Top positive review
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Killer Fun, Killer Price!
on 14 October 2008
The original game released in November 2007, now it's in the Classics Range which means you're basically getting it half-price. I picked it up last week and if you haven't yet read any of the 208 or so reviews for the original game you can wade though this one!
Assassin's Creed is what you'd get if you set Grand Theft Auto in the Holy Land back in 1191 A.D. The fist fights are there, your sword replaces the Uzi, your throwing knives replace the rocket launcher, your thoroughbred steeds replace the vehicles and you play as the feared assassin Altair rather than a nobody wannabe criminal, but in a nutshell it's GTA with the added bonus of being available in the Classics Range, so you'll be able to pick it up for £19.99 RRP or less.
For historians, it's like going on a virtual field trip with the Third Crusade. Ubisoft the developers have paid great attention to detail and have faithfully recreated their version of the geography and city layouts from available historical documentation relating to this period.
You start out in Masyaf, the fortress town where the elite assassin organisation is based. Stripped of your rank and weapons following a recent botched mission, you have to relearn the art of assassination by undertaking a string of tasks set by your Master, Al Mualim.
The first few tasks are simple enough, teaching you the arts of eavesdropping (sit on a bench, lock on to your target with LT and press Y to listen), pickpocketting (lock on, follow and press B at the right moment to nick documents) and interrogation (lock on, beat up with your fists until they submit and spill the beans).
It's here that you'll get a small sense of the jaw-dropping scale of each level in the game, but if you think Masyaf is teeming with people, all of whom react differently to you depending on how you act, try to remember that Masyaf is a small village in comparison to the 3 main cities you'll be visiting (Damascus, Acre and Jerusalem), not to mention the Kingdom that connects them all.
Next you'll learn basic combat, but because you're initially starting anew you only have one basic combo at your disposal until you've progressed through the ranks a bit more.
After this, the world is your oyster as you progress through your missions taking out the 9 main targets on your list. Initially you're limited to the first 3 sections of each city, but later on after you've unlocked all the knowledge required to be a master assassin you'll have the entire game at your free-roaming disposal, and the only time you'll get a loading screen thereafter is when switching from one city to the Kingdom or jumping directly to a city from the menu.
Each of your assassinations follows the same pattern:
- Reveal parts of the map and available tasks by climbing to high points.
- Gain information on your targets by performing a minimum number of side quests like eavesdropping, saving citizens, pickpocketting, interrorgations or tasks set for you by informers.
- Move in for the kill once you have permission to do so from the local guild.
Some gamers might find this repetitive, but for me I was able to get totally immersed in the whole climbing/stalking preparation aspect, so much so that I always performed all the additional subquests before the main one even though they were mostly optional. The advantage to completing all the quests is pretty obvious - you'll have more citizens to block guards when you're escaping, you'll get more background information on your target and hence the storyline, and trying to collect 20 flags within 3 minutes or kill 5 Templars within 4 minutes without alerting guards will certainly put your free-running and stealth assassination skills to the test.
I got a real kick out of climbing to highpoints as I get vertigo in real life, and being able to stand at the top of a 200ft spire and look down on the city below really pushes your console graphically, it's something to behold. On top of this, most (not all!) highpoints allow you to take a 'leap of faith', you're not always sure if there's a handy haystack to break your fall below but thankfully it's pretty obvious most of the time.
Oddly, most of the combat in Assassin's Creed is optional. City guards dislike assassins at the best of times, and if you want you can do various things to provoke them, or you can behave and blend in to avoid them completely. When provoked, guards will chase you until you either kill them or find a hiding space by way of a haystack, blending with friendly scholars or a rooftop trellis, but to be able to use these hiding places you first have to break the guards' line of sight which can be achieved by getting friendly vigilantes to block their path, running around street corners or scaling buildings.
Combat is so much fun, and so very brutal, that a lot of the time you'll be picking fights on purpose just so you can run people through the neck with your longsword after a particularly neat counter-move or combo. Other times you'll be deliberately scampering up onto rooftops to practice your knife-throwing skills on the rooftop guards. And sometimes, just for the sheer fun of it, you'll assassinate random members of the local population just because you can.
The controls are simple enough that with good timing you'll get surrounded by 8-10 guards, grab one, throw him away, counter-attack and kill another in a very gory fashion and gradually whittle down the rest with a combination of fierce combos, side-stepping, breaking down their defences, some nifty-knifework, a spot of leg-breaking and the simple fact that spinning around behind an attacker, using a longsword up-swing to break their swordarm in half and then skewering them through the neck and practically severing their head in a satisfying burst of blood reduces the number of opponents you have by one. Every time.
Once the storyline is completed ('tis a rip-roaring yarn with lots of neat twists and a rather abrupt ending with 'SEQUEL' scrawled all over it in blood) you'll probably have some achievements left over to get. Thankfully, Ubisoft have designed the game so that you can go back and replay different sections, and longevity is provided in the optional tasks of collecting all the assorted flags and banners (which can be very craftily hidden) or assassinating all of the 60 Templars (slightly tougher than city guards) scattered around the Kingdom and the 3 cities.
It's here that the game really shines. If you can imagine popping in GTA IV and immediately having access to all weapons, all skills, all locations, that's basically what you get if you load up Assassin's Creed from a previously completed game, which only takes around 15 hours to do if you skip the optional tasks.
You can stroll around cities, gently pushing pedestrians out of your way (the crowd AI sets a new challenge to any developer thinking of trying to emulate it) soaking up the atmosphere from the merchant criers (you can jump through their stalls to escape guards), the beggars (you can grab them and throw them some distance to get them out of your face), the thugs (pickpocket them for extra throwing knives when you run out), the guards (who speak English, French and German all equally gruffly), or simply start a massive fight in order to get the Eagle's Flight (last 10 minutes in open conflict) and Eagle's Challenge (defeat 25 guards in a single fight) achievements.
You can jump on a horse (handily they're dotted about the Kingdom) and just go trotting or galloping off around the map looking for flags and Templars, running people down or, if you're unlucky, getting dismounted by some of the wily guards which results in a fight or flight decision. On a side note as an equestrian I really like the way horses handle, replete with Altair clicking his tongue to get them moving or calling out to get them galloping, someone really knew their horses when they coded this section.
You can stand there looking at water and wondering why you can't swim (hitting water is instant death), but the game is lenient in that there's no real death penalty, you just get set back to your most recent auto-save which isn't ever very far away. Thankfully there are only two main places in the game where water plays a major part, and one of them is optional.
Because this is spoiler free, I've skipped a good 30% of the game's content and about 80% of the storyline because there is a lot more to Assassin's Creed than most reviews let on. Having said that I think I've covered about 99% of the gameplay.
When it comes to scoring, I hate giving 10/10s mainly because no game is perfect, but Assassin's Creed comes very very close. Somewhere around the 94% mark for me, hence the 5 stars. Given that it's available in the Classics Range for only £19.99 or less you cannot really go wrong. It's worth that just to get an inkling of what the 360 can do in terms of showing off games and Assassin's Creed certainly doesn't disappoint even though it was released almost a year ago.
Definitely a 'must buy'.