As the age of the current generation consoles draws to its conclusion, I find myself picking up “older” titles from the beginning. Well, the beginning of the PS3, that is. Today, specifically, I’m talking about Assassin’s Creed, starring everyone’s favorite stealth killing, hay-stack diving, parkour ninja- Altair. Now, I’ll admit, the first time I played this, I wasn’t a huge fan. It looked beautiful, and free-running from rooftop to rooftop, ninja-ing your way through guards and peasants alike was awesome, but after what seemed like 200 missions with the exact same goals, it became boring. But, back then I was young, unscientific in my game play, and most importantly, impatient. So I feel that now is the perfect time to strap on my hidden wrist blade, and relive some Third Crusade good times.
Alright, perhaps the best place to start this review is a rundown of the game’s story. The setting is split between two different main characters, in two different time periods, with two different, yet connected plots. The first, present story focuses on recently kidnapped Desmond (the guy you play), as he finds himself in a futurepunk lab home to the world’s most epic bed-the Animus. Without giving a minute by minute summary, the Animus allows scientists to extract memories from people’s DNA-memories from their ancestors. One of Desmond’s ancestors was Altair, an Assassin during the Third Crusade, who discovered an artifact that could, can, and potentially will change the world as we know it. Anyway, Desmond get’s into the Animus, we’re sent back into his memories, and assume the role of Altair. He’s arrogant, breaks the Assassin’s Creed, and spends the rest of the game trying to redeem himself, while uncovering mysteries and stealth-shanking his way across the Holy Lands to find his answers.
Each “level’ requires you to travel to one of the three major cities in the area-Acre, Damascus, or Jerusalem- where you will pickpocket, eavesdrop, interrogate, snoop, parkour, and kill your way around town, finding clues and answers with the ultimate intention of assassinating one of the nine major targets that you’ve been tasked with offing. In the beginning of your path to redemption, you relearn and understand the ways of the creed, but as the story progresses, and as the last words of your targets ring in your ears, you begin to question the motives of the head of your order (which is hardly ever a good thing for an assassin to do.)
In the mean time, every now and then, you’re pulled out of the Animus back in the real world, and allowed to take a breather. During these instances, you learn more about what’s going on around you (though not that much) by snooping around, reading emails, and asking questions. Eventually, you find out you’re part of the same assassin group as Altair, and the dude who chloroformed you into submission is part of the Templars, the assassin’s greatest and oldest enemy. Yes, feuds born during the Crusades never really go away.
Anyway, after you’ve murdered enough people to clog up a Soylent Green factory, you find out that the head of your order was actually a Templar, he wants to control the world using the powerful artifact, and everything you’ve been taught and told is a lie, at which point you must kill the old man, and make him utter the words “the student can’t beat the master.” You know, that old story. Meanwhile, back in the present, now that Desmond’s memories have unlocked the truth, he’s of no use to the Templars, and is only spared when Lucy, the scientist’s secret agent assistant, convinces the Templars to let him live until they collect even more artifacts. Then, you realize you’ve “acquired” the same super-handy eagle eye ability as your ancestor, which allows your eyes to function as a black light. Using this, you snoop around the room, revealing blood-drawn codes, pictures, and basically just a crazy Davinci Code’s worth of nonsense. And that’s the game, in a super vague nutshell.
I know, quite the long description, without going into a specific detail. And here’s why. The story was great, don’t get me wrong. It was compelling, the mystery aspects made sense and did a nice job connecting between the two settings, plus the use of quasi-true historical facts did a great job drawing me into the game. It was all a bit predictable though. You should be able to figure out after the first few missions that the head guy is up to no good, and that you should probably heed those conflicting feelings. But, despite this, it all made sense, the story flowed great from mission to mission, and it kept the momentum going, even as the gameplay began to drag halfway through (more on that later). The Desmond story line was a little less predictable, and it was pretty sweet uncovering what was happening around you, since you spend about 10% as Desmond, and 90% as Altair. Because of this, the Desmond moments are like a breath of fresh air.
Now, about that gameplay. The concept is awesome. Open world stealth with parkour and swordplay thrown in? Hell yes, sounds like a winner. And it is, for a time. During each mission, you have to scale the tallest towers and spires in each city to get the lay of the land, and scope out your targets of information. Free-climbing up a church steeple is as sweet as it sounds, and BASE jumping off of that steeple into a pile of hay is just as nice. But each mission requires you to do this anywhere between 5 and 10 times. And there are 9 major missions. To cut to the chase, it get’s old. The high points are pretty much all the same-steeples, lookout towers, tall buildings-and climbing up the same thing over and over and over made me grow tired of it after a while. The mini-missions themselves are similar. Your goal with each mission is to assassinate a bad dude. In order to do that, you need to find “intel” on him, his whereabouts, the best time to slash his neck, all of the prereq for a nice, clean assassination. To find this intel, you have to climb the aforementioned towers, and find the sources of the information-such as pick-pocketing maps and documents from random people, beating the information out of loud-voiced sweaty dudes, or eavesdropping on a conversation from 40 feet away over a crowded square. That’s basically it. Each mission has around 9 pieces of intel, so just like the tower climbing, it can get repetitive fairly quickly.
