A true work of art. Some might call Assassin's Creed over-rated, but they are looking in all the wrong places.
MooncalfReviews wrote this review on .
Indeed, the basic premise is one which no doubt attracted the attention of the gamer masses, the likes of which are used to some of the aforementioned platform fighting games. Let's face it, the majority of gamers come seeking non-stop gore, ostentatious Japan-brewed characters and plots that are about as thick as a cardboard box. 'Kill people, jump across rooftops, and use your stealthy assassin skills' the game might have promised the masses, but many found themselves disappointed when they finally got their hands on AC. But why is that?
The thing about Assassin's Creed is, what it does do well, not everyone will appreciate. That isn't to say that people wont understand it, because many will. It's not a complicated game. However, many have no doubt overlooked the true strokes of genius to be found in this monster title.
First and foremost is the art of the game itself. Take a moment, if you will, to walk the streets of Damascus, slowly pushing through crowds of vase-carriers, beggars and common-folk of this Islamic city. You'll hear distant echoed cries of help, or of a man rallying in a nearby town square. It's all so real you can almost smell it, and as you climb the masterfully reconstructed temple towers, you'll look down on a city that seems far too huge to explore. And yet you will explore it, and 3 other cities just like it, all with their own architectural distinctiveness and historically accurate reconstructions. You'll bound across wooden beams and tower battlements, and you'll scale the highest peaks of Jerusalem's massive temples, and it all feels so authentic.
Even the colours seem somehow spot on. They are a pale washed out tone; a constant reminder of the unreality of which you are a spectator, and yet a stark and effective attempt at capturing the mood of a point in history long past.
The music, while appropriate for the time period and location, also carries overtones of the real world; synthetic drums where at times a classic drum beat would have felt more real and haunting whispers chime almost on the subconscious, either from the real world of from the ancestral memories bleeding across time. I suggest a listen of the soundtrack all the way through after playing this game, because its a true work of genius, which I say without exaggeration.
And all of it – every stroke of every building, and every subtle instrument of every music piece – it's all very deliberate and beautiful.
Then there is the narrative of the game itself. The story, while not perfect, is formed intelligently around Jung's theories of genetic memory. Even the "Animus"; a machine which allows you to view the memories of your ancestor is a clever tribute to Carl Jung's work on analytical psychology.
The story itself centres around the mystery of some long forgotten powerful artifacts, and the storyteller rarely gives you access to the game's secrets in full, opting instead to withhold enough from the viewer to keep you guessing. The seemingly clear sides of good and evil are constantly blurred; even the iconicly evil figures such as the slave trader and the brutal weapons dealer are given a chance to tell their sides of the story, introducing gamers to a perhaps-unwanted sense of moral ambiguity. They do what they believe is needed for the betterment of the world, just as Altair does, and both sides seem equally severe in their approach to these things. The story writer even goes as far as to make Altair – the ancestor of the main character and playable protagonist through 90 percent of the story – kill where killing is not necessary. He is a brutal and merciless anti-hero, which is indeed a refreshing change from the usual heroes we often see in modern games.
Then there is the way the story is told – perhaps the most intelligent aspect of the game. Using clever cinematographic techniques, you are constantly removed or detached from the figure of Altair, a reminder that you are merely a spectator of your ancestor's action. The camera angles flicker with genetic codes, switching vantage points so that it might appear a different person is watching on. There's a consistent sense of detachment from it all, not least of all fuelled by the colours and the surreal distortions, but also, bewilderingly, when the story focusses on Desmond. Often, you'll see your main character from the eyes of security cameras in the same way the camera might switch angles on Altair's scenes, giving you an almost subconscious nagging feeling that perhaps even Desmond's story is simply another's genetic memory – that there is no true reality (an idea that is reiterated in the brilliant real-world ending). It's all very clever stuff that I've only ever seen in some of the masters of modern cinematography, and only then in film.
I could ramble on about AC's good points all day, but what about the bad?
Yes, the game can get repetitive, there's simply no denying it. While being an assassin and running across rooftops with superhuman acrobatics and slaying 50 guards in a series of deft yet realistic movements can be fun, the formulaic nature of the game's progression can indeed get a little tiresome.
