Assassin's Creed is the first game in what turned out to be a highly successful franchise. Although many people advise skipping this game, I quite simply loved it as an introduction to the series. Even though it does have its faults, in my opinion they are quite forgivable in light of all its good points. Although it might seem odd, one thing I really enjoyed was playing a game set in bright daylight. Sometimes I get tired of the dark and shadowy environments used to create atmosphere and this was a welcome respite. In terms of its looks, it reminded me a little of Crysis with its widescreen panoramic views as opposed to the severe close-up techniques used in many games these days. The field of view is filled by interesting and highly detailed surroundings. It also has similarities to the Prince of Persia series in terms of how your character can platform.
The majority of the story takes place in the Holy Land in the time when King Richard and the crusaders had recaptured this area around 1191 AD. However, there is a twist. The vehicle used to drive the story is actually a present day timeframe. You play two characters - sort of - and one is a young man named Desmond Miles whose ancestral memories are being accessed through a machine called the Animus. We know little about how Desmond came to be an unwilling and captive subject of a company called Abstergo. Keeping this part shrouded in mystery is one of the strengths of the game. However, Desmond's situation only provides the backdrop as most of the gameplay revolves around his ancient ancestor, Altair.
Altair is a member of a society called the Assassin's Creed. Their ultimate goal is the peace of all mankind. In order to achieve this, certain disruptive and corrupt men must be eliminated. Altair, as a chosen son of the organization, is dispatched to several cities to accomplish these assassinations. As he completes them, he starts to question the ethics of these practices and the motives of his master.
The backdrop consists of the Kingdom lands, which can be roamed for achievements during Altair's horseback journeys to the cities of Damascus, Acre and Jerusalem. It will take some doing to complete these side quests as they involve collecting hundreds of different flags, killing all the Templar Knights, and scaling every death defying lookout point. The base location of the Creed is in Masyaf, which also has a flag gathering achievement.
This is one mighty, fine looking game. The cities feel enormous as you wend your way through streets and alleys or use the rooftops to get around. Altair is extremely adept at climbing and jumping. The graphical details are incredible and based on actual historical information. The whole series is to be commended for its incredible artwork and design.
The enemy AI is some of the smartest I've seen. Combat is not easy to master. You have four basic weapons, the long knife plus throwing knives, the sword, the hidden blade and your fists. These are all upgraded after each assassination. I often complain about some games having too many controls, but Assassin's Creed might seem like there are too few at first. This is because the same key is used to perform certain functions based on the immediate context. This means that you must be aware of what context you are in when you use it. This can be quite confusing till you get lots of practice at fighting. I suggest reading up on it and watching some combat tutorial videos. To me, this is a major part of the attraction of this game as it's so much fun you will eventually go looking for fights. A big part of the appeal is the reward of viewing Altair in some fantastic animated scenes when you've hit the timing just right.
In addition to assassinating the main target and fighting the guards, there are other types of missions such as scaling all viewpoints, rescuing citizens, pick pocketing, anonymous kills, eavesdropping for intelligence and timed assignments. Unfortunately, this is one of the downsides of the game as in every city these are all exactly of the same type. In other words, they are very repetitive. But as I said, everything else is done so well, you won't be too bothered by it. There is, however, one particular irritation that will bother you and that is how you must exit the game. It's quite a production involving five or six steps.
The game saves by checkpoint and if you get killed you will be returned to the last checkpoint or the assassination bureau in that city if that was your last save. This can be a pain if you were on the far side of the city at the time, so try not to get killed. There is a method in place where you can try running and hiding from the guards if you get overwhelmed. It's not unusual to be facing multiple enemies, which is why you need to master the combat moves. Don't be discouraged as it mostly involves holding down the right mouse button plus tapping another key. It just seems very confusing at first and timing is everything. The rewards in enjoying the game are well worth the effort and the challenge of mastering the moves is a big part of its appeal. Unlike some FPS where re-doing segments doesn't particularly require more actual skill with the weapon, Assassin's Creed combat does. This makes the game much more immersive.
It's hard to find anything really negative to say about this game as it looked and played great. I think it deserves a higher score than it got and it's disappointing to me that in some of the subsequent games combat mechanics took a turn for the worse. I never advise skipping over this game as it forms the foundational story for the sequels. It also leaves you on a cliffhanger, so if you enjoy this game, you'll be anxious to move on to Assassin's Creed 2. See you there.