Does it live up to its potential or does it disappoint?
Assassin's Creed could easily have been one of the best games of 2007. It is, without question, impressive on several fronts. But developer Ubisoft Montreal took some missteps along the way and squandered the immense potential of its pseudo-stealth action title. A bad story, repetitive gameplay elements, and poor AI lead to the downfall of one of the more promising games in recent memory. Assassin's Creed could have been one of the great games of this generation. Instead, it turned into just another action title.
You play as Altair, a member of the Hashshashin (or Assassins), a real-life group that performed politically-motivated murders between the 11th and 13th centuries. Set in the Middle East during the third crusade, Assassin's Creed is steeped in historical fact. Each of the three main cities was well-researched and beautifully recreated. The nine men Altair is charged with dispatching did, in fact, all die or disappear around the time the game takes place. The attention paid to creating an accurate representation of Jerusalem, Acre, and Damascus is commendable. Were it not for the "anomalies" that flitter around characters, you would have little reason to ever question that this is indeed what these cities and people looked like centuries ago.
Though Assassin's Creed is an action game, the story plays a considerable role from start to finish. This is a story-heavy title, which proves a detriment in the long run. There is a major twist in the Assassin's story, the kind that (if it hasn't already been spoiled for you on the Internet) would likely blow the lid covering your brain. That is if this big twist were revealed towards the end of the story and not in the first five minutes. Ubisoft's decision to introduce the only major surprise just a few minutes into Assassin's Creed proves costly. Imagine if you were watching the Sixth Sense and ten minutes in the movie told you Bruce Willis is a ghost. It would deaden the remainder of the story. This is exactly what happens with Assassin's. The moments with Altair are well-told and interesting (though perhaps a bit too drawn out), but every time the "twist" elements come into play, the entire game grinds to a halt. Over a 10- or 12-hour gaming experience, that becomes grating. So much so that all of the clever story elements begin to play against Assassin's Creed rather than elevating it to high art as seems to have been the intention.
Click here to watch the video review.
It doesn't help that the voice acting for Altair is abysmal. The 12th-century assassin speaks with an American accent and sounds as if he is auditioning for community theatre. He stands out against the rest of the cast, the rest of who offer fine performances. But when your star (who is forced to chatter almost as much as he kills) sounds like a B-movie reject, it takes away from the story. Sound in general is not impressive in Assassin's Creed. You'll hear the same handful of comments when running through cities repeated again and again. And the music is fairly absent in most instances to allow the atmosphere to be king. But there is little aural atmosphere.
A weak story is nothing new to videogames; it's the gameplay that really matters. Assassin's Creed does some great things; it does some revolutionary things. It also does some things poorly. But let's talk about the good first, because it is worth noting that while Assassin's Creed never becomes a truly great experience, there are some fantastic elements that lay the ground work for a potentially incredible sequel.
Each of the three major cities is broken into three sections: poor, middle-class, and rich. That's nine sections for nine assassinations. As standard videogame operating procedures dictate, a new section of a city is opened when you receive orders for a new assassination target. When you have all sections of a city unlocked, you can appreciate the best aspect of Assassin's Creed: vertical exploration. The lengthy load times for levels (upwards of five minutes at some points) is forgivable considering that once in game you can run from one end of Jerusalem to the other and from depths of the darkest alley to the tip-top of the highest building.