With Assassin's Creed, UbiSoft promised a mixture of Grand Theft Auto, Hitman, and Prince of Persia. It was the game that made us all wet our pants with anticipation whenever we saw the smallest screenshot and the briefest trailer. Along with Mass Effect, Assassin's Creed is arguably one of the most anticipated next-gen titles of the year.
By now, however, you probably know how mixed the reviews are.
So, what do your pals at Destructoid think? Is it a triumph? A total waste of time? A slight disappointment? Was it worth the wait and the hype?
Hit the jump to find out (I apologize in advance for the length).
Assassin's Creed (Xbox 360 reviewed, PlayStation 3)
Developed by UbiSoft Montreal
Release Date: November 14, 2007
Assassin's Creed is a disappointing, repetitive game filled with horrendously long and unnecessary cut scenes, a boring plot, tedious chores, and significant difficulty problems -- it's a game with a few great ideas but absolutely no idea how to implement them.
Once you get past all that, however, there's absolutely no reason why you shouldn't be able to have a hell of a fun time with it.
First off, the graphics look good on the 360. I can't speak for the PS3 version, but I only experienced one instance of texture popping throughout my entire playtime. I did experience a really weird, really significant framerate drop which lasted for about five minutes, but once the framerate returned to normal I never experienced it again. Generally, the character models look good, the lighting is great, and the draw distance is damned spectacular. The animations also look stunning, but more on that later.
Secondly, I just want to say a few things about the storyline. I've heard a lot of complaints -- from reviewers and gamers alike -- that Creed's main "twist" is spoiled too early in the game. I honestly don't know what the hell these people are complaining about. Yes, at the very beginning of the game, you find out that Altair's adventures are really just being relived through genetic memory and that the real protagonist is a 30 year old white male living in the near future. You quite literally find this out before even attempting your first mission, so I can't imagine why anyone would complain that Creed somehow "spoils" anything too soon. Newsflash: if a game tells you something within two minutes of starting up, that's not a twist -- that's the basis of the goddamned plot.
And, really, it's a pretty interesting plot. In theory. Since you're essentially playing a character within a character, Creed has some interesting opportunities to go totally meta and talk about what it is to be a gamer in a cyberpunkish sort of way. Unfortunately, it forgoes these philosophical possibilities for a silly Knights Templar Conspiracy Plot and some window dressing about The Nature of Free Will. None of it really adds up to anything, even though you'll spend a friggin' agonizing amount of time within unskippable, more-or-less-noninteractive cut scenes.
I'm not a big fan of cut scenes in general, but I can almost always find the patience to sit through them if I'm being told important information, or if the story is interesting enough. Creed's numerous, protracted cut scenes, however, are filled to the brim with dull characters, boring dialogue, and heaps upon heaps upon heaps upon goddamn heaps of exposition. Characters tell other characters exactly what they're feeling, and what they're going to do, and how. It's impossible to give a rat's ass because it's all delivered so dryly. Even after assassinating a mark, the player has to sit through a two to three minute cut scene as they give their valediction. It kills the pace of the game, and it's totally unnecessary.
When I say "pace," though, it brings to mind my biggest complaint with Assassin's Creed: it's awfully repetitive. You only have nine targets to kill throughout the course of the game, but due to the time-consuming and tedious tasks you have to go through before every assassination, the game somehow runs about 15 to 20 hours at the minimum. Throughout the entire game, you will repeat the following sequence of events over and over:
1. Get to the town's nearby assassin bureau
2. Sit through a cut scene where you are told pretty much nothing about the guy you're about to kill
3. Go to a really high area of the city and update your map
4/5/6. Investigate your target by completing at least three info-gathering tasks: eavesdrop on a conversation, or perform a time-sensitive task for an informant, or pickpocket someone, or beat information out of someone peripherally connected to your mark.
7. Return to the assassin bureau
8. Sit through a cut scene where you are told where you'll find and kill your target
9. Go find your target
10. Sit through a cut scene which shows your target doing something really douchebaggy and evil
11. Kill your target
12. Sit through a cut scene where the target expresses no remorse whatsoever
13. Automatically head back to the Assassin's Guild headquarters
14. Sit through a cut scene where the Guild leader talks about your progress for way too damn long
15. Leave the Guild headquarters
16. Head to a new town
17. Sit through a cut scene in the real world where the hero stands around and complains while Kristen Bell acts concerned for about five minutes
Hopefully, one can see how this might get really, really repetitive. The three investigation tasks you have to complete prior to every assassination are almost offensively menial and tedious: I was reminded of Spider-Man 2 for the PS2, where the player had to run around collecting stray balloons and scolding angry drivers before getting to the real action.
