"I hold here a list. Nine men adorn it, nine men who need to die. They are plague-bringers, war-makers... Their power and influence corrupt the lands, ensuring that the Crusades continue (...)"
"Nine lives in exchange for mine."
"A most generous offer, I think. Have you any questions?"
"Only where I need begin."
Al Mualin and Altair discussing the latter's quest.
Stay your blade from the flesh of an innocent.Hide inplain sight.Never compromisethe Brotherhood.Nothing is true.Everything is permitted. These are the tenets by which a Assassin must live by. This is where it begins, folks. I apologize in advance for the length because I’d like to go into detail about the features and I warn there will be spoilers, because we will discuss the overreaching storyline through the AC reviews. Even before its released, there was a huge hype building around Assassin’s Creed being considered one of the most expected titles of the year. Does it really live up the hype? Well lets read and find out.
In the year 2012, ordinary bartender Desmond Miles is kidnapped by a shady pharmaceutical company Abstergo Industries, and forced into a device called Animus that allow the users to relive their ancestors genetic memories. Within it, he explores the memories of his ancestor, Altair Ibn-La’had, an Assassin who lived during the Third Crusade. During an important mission to retrieve a certain treasure from the Assassin Order’s greatest enemies, the Knights Templar, his recklessness and arrogance not only leads to failure but costs the Order many lives in the process. While other Assassins manage to retrieve the artifact successfully, Al Mualin, master of the Assassin, strips Altair of his rank and equipment, demoting him to the rank of novice as punishment and set him on quest to redeem himself by assassinating nine corrupt men through the Holy Land, who are abusing its people and ensuring the Crusades continue. But things soon don’t turn out to be as simple as they seem, making Altair and Desmond question the world around them as ancient conspiracy is slowly unveiled.
Assassin’s Creed is along with Bioshock, Deus Ex and Metal Gear Solid, one of the most plot heavy games series that require the player to have the utmost attention to details in order to understand the history and setting created here. The first AC game much more than the rest, but often for its detriment. You notice I will use the words “boring” and “repetitive” around in this review because unfortunately that is the foremost problem with the game and the one that holds back its potential. There isn’t anything wrong with the plot itself, but rather its storytelling methods. In order to be invested, its required for the player to sit through very long exposition laden cutscenes in between Modern Times and Middle Ages storylines that will likely turn off the interest of many casual players.
Its revealed that the each single one of Altair’s target are secretly Templars, pretending to in with Saracen or Crusader’s side, when they actually pledge their true allegiance to Robert de Sable, Altair’s arch-enemy and Grand Master of the Templar Order, who has his own designs over the Holy Land. He sought create a “New World”, using the artifact that his men previously guarded and placing them in positions of power to keep the people in check. Its said the artifact holds incredible power, allowing Jesus to turn water into wine, open the Red Sea for the Hebrews to escape Egypt and erupting the Trojan War.
When most of the Templars are dead and the last one standing is Robert himself, Altair discovers a trap laid by his enemy. He plans to form a truce between Crusaders and Sarracens, and fight against a common enemy, the Assassins, since men of important standing from both sides (namely: Altair’s targets) were murdered. Altair cuts through a battle between the two forces to stop Richard and Salahadin from attacking Masyaf, challenges Richard and his lieutenants to a fight and prevails. With his dying words however Robert gives a shocking revelation: Al Mualin was a Templar as well, and Altair has been doing his dirty work wiping the rest of his rivals all along.
Seeking a explanation from his master, Altair returns to Masyaf only to find its people under some sort of evil influence. After fighting his mind-controlled brothers with the help of other Assassins, Altair made his way to the fortress to face Al Mualin, who was holding the Templar artifact. Al Mualin explained that the artifact in question named Piece of Eden, was only able to project illusions and the several strange events and miracles that influenced religions were simply projected by the Apple. He would use it to enslave the Holy Land and create a world of peace under its illusion. However Altair was able to retain his will, having a natural resistance to the artifact (that would be explained in later games) and in a long and hard-fought battle, the student eventually triumphed, and dealt his former Master a fatal blow. With Al Mualim defeated, Altaïr turned to the Apple which lay on the ground. Suddenly, the Piece of Eden projected a hologram of the world which showed the locations of the other Pieces of Eden.
