Dear Assassin’s Creed,
Your reviews have been generally good by the likes of MetaCritic and GameRankings, but those you have disappointed have been rather vocal about your lackluster performance and premature arrival. You have your defenders whom I respect and thanks to the likes them, I have given you a chance and picked you up along with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare for $89.99 from BestBuy. I wanted to see for myself if you lived up to the hype and the potential you instilled a few years back. Despite my gut feeling after the disappointing E3 2007 demonstration, I still held a glimmer of hope for you. Well, the game was released and I took the time to finish it and to be honest my impression of you has not changed; I still see potential in you despite your numerous flaws.
Your creators and designers at Ubisoft Montreal were very ambitious people. They wanted everything for you. Amongst a number of key ambitious goals was the creation of three gorgeous free-roaming cities set back in the year 1191 during the Third Crusade. Acre, Damascus and Jerusalem were all excellently crafted with some of the most impressive visuals on any platform to date. Unfortunately, your framerate suffered immensely. Being a former PLAYSTATION 3 exclusive, I thought you would have had a steadier framerate with a lot less screen tearing. I guess sacrifices had to be made in order to retain your image fidelity on the PS3, but the framerate was just atrocious. It was like a snail through molasses at times. On top of the framerate issues, were random freezes which manifested themselves more frequently as I progressed through the game. The freezing problems is being addressed in an upcoming patch, but it is too late for me since I have already completed the game. It has been said that the XBOX 360 version fared better in the technical department, but not by much.
Your hero, Altair, is a masterpiece of character design and craft. He animated and moved like no other I have ever seen in a video game. He scaled buildings and “parkour“ed his way across beams, roof tops and suspended wooden platforms with unmatched grace. I wish I could say the same about the other denizens though. They were varied, but understandably not varied enough. They also animated poorly and were noticeably less detailed compared to Altair himself which painted a less than unified composition.
In addition to technical worries, I also had doubts concerning Altair’s controls. I was pleased to discover that your controls did not disappoint. The dedicated buttons for head, weapon hand, free hand and feet and the absence of a jump button worked rather well. Guiding Altair with the left stick while holding R1 and the X button was surprisingly easy. By holding these buttons Altair was set on auto climb, auto scale and auto jump; it was almost like Gears of War’s equivalent to the A button where many actions were bound to one command input. Combat and weapon selection was also easily pulled off.
Despite the faults I have mentioned previously, they pale in comparison to the gameplay woes. It was the gameplay which let me down the most, Assassin’s Creed. You are labeled as a stealth game, but I cannot acknowledge that which you are not. At most you are a “Fisher Price – My First Stealth” game . None of the mechanics you have implemented provide the sense of suspense, tension or even anticipation. My biggest complaint in regards to your “stealth” mechanic was with your heavy reliances on status meters, automated actions and restrictive gameplay choices. I am not even sure why the stealth option should even be considered since not a single assassination I performed ended with me discreetly disappearing into the crowd. I was never actually punished or rewarded for not being discreet either. A simple assassin’s score card (a la Hitman series) alone would have been enough motivation for me.
There is a fine line between being streamlined and being easy. The parkour (scaling of buildings etc.) was streamlined, but the rest of the gameplay mechanics were just easy. Stupidly easy at times. The fighting mechanic was functional, but repetitive and simple once “countering” was learned; entire armies fell to Altair’s blade and superb countering skills. Your lack of artificial intelligence amongst the non-playable characters did little to alleviate the issue with the lack of challenge. Forget the fact that Altair can survive a 30 foot dive into an unbreakable cart of hay, how can everyone not see him dive into it in the first place?
1. Initiate – Visit the city’s Bureau to activate assassination mission.
2. Investigate – Pickpocket, beat-up, eavesdrop and/or kill for info about the target.
3. Report – Visit the city’s Bureau for permission to begin assassination.
4. Assassinate – Go after the target.
5. Return – Return to Bureau and/or HQ from time to time.
6. Repeat steps 1 through 5 the remaining 8 targets.
Your mission structure could have been a bit varied to say the least. Even a time sensitive ambush of a caravan of some sort would have been welcomed. My least favourite step was definitely step two where I had to seek out the investigation targets via climbing up onto high buildings. Actually, no. The latter half of step two was the most tedious since I had to actually complete those menial investigations. There was more entertainment value in causing a ruckus in the city and running up onto high peaks in order to escape from the guards and reveal the investigation targets.
The only saving grace for you, Assassin’s Creed, was your story. Your story alone was the sole motivator for me to keep going. I wanted to know what was happening in Altair’s world and the reason behind the assassinations I had to perform. The significant characters, whom interacted with Altair, were voiced and depicted well. The assassination targets themselves were by far the most interesting characters aside from Altair himself. The bits of backstory given to each of them breathed a faint bit of life into an otherwise hollow world.
Assassin’s Creed, you were also labeled as a sandbox game as well, and while your cities were vast and bustling with people, you did not fully utilize the sandbox element. Scattering pointless collectible flags was expected, but what I wanted more. How about a race with a fellow assassin across over some rooftops? While you failed to provide entertainment for me, I made the most of your world and enjoyed luring guards up onto high buildings and tossing them off ledges. I also enjoyed slamming beggars and the mentally crazed into walls. Those propagandists spewing their rhetoric were not immune to my twisted fun either.
Despite all your flaws, Assassin’s Creed, I still like you. Aside from the technical issues, gameplay issues and overall lack of polish, I still finished the game. I enjoyed your story and Altair’s free roaming shenanigans. You are a franchise and I while your first outing should have been delayed until you were ready, your creators at Ubisoft Montreal did the best they could to meet a holiday season deadline. I commend you for your efforts, but I will not tolerate less than stellar execution for your second installment.
Worth A Try
P.S – Please do not feel bad when I trade you in for Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.