Assassin's Creed 6-Years Later Review
Reviewed by: Guest_Jim_*
Reviewed on: October 29, 2013
Six years ago we entered the Animus and experienced a version of history you will never find in a textbook. Assassin's Creed spawned the action-adventure-stealth franchise as it took us to the Third Crusade to live the life of Altaïr ibn-La'Ahad, an Assassin who must defeat the Templars to bring peace to the Holy Lands, and himself.
In the present day (for the game) though, you are Desmond Miles, a descendent of Altaïr's who lives his ancestor's genetic memory by using the Animus. This tool has been built by Abstergo, the face of the modern-day Templars, to find the secrets they need to ultimately defeat the Assassins and control the world. Desmond has been kidnapped by the Templars, and if he does not help them find what they are looking for, they will kill him.
Assassin's Creed has been rated M by the ESRB for violence, blood, and strong language. It has definitely earned that rating, so if you should not be playing a game with such content, you probably should not be reading this review either.
Should you enter the Animus and return to the past, or look only forward, to the future? Let us see.
At six years old, and as a console port, you cannot expect the greatest graphics, but you know something, they are still pretty good. Of course there are plenty of modern games that look much better, but then there are also plenty of six-year-old games that have not aged nearly as well.
As the game uses a third-person perspective most of the time, the camera is typically behind and above the character model of Altaïr. At this angle you can definitely see the edges of the character model, but also at that distance the textures give the model a lot of detail. Wrinkles, folds, and shadows are all within the textures, and possibly some normal mapping, but unless you move the camera to see the flat polygons, you will probably not notice this much. At least when the model is standing still. When you move you may notice Altaïr clipping through his robes, and his robes not behaving like fabric. This is because the robes do not possess many joints to bend at, which is somewhat understandable, so sections of the fabric move as one. For some reason the floor-length robes on many NPCs will protrude at their base on the left side. Not sure why this is, because it does not look realistic at all, but it is somewhat common in the game.
Animations are somewhat mixed. Facial animations work but are not particularly good looking. Attack animations, though, can be very satisfying. For example, one used for counter-attacks involves Altaïr spinning around an enemy and breaking his arm before striking the finishing blow. While the camera does zoom in close enough to see the imperfect textures and models during these animations, they have been crafted so well that you want to zoom in, to see the action. Combined with the sound effects, you know when you have scored a fatal blow.
As I tend to do, I took a close look at the fire in the game. Admittedly I believe there is only one fire in the entire game, but still, fire is a difficult fluid to render, which makes it very interesting to see how the developers approached it. In Assassin's Creed fire is a volume of bright blur, which looks okay. It does not have any actual flames to it, but it does appear to actually engulf its fuel, sort of. The fact is the volume is just being rendered on top of other elements as a special effect. New objects entering the fire do not disturb it, nor are disturbed by it, but it still does not look that bad. Better than the basic animated-texture fire you can find in some games.
Performance time, so for that, here are my specs:
- Processor: AMD A10-5800K @ 4.40 GHz (44.0x100)
- Motherboard: ASUS F2A85-M PRO
- GPU: EVGA GTX 570 1280 MB
- PhysX: MSI GTS 250 1 GB
- Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 4x8 GB (32 GB total) at 1866 MHz 10-10-10-27
- OS: Windows 7- Professional 64-bit
The performance was consistently at or near 60 FPS at the maximum settings. I did notice some stuttering, possibly due to less-than-great optimization, but it was never that severe. I also noticed that the game seemed to crash the drivers when I had my GPU overclocked. Removed the OC and the game ran without noteworthy incident. (Yeah, there was a crash or two, but I was running the latest beta drivers at the time, so I am not going to hold the game accountable for them.)
As you traverse the cities and kingdoms of Assassin's Creed you will almost certainly notice the pop-in of textures and even NPCs. (Honestly, I once had an enemy appear a few feet in front of me, but fortunately he did not attack me as I ran by.) There is nothing you can do about this, and generally it is not severe enough to really be noticeable. If you are the kind of person that does notice things like that though, you will notice it here. More obvious is the limited detail distance, especially on shadows. In some of the screenshots in this review you may notice shadows suddenly dropping in resolution not too far from your character. Of course you may also notice that shadows are not always being cast, but there is nothing you can do about it. At the time the developers may not have been able to do anything about it either, due to the limited capabilities of the hardware and game engine.