Meanwhile in Modern Times, Abstergo is revealed to be a front for Templars who were using Desmond’s memories to find the locations of the Peaces of Eden around the world. Having no further use for him, they decide to kill him, but his life is spared by Lucy Stillman, an Assassin undercover as an Abstergo scientist. Left alone in his locked room, Desmond discovers through "the Bleeding Effect" from his time spent in the Animus that he can observe numerous messages in blood on the walls and floor left by a previous test subject (Subject 16) that foretell the end of the world...
Altair is a great protagonist and one I would want to see more games about him (not handheld games, mind you, but his own separate chapters like Ezio). He is aloof, stoic, detached, never looses his cool, is really arrogant and jerkish in the beginning, but he soon learns to become a better person. In fact he is comes off as a very heroic character (and sometimes very naïve), if his speeches about caring for the people of Holy Land and the freedom for everyone are anything to go by. One of my favorite quotes is "Men must be free to do what they believe, it is not our right to punish one for thinking what they do, no matter how much we disagree (...) Educate them, teach them right from wrong. It must be knowledge that frees them...not force."
Mind you, he still qualifies as a anti-hero due to his rather violent approach to interrogation and his very nature being a refined killer machine, but you can't deny his character incorporate such impact. Desmond, in the other hand, meets the short end of the stick. True, he would eventually become more important but for this game in particular and most part of the second one, he is completely uninteresting and boring to follow when we would rather follow Altair’s adventures. Doesn’t help his segments are more exposition barrels with no action whatsoever.
Some characters also get to shine was well such as Malik, Jerusalem’s rafiq, who lost his left arm as well his brother during the failed mission in Solomon’s Temple and holds a vicious grudge toward Altair. As Altair progresses through his quests, he gradually warms up and at the end, he becomes his trusted friend. Just compare his dialogue in the beginning with the one just before Robert’s confrontation.
As for the nine Templars that Altair hunts they are somewhat poorly done examples of anti-villains. The game tries to push the idea that the Templars are just severely misguided with noble intentions, and deep down they are not so different from the Assassins. Their actions however are more in line with cartoonish villains undermining any sympathies we might have held. They are so self-righteous even when they sell innocent people to slavery, brainwash the masses or stab some poor bastard in anger fits, all this horrible things you expect from a James Bond bad guy, it makes them even more hateful than sympathetic like the game want. It would have worked better if some showed remorse about what they’ve done. Instead they use their last words to gloat to Altair that their death will lead the entire realm to chaos. And by the end of the game, they couldn’t be more wrong as the Third Crusade ends not so long after their deaths. It’s a staple of the series; whenever the Templars gain control of a territory, they run everything to the ground thanks to their policy of rulling the people through fear, and end up weakening the entire land in the process. So much for their desired utopia…
As with every AC game, it is a third-person stealth-based game with science fiction themes and set in a open world sandbox for good measure (think of Prince of Persia meets GTA). You can explore the Holy Land and visits its three main cities Damascus (capital of Syria and Saracen stronghold), Acre (a coastal city under Crusader rule) and Jerusalem (the holy city under Saracen control that King Richard I is vying to occupy) as well as Masyaf (the Assassin stronghold and headquarters) with a large open landscape referred only as the Kingdom connecting all cities. The game is split into 7 sequences (chapters if you want to call it) and its worth at least 30 hours and you are also able to replay them as many times as you want.
Much like its predecessor Prince of Persia, Assassin’s Creed uses a parkour feature that allow you to navigate through the landscape by performing fluid movements over and across urban or natural structures. It works much better here than PoP, since you can climb virtually everything in your reach except trees and outer walls of cities. As befitting a stealth game, Altair must carry out his missions without raising the guards’ attention. If guards are alerted, he must break their line of sight and escape into hiding posts like rooftop gardens, benches and haystacks. It can get somewhat annoying as even if you run far enough, they will still chase straight into Hell if you haven’t sit on bench. Combat isn’t really the high point of the game, you have to use either your knife or sword against them, press the attack button over and over again, or you can simply use counter to instantly kill a enemy (wait for him to attack while blocking and press attack to counter). Despite the hidden blade being your main weapon, it can’t be used for conventional attack as with other weapons like later games, but one you can use it to counter virtually any one. Its all about timing and patience then hitting the mindless button mashing.
