Ubisoft's latest is more than the sum of its parts.
PS3, Xbox 360
Page: 1 2
When you get right down to it, how much you get out of Assassin's Creed depends crucially on how tolerant you are of the repetitive gameplay elements that keep the game from being fantastic. But like this year's other rinse-and-repeat action game, Crackdown, I found myself completely drawn in and willing to overlook the game's flaws.
Assassin's Creed is an action game with a difference. It's set during the Third Crusade in the 12th century and tracks the political machinations that are keeping the world churning in its tumultuous state. Taking the role of Altair, a member of the Brotherhood of Assassins, you'll play an integral part in shaping the Holy Land, and it's the long-run ramifications of your actions that form the story hook that keeps you playing.
What's frustrating is that it's difficult to go into much more detail here about the story in Assassin's Creed. Along with the free-running elements, it's tied as the most interesting part of the game, but because it takes so many twists and turns it really is best to experience it in as untainted a form as possible.
There has been talk for months about the true nature of the story, especially after it became clear that, Metal Gear Solid 2-style, what we were being shown was far from the full truth. To some extent, that's overstating the case. For better or worse, Assassin's Creed has been designed as the first instalment in a franchise, a trend that has been creeping into games over the past five years that I have little love for. Someone who puts in the 12-or-so hours it takes to finish the game deserves to experience the whole story, and for the most part you do.
The game is largely self-contained but it does such a good job of laying the groundwork for the larger story that I would be fibbing if I said I wasn't slightly disappointed by how quickly it is all wrapped up at the end. Ubisoft has also shot itself in the foot by making it less clear exactly why you're doing the things you're doing.
Over the course of the game you must assassinate a group of people, each of whom is in their own way hindering the natural flow of events during the Third Crusade. After each assassination you'll earn more information about your marks, bringing together the story. But how to find these elements wasn't immediately obvious to me and I went quite a way before I noticed that I could catch up on some of the details of the dense storyline that I had missed.
No matter. An equally big draw here is the gameplay, which daringly extracts you from the mechanics of free-running and instead allows you to concentrate on the city and all the people and buildings around you. Some people have complained that you're essentially under auto-pilot during free-running, since you don't have to grab and jump yourself. Don't listen to them. Having the game set up like this allows you to concentrate on what really matters: the path you take to your destination.
This is important because scaling buildings and (less important to progression) collecting items are such integral parts of the game. In each of the cities there are tall structure you can climb to reach a vantage point where you can scan the area around you to find your next mission objectives. I won't lie to you: the climbing is repetitive. The cities are largely the same and so are the inhabitants, but it's such a thrill to guide Altair through the environments that I simply didn't care.