The concept of gathering clues on how to complete your mission might seem fun on paper, but often the missions you are given to complete such tasks do seem more of a chore than fun after a while, particularly the flag gathering missions which are just astoundingly childish and out of place. Thankfully, the game's beautiful climbing and combat makes up for any unwanted laboriousness. However, the game repeats a formula of travel, clue gathering, and assassination right the way through the game, and there are little surprises in the way of gameplay, despite the final assassination missions on each "memory block" being fun.
Additionally, the game sometimes tries to get too clever, and has a bit of a stumble. There are times where Assassin's Creed is nothing less than genius, and at other times it reeks of pseudo-intellectualism. Not least of all responsible for this fault is the excessive dwelling on moral ambiguity (which in moderation makes the game great, but in excess feels patronising and forced).
Then there are the inconsistencies in plot, execution and realism. For example, the moment you kill the main targets you are given an extensive conversation with the dying men, despite the 20 guards right at your back ready to chop off your head. Then there is the concept that Desmond is the puppet master of his ancestor's memories, permitted marginal deviation from the historical facts, and yet when Altair speaks you are given no choice in what you say, and Desmond does not seem in control at all.
Which brings me to my main complaint about the game, which is somewhat difficult to explain. In Assassin's Creed there is a synchronisation bar, which displays how "in-synch" Desmond is with his ancestor's memories. Good idea huh? You'd think that wouldn't you. Unfortunately it's just a cheap excuse for an energy bar. When Altair gets damaged, he desynchronises slightly. So … you mean to say, Altair took on dozens of guards, Templers, and brutal killers, and didn't get hurt once?
But worse than this, the game fails to take advantage of what could have been an amazing step towards excellence. The synchronisation bar could have been used properly, and instead of being a health bar, it could have truly shown how historically accurate your current actions were. For example, instead of killing a witness who could blow your cover, Desmond could decide to let him go. However, this might not have been Altair's original actions, and thus the memory is desynchronised slightly, bringing down your historical accuracy rating. This would allow for a certain amount of freedom of choice, and yet would present a challenge to the player who wishes to ascertain Altair's true personality and try to conform to it consistently. A high synchronisation percentage could give a special ending, or could be used as a scoring method, or perhaps it could have unlocked true "additional memories" of prior assassinations, much in the vein of the Bourne Identity game. The possibilities of conformism or deviation from this historical accuracy score opens up possibilities of multiple endings, failures, secret conversation lines, and so on. Alas, they didn't think of this idea prior to release.
In summery of my excessively long review, you should buy this game immediately if you have the patience to appreciate artistic sets and clever ideas OR you like a tactical sword fight and stealthy assassination. If you lack patience and imagination, or you have no interest at all in stories or ancient history, then perhaps something more classically action-oriented and button-mashing might be your bag.
Either way you should at least give it a rent. There's something beautiful about leaping from a crumbling stone rooftop and gutting your target with your hidden blade as crowds of common folk flee screaming for the guards, and then you slip away silently, your sinister role of a harmless monk re-taken.
Based on the the Mooncalf Reviews scoring system as shown on this blog post:
> > Story: 4
A well told story with excellent narrative tools used, which makes the player question much about what he or she believes. Not perfect, but very good.
> > Hook: 5
The skilfully withheld twists and addictive gameplay kept me personally coming back for more … feverishly so.
> > Characters: 4
The main characters have their own distinct personalities, and along the way you'll even meet some other interesting characters.
> > Originality: 5
It's not the stealth game that's original, it's the way it's done. AC is original from the premise to the plot to the scaling of 3 life-sized cities.
> > Art: 5
Probably the most artistic game I've yet to play. Really something impressive! Not to mention the animation is almost flawless.
> > Voice Acting and Script: 4
Except for Altair, the voice acting is very good, and what makes it all the more impressive is how real accents are used and sound believable. Unfortunately, certain points in the script are less than realistic.
> > Music Score: 5
Very subtle, but turn up your volume at key points in the game and you'll hear beautiful and intelligent compositions that will blow your mind, if you have one.
> > Fun: 4
What could be more fun than being an acrobatic assassin in the medieval middle east? Less repetition might have helped.
> > Freedom: 3
The hub world and choice in the order of missions, as well as a few side-missions make this game marginally free, but it could have been SO much more.
> > Lifespan: 3
If you rush through it, AC wont take you very long. Stop to smell the daisies and it'll take you longer, but there's very little point in doing things such as collecting all the flags, as there's no real reward for it.
> > Multiplayer: 0
(No multiplayer support)
Total Points: 42
Gamespot converted rating: 9