In Assassin’s Creed you play as Altair, an assassin during the Third Crusade who is assigned nine key figures in the Crusades who have to be killed in order to end the war. Actually you’re not playing as Altair, you’re playing as Derek, a barman in the 21st Century who’s been kidnapped by some shady organisation who force Derek to access his assassin ancestor’s memories using a machine called the Animus. So you’re playing as someone who’s playing as someone who… whatever, eventually the plot makes sense as it unfolds in that tragically inevitable ‘here comes the twist and betrayal kind’ of way.
As Altair you’re pretty much an unstoppable one many army. Your time is divvied up between three cities: Jerusalem, Acre and Damascus with a vast countryside separating them that you travel through on horseback. The cities are, without exception, beautiful. Dashing through crowded streets, climbing up walls, leaping across rooftops, jumping through market stalls, it’s all an experience that leaves you panting. The detail and work that’s gone into every surface and making the cities real, breathing places with jostling crowds and loud markets is a triumph. It acts as one big playground for Altair to lark about in and bring death from above. And when it comes to killing Altair is the best.
There are a variety of ways to take out your targets. You can sneak up on them in the middle of a ground and silently plunge a dagger into their neck before slipping away unnoticed. You can charge up, leap on their back in full view and then leg it away as quickly as possible. Or, once you’ve mastered combat (which doesn’t take too long), you can stride in, slaughter all the guards and take your time beating your poor victim to a bloody pulp.
Unfortunately if you’ve done it once, you’ve done it a million times. The sense of freedom, of being a white-cloaked angel of death, takes a massive kick to the teeth when you’re forced, every mission, to do exactly the same thing over and over and over again. Here’s how every mission works: go into one of the three districts of the city. Pickpocket a couple of people to get information. Beat someone up to get information. Eavesdrop on a conversation to get information. Kill your target when you have enough information. There’s two problems here: 1) the information you get is largely redundant because it’s simply a case of getting close to your target and killing him. It doesn’t matter how obvious you are about it. 2) Once you’ve done the first mission, every single other one follows the exact same structure. There’s a criminal lack of thought and attention that’s gone into creating some variety. There just is none. Ubisoft have worked so hard at creating awe-inspiring graphics and an innovative free-running system that they’ve forgotten that the gameplay itself has to be next-gen as well. It’s the most bizarre mish-mash of genius and laziness in any game I’ve seen.
Inevitably the ending makes it hideously obvious that there are going to be sequels, which is a good thing. Assassin’s Creed was a demo, a chance for them to build the engine that lets the whole thing run. Now that they’ve got that down, they can maybe work on making the missions interesting in the sequels and truly create a revolutionary game. As it is Assassin’s Creeds many virtues are undermined entirely by the most unforgivable of gaming sins: repetition.