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Assassin's Creed
Score: 80%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Ubisoft Entertainment
Developer: Ubisoft Entertainment
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Adventure/ Platformer (3D)

Graphics & Sound:
Assassin's Creed is, quite simply, an exquisite game. As Altair, the assassin ancestor, you will traverse ancient cities such as Jerusalem and Damascus, all rendered to historical perfection - at least they look as though I'd imagine they would back in the day. Cities bustle with soldiers, beggars, vendors, informants and potential targets. Vendors will call out to passers-by, hawking their wares. Beggars will approach you as you move about the city, asking for anything you might have. In fact, they'll even block you from getting to your target at times, alerting them to your presence. Birds fly about, dust billows at the feet of your horse and the cities truly feel alive.

Ambient sounds abound, while rousing Middle Eastern-inspired music can be heard in the background. Voicework is great, aside from the main character, that is. As you meet people in your travels, they all sound appropriately "ancient" and really serve to immerse you into the situation. However, Altair sounds like the 25 year old dude inhabiting his body and it throws you out of the experience completely every time he speaks.

Ubisoft decided to throw a little bit of star power into the mix by having Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars, Heroes) voice the character Lucy Stillman. To be honest, I can't see past Kristen's annoying character on Heroes and to me, she comes through just the same in Assassin's Creed. But perhaps that's my hang-up.

You take on the roles of two characters in Assassin's Creed, one, an ancient ancestor who also happened to be a prolific assassin who belonged to the Brotherhood Assassin, and two, a 25 year old bartender named Desmond who is the subject of a scientific study by Dr. Warren Vidic and Lucy Stillman. Desmond is placed into the Animus, a machine capable of synchronizing Desmond's memories with those of his ancestor. The good doctor wants to access those memories of assassinations for his own benefit.

Altair will interact with members of the Assassination Brotherhood, the Assassination Bureau, as well as many different townspeople. While in the Animus, Altair's first goal is to check out the lay of the land. By synching with the area, the map fills in with lots of info such as possible pickpocket victims, assassination victims, hiding places, the location of the Assassination Bureau, etc. Altair must first climb to the top of one of these very high locations to scan the area. Although this part came easy for JR Nip, who plays platformers in his sleep, I found myself launching Altair off of buildings on a regular basis. More on that in the Game Mechanics section.

At times, Altair will travel on horseback and this will get him from place to place much quicker. However, I found as I was galloping about that at times, I would miss turns that I needed to take. You see, Altair has a handy GPS located at the bottom of the screen which will point to the location of where you need to go next and it will show you how far from that location you are. However, in traveling, you'll approach a city, pass through the gates and it may or may not be readily apparent where you should go next. There could be a sharp turn around the mountain that you need to take, but if your location is dead ahead, you may still need to do many twists and turns to get there and it could be confusing. You can also go into your options/map and set certain things to show on your GPS to make it easier to get to them, but I never really found the map to be super helpful, what with all of the little characters to be found on the legend.

So your main goal is the assassination of nine men, but to get to this point, you must first gather intel on them. You can do this in numerous ways. You may be asked to pickpocket the info by locking on to your target, then walking close to them and then stealing it, all the while not being caught by your victim or the guards. It sounds more fun than it is, actually. Then, you might be charged with eavesdropping on a conversation by sitting near them and homing in on what two folks are saying. Sometimes you'll have to beat the information out of people and that requires you to get them alone where no one can be alerted to your misdeeds. The point of it all is that although the gameplay seems quite varied, you get into a routine and end up having the same things to do over and over. Kill one guy, gather info, listen in, kill another guy, move on.

There are side missions of sorts that you can do like saving citizens from being beaten senseless by the guards. But then, when you have killed the guards and are speaking to the citizen you rescued, the noises around the area of people yelling and such are so loud, you can barely hear the information they tell you. Annoying. However, by saving folks, you'll gain fans, friends of the victim. These vigilantes will get in the way of pursuing soldiers. There are also groups of roaming scholars that Altair can blend in with and access areas he wouldn't normally be able to enter.

I mentioned earlier the prevalence of the platforming elements in Assassin's Creed and those gave me a measure of trouble. Aside from that, the main difficulty comes when you've been spotted attacking someone or causing trouble in the city. Your social status will change and once you've actually assassinated someone, a citywide alert will go into affect. Once this happens, you can't find safety at the Assassination Bureau because their doors will be closed to you, so you must relentlessly run and hide since everyone will be after you.

Doing this for a while gets really tedious. Sure, there may be vigilantes who can run interference for you, but you may find yourself running around the city in circles with no break whatsoever. It simply becomes not fun.

Game Mechanics:
The load times in Assassin's Creed really bothered me. While they weren't all really long, some were insanely long and while things are loading, your character will be walking in a fog, just as he was during training. The first few times, I didn't know if I was supposed to be going somewhere and doing something, so it was confusing. I'm sure the developers were just trying to entertain gamers while things loaded up, but still.

Controls never quite seem to gel for me. What seems on paper as really intuitive ends up feeling very unnatural. You'll puppet Altair in the following fashion - (Triangle) controls his head, (Square) controls the weapon hand, (O) the empty hand and (X). If you look at the face buttons, they correspond to the parts of the body they control. There are two modes Altair can travel about in: Low Profile and High Profile. While in Low Profile, he is able to melt into the crowd and go about unnoticed. He'll use his empty hand to give folks a gentle push so as not to cause them to drop their goods. He'll use the (X) button to blend, meaning he walks slowly and pensively, as if he was a scholar.

While in High Profile mode, Altair will be far more aggressive. He'll push his way through, throw punches, gallop if on horseback and break into full tilt free-running if the (X) is pressed. He'll acclimate to whatever he comes across, be it jumping, vaulting, etc. Again, it sounds intuitive, but it just didn't work out quite as well in reality as it does in theory.

Altair will constantly be fighting, be it rescuing civilians in distress, battling generic soldiers or killing targets. He has a short knife he can use for a quiet kill and a huge sword if he wants to be brash about it. He has grabs, counter-attacks and dodges he can use, but in the heat of the moment, button-mashing is what works.

I highly recommend you rent Assassin's Creed. For the first few hours that I played, I thought it was the greatest thing I had played in a long time. It's a beautiful game and there's so much you can do off the beaten path of the story, such as jump up on top of carts to annoy other passers-by, or push around citizens just to get a reaction. However, when you get down to the nitty gritty, Assassin's Creed loses some of its luster. So if you rent it, you will have a good time initially and see what the game has to offer without being bored with long-term play.

-Psibabe, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ashley Perkins

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