Now, it might sound like I'm being dismissive to the game's structure; that, in breaking it down into a simple step-by-step process, I'm oversimplifying. Trust me, though, I'm not: even as you're playing it, the game feels horrendously formulaic and repetitive to the point that by the time you've killed your third target, you feel like you know exactly what the rest of the game will be like. And you'd be right, too; save for one or two interesting assassination missions at the end, the entire game follows the above formula exactly. There is literally no deviation from this formula at any point throughout the game. After six or seven hours of playing, you'll become woefully aware of this fact.
Before those six or seven hours are up, however, Assassin's Creed will feel like one of the most fun games to come out this year -- thanks entirely to the fighting and freerunning mechanics. The fighting system is very rhythm and timing based: it's not about hacking and slashing as fast or as hard as you can, but in carefully timing your attacks to expose your enemies' weaknesses. Once you get the counterattack ability (after the third assassination, I believe), Altair can instakill any enemy so long as he counters them at the right moment. The counterattack animations are truly incredible: Altair spins, dodges, weaves, and strikes with a fluidity I've never before seen.
Indeed, once I got the hang of countering and attacking, and once I found myself in fights with up to six or seven guards at one time, I was stringing together counters and offensive slashes to create a goddamned ballet of death and destruction. I'm not at all exaggerating when I say that Assassin's Creed contains the single most visually rewarding melee combat system ever implemented. I found myself picking fights with guards just so I could experience the pleasure of countering their attacks and viciously finishing them off with well-timed sword blows. Granted, the sword fighting gets way too easy after you get the hang of it: as you might see in an old-school Kung Fu flick, Altair can be surrounded by ten or fifteen guys at a time, but they'll only attack one at a time, making a fight against three opponents just as easy or hard as a fight against twenty. I would have really liked to see some more aggressive enemy AI in the sword fighting. Still, though, the fighting is enjoyable.
Altair's freerunning ability is similarly fun and lovely to look at. By holding down the right trigger (which changes Altair's actions from low-profile to high-profile) and the "legs" button (A), Altair will automatically run and jump and climb anything he comes across with remarkable fluidity. The player doesn't have to time button presses to jump -- if that were the case, Creed would be difficult to the point of unplayability -- but merely aim Altair's line of movement, guiding him to the next big structure or handhold.
UbiSoft said that Altair could climb any aspect of the environment which juts out more than two centimeters, and they weren't joking. The game world becomes Altair's playground as the player climbs buildings, searching for handholds and shimmying across rooftops. Again, manipulating the environment really just comes down to holding a couple of buttons and using the joystick to direct Altair's hands and feet as he reaches for the next ledge or handhold. It looks incredible and feels immensely rewarding.
These two mechanics -- the freerunning and the combat -- make Assassin's Creed a very, very enjoyable action game. It's just a shame that Assassin's Creed doesn't quite know that it's an action game.
For some reason or another, many of the game's core mechanics (a visibility indicator, a hiding system) center around the concept of stealth when, really, stealth is neither an enjoyable nor a viable option for any of the assassinations. If guards catch a glimpse of Altair and go into alert mode (which they will, frequently), it's really no trouble just to kill the guards in a swordfight and hide in a haystack until the alert dies down. It's too easy to be spotted, and even easier to get rid of an alert, so why bother trying to be stealthy at all? Why even bother to run away?
It's really rather irritating: the crowd AI and the city geography both lend themselves to some intense, challenging chase sequences, but the chases themselves never get desperate or difficult enough to make fleeing a viable option. Altair can take way too many blows with a sword before he dies, so he's got literally no reason to run away (which, if this were a true stealth game, should have been the player's first instinct).
Assassin's Creed is a disappointment, don't get me wrong. It's repetitive and self-contradictory, and a hell of a chore at times. But, even so, it contains some truly incredible moments of gameplay due to its fighting and freerunning mechanics. They aren't implemented in the best way or even used to their full potential, but it's still absurdly fun to get into a sword fight with a dozen baddies and come through unscathed, or to seamlessly run and jump and climb across the Jerusalem landscape. If you go into Assassin's Creed with the knowledge that it's a disappointing exercise in repetition, you'll actually have much more fun: once you realize that the sword fighting and freerunning represent the only real fun you'll experience, you'll come to appreciate them that much more.
In conclusion: lower your expectations, don't play it for more than three hours at a time, and don't pay more than nine bucks to get a hold of it. Assassin's Creed is an above average game ... but just barely.