It seems like I can’t stay away from ambitious ideas. For my next retrospective series I will be covering all the main games within the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Ambitious (I know [made even more insane by the fact there will be more retrospective series’ coming out alongside this one fairly shortly]) but I thought it would be a fun task. Not to mention I haven’t actually kept up with the franchise, having only played the first two games (so far). So call this a bit of a catch-up during the build-up to the latest instalment, Assassin’s Creed Origins.
The stupid thing is I actually owned Assassin’ Creed when it was new out (being one of the first games I owned for my PlayStation 3) but for one reason or another I never completed it. Then when Assassin’s Creed II came out I was unable to continue the story, and as time went on I fell further and further behind on the franchise (to the point where I just gave up [until now]). Another stupid thing is the fact that I really enjoy playing the first instalment (for the most part), which holds a lot of nostalgia over my judgement due to it being (as I said above) one of the first games I owned for the PlayStation 3, and replaying it only reinforces that nostalgic memory.
But, I will not call this game perfect (not by a long shot). It is, however, an ambitious game and though it has dated in some regards it still holds-up to this day (particularly when you consider how outstanding the scale of this game was back in 2007). Assassin’s Creed was certainly a game of its time and brought about a shift within the gaming industry in terms of what you could develop. You only have to look at the huge areas you could explore, unblocked by draw-distance, graphical limitations, or loading screens. The city you could see from when you entered the area was exactly where you could go and explore. At the time this was a huge leap, granting us a whole new meaning to “exploration”.
I know you had games like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas beforehand, which proved you could have a massive map without the need of separation due to space limitations, but this was the next step-up. Sure, the areas were smaller (unless were talking about The Kingdom) but when you consider the improved graphics and the amount of interactivity between all the characters onscreen it is a lot more impressive.
What is especially impressive with Assassin’s Creed is its bold narrative. Essentially you have stories playing alongside one another, each affecting the other. You have Desmond Miles within modern-day who has been kidnapped by Abstergo Industries, forced by Dr. Warren Vidic and his assistant Lucy Stillman to enter the Animus. The Animus is a special device that allows the user to delve into their ancestors past through genetic memories passed down via each generation. It isn’t totally clear at first as to why Abstergo is so interested in Desmond’s family, but it slowly becomes an important aspect in establishing the true danger of the narrative.
For the most part we play as Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad, an assassin that operates during the Third Crusade. What is interesting about the usage of the Animus is how it allows for certain gaming elements to be more creatively incorporated. There’s a reason why there’s a life bar in the corner, why you constantly have tutorials and hints appear onscreen, and why you can comeback to life after death. It’s all a computer programme, to which you are merely reliving the past through the eyes of your ancestor instead of directly influencing the events as if you were there. It’s neat and adds to the surreal atmosphere that Assassin’s Creed brings across, not to mention its attention to detail.
Unfortunately, the game’s graphics are slightly outdated (mostly when it comes to the character models) but it has to be admired for its clear scale and ambitions. What has to be commended is Ubisoft’s dedication to getting the setting right. When you’re playing as Altaïr you actually feel like you have gone back into the past, breathing in what it would actually be like to live within 1191, from the way the characters act, the way society works within its different cultures and religions, and the way the buildings are structured. It all feels medieval and this is one of the core elements that stands out for me, making me feel really immersed when playing because I’m always overly impressed by the experience.
What I do dislike though is the gameplay. It’s clear that this is the first instalment because the controls are fairly experimental. For the most part things work, creating a unique control scheme, but in other areas things don’t execute accordingly, often disturbing your enjoyment through irritation and deepened frustration. This mostly applies to the platforming. Now, Assassin’s Creed is certainly ambitious with its design, moving the platforming genre into its new home of 3rd Person Gaming. And for the most part it works well as you can climb and jump across buildings. The problem lies with the strict rules when it comes to accuracy, making everything too precise.
You think you’d be able to climb up any wall at your leisure (like a proper flexible, and vigilant assassin) but nope, you can only climb a wall where there’s something to grab onto, meaning you could be half way up a wall when suddenly you’re stuck, leaving Altaïr hanging there like a tit. Honestly, it’s infuriating and hilarious seeing him stop dead in his path, giving you a stare as if he’s “pondering on all his life choices”. Either-that or he’s just had an epiphany. That, or he’s realised he’s left the kettle on.
Also, his climbing speed is so fucking slow. It’s quite painful at times. Sure, it’s okay when you’re just casually exploring the cities during your investigations, but when you actually have to move in a hurry, well, you better pray that the guards are too retarded to catch you. Seriously, escaping guards and soldiers is a massive chore because of both the running and platforming mechanics. When you sprint you become fast (for sure) but you lose all control of your balance, meaning if you so much as clip something you’re arse goes tumbling straight to the ground like a sack of shit.
