The latest offering from developer Ubisoft, the team behind the Splinter Cell series, Assassin’s Creed takes you back in time to the Crusades where you become a medieval hitman.
Weaving through the crowd of different cities (including Damascus and Jerusalem), you must prepare your escape, pick your target, strike and flee. Thankfully, there’s plenty more to the game, as you can scale buildings to map a city, aid citizens in distress and travel by horseback from city to city.
Your fighting skills become more elaborate as you progress, moving from basic stabbing and grabbing, to tackling and knife-throwing. Like many third-person action adventures you’re free to explore the territory and meander from one small task to another, or to progress the game’s narrative in a more linear fashion. In other words it’s yet another freewheeling post-Grand Theft Auto III environment.
The narrative framing for Assassin’s Creed is hokey, even by videogame standards. Get this: the main character is a present day bartender who has been kidnapped by a mysterious organisation and forced to electronically visit the memory of his ancestor.
This is the developer’s explanation for why you skip scenes, regenerate after you die and why the other characters speak English. It’s a profoundly unnecessary attempt at believability, not to mention far-fetched and cheesy. Since when did gamers need an explanation for multiple lives?
Infinitely more important, of course, are the graphics and gameplay – both of which are excellent. Though it takes a little too long to get going, with a few too many cut scenes for my taste, Assassin’s Creed is a blast – a guilty pleasure of stabbing and subterfuge.
Though you can play it as a bloodthirsty animal, the game rewards intelligence and patience. You soon adapt to the pace and style. Scaling buildings with the dexterity of a cat is a lot of fun, as is eavesdropping on the minor characters and hiding in amongst monks.
The controls for the climbing, sneaking and fighting are fluid and logical – though it can get occasionally tricky when switching from combat to escape. The horseback sequences between cities are a bit of a chore, but thankfully the vast majority of the game is spent in cities and on foot.
Visually, Assassin’s Creed is sumptuous. Its TV commercial boasted that the footage used in the ad was actual gameplay shots and indeed, a more cinematic game you are unlikely to see on the Xbox 360 any time soon. The animation, rendering and the cityscapes are beautiful – like a Ridley Scott sword-and-sandal epic. This gold-hued world of religious conflict has been lovingly and painstakingly reproduced.
The music left little to be desired though: the Middle-Eastern wailing and plucking strings were fine, but the synthy orchestra imitation (slightly reminiscent of Lawrence of Arabia) is surprisingly corny.
Franchise possibilities for Assassin’s Creed are full of (Middle) eastern promise, as the premise could be moved to any troubled era – from feudal Japan to modern-day Baghdad. A sequel is all-but inevitable and more than welcome. I imagine the makers of the overrated Hitman series must be losing sleep.
Pros: Stunning graphics and immersive gameplay
Cons: The long lead-in to the action