Worth noting is that to achieve the maximum settings, I had to do a little bit of file editing. The MSAA option is not accessible in-game at all resolutions, and definitely not at my monitor's 2048x1152 resolution. To enable anti-aliasing, I had to open the file and manually change the setting. You can find guides on how to do this online, and once you know what to do, all you need is a basic text editor.
Two things that I feel should be shared are that the game has no subtitles and the cinematics cannot be skipped. With how much of the story is conveyed in the cinematics, it is understandable that you cannot skip the cinematics, though the option would have been appreciated for additional playthroughs. The lack of subtitles I have no guess-explanation for. The option simply does not exist.
Assassin's Creed is not going to win any beauty contests compared to today's games, but it impresses for a six-year-old game. Once the action gets going, you will probably forget its age and just enjoy the fairly detailed experience.
As mentioned in the Introduction, your main character is Desmond Miles, but the character you primarily play as is Altaïr ibn-La'Ahad. In his lifetime, Altaïr discovered something that the modern-day Templars want, so they have kidnapped Desmond to force him to live his ancestor's memory using the Animus. Though Desmond was raised to be an Assassin, the counter to the Templars, Desmond left the community some time ago to find a more-normal life. Apparently that is something he is just not allowed to have.
At the core of the Assassin philosophy is the maxim "nothing is true; everything is permitted," and the Assassin's Creed: do not kill the innocent, hide in plain sight, and never compromise the brotherhood. At the beginning of the game we experience Altaïr violating each tenet of the creed, and attempt to defend his actions with the second half of the maxim. To put it simply, things do not go well for the skilled warrior, and because of his actions, the Assassin Leader, Al Mualim, strips him of his title and equipment. Due to his great skill and the hope he can one day understand the principles he violated, Altaïr is allowed to live and reclaim what he once had by assassinating the Templar leaders.
With each assassination comes a cinematic of Altaïr speaking with the Templar. To put it simply, the revelation of the Templars' motivations help Altaïr learn what his own motivations are and should be. While both Templar and Assassin seek peace for all, the Templars wish to bring it about by controlling the people, to force them into a peace. The Assassins, however, seek to bring about an inner peace, through understanding and wisdom, which cannot be forced on anyone.
One aspect of the story that I personally enjoy is the parity between the story of Desmond and Altaïr. Without getting into spoilers, both lack an understanding of their Assassin teachings and even discarded them for what they felt was best. By the end though, both have gained at least some appreciation of what the Assassin Order's purpose is, and why the Templars must be stopped.
I am not sure what more I can say about the story without spoiling some of it for those of you who have not played the game yet. Perhaps the most I can say now is that it contains a number of twists you may not expect, but do a good job of demonstrating what sets Templars and Assassins apart by, at times, showing how similar they are.
Personally I enjoy the story quite a bit. It demonstrates a level of care and detail not always found in action video games. You come to understand the creed, its importance, and why the Assassins kill to protect it.
Stealth, combat, and speed are the three main aspects of Assassin's Creed's gameplay. It uses a well-executed, though not perfect, free-running system for quickly traversing the game world, either on the ground or on rooftops. Sometimes it will glitch somewhat, causing you to jump when you do not want to, or not jumping when you do. Also there are times that you appear to jump or climb onto things that you are not intended to. This can cause your character to jump back and forth, until you move somewhere else, or, in one case, I actually got stuck hanging between two hand grips. Dropping to the ground below took care of that. Not helping matters is a camera that does not always behave, but it could be worse.
The stealth aspect of the game is good but can be difficult to work with. At least if you are impatient. Sometimes just running by the wrong person will cause you to be spotted, forcing you to flee or fight when you do not necessarily want to. Also you may find situations where you cannot sneak through, but have to kill the guards, which then leads to a larger fight and having to become anonymous again. Of course there are also places where you can unlock moving hiding spots to get you past the guards, unnoticed. Perhaps the most frustrating part of trying to be stealthy is dealing with the beggars and mentally ill. The beggars will run up to you, demanding money and stand in your way, making it hard to keep moving. The mentally ill are even worse, though, as they will shove you around, stopping any momentum you have, and potentially revealing you to the guards. As Altaïr did not kill civilians, if you kill these NPCs, you will lose synchronization with him, which is how your health is measured. Fortunately it does regenerate over time, but it is still not a good idea to go around killing civilians.
