As most of you have already heard, there is a sci-fi element in the game that I won't get into too much detail about. Basically, you're a character named Desmond who is the descendent of Altair, who happens to be an extremely important person during the Holy Crusades. Using a machine called an Animus, researchers are able to pull memories from Desmond's mind, memories of Altair that are stored in Desmond's genetic code. Although the idea may seem far-fetched, it flows well from beginning to end and you're never really put off by the sci-fi elements that persist throughout the game's storyline. Over the course of a few days, you'll view memories of the year 1191 A.D. in Altair's mind as he assassinates nine different people who are all linked together by a common want, one which you'll discover as you progress through the game. Sometimes, because of how the story is presented to you, through the eyes of Desmond or Altair, you'll be confused by what's actually taking place in the background, but by the end of the game, you'll come to have an understanding of the whole concept that the developers wanted to portray to their fans and you'll be happy in knowing that the game leaves itself open for a sequel; in fact, Ubisoft has already announced that the game is part of a trilogy.
The interesting part about the game is that half of it is historically accurate. Ubisoft certainly did their research when developing Assassin's Creed because each individual that you assassinate throughout the game actually died in the year 1191 A.D. Now, I am not and Ubisoft is certainly not stating that this is how they died, by assassination, but the fact that each of them passed away during that year makes the storyline that much more interesting. Also, when creating the different cities in the game, Ubisoft took great care in recreating the actual cities to scale from old and ancient maps and layouts of each of each of the ancient stories. Also, when you become an assassin, they cut off your ring finger on your left hand as a final culmination to the initiation into the guild, and Altair is missing his ring finger. This finger cutting actually took place in the Assassins' guild during the Crusades, and it just adds that little extra touch to a game that already has a lot of depth.
At the beginning of the game, your skills and weapons are taken away because of a mishap that took place because of your ego, but as you progress through the game, you're given back some of your weapons and skills such as counterattack which makes the combat system more fun and interactive overall. With your new skills and abilities, you'll become the master assassin that you once were, but that doesn't mean that the beginning of the game is boring in the least. One of the most fun and creative experiences you'll have in this game is presented to your from the beginning and that's the ability to climb buildings and objects as high as they go. And while that may not seem like much, accompanied by the beautiful visuals in the game it's one of the best experiences you'll have in gaming. The draw distance is almost unlimited and seamless and you'll find yourself taking a route of rooftops when going to any objective in the game, of which there are quite a few.
When you are given the task of assassinating an individual, you're to travel to the particular city that they're located--either Acre, Damascus, or Jerusalem. When first traveling to the different locales, you'll have to travel across what is known as the Kingdom. It is giant piece of land that connects all of the ancient cities, and within the Kingdom are different objectives that you can complete and hundreds of guards to take out while you're roaming from town to town, but after you've been to each town, you're then able to fast travel between areas if you'd like. Once there, you're to travel to the Assassin's Bureau, and then from there, collect information throughout the streets about your target so that you may better learn your prey before you take them out. These tasks consist of eavesdropping, interrogating, pickpocketing and contacting informers scattered through the city. And all of these tasks are pretty much the same throughout each section of each city and from one city to another. Other than these tasks, you'll have other optional side quests such as saving different citizens around the city who are being hassled by local guards; also the high viewpoints around town that you climb up enable you to see more objectives throughout the city you're in. Besides these side quests, other objectives to complete throughout the game including collecting flags from the different cities and the kingdom that resides in between them and also killing sixty templars that are scattered throughout the entire map including cities and the kingdom. While all of the side missions may be the same, you're presented with the option on how you want to complete each one. You have the freedom of choice and this is what makes this game shine.
One thing should be noted about the combat in the game. As you progress through the different assassinations, you relearn your skills that were taken from you and once some of the more important skills and abilities are learned, like counterattack, the combat becomes fairly simple. Part of this is due to the counterattack skill being so powerful, but also because while you're usually surrounded by a group of enemies, only one will attack you at one time. While some might come out and that it's unrealistic, you have to take a second and think, if you were surrounded by a group of guys, would all of them attack you at the same time? No, of course not, but obviously more than one would attack you. You'll come to find combat within the game to just take up time sometimes instead of being challenging, but the different ways that you can take out your opponents--whether you're throwing them off a building or throwing them into a collapsible log stand--keep things interesting.
Speaking of shining, this game looks absolutely beautiful. It's incredible how great this game looks and how well Ubisoft did with creating an amazing atmosphere to house their storyline. While scaling the many buildings and there are hundreds, all of Altair's movements look solid and fluid and all of the ledges and notches that he grabs onto never look out of place or as if they put them there for him to grab onto. Every detail and design of the city seems like it jus fits into the whole when roaming the landscape. When atop the many viewpoints across the different cities, you'll be able to view in every direction of hundreds of yards across the giant ancient metropolises. Character designs are solid and animations flow as you make your way throughout the many city streets. Different characters and NPCs interact with each other and on their own going about their own business as you go about yours and everything looks superb. It truly shows the power of the Xbox 360 as you see hundreds of NPCs on screen at one time as you're being chased by a handful of guards. This has to be one of the best looking Xbox 360 games out on the market.
The different ways that you're able to take out your enemies are fun and engaging whether you're simply attacking them relentlessly or using your counterattack ability to do an instant kill. When you complete a maneuver perfectly, the camera kind of gives you a cinematic view of your one hit kill, and it fits seamlessly into the whole combat system. There are stealth kills that can be performed that look stunning when done correctly whether you're taking out an guard who is unaware of your presence or templars who are awaiting your challenge throughout the vast lands of the ancient world. When these stealth kills are executed correctly, you're rewarded with a cinematic camera angle that makes the kill that much more engaging and gratifying. This becomes especially gratifying when you finish off one of the nine main targets--a feat that requires perfect timing and strategy to avoid the crowds and guards.
Upon first picking up and playing the game, the controls may seem awkward, but after only a half hour or so, you'll find that the control scheme fits both the controller and game perfectly with the different moves and combinations of attacks you're able to pull off. These controls make the climbing stream perfectly and all the jumps that Altair performs throughout the different cities look seamless and fluid from one rooftop to the next. If you're put off by the controls when you first play the game, don't be dismayed because the control scheme grows on you and you'll begin to appreciate the time that went into designing it perfectly.
Sound in the game brings a lot of atmosphere to the game not only the musical score, but the great voice acting you'll come across from not only wandering NPCs, but also the informers who will be giving your information about your next target. Sound effects of swords clashing against each other, random shouts from the crowds, and just the sound of the breeze whistling around you as you're crouching atop a tower viewpoint make this game stand out. After each assassination, you'll have a conversation with your victim about their purpose and the voice acting is spot on, which you'll constantly be impressed with throughout the game.
This review was originally published on PlastikSickness on November 13, 2007.