on September 12, 2009
Ubisoft's 2007 game Assassin's Creed is a game that has received mixed critics since its release: while some lauded the game for the great atmosphere, stunning visuals and refreshing gameplay (compared to most other games in the industry), it was critiqued by others for having too repetitive missions, in that you keep doing the same thing over and over again nine times in a row. This review is based on the PC version of Assassin's Creed, which is also the Director's Cut of the game. It came out later than the console versions did, so the developers at Ubisoft had some time to incorporate some additional content into the game. They addressed the main issue of the game, being its repetitive missions, and thus added more challenges: rooftop race, archer stealth assassination, merchant stand destruction and escorting assassins safely from one area to another, doubling the amount of investigations to eight in total.
Surprisingly, upon installing the game, I noticed that it does not have a product key. Very strange indeed, what with most, if not all computer games having one these days as a method to combat piracy. The game automatically searches for patches and installs these upon launch. Assassin's Creed is forced widescreen, which means that if you do not possess a widescreen (16:9) monitor, you will be playing the game with black bars on top and bottom, just like Gears of War.
The story takes place in 2012 and 1191, respectively. Desmond Miles, a bartender who has been kidnapped by Abstergo Industries, wakes up in the Animus, an advanced machine that is capable of projecting the memories of ancestors which are supposedly stored in the individual's DNA to the subject's mind, enabling him or her to virtually control his or her ancestor in a dreamlike state. The memory Desmond's kidnappers want to access is however only decoded if other memories before it are played through and thus, Desmond comes to experience the life of his ancestor, a Hashshashin named Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad in the months of July, August and September of the year 1191, during which he assassinates nine important figures of both Christian and Saracen factions to restore peace in the Holy Land - which is the creed of the Assassins and the goal of his mentor Al Mualim, who is the leader of the Hashshashin sect operating from Masyaf. As you play through the game, you uncover more and more secrets of both the Holy Land and Abstergo Industries, lifting the veil of something that is rooted far deeper in the depths of history than ''what you would find in an online encyclopedia'', as quoted by Dr. Warren Vidic. Without delving deeper into the game's plot, I would like to say that the game leaves the player with many questions, most of which are discussed and explained thoroughly if you do some research on the internet.
One thing is for sure - the creators of Assassin's Creed aimed for realism while developing the game, by trying to create a virtual Holy Land of the late 12th century. On first glance, their work looks very impressive. With the exception of the GTA series, the cities featured in Assassin's Creed are HUGE for video game standards and look marvelous, with hundreds of citizens in historic clothing moving about, many of them talking to merchants in bazaars or holding speeches to stir up the crowds. Guards patrol the districts and the cities not only look realistic and confusing with their many alleys, but every highly detailed building is climbable by Altaïr, thanks to many nooks and crannies they posess, along with an assortment of ledges and footholds. Unfortunately, it is always day. Since this game is not an RPG, you also do not get the opportunity to interact with the common folk or purchase something from the market (see Oblivion). Also, I found it quite unrealistic that you could - in the middle of a crowd - assassinate any town guard who is walking by in low-profile mode and nobody would scream even when he dropped dead. Often (especially after having rescued a damsel in distress from a bunch of guards), you stand amidst a heap of corpses - while it is true that the crowd panicks and flees when the fighting begins, they soon return after you're done killing the guards, and walk amidst the corpses as if nothing has happened. Another thing: guards respawn, so there is no point in trying to kill as many guards in low profile mode as possible to ease an upcoming character assassination (and the fleeing that automatically ensues afterward). Also, did I mention that corpses disappear after a short while? Very realistic indeed. And the fact that your horse is invincible (it just falls to the ground and then gets up again) also contributes to the loss of immersion. Altaïr cannot swim and the Saracens in the game are represented by Turks - not only through the language, but through the flags as well. Surprisingly, many Templars also speak Turkish instead of what they are supposed to speak in the game - German (although in reality they are supposed to speak French).
The gameplay in the Director's Cut is not as repetitive as that of the standard version. New districts of each of the major cities are unlocked as you progress, so there's always something new to explore. You also have twice the amount of investigations, and there's no need to do all of them to proceed to the assassination event - you can always go ahead and get your hands bloody. For those of us who like the gameplay, the developers hid many flags of different factions that can be collected, as well as templars who need to be eliminated, giving you some extra hours of gameplay. You can also reveal 100% of the map by scaling all towers and getting a breathtaking bird's eye view of the landscape. Overall, the presentation of Assassin's Creed is very nice and even if there are things the developers could improve on, this game is a must-buy for all those who are interested in this time period and a recommendation to everyone else. A well deserved four out of five stars.
One more thing:
Multisampling (Anti-aliasing) is turned off by default at resolutions higher than 1680 x 1050. To force it on, just change multisampling=0 to multisampling=2 in the Assassin' Creed configuration file (.cfg) found in your savegames directory:
0 for 0xAA
1 for 2xAA
2 for 4xAA