Game: "Assassin's Creed"
System: Xbox 360
Published by: Ubisoft
Reviewer: Dr. Boogie
Review: When I think of great games based around the idea of assassinating someone, I naturally think of the Hitman, and to a less extent the Splinter Cell, series. Both franchises execute (no pun intended) the idea of stealthily dispatching your foes with excellence, but that's not to say there's no room for improvement. Rather than sticking with the modern era, Ubisoft has decided to take another shot at the genre, this time set in the 12th century, with Assassin's Creed.
That you control the assassin mentioned in the title is only half of the story. You control a wimpy bartender who's being forced to relive his past life as an assassin via a fancy VR machine called ANIMUS. And why? It seems your character has some important secret that is somehow locked in his subconscious, and the only way to unlock it is for him to play out the memories of his ancestor, Altair. It's a little odd, but I can't fault it for being unique.
What I can fault it for, however, is Altair himself. It's hard to sympathize with the guy because, frankly, he's a dick. He's a dick, and the major plot point of his memories comes as a result of him being an arrogant, unapologetic dick. They want you to believe that he's a highly-ranked assassin who's been killing for years, and yet he displays the kind of irritating cockiness and bravado game developers normally reserve for the brash new cop on the force who winds up getting killed early on so the main character has something to fight for.
Anyway, because of Altair's dickishness, you must start as a novice assassin, and climb your way back up the ladder. You may have had to give up your fancy equipment, but on the plus side, Altair is one of the strongest and nimblest men in the era. If you hold down a button, he'll run up walls, hop across narrow beams and flagpoles, climb with the smallest of handholds, and in general do whatever he can to move in the direction you tell him regardless of obstacles. It's very handy, even though most of the guards in the cities you'll visit can do the same thing.
The way the stealth system works, sneaking up on a target involves you walking up behind him, occasionally using the "blend" button to fold your hands and disguise yourself as a scholar. A scholar with a sword at your waist, a knife on your back, and a girdle full of throwing knives. Anyone, once you're discovered, you'll need to break your pursuers' line of sight and then duck into a hiding place. In other words, the stealth system is slightly simpler than the one used in Manhunt.
What's irritating about the stealth system is that guards will immediately attack if they see you running or galloping lightly on a horse. I admit it would look a little suspicious to see a person running through a crowded city, but to the point where you need to try and kill anyone you see in a hurry? This is especially annoying in the interim between assignments, when you travel on horseback through a massive traversal zone that leads to all the cities. At times, the ANIMUS will "fast forward" through Altair's memories to get to the good part, including skipping the return back to base after a successful hit, but for some reason, the machine seems to think the long journey to each city is important enough to show in full.
The developers try to make the hit itself interesting by requiring you to investigate your targets before you can actually try and kill them. Unfortunately, "investigation" amounts to little more than a handful of tiresome mini-games repeated ad nauseum. Each one you do will give you a little extra help with your post-kill escape, but in all truthfulness, the only reason to do more than the minimum is to unlock an achievement or two. It's nice to have an advantage when you're running from the law, but considering the work you need to put in to get the help vs. its actual usefulness of said help, you're better off just winging it, running away, and hiding as best you can. More likely than not, you'll do fine as long as you just keep moving.
The "Creed" in the title includes a rule about harming innocents, but luckily, Altair plays pretty loosely with the Creed (part of the reason he gets into trouble). Sure, they penalize you for punching an innocent person in the face, but you can shove them, tackle them, and even trample them with a horse without being penalized. I know it sounds a little mean, but there are some civilians in the game that really deserve it. In addition to the normal rabble, you have the most persistent beggars I've ever seen in a video game, and my person favorite, crazy guys who will flat out shove you if you come within 6 or 7 feet of them. In one particularly memorable moment, I was caught between two crazy guys, and Assassin's Creed quickly devolved into a game of Monkey in the Middle. Good times.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that this game is boring. The developers did for their game what Michael Bay does for movies, trying to mask mediocre gameplay with exciting visuals. To Ubisoft's credit, the game does look good, but the huge leadup to an assassination is boring, the main character is a jerk, and the context-sensitive actions look cool, but are so abundant that you hardly feel like you're controlling Altair at all. Add to that the assassin guild's master strategy of killing the target and running like hell, and you've got one seriously mediocre game. If you're in the market for a fun stealth game that focuses on killing people in the feudal era, check out the Tenchu series (except for the Xbox 360 game, skip that one).
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)
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