Developed by: Ubisoft Montreal
Published by: Ubisoft
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC
Originally released in November 2007, Assassin’s Creed revolutionised the action-adventure genre with its unique gameplay which blended stealth, parkour movement and open-world exploration into one. With a new game released almost every year since then, Assassin’s Creed has grown into one of the industry’s biggest franchises, thanks to its constant reinvention and the use of different time periods and protagonists in each of its core titles. With so many games in the series, and a rather swift release schedule, I’d never really had the opportunity to play any of the games, but I always thought I would enjoy them if I ever got a chance. With lock-down giving me more free time to play games, I decided to finally give the original Assassin’s Creed a chance (thirteen years after release!) and see whether it was worthy of kickstarting a multi-media franchise.
From the outset, Assassin’s Creed subverts expectations with its curious mix of history and technology as our protagonist Desmond Miles is forced to experience the memories of his assassin ancestor within a virtual reality device known as the Animus. The genius of this concept is the way that it allowed for future games in the series to explore other eras and assassin types whilst tying into the central modern-day narrative, creating a unifying connective tissue between each game. While the game would have still worked well as a straightforward historical stealth-em-up along the lines of Tenchu, the extra layer of science-fiction results in a more complex storyline and the juxtaposition of the two opposing genres ensures that the game stands out from the crowd – again, contributing to its longevity in the industry.
Playing the Xbox 360 version using the Xbox One’s backwards compatibility function, I was amazed at how good the graphics looked a decade after the original release. The whole game has a greyscale tint that to it that seems to make everything look washed out, yet detailed and crisp. This filter helps distinguish the animus from the real world, but it also feels appropriate to its early twelfth-century setting. The cities of Damascus, Jerusalem and Acre all feel authentic in their design and each city is split into three districts (rich, poor and middle) which also have a unique feel. I never really studied the Middle Ages or the Crusades at school, although I’ve always found the Templars to be quite interesting – mostly due to their presence in the epic Broken Sword series. The historical aspect of the plot is quite engrossing as Altair is sent on a mission to eliminate nine members of the Templars to prevent the mysterious Apple of Eden from falling into their hands. This is supported by modern-day interludes where a mysterious organisation attempts to use Desmond’s ancestral memories to locate the same treasure.
Despite its focus on assassination, Assassin’s Creed is not as unforgiving as the Hitman series and stealth is a tool but not a necessity. This was a relief for me as I hate games that punish me for failing to notice a guard is watching my every move! If you get spotted by a suspicious guard here, you can either attempt to battle it out until they’re all dead (a surprisingly easy option in the early chapters) or run and hide until the heat dies down. There’s no real punishment for losing stealth, even during the ‘assassination memories’, as most of the game is focused on gaining intel on a target through a variety sub-missions such as pick-pocketing, eavesdropping or timed kills. The game also has a ton of collectables, which the completist in me loved. Sure, it was repetitive having to do the same quests in each of the nine districts (and the over-world) but I found it quite relaxing jumping from rooftop to rooftop to locate the next hidden flag. However, there is a notable lack of variety in the sub-missions and the game doesn’t really need the open-world map connecting each of the three cities. In fact, it even lets you fast-travel to each city midway through the game.
The standout element of the game is the fluid parkour movements as Altair leaps, grabs and climbs his way through the busy streets and the rooftops above. Each of the cities are fairly expansive in size, becoming even bigger as extra districts are unlocked during gameplay, so there is plenty to see on your travels. The exploration of the cities and the climbing of high landmarks to synchronise with the map are defining traits of the game, and I never stopped feeling that burst of exhilaration you get when performing a “leap of faith” into a haystack. It’s a great game mechanic, and one that never gets old – even Final Fantasy XV borrowed it for its “Assassin’s Creed Festival” event. The fight controls are also quite intuitive, encouraging players to avoid button mashing and instead timing blocks, counters and grabs to survive against swarms of guards. It feels very rewarding to rescue a civilian from some amorous guards using a fluid mix of counter attacks and combo moves.
Looking at Assassin’s Creed all these years after its release, I have to say that the game holds up extremely well despite its age. It is clear to see why it was so popular and spawned so many sequels and spin-offs. I can also see how it influenced other games, such as the Batman: Arkham Trilogy, making stealth more accessible to an audience put off by the likes of Metal Gear Solid and Hitman. Sure, the game suffers from repetition at times and it could do with an EXP/Progression system, but it still deserves its place in the gaming hall of fame. I was so enamoured with this game and the universe it creates, I’ve immediately gone out and purchased Assassin’s Creed: The Ezio Collection in an effort to catch up on all the fun I’ve missed out on over the past thirteen years!