Health is shown to be the level of synchronization you have with your ancestor's memories via the animus. This can reduce due to a number of different factors and whenever you fully lose synchronization, you die and have to reload from the most recent checkpoint. There are also many extra missions that you can look to complete though they do not provide any bonuses as such. Saving citizens being harassed by guards provides you with vigilantes who block guards chasing you or scholars who can be used to hide within. Climbing viewpoints which are always the tallest buildings within cities to reveal various parts of the map as well as investigation missions is a pleasure throughout, although even these begin to repeat over time. Apart from the above two which are slightly essential to the game, you can also collect various flags which are strewn all over the cities and the countryside in-between them and attempt to scale all the view points in the map and so forth. All these extras combined with free-running will help keep your attention to the game till the end and actually compensate for some of the game's other flaws.
Assassin's Creed is raised from good to great thanks to its presentation. If you have a pretty high-end PC and can crank all the settings all the way up and have access to higher resolutions, then you are in for a visual treat. Buildings are crisply detailed with all the cracks and crevasses showing perfectly. Each city has a unique look with a visual style to complement even though it is not hard to note the fact that building architectures do repeat over cities. Character models are near-perfect and combined with the game's wonderful animations across the board, really do add to the unique setting the game takes place in. Lighting and shadowing is also pretty effective and standing on top of a view point with the sunlight streaming over Altair casting his shadow on the ground is always a wonderful picture. There are minor glitches here and there and some of the textures are a bit weak because of the game's console roots but they aren't major enough to break the deal. Also, the game is always displayed in 16:9 aspect ratio, so people with 4:3 or 16:10 monitors will see a lot of letterboxing. It is pretty frustrating that Ubisoft put a lot of effort into porting it for the PC but still ended up missing this key aspect which has not been fixed even in the 1.02 patch. However, the game is pretty stable as of the 1.02 patch and not once did it crash on my system which cannot be said of console-to-PC ports too often. All said and done, the highly polished graphics really help in bringing the game world to life as well providing it with a level of believability with the only minus being you do require quite a beefed up PC to enjoy the game in its entire visual splendor.
If the graphics are top-notch, then the sound is even better. Jesper Kyd has composed some of the best soundtracks of all-time for games such as Hitman 2: Silent Assassin and Freedom Fighters, so it should come as no surprise that his music for this game is again brilliant and nicely complements the subject matter. The music, which is suitably mellow and subtle when you are running around the city or riding on horseback in the countryside, becomes quite bombastic during battles with the usage of heavy percussion to get you pumped up. The sound probably contributes even more than the visuals to making the world as immersive as it is. On top the game's largest buildings, the sound of an eagle will fill your ears along with the smooth gush of the wind and the citizen's cry will be but a faint moan. But it's the minor details that really grab one's attention such as the sound of Altair's footsteps or the sound of the moan he utters when he scales a difficult ledge or the sounds of citizens shouting in awe at the dead body you just flung to the ground. The voice-acting is also top-notch for each of the game's major characters and really does help in getting you involved in the story right away. Albeit, the voices of citizens do begin to repeat over time but it is understandable given the number of citizens that populate these cities. There are stuttering and hitches in the sound too but there are various workarounds floating around the web that help in fixing a majority of the issues in the game. However, these issues are more annoyances than anything else and they do not bring down the overall quality of the sound which is consistently excellent throughout.
Assassin's Creed is not without its flaws, however. As mentioned, the investigation missions do become monotonous over time and the combat mechanics, while being easy, do not have enough depth to be intensely satisfying over the course of the game. There are also no manual saves of any sort and the game automatically saves your progress using a checkpoint system which can take a bit of getting used to. Another non-gameplay related minus is that it takes an eternity to quit the game by normal means which really asks a lot questions at the Ubisoft testing department. Thankfully, there is a shorter method to quit the game via pressing Alt+F4, however it never should come down to such shortcuts and it would be wise for Ubisoft to fix this via a patch. On other notes, if you play only the story part of the game, you can be done within 15-20 hours. Although, going out of your way to collect the flags and save every citizen does help in extending the time to about 25-30 hours. However, even then the game does not have enough replay value to warrant a second playthrough as the missions themselves cannot be completed in any other drastically different manner. It is to be noted that these issues only prevent the game from ever being a classic but in no way do they spoil all the fun that is to be had with it. Assassin's Creed is still a wonderful game that most anyone can enjoy thanks to its top-notch presentation, wonderful implementation of free-running, two-faceted gripping story and probably the most unique game world ever created.