With a new generation of console finally getting into its stride, Ubisoft’s 2007 title Assassin’s Creed sought to make use of all that extra processing and graphical power to tell a story of unparalleled depth. Placing players in an open world setting, Assassin’s Creed focused was a title based on historical events, but wholly fictional in its execution. Despite disclaimers, the game courted much controversy from religious groups angry about the depiction of their faiths within the game, nevertheless it would prove to be a massive success for Ubisoft, with both players and critics impressed by the level of depth on offer.
The game kicks off as we are introduced to Desmond Myles, a bartender voiced by gaming vocal talent superstar Nolan North. We quickly learn that there’s more to Desmond than meets the eye. Taken seemingly against his will by a company known as Abstergo, Desmond’s genetic memories are a highly sought after commodity. With a line of descendants that included historically significant Assassin’s, Abstergo’s Animus machine enables the company to peer into the past, seeking out memories from Desmond’s ancestors buried deep within his subconscious. It’s a genuinely impressive story, and goes a long way to explaining the seeming disconnect between the game’s dual settings of present day America and the Middle East during the Third Crusade.
Right from the off, it’s clear that Ubisoft managed to deliver on its promise to offer a truly epic storytelling experience. North’s Miles is backed up by the likes of Kristen Bell, who plays Abstergo research assistant Lucy Stillman, and Philip Proctor, known best for his roles in a range of Pixar movies, who plays Warren Vidic. The quality of the voice acting in the main cast far exceeds anything else from Assassin’s Creed’s peers, offering a glimpse of how the production values of games would increase in the years go come.
Once a brief outline of who everyone is and what’s going on has been presented to the player, it’s time to hop into the Animus and meet Altaïr ibn-La'Ahad, through whom the vast majority of the story is told. An ancestor of Miles, Altaïr is a Syrian Assassin sworn to protect his people from the Templars. A secretive group, the Assassin’s are waging an ongoing war with their Templar enemies, but they have a creed that they must abide by at all times, which includes the oath never to kill the innocent, or their enemies unless absolutely necessary. It’s Altaïr’s flagrant disregard of this oath which kick starts the game, seeing him punished for his indiscretion and forced to rebuild the trust of his Assassin brotherhood.
For its time, Assassin’s Creed is a damn fine looking title. It’s not quite up to par with modern day games, but it’s not a million miles off either, another testament to the Ubisoft team’s dedication to eeking as much as possible from the new systems at their disposal. Yet despite the engaging narrative, superb voice performances and stunning visuals, Assassin’s Creed found itself lacking somewhat in the gameplay stakes.
Initially, everything seems fresh and enjoyable. The parkour style navigation of the streets of city streets is fantastically implemented; scaling buildings to escape the attention of guards is a delight in itself, but after a few hours it starts to grate a touch. The missions are too samey, varying from eavesdropping to pick pocketing to plain old thuggery to extract information from key characters, the lead up to each assassination is far from exhilarating once you’ve been through the process a couple of times.
Thankfully, the assassinations themselves are epic affairs. Staying true to the game’s open world format, you’ll be able to approach them however you choose. Whether you’re the type to likes to run in head first, dispatching guards left, right and centre, or someone who prefers to stealthily make your way towards your target, dropping his protectors from the shadows when the opportunity arises, you’re catered for.
It’s the level of choice on offer that prevents Assassin’s Creed from being a thoroughly dull affair once the initial novelty of the presentation has worn off. Each assassination brings with it the rewards of increased standing among the Assassins, and with it more weapons and abilities with which to pursue your prey. Soon, the storyline begins to come together nicely, and you’ll find yourself drawn in, desperately needing to know who the next target is, and what their relevance to the story will turn out to be.
As you trek between cities, Altaïr meets a range of new characters – some key to the story, most not. It’s the latter that provides yet more grating on the nerves. Beggars are particularly irritating, continually spouting over and over again that they need money to feed their families and generally being a pain in the ass – although we suppose that’s the whole point of them, but it’s just that the continued repetition of the same phrases over and over is trying at the best of times, and when you factor it in with repetitive grinds of missions, such as climbing your way to countless lookout points in order to unlock the next area, the game suddenly stops being quite so much fun.
Ultimately though, Assassin’s Creed was not a bad game. It was dull in places, and certainly repetitive, but there was plenty of evidence on offer that something special was happening in the halls of Ubisoft Montreal. A sequel, which appeared to be inevitable given the games’ commercial success, would have strong foundations to build upon, and if it could adequately address the balance of the non-assassination missions, then it might just prove to be something very special.As an aside to this rereview, those of you who have never actually played the original games in the series should probably eschew modern convention and play them out of chronological order. It might sound a little strange, but if you are to start with Assassin’s Creed II, and then move back to the original, before hitting up Brotherhood and Revelations, you’ll find that you’re an awful lot more patient with the issues the first game suffered from. It’s definitely worth keeping in mind, as there’s a strong likelihood that attempting Assassin’s Creed first may just put you off the series, and that would be a serious mistake!