Basic Plot and Gameplay

I suppose I should preface this section with a disclaimer that there will be some minor plot spoilers on this page. However, I emphasize the fact that these are minor spoilers -- most of this information is readily visible if you visit the Assassin's Creed website, and you will certainly discover within the first 10 minutes of playing the game the major "spoiler" I'm about to discuss. If you want to be completely surprised, however, feel free to skip the next several paragraphs.

The majority of Assassin's Creed takes place around 1200 A.D. -- 1191 A.D. to be precise -- but your actual character is merely reliving memories of an ancestor using future technology, a device called the Animus. So there are actually two characters, Desmond Miles from 2012 A.D. and Altaïr from the time of the Crusades. Both, incidentally, are assassins, though you will spend the vast majority of the game in Altaïr's shoes. The short summary is that some people are looking for information from Altaïr, information that is part of Desmond's "genetic memory".


There's something of a Matrix vibe to the plot, but without all the machines taking over the world business. The futuristic pseudoscience seems to be at least partly a gameplay mechanic as it keeps you from dying and reloading; instead, you "lose sync" with your ancestor's memory and return to the last "sync point". "A checkpoint save system by any other name would smell as sweet…." Over time, as Desmond and Altaïr become more in sync with each other, Desmond recovers additional memories, improves "health", and improves in his abilities.

This is a gross oversimplification of the plot, so if the above summary makes you think that the game isn't something worth trying, let us state that we did find the game quite enjoyable and the storyline was compelling. It's not something likely to win any Academy Awards -- although a movie based off the story is apparently in the works -- but it does keep you playing to find out what happens next. By the end of the game we were a little disappointed that there wasn't more of a conclusion; Assassin's Creed 2 looks to be inevitable. In fact, this is supposed to be the first entry in a trilogy of games.

Gameplay (no more spoilers)

Given the title and setting, it should come as no surprise that the game involves killing... lots of killing. Throughout the game, you are given assassination targets -- men who through their actions are causing problems and need to be disposed of. However, you can't just jump straight to the major assassination target; first you have to scout out the area, gain information about the target's movements and whereabouts, and "plan" when and where to perform the assassination.


The first assassination mission is likely to impress you with the environment and gameplay. Crowds of people move throughout the city, and you can use them to blend in and escape notice. You can run across the rooftops, leaping from building to building and grabbing onto ledges, and you can climb up to higher viewpoints to get a good look at your surroundings (and reveal nearby missions). Missions consist of information gathering as well as helping out citizens who are being harassed by corrupt guards. The first few hours of the game were extremely entertaining, and you can really get into playing the role of a stealthy assassin.

After a while, flaws in the gameplay start to become more apparent. The basic pattern listed above repeats itself throughout the game: show up in a new area, do a bit of scouting, perform a few side quests, and then take out your target. Afterwards, you need to escape from the city guards and make your way back to the Assassins' Bureau. Your sword fighting skills and other abilities increase over time, and you gain access to a few additional weapons. To counteract that, guards also become more adept. However, there's no getting around the fact that the gameplay eventually becomes extremely repetitive. This is probably the biggest complaint about the game, and it's a valid point, but it's compounded by other flaws.


First impressions are that you are part of a living, breathing, teeming world -- not unlike the world found in Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. Citizens wander the streets, you can overhear vendors hawking their wares and other townsfolk engaging in gossip, and soldiers patrol the streets keeping order. Unlike Oblivion, however, all of the activity you see is merely a façade. The reality is that all the people are in scripted loops, endlessly repeating their activities. Stand in one place long enough, and you'll watch the same group of five women carrying jars on their heads walk by again and again, the same guards on patrol, etc. There are no day and night cycles -- everything takes place during the day -- which seems a little odd for an assassin game.


Furthermore, when it comes right down to it, Altaïr is virtually invincible by any competent player. Guards attack one at a time, politely taking turns as you dispatch them, so combat quickly becomes a routine affair of blocking and counterattacking. In that sense, AC is nothing like the Thief games where Garrett was highly vulnerable and dependent largely on stealth in order to survive. You can play AC in a stealthy fashion if you want to, but there's little to keep you from sprinting through town to get from place to place as quickly as possible. The only requirement is that you have to rid yourself of any pursuit before you can start/complete any of the missions (and certain missions do require you to maintain anonymity).

