Assassin’s Creed is, if nothing else, impressive to look at. Ubisoft Montreal did an absolutely amazing job of recreating the Holy Land in the 12th century, and as a huge open world at that. There are five playable areas in this game; three big cities (Jerusalem, Damascus, and Acre), the Assassin’s base in Masyaf, and a large kingdom that connects everything. The cities are absolutely packed with buildings and people going about their daily business, and in the kingdom you can come across forts and see (and kill if you wish) small formations of King Richard’s soldiers.
In order to fully experience Assassin’s Creed’s open world though, you’re going to need to beat the game first. The game tasks you with nine assassination missions, and each of the three cities are broken up into three districts. Each assassination mission unlocks a new playable district within a given city; so once you get on the ninth mission, congratulations, you have fully opened up the world of Assassin’s Creed.
The cities, and the kingdom, are dotted with tall towers (called view points) that you can climb up and use to get a better view of the city, and you’ll want to do this for every one of them as it opens up your map to reveal locations for “side missions” and investigations. Plus, one of the most fun elements of Assassin’s Creed is scaling these view points, getting a gorgeous view of the city, and then performing a “leap of faith” by doing a swan dive from the top of the tower into a bale of hay.
Free-running across the roofs of Jerusalem (and the other cities too), and platforming in general, is also really fun to do. There’s something strangely satisfying about scoping out the landscape and finding a rooftop path that allows you to travel briskly across the city without every touching the ground. There’s also something immensely fun about sneaking up on a roof guard and stabbing him in the back with your hidden blade without him ever knowing you were there.
The combat itself is decent, and the kill animations are really fun to watch. Yes, most of the time you’re just spamming square (PS3 review) or once you acquire the ability, holding R1 and hitting square to counter. There’s a rhythm to it, but it does get a tad repetitive. I tried my best to avoid combat, not just because it does get repetitive, but also because I didn’t want Altair to be a mass-murderer. I didn’t approach the game thinking every guard was an enemy, but rather with the mindset that these were men with families doing a job and wouldn’t bother me if I didn’t bother them. Basically, I tried to stick to killing my assigned target whilst limiting the amount of bodies I left behind in trying to get to him.
There were of course exceptions to that play-style, both conscious decisions and accidentally forced ones. I killed any Templar I saw. Now the Templar’s (there’s 60 of them spread around the kingdom and the cities) are a lot harder to kill than regular guards in hand to hand combat, and even more so during the first half of the game. If a Templar spots you, he’s coming after you no questions asked. So this is one of the few times where you actually can be stealthy and where it pays to be stealthy. Once I spotted a Templar, I would do it whatever it took, even if it meant going way out of the way, to sneak up behind the Templar and assassinate him quietly without him ever knowing what hit him.
Within each district of each city, you’ll also encounter a number of side missions where you’ll be tasked with saving a citizen who is being harassed by the guards. I killed any guard involved in this process, and unfortunately that includes however many are passing by and choose to jump in. With that said, sometimes a guard will get smart after seeing his buddies killed so easily and he’ll ask for mercy and attempt to run away… I always let the guard, assuming he learned his lesson the hard way.
Unfortunately, the biggest downfall/disappointment with Assassin’s Creed is the gameplay is just terribly repetitive. Each time you save a citizen, you’ll practically hear the same thing (there’s a female version and a male version). If you’re trying to advance the main story, in order to being to able to assassinate your target you’ll need to complete at least three of six investigations and there’s no variety here. You’ll either have to sit on a bench and listen to two guys talk, watch two guys talk and then tail one of them to steal something off of them, or listen to some guy spout off praise for your target and then follow him and beat the crap out of him (then automatically kill him; and the guy looks the same almost every single time). Additionally, there are two variations of an informant investigation, which is just a race against the clock to either kill a set number of guards and return to the informant or collect a certain number of flags and return to the guards.
I did every single investigation for every assassination assignment, and every save the citizen mission, and after the second or third target it gets beyond tedious and repetitive. It doesn’t help that there’s no real reason to complete all six investigations. The 360 players can get an achievement for doing so, but there’s no reason for anyone else to do it. You’d think that learning everything there is to learn about your target would make it possible to perform a truly stealthy assassination on the target, but that isn’t the case. Trying to do all the investigations when you only need to do three per mission becomes a chore. An unnecessary and boring chore at that.