The combat is quite satisfying, when you are good at it at least. Much of the combat centers around sword fighting and eventually you learn how to parry-riposte, better known as a counter attack. Honestly I cannot think of any game with more satisfying counters than this, with the great speed, ferocity, and sound effects. My tactic in combat was to simply let the enemies come to me, so I could counter and kill them with the press of a button.
Of course a sword is not a very discrete weapon for an assassin, so you are also armed with the Hidden Blade. This is a contraption bound to your left arm that can extend and retract a blade at will, making it perfect for silently killing an unaware enemy. In a fight, though, it is useless. You also have throwing knives, but honestly I did not use them much in this playthrough. Not all situations require them (though they do help a lot at the end) so I primarily stayed with the sword and hidden blade, when I could use them.
You can also fight someone with your fists, but this mechanic seems to only exist for Interrogation missions, where you have to beat the truth out of someone. Guards will not intervene in fistfights, though some civilians will, so they can be useful in the correct scenario.
Eagle Vision is an interesting, and not continually used mechanic in Assassin's Creed. When entering Eagle Vision, the camera shifts from its third-person view to first-person, and is only accessible when you have full synchronization/health. The purpose of Eagle Vision is to reveal civilians, threats, allies, and targets, and the colored highlights remain after leaving the view mode. For some situations, you do need to use it, but often everything is easy enough to identify that you do not need to enter it. However, you do use it to reveal the map.
By climbing tall structures and entering Eagle Vision, you reveal swaths of the map. Of course you do not actually see the map in Eagle Vision as the camera pans around Altaïr, but it is how he is viewing the world. This is how you reveal the map, missions, and hiding spots, so it is not an unusual strategy to immediately climb to every view point, just to know where everything is. To get down from the view points, you use a 'Leap of Faith' by jumping into a pile of hay on the ground. I have found it useful to use a Leap of Faith to evade enemies, as they often lose sight of you as you climb the view points, and by hiding in the hay, you regain your anonymity. Of course there are other places to hide, but none are quite so dramatic to enter.
One thing some of you may not like, though, is that you do not have a minimap. Instead that thing in the lower-right is more of a compass, pointing you in the right direction, while also giving you a distance. To actually plan out a path, you need to bring up the full map.
Among the missions revealed by the view points are side missions that involve saving citizens. I recommend you take the time to complete them, as doing so will grant you more health. Also they unlock vigilantes that will help you escape guards.
An interesting aspect of the assassinations in the game is that before you can go after your target, you have to collect information on them to plan your attack. This information can be collected by doing missions for other Assassins, as well as eavesdropping, interrogating, and pickpocketing civilians. Once you have the information you need, you can return to the Assassin's Bureau, report your findings and plan, and get permission to attack. I do recommend you pay attention to the information, as some targets have multiple routes to them and can be most easily dispatched at specific moments. Of course you can also just barge in and kill everyone, but that takes more time than a more patient approach.
After each assassination, you are to return to the Assassin Leader, who promotes your rank and returns a piece of 'equipment' as a reward. Technically you are not always given equipment but new skills, such as the counter attack or increased damage. Eventually, though, you receive everything you had during the game's prologue, before Altaïr lost his status in the Assassin's community.
Another interesting aspect, though this time to the map, is how you are limited to certain areas of the game world. As you are playing Altaïr's memories, you are not allowed to go places he did not go at the time. This means there are barriers you cannot cross until a later time, though you will see civilians and even enemies pass through them without issue. It is a simple explanation for the mechanic found in so many games, to keep players from going where they should not.
It took me about 14 hours and 34 minutes to complete the game, and every mission. Finding all of the collectible flags in the game, though, will doubtlessly add many more hours. To put it simply, I have no intention of going after them.
Overall the gameplay is a solid, fun, and enjoyable experience, thanks to good design and thoughtful implementation. This helps it feel like you are indeed playing a person's memories, instead of just a game, while still making you feel like a great warrior. After all, none of your enemies stand against a dozen or more threats and walk away with nothing more than a bloodied sword.
Additional Game Play Images:
Should we look to the past and learn from this six year old game? I certainly think so. Replaying Assassin's Creed for this review reminded me of just how much I enjoyed it when I first played it. Sure it has some rough patches and somewhat dated graphics, but this game is still excellent and deserves a place in our libraries.
I would easily recommend this game to anyone who has been caught up in the marketing for the upcoming Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag as well as to anyone looking for a good, story-driven action game. It is a straightforward experience that you can play your own way and on your own schedule. Go ahead and take a trip to the past.