Reload – Assassin’s Creed

Scouring The Past In Assassin’s Creed

Reload is a new series of articles in which I look back at recent games typically from the current or last generation and reappraise them after the dust has settled. Here’s Assassin’s Creed…

Assassin’s Creed is a game that spawned a hugely successful series for publisher Ubisoft that is still ongoing even if cracks have begun to show. The game and its developers deserve massive credit for that accomplishment and for crafting one of the best protagonists and stories in the whole series. Nevertheless, Assassin’s Creed is 10 years old this year and going back to play the sci-fi, historical action-adventure game in its entirety demonstrates that the technology that was stunning at the time is showing its age. The game remains an enjoyable ride but certain repetitive gameplay features hold it back and there’s a reason most people will tell newcomers (assuming they don’t want the fill picture of the lore) to start with Assassin’s Creed II.

Assassin’s Creed has two protagonists. The first is Desmond Miles, a bartender who is kidnapped by a shady corporation called Abstergo and held hostage because of his genetics. Through a machine called the Animus, Abstergo have found a way to go through a person’s DNA and recover genetic memory – the memories of that person’s ancestors. Desmond it turns out is descended from Assassins and Abstergo want to use him to uncover the location of a powerful, mysterious artefact that was active in the 12th century during the Crusades. Enter protagonist number two, Altair Ibn-La’Ahad, an ancestor of Desmond’s and an assassin charged with hunting down Templars who want to use the artefact for nefarious purposes.

Assassin's Creed

It’s fair to say Desmond’s a pretty clueless character.

The story of Assassin’s Creed is a mix of mysterious science fiction and history. Altair is the main star of the show here and remains one of the strongest protagonists in the entire series. His arc as he moves from arrogant assassin to wise and cautious leader is an interesting one and unlike many of its sequels isn’t a revenge story. His relationship with his mentor and leader of the Assassins Al Mualim are quite deep and philosophical; all about the nature of control and free will. Altair’s backstory would be fleshed out in later games but it’s here we get our understanding of what the philosophy of the Assassins and Templars really is. On the other hand, Desmond slowly pieces together what’s going on at Abstergo and by sneaking out of his room at night can read emails that reveal more about the extensive fiction Ubisoft was beginning to build up for the franchise. This modern-day mystery is one of the strongest parts of the game as you wonder what the hell is going on at this organisation.

As you can guess from the title, this game involves a fair bit of combat with Altair possessing several weapons to take down his foes. The hidden blade can be used for stealth and one-hit takedowns when timed correctly, throwing knives are useful for taking down rooftop guards and the young assassin is lethal with his trusty sword. Unfortunately, ten years on from its release the combat is a bit dated with simplistic counter kills being all you need to get through the game although the kill animations are still satisfyingly brutal. Other areas of annoyance include having to pickpocket knives to replenish your stock and a lock-on system that can be frustrating at times.

Assassin's Creed

Viewpoints became a staple of the series.

When you aren’t saving citizens from tyranny by the local guards you’ll find yourself investigating your target by exploring the city. Viewpoints, such a staple of Ubisoft’s portfolio at this point, unfog the map and show points of interest. By eavesdropping on certain people, pickpocketing maps and letters or doing tasks for informants Altair can learn as much or as little as he likes about an assassination target. Some of this information is more useful than others – a map showing the location of guards isn’t particularly beneficial but the location of some scholars to blend with and sneak past a guard post is. These missions are repetitive and if you aren’t enjoying the combat and don’t want every scrap of information on a target you aren’t likely to keep at it for too long. Nevertheless, in this game more than what was to come afterwards, the developers tried to create an authentic ‘assassin’ experience.

There are other nuisances to contend with too such as travelling between cities which is tedious given that guards will virtually attack on sight but thankfully fast travel later in the game mitigates this a bit. Climbing mechanics feel sluggish especially when compared to later games while the stealth mechanics of blending in and hiding in certain spots needed refining. In addition, completionists and those who hunt achievements or trophies will come to dread the hundreds of flags scattered around the countryside and cities with no in-game map of them to guide you.

Overall, the best reason to go back and experience Assassin’s Creed is for the story which is excellent if a little dated graphically and presentation-wise. Altair’s relationship and development as a character is a significant part of the game and is very entertaining while if you’re new to the franchise the modern-day mystery is intriguing. The gameplay is serviceable yet repetitive but there’s certainly something to the gameplay loop of investigations mixed with combat.

Have you played Assassin’s Creed? What do you think are the game’s biggest successes and failures?

Share your thoughts by commenting below.

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