And, like I said, the climbing speed is the same no matter how much you scream at the screen to tell Altaïr to move his fucking arse. Plus, you better hope you have the grabbing upgrade otherwise as soon as someone throws a rock in your general direction you’re going to fall into the arms of a bunch of angry, sword wielding enemies that you’ve probably pissed-off in some form or other.
As for the combat, again, it’s certainly experimental. You can see what Ubisoft were trying to accomplish but it still needed work in my eyes. I like how you use the directional buttons to choose between your different arsenal, i.e. your sword, hidden blade, dagger/throwing knives, and fist. The attack is really basic but when incorporated with the side-stepping, the counter-dodge, the grab-release, and deflect, that’s when things becomes a game of trail and error (usually with me it was a case of when it wanted to work). The timing for the attacks is so precise that you can easily miss your opening (when you swear you were bang on target), resulting in you losing more health then you thought possibly, resulting in you fighting very carefully to ensure you don’t lose the last inch of your health and die.
Plus, considering you’re an assassin, I never once felt like I was very accomplished or competent (which is made even more ironic considering one of the rules of the Assassin’s Brotherhood is “don’t compromise the Brotherhood”). Never once did I assassinate one of my key targets under-the-radar. I’m not sure whether or not the city is always meant to be aware of your attack afterwards, but no matter how much I attempted to stealth kill my target something would interfere with my victory (usually the shit platforming which won’t allow me to leap and kill my enemy with the hidden blade as I intended [instead alerting everybody around me – including my target – to which I just gave-up and shouted, “Fuck it!” and chased after the bastard despite everything turning to shit])
Speaking of fucking annoying obstacles, the shit platforming won’t be your only concern when on a mission. As you play through the game you’ll find it gets ridiculously harder to complete the most mundane of tasks (let alone assassinate your target) due to the various obstacles. The first major one is the guards, who begin to get really suspicious of your activities (particularly after you’ve travelled to the cities twice and have killed high ranking citizens), meaning if you so much as run around the streets, or try climbing onto the rooftops, then they charge on your arse, resulting in you having to either fanny around fighting a horde of armed guards or escape them (which is a task in itself).
The game is incorporated with a neat little indicator, which tells you your “awareness level” depending on the colour. This helps for both staying under the radar and getting back under the radar. Once the guards can no longer see you, for instance, it gives you an opportunity to hide in order to become anonymous again (but usually this happens when there isn’t a hiding spot in site and God-forbid you try and rush over to one you’ll end up being spotted and once again be forced on the fucking run).
Other obstacles include the drunk/crazy people and the begging women. Both of these cunts can go fuck themselves because they are bastard annoying! Without warning the begging women will come up to you screaming for money, thus constantly getting in your way until they finally get the hint (usually when you’re trying to track someone) and when they get annoyed with you they throw rocks, which usually causes you to fall off a wall mid climb.
As for the drunk/crazy people, they randomly stagger around the city and completely block your path as they aggressively push you (usually causing you to lose your balance mid mission, making you look less and less anonymous [often than not breaking your cover and alerting the guards]). Need I say more? I just want to stab the fuckers, but unfortunately I get told-off due to it being against the Creed (but I would be lying if I said I never actually carried out my desire [basically fuck the Creed, these pricks had it coming!])
The structure of the game starts off rather promising, but quickly becomes repetitive (to the point of annoyance). At first it begins with a mission-based system, as you go from trying to style a mystical item, to defending the Brotherhood’s castle, to discovering the traitor through various means, before beginning your journey to snuff out your nine targets. The first act of the game is always my favourite because it has a great introduction which completely sucks you in, but by the second act you become a little bit bored as you return to the same location over and over and perform the same dull tasks in order to complete your goal.
Altaïr arrives in the city where the target lies but before you can reach them you must first investigate their activities in order to establish the best plan of action in order to assassinate them. You do this by either pick-pocketing, eavesdropping, interrogation, or visiting informants. But, you do this every single time, having to search the cities for towers in order to gain an eagle-eyed view of your surroundings (thus identifying the relevant side-missions across the landscape [which get added to your GPS]), and with the picky platforming you’re forced to endure it can become a massive chore (not to mention the informant missions entail you to endure pain-in-arse time trials where you either have to assassinate a bunch of people [without being noticed!] or find a bunch of fucking flags.
However, when it comes to the narrative, I can say with certainty that it’s definitely the best aspect of the game. We discover the war between the Assassins and the Templars, which is really interesting in the sense that both sides clearly want the same thing but approach their target differently. The Assassins see the world past its illusions and try to make sense out of the disorder, whilst the Templars would rather live in a world of illusion, taking away humanities freedom in order to preserve balance. This is where the Apple of Eden comes into play, a mythical device that controls the minds of those around it, making them see what it wants you to see, as well as being the perfect tool for temptation (and in the process greed through power).