Once you beat the game, there’s really nothing else to do. There’s a mega-ton of flags to collect, though no reason to do so, and 60 Templar’s spread around to kill, but after that the only thing left to do is run around the city and stab dude’s in the face. That big, packed with life city has absolutely nothing for you to do short of climb buildings and kill people, and that’s disappointing. There is no replay value here (though yes, I’ve played and beaten it twice… Once in 2010 and once this week in preparation for this review and in preparation for Assassin’s Creed 3).
On top of the repetitiveness, the game is also somewhat plagued by some poor design choices and absolutely stupid guards. Some times where trying to avoid having a ton of guards swarm on you, you’re forced to walk at a snails pace which isn’t fun. Roof guards will see you on the roofs, tell you you shouldn’t be there, and then go back to being oblivious once you hang for the edge. Or worse, they’ll watch you run towards them and then only get ready to attack once you’re already leaping to assassinate them. But, should you let the guards get after you, you’ll quickly discover that the awe-inspiring free-running and jumping across cities roof isn’t an ability of the Assassin’s, but rather a common one performed with the greatest of ease by the lowliest of city guards. And why do guards chase after you because you dare to ride your horse at a pace faster than a slow walk? Even the cut-scenes, if you want to call them that, are boring.
There’s another story going on within Assassin’s Creed though, one that isn’t in the Holy Land in the 12th century involving Altair, but one that takes place in modern New York City with a character called Desmond. These breaks from the actual game is definitely nothing more than laying the foundation for the rest of the franchise’s story. There’s literally nothing to it in this game; no reason to care about the characters and what’s going on, and really nothing to do except walk around slowly.
Even with all of its flaws, Assassin’s Creed is still a mostly fun game that is worth experiencing, and the developers do deserve a ton of praise for the 12th century world they brought to life. Yes, this is all fictional, but there’s something wonderful about the fact that each of the nine targets you kill in the game were real life people during the 12th century who died, either mysteriously or with there being no real account of their death, during the same time period that you’re killing them in game. I dig conspiracy theories (if you want to call them that), so I can definitely appreciate the attention to detail and the weaving of the fictional with the historical, a theme that was even brilliantly brought up in the game when Desmond questions why the things he’s seeing aren’t matching up with what he’s read in books. Heck, the game even makes you (or me at least) go back and read up on the real people to find out what was going on with them and the Crusades.
Assassin’s Creed was a game I was really anticipating from the moment it was announced, even though at the time of its release back in 2007 I only had a Wii. As such, when I finally got a PS3, I made sure that I got Assassin’s Creed on the same day. I was initially very disappointed with it and stopped playing after the second assassination, as it wasn’t what I was hoping for (a stealthy silent assassin game), but rather a repetitive game that thrust you into fights, and as such it took me almost a year to go back to it and finally beat it. I first beat in November 2010, and promptly made sure that I asked for Assassin’s Creed II and Brotherhood for Christmas that year.
Assassin’s Creed is a good game that could have been so much more, and we know this because of the sequels that it spawned. If you haven’t played an Assassin’s Creed game before, know that those that came after this one are vastly superior, but also realize that you should definitely start your journey as an Assassin with this original game. It’s a good game that basically served as the foundation for better games. There is a lot of fun to be had here, for one play-through anyway. Running around 12th century Jerusalem is a blast, it’s just a shame that such a quality setting was mired by repetitive missions.
As far as the Assassin’s Creed franchise goes, this one is by far the worst of the lot. Of course ideally that is how it should be, but if the worst game in your franchise is still good and better than “above average,” then you’ve done something right as developers. Assassin’s Creed may not have been the epic and immersive game that trailers and hype in 2007 made it look like it was going to be, but it’s still a quality game that belongs in your collection and should be played through until its conclusion at least once; just don’t worry about doing every single investigation or finding every flag, and you should be able to stave off boredom.