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  • geogaddi - Tuesday, June 10, 2008 - link


    ...now, what did i do with that babelfish...
    Reply
  • ssgoten00 - Monday, June 02, 2008 - link

    AC was only an average game overall. Graphics presentation was it's strong suit but gameplay was lacking and the game seemed to drag on as the player progresses through the game. Undoubtedly the repetitiveness was the worst part of AC. Not simply the fact that is seemed like some tasks were a redue of previously accomplished tasks but the shear fact that tasks were repeated verbatim with same characters and voices, only changing dialogue to create variation. Some characters players will have to kill multiple times under the guise of actually killing different characters in the game. AC was also disappointing in the fact that it mislead gamers in presenting its self a a somewhat stealth game. Nothing could be further from the truth. In AC players will often be forced into full on combat with multiple opponents to progress in the storyline. In vary select situations players have the choice of using stealth as a viable option. Ironically the last 5 or 10 minutes at the very end of the game are the most compelling. After the credits roll players are left in the main room to explore and decrypt code and hidden messages. It's unfortunate AC's developers couldn't have spent more time on puzzles that actually pertained to gameplay. Out of a possible 10 I give Assassin's Creed a 6.0 barely coming in at par, bordering on subpar. Reply
  • Donkey2008 - Monday, June 02, 2008 - link

    It does have a Thief feel but after playing it on Xbox, I found it to be more Thief meets BloodRayne meets Splinter Cell with some of the best graphics I have seen in a while. It is sorta repetitive,but the violence cut away any boredom I had. I enjoyed it a lot.

    But I guess they could have done what other Rockin high-profile companies do and make an even more repetitive game exactly like its previous versions, but with a much worse soundtrack. Throw in some terribly low-res character models and reuse the same, bottom-of-the-barrel, cartoon-looking cutscenes and they would have a perfect 10 as well.
    Reply
  • poohbear - Monday, June 02, 2008 - link

    this is the kind of game reviews i'd like to see, wherein hardware is tested w/ a game to show performance. I mean, you guys ARE a hardware site and there are'nt many sites that do game reviews w/ hardware testing shortly after. I dont think u should do game reviews without hardware testing cause there are a ton of game review sites, but your niche shines when you do these hardware and DX analysis. cheers and thanks for a very informative article. Reply
  • DesertCat - Monday, June 02, 2008 - link

    The article talks about wanting to check the performance of Assassin's Creed on a Phenom processor (and its 4 cores). I can speak to that to some degree.

    I have a Phenom 9600 (2.3 MHz) on an AM2 board (Asus M2N-SLI Deluxe) with an EVGA 8800GT OC (650 MHz). I play at 1280x1024 so I play in a letterbox mode. This processor is enough to run the game at acceptable frame rates but I would tend to think that a fast dual core would do just as well (like was found with the Intel processors in the article).

    With the performance hurting TLB patch enabled, I noticed one area where frame rates truly took a nosedive: when doing the "look" pan from the top of one of those towers. I didn't have an fps counter on at the time, but I'm guessing it was in the 12-16 fps range based on the chunkiness I experienced. I got similar slow framerates when diving from those spots into the hay (especially the really high towers).

    With the TLB patch disabled on my Phenom, those two low fps spots were much better. I'm guessing that those areas were in the low 20's of fps. The rest of the game was smooth as silk and probably above 40 fps. I do not, however, see high utilization on any particular core when I've checked.

    If I was to point to areas that really stress a system in AC, I would say that the tower pan shots are the most common. (*minor spoiler ahead*) King Richard's speech from horseback about 3/4 the way through the game is also very intensive.
    Reply
  • aguilpa1 - Monday, June 02, 2008 - link

    I know I've had it for a long time? Reply
  • emboss - Monday, June 02, 2008 - link

    The word you *are* looking for is possibly letterboxing? Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Monday, June 02, 2008 - link

    I was going to mention that as well. Anamorphic means the pixels making up the image are stretched either horizontally (as with wide-screen DVDs) or vertically when displayed. If the game were anamorphic, it would be like it running on a monitor at 1920x1080 but being rendered internally at some other resolution such as 1440x1080 and stretched to the displayed 1920x1080.

    The correct description is what you said originally, that it allows only a 16:9 aspect-ratio view, so if I ran it on my monitor (1600x1200 native) the game itself would only use the central 1600x900 of that.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, June 03, 2008 - link

    Sorry - I saw the original comment and thought I corrected it. Missed the other two occurrences. I wasn't thinking and just used the word after reading the thread on widescreengamingforum.com about AC. (I was hoping someone had found a way around the locked letterbox view.) Reply
  • AnnihilatorX - Monday, June 02, 2008 - link

    This review is great! I have never read a game review that includes all the analysis, benchmarks, gameplay video conveniently presented.

    Excellent work!
    Reply

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