Altaïr is sent to retrieve the Apple of Eden but falls to his arrogance and over-confidence, causing one of his Brothers to fall, and another (Malik Al-Sayf) to lose their arm, forcing his master, Al Mualim, to take action against Altaïr, which ultimately results in his fake-execution, followed by his demotion within the ranks. Altaïr must then prove himself by slowly regaining his honour, and finally finding inner peace through understanding the real world around him and how the Brotherhood properly operates.
It’s actually a really interesting character development as you see his former arrogance fade away to create a more inquisitive person who begins questioning everything, not because “he thinks he know better” but because “he wishes to learn and understand all perspectives of his operations”, thus learning the truth about the world around him. A great example of his progression is through his connection to both Al Mualim and Malik. His relationship of student and master is truly tested as his persona switches from arrogance to being very blunt about his desire to learn, ultimately making him a more confident and philosophical person.
With Malik, on the other-hand, it’s all about trust and jealousy. Malik felt betrayed by Altaïr because of his blind actions (costing him dearly) and simply hating the way his fellow brother operated. But, as the narrative develops so does Malik as he becomes impressed by Altair’s change, to the point where he changes his attitude too, admitting that he too was at fault for their past failure (and his brother’s death), bringing the two characters closer together than ever before. What I loved most was when Altair finally grew the courage to apologise for his past deeds Malik doesn’t accept it, not because he’s being a dick, but because the man before him is no longer the man that needed to apologise, adding in a very clever metaphorical meaning to Altaïr’s transformation (almost like metamorphosis).
As he goes and kills each of his targets he comes to understand that the men he’s killing might not be as mad as he first presumed, each holding value behind their twisted schemes, and in their hearts truly believed they were doing right. This warps Altair’s persona as he unravels the dark secrets behind these men’s connection, ultimately uncovering that they are all Templars and their separate schemes are part of a grander design. Each target tried to control their respective cities and the people through clever strategies, all converging to bring about the Templars control of the Middle East (and beyond).
However, their leader Robert de Sablé tries to turn Altaïr’s victories against him by making him the enemy of King Richard III (due to assassinating some of his men), thus granting Robert the power to destroy the Assassins. Altaïr manages to persuade King Richard otherwise, to which Robert’s schemes are shot down by the commands of his king, forcing him to fight Altaïr in order to prove before God who’s truth was more just. In the end Altaïr gained the victory and saved his Brotherhood, but not before being told by Robert that he’d been manipulated the whole time by Al Mualim. Al Mualim was part of the Templars but his greed overpowered him into using Altaïr to slay his fellow comrades so that he could claim the Apple of Eden for himself.
This last section is better because of its narrative, but it’s a massive pain in the arse actually playing through the gameplay elements to get to these awesome scenes of revelation. For the most part it’s a case of having to fight seemingly relentless hordes of soldiers that appear (way too!) overpowered and more fucking annoying than the rest of the game, to which when it comes to actual true enemy it becomes piss-easy (making these sections even more of a fucking joke).
Once you tackle them to the ground you then gain your moment to strike with the hidden blade (and BOOM!) it’s over, no questions asked. Okay, Al Mualim is more interesting than Robert’s fight, simply because he now (randomly) has powers, granted to him by the Apple of Eden, but it is annoying playing hide ‘n’ “fucking” seek with him until you get to the moment where he (randomly) finally goes down. I definitely think more thought should’ve gone into this as it does feel a bit bland and shallow for a concluding segment.
And then Desmond’s story comes to a massive “middle-finger” cliff-hanger, as if Ubisoft were trying to say, “You want to know what happens next, wait for the sequel!” But, granted, it does leave you with enough intrigue to want to know what the fuck could possibly happen next. What does Altair do with the Apple of Eden (clearly unable to bring himself to destroy it)? And why can Desmond now see these strange symbols, and what’s this got to do with Subject 16? Also, how will Desmond prevent the Templars from finding the other pieces of Eden (now shown to them through Desmond’s activities within the Animus) and taking over the world?
But, at the end of all this, despite all it’s clear flaws, frustrations, and somewhat disappointments, Assassin’s Creed still stands-out to me as a good game to revisit. Sure, it quickly loses its charm, but that doesn’t mean that I stop fully enjoying it. And, heck, it did start the beginning of a long running franchise, so that’s also got to count for something right? (Although [as I stated earlier] I haven’t played past Assassin’s Creed II yet so I’m unaware as to whether or not the franchise ultimately gets better or gradually gets worse with repetition, along with losing itself within its own complicated plot – so we’ll have to return to this statement after my review of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and see whether or not it holds-up).