Health in Assassin's Creed is measured as the level of synchronization between Desmond and Altaïr's memories. Whenever Altaïr is injured, it means that didn’t happen in the actual memory that occurred and synchronization decreases. (Incidentaly that means Altair was never hit in his life!) That also applies whenever Altair punches or kills a civilian, or even a thug. Its somewhat frustrating when there are beggars, who keep asking Altair money and when he climbs anything, they throw rocks at him or warn the guards, or the lepers who push out every time you get near them. However, once the game is finished you are allowed to murder the s*** out of them with no impunity (sadly enough this is the only game that allows you to do this, since later games will give game over if you kill more than three).
Also along with Cole MacGrath, Master Chief and James Marston, Altair surfers from super drowning skills, since he dies instantly whenever he comes into contact with bodies of water deep as his waist. When the synchronization bar is full, Altair is able to use the Eagle Vision, more or less like a sixth sense that hindlights his objectives , showing characters in glowing red (enemies), blue (allies) and yellow (targets). Unfortunately you can't use it while in movement and only with the full health bar, and there has no further utility outside of the investigations and intelligence gathering.
Of course in this open world game, between missions there are some sidequests you must perform in order for Altair and Desmond have a better synchronization, such as climbing out the highest points across the land to map out portions of your locations, defend citizens being harassed by thugs, tracking and killing minor Templars agents and collecting flags. They are a good distraction between the main missions but they aren’t very varied or stand out in particular. As I said before, the repetition factor is what brings the game down. To hammer the point home, every single Assassination mission follows the same structure:
Altair: Its done you can no longer harm the people.
Dying Target: No you don’t understand, my work was noble and benevolent.
Altair: How can you say such things? You murdered/raped/maimed/enslaved several innocent people!
Dying Target: I only murdered/raped/maimed/enslaved them for their own good! You think you saved everyone by killing me? No, you damned the entire land!
The first game’s soundtrack isn’t really my favorite one. The ambivalent tracks are somewhat tedious to listen while the fight tracks are simply ear wormy. Whenever a fight breaks out in Damascus or Acre in particular, the songs that play will go on until you are anonymous and after several times hearing it you can’t unheard it. They aren’t bad for the first time you hear, but it gets annoying after alerting the guards a few times and having it to hear it over and over again.
The voice acting in other hand, its pretty solid. Some people criticized Philip Sanbhaz for not pulling a Arabic accent for Altair and sounding completely bored out of his mind. Personally I thought his voice was perfect, fitting with Altair’s detached nature (at least it was way better than the voice change in Revelations). Among the voice talents there is
Nathan Drake Nolan North and Veronica Mars Kristen Bell voicing Desmond and Lucy Stillman respectively. You will notice that the same voice actors will do different roles throught the game, but some are talented enough to use different variations for each character they voice. (Namely Fred Tastaciore who voices both Abul Nu’quod and Jubair Al-Hakim; and Nolan North who also voices minor character Abbas Sofian).
If there is one thing the game can claim on is that is very beautiful. Even if the graphics are considered dated by now, the landscapes are a delight to behold. You just have to climb the highest point in the map and hit the synchronize button and enjoy. Also the first time you visit Damascus you will see such a majestic city followed by middle-eastern score that fits the mood, its simple breathtaking.
6/10 – It isn’t a bad game, but not as good as the hype lead out to be. With all its flaws holding it back, it’s a okay game. May not be the best way to get started in the franchise, but if you played later games, you might want to check this one out to see how it begun.
Thank you guys for reading, I appreciate the comments and your own opinions on the game as well. On the next review, we will look at Assassin's Creed II. Until next time =)