Despite the abundance of subject matter history remains an area strangely neglected by the gaming industry. Aside from WW2 and empire building RTS games, there's little room for the historical epic in a market saturated by space marines, mutants and zombies. In this regard, Assassin's Creed gains immediate kudos for originality, but Ubisoft's real achievement is to a make a game that actually lived up to this lofty premise
The Holy Land, at the end of the twelfth century, it's height of the third crusade with King Richard and Saladin battling for supremacy. In the midst of political turmoil a secretive guild of assassins seek to restore peace and prosperity through a campaign of targeted assassinations. The not too distant future, bartender Desmond Miles is imprisoned by mysterious organisation intent on extracting information from his ancestral DNA, forced to co-operate in unravelling a nine hundred year old conspiracy that has implications way beyond its crusader origins
The whole scale of the thing is mindblowing, three medieval cities and a considerable expanse of countryside to boot for you to explore. Yes, other sandbox games have done it even bigger, but few if any have managed to do it better, Grand Theft Steed this ain't, it's a whole different proposition entirely. Clambering to the top of the many churches and minarets littered across the landscape you can truly appreciate the attention to detail that has gone in to creating a believable medieval landscape. Going back to other sandbox games after this, everything looks as if it was made from Duplo. Only poor water textures strike a wrong note in an otherwise faultless production (something ironically GTA 4 excels in).
What is equally impressive is the maturity in which Assassin's Creed addresses its subject matter. Admittedly, this kind of thing only really impresses history nerds like myself, still, from the political rhetoric of the town criers to King Richard's French accent , such historical accuracy makes for all the more immersive historical experience. It's the shame then that the plot ultimately degenerates into Da Vinci Code style religious conspiracy hokum and it makes you wish Ubisoft stuck firmly to the history they've gone to so much trouble to recreate.
In terms of gameplay, incredibly slick parkour mechanics mean you'll be acrobatically flying across rooftops in no time at all and the combat system strikes an appropriate balance between accessibility and skill. Combat is largely reliant on timing as opposed to button bashing and with level ups throughout the game you'll develop an ever growing repertoire of moves to dispatch your foes in increasingly imaginative (and blood thirsty) ways.
The game is structured in such a way that how you utilise these components is largely up to you, other than the occasional moment where you're forced to flee the scene in the aftermath of an assassination or boxed in by enemies, leaving no choice other than fighting your way out. The same cannot be said however of the missions which, the actual assassinations aside, become repetitive and have little replay value. Such complaints only really surface on the second play through, still, a little more variety wouldn't have gone amiss.
Many of these issues appear to have been addressed by Ubisoft for the sequel, due out at the end of the year, with greater variety in the mission structure promised amongst other things. However for the moment such minor complaints shouldn't detract from what is already highly accomplished action adventure game, and now Assassin's Creed has made it into the cut price classics range there's all the more reason to check it out if you haven't done so already.