But wait! You may be asking. I thought this game was good enough to spawn a bunch of sequels? Indeed, it definitely is. Not everything about it is bad, and even the bad parts aren’t “bad”, they’re just repetitive. The combat is smooth and responsive, and it allows you to be a little creative. You can drop down off a roof top and take a guy down without him seeing you. You can toss a guy off a rooftop and not care if he sees you, because he’ll be dead. You can charge into a group of guards and have a 10 minute long sword fight with them, because nothing says stealth like demonstrating the effectiveness of your blade in the middle of a super packed alley way.
The free-running, parkour aspect is probably one of the nicest points of this game. Sprinting across rooftops, up walls, leaping over gaps, scaling towers, swinging from posts and bars and really, just about anything else you can think of. And this is your basic means of transportation throughout the cities. Sure, you’ll piss of the guards, and the commoners may throw rocks at you, but who cares. Throw a knife at them and they’ll shut up. Perhaps the reason why this aspect is so great is because of its smooth fluidity. Being one of the first games released for the PS3, the action looks almost lifelike. Body movements follow physics, making you hold your breath as you leap over a spanning gap, hoping that you’ll make it. Added up, the gameplay, despite its eventual monotony, finds a way to remain fresh and fun, even as the final missions roll by.
Hand in hand with the gameplay are the graphics and sound. Graphically, it looks beautiful, especially for an early PS3 game. There were a few instances of clipping-many a time did I see my cloak slip through solid wood, or my torso lunge into a wall-but they’re minimal, and/or fixed themselves rather quickly. Besides that, the cities were modeled with a ton of detail, down to the mortar between wall bricks. A lot of the layouts were reused from city to city, and area to area, but when you spend most of your time jumping from rooftop to rooftop, you have to stop and look for those hiccups. Additionally, the sound and music were appropriate and responsive. When you’re perched up on the highest point of the city, the music becomes majestic, eagles call, and you can hear the wind rushing around you. When you find yourself in the middle of an angry group of guards, the music becomes intense, and you’ll hear curses being thrown at you in five different languages. Plus, there’s the general chatter of the city, the unintelligible murmur, broken only by those annoying as hell beggars and the propaganda criers. It all adds up to a gripping, engaging package.
Finally, we come to replayability. And, despite everything I’ve said about the repetitive nature of the game, there are still plenty of opportunities and reasons to go back after you’ve played through once. There’s only one ending, but scattered over all three cities, your home fortress, and the outlying kingdom are flags, viewpoints, hidden areas, Templars to kill, and as much free-running as you can handle. There’s nothing that will progress the story at all, but it allows you to just run around and parkour all you’d like, while snagging some hard to reach flags. Yes, not that important story wise, but if you like exploring, you’ll have a great time.
In the end, Assassin’s Creed is a bit of a paradox. The concept of the game is awesome, but the execution falls a bit short. Yet, it does enough to keep you playing, and spawn a bunch of sequels. Not a lot of games can do the same. Great graphics and fluid physics, working hand in hand with parkour-style roof hopping and real-time fighting, allows you to possibly ignore the fact that you’re now climbing yet another tower, to find even more intel, on yet another dude you have to kill. Luckily, the good finds a way to outweigh the bad, and though it isn’t the best game I’ve ever played, its originality acts like a gateway to its further polished offspring. Assassin’s Creed receives a stealthy B.
Overall: 8.6/10 B
For this beer pairing, I wanted to capture the essence of parkour, stealth assassinations, and the Crusades, all in one. I couldn’t find anything. So, I turned to plan B, which was a beer that was smooth, slightly mysterious, with a hidden kick that you wouldn’t see coming. And for that, I have to go with New Holland’s Back Tulip Tripel Ale. It’s a smooth, malty Belgian style ale that packs a considerable punch. Also included are faint hints of banana and other fruits, that bring a sweet edge to the malty, alcoholic potency. In my eyes, I can picture Altair landing on top of a roof, crouching down and taking a drink of Black Tulip before sprinting away. Ok, not really, but the similarities between this beer and Altair are there. Both are smooth, both pack a punch, and both are mysterious in that “take a second or third or fourth glance” way. And hey, if you drink a few of these, you wont care about the monotony of climbing the 73rd tower to find the 86th piece of intel. You may even find it more enjoyable than playing it sober. Give it a try! Just, maybe hide your car keys, and any family pets…