Assassin’s Creed – Returning to the Holy Land on XBOX 360

Posted: September 27, 2011 in Review

‘Back? I can never go back; I have seen too much to go back to the beginning’

These words could have been uttered by Altair himself but instead came out of my mouth when I read that this month’s chosen game was the original Assassin’s Creed.  Surely, having sampled the substantial improvements of ACII and the subtle enhancements of Brotherhood, returning to the game that started it all would only bring
frustration and bad memories?

Well, yes… and no.
Returning to the Holy Lands was actually a refreshing experience.  Not sure if it was MLG’s aim to give us back-to-back retina-scorchingly bright games to chase away the soggy summer but I still cannot help being impressed by that first city flyby once the game boots up.

The graphical impact continues once the game begins (although I don’t count the grainy washed out ‘out of Animus’ sequences) with fluid character movement and a set of towns and cities that actually feel ‘alive’ with so many people that you can sort of forgive the fact that they are running the same pre-programmed routes and saying the same thing (‘I’ll have your hand for this!’).  It cannot be underestimated how impressive AC still looks and its environments still blow current day titles such as Dead Island and Deus Ex clean out of the water.

Ok, it still looks nice 4 years on but what about the story?  Could I remember how it all began having enjoyed Ezio’s more recent exploits?  For me, going back to the beginning actually clarified much of what has happened since.  Aspects of the story do have the tendency to tie themselves in knots but at least this WAS a story and one attempting to be a little bit different.

So far so good then, an intriguing story premise and fantastic graphics and sound.  So why did this game divide the opinions of so many?

Game play.  When all the trimmings are stripped away this is what brings gamers to the fight.  AC promised much but stopped considerably short of a clean kill.  Free running is fun, stealth attacks regularly satisfy BUT swordplay often results in a trial of button mashing and assassinations soon become an exercise in repetition.  Being forced to conduct simplistic and samey investigations to extract information is only slightly offset by carrying out equally simplistic and samey side missions (How on earth did the soldiers manage to control the cities when they seemed to spend most of their time beating up timid citizens?!).  Staking out and planning the main assassination once they unlock is enjoyable but once you embark on your plan it seems only a matter of time until the soldiers see you (and they nearly always see you) and all hell breaks loose.

Despite all of these failings, however, AC is still a game that can be enjoyed if for nothing else than being an opportunity to explore and interact in a world borne from our own history (rather than a faux warzone
or planet in meltdown).  Just as long as you don’t play it for too long at any one time.

Its history that’s shown us that Ubisoft listened and learnt, releasing two games since that have delivered a much deeper set of game mechanics, somehow further raising the graphical and audio bar and even added an interesting multiplayer feature.  Giving the developer time to reflect and respond has meant that we are the benefactors
of a growing series of games with powerful stories and enjoyable game play (although no more Ezio after this one, please Ubisoft!)

Looking around the game industry these days, all too often IPs have to succeed first time round or the idea (and very often the developing team) is canned. In one or two cases this year, success still doesn’t mean the
extension of a concept.

So, the sum really is greater than the parts – no Altair would have meant no Ezio.  Assassin’s Creed is a flawed game, fact. But it’s also an important game for the series (and an influence for many other games since) that no amount of criticism and complaints from the gaming press and us humble gamers is going to change.

I think the great assassin, Altair, said it best himself:

‘Be at peace now, their words can no longer do harm.’


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