Assassin’s Creed – Review and Thoughts

My latest endeavor in the world of video games was into the ultra-popular Ubisoft flagship title of Assassin’s Creed. I went in with high hopes for a fantastic story and an incredible game.  I got one of those. And the other sucked. LET’S GO!

I want to break it down into 4 sections that can best allow me to describe my thoughts. They will be

  • History
  • Story
  • Gameplay
  • The “Christian Element”

That having been said, let’s jump right into it.

1.  History

When this game came out in 2007, I was not at all interested in it.  Part of that was due to some serious discouragement from my friends and family. Me being a Christian and they being Christians, I was told that the game’s purpose was to kill Christians and thus was told not to play it.  Assassin’s Creed wasn’t even on my radar…until recently.

Back in 2009, when I was a freshman in college, I began to get back into video games. My games of choice where the Ratchet & Clank and Sly Cooper series on the PS2, and I had only just acquired my PS3. From there I began to rediscover my appreciation for video games (mostly thanks to Valve). I looked up some news on video games from there and then found a playthrough of the first mission of Assassin’s Creed. The main thing I took from it was that the story wasn’t really about Altair, a 12th century assassin, but about a man in our very near future reliving his ancestors lives to find something for a modern day Evil Super-Coorporation. I was fascinated! But also I was busy, so I dropped it there…until recently.

As I mentioned previously, this summer I have rekindled my interest in video games. I spent some time following the E3 conference a few months ago. Usually I miss it, but this year I was able to stay up to date on the new releases (via Machinima, Rooster Teeth, etc). Thus I came across the trailer for Assassin’s Creed Revelations. I loved it and you can check out my review of it on Friday at the Art of the Trailer blog. Anyway, I found a playthrough of the 3rd game, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, by Tobuscus. It wasn’t the best playthrough (97 videos x 10 minutes each = my life wasted); however the story was really incredible and I was really inspired by it.

It was then that I remembered that my brother had bought Assassin’s Creed last year. From there it was very simple – play the game. Thus – we arrive at Now.

2. Story

I said in the beginning that either the game or the story sucked. Well it wasn’t the story. One of the best worlds I have ever seen in a story.  The guys at Ubisoft Montreal really made something incredible and I am so excited to see where it goes.

**This review will have spoilers (if you haven’t played it by now, you aren’t going to)**

Contrary to what everyone who hasn’t played it thinks, the story really isn’t all about an ancient assassin.  It is the story of a bartender named Desmond who is kidnapped by Abstergo Pharmaceuticals – the 2012 front for the ancient society of the Templars. Desmond’s past is rooted in a secret group of killers know as the Assassin’s (original, I know). Abstergo and the Templars have taken Desmond in order to find an ancient artifact – a “piece of Eden” – which is locked in the his “genetic memory”.  They use a devise called the Animus which allows Desmond to relieve his ancestors memories and discover the fate of the artifact.

First of all, I love the blending of historical possibility with this story. They didn’t reinvent the wheel. The Templars have always been known for their secretive nature and they have always been suspected of wanting to take over the world. You don’t need to resell that too me and Ubisoft doesn’t. They take something well established and add just enough extra fiction to create a good plot. Works really well.

As far as the genetic memory goes, I thought it was a decent idea. Not sure the science would work out that way but it is plausible enough for you and I to believe it. It also creates the interesting parallel of what becomes a Game within a game. Through the Animus, Desmond puppeteers his ancestor Altair throughout the 12th century world. It allows for the explaining of important game information (maps, controls, quests, etc) to be blended into the game in a way I have never seen before. Very neat idea.

HOWEVER, I really wish that Ubisoft would figure out that Assassin’s Creed isn’t Altair’s story or Ezio’s story. It is Desmond’s tale. They always advertise only the past Assassin stuff, which makes sense – it is flipping awesome. However the story is about Desmond’s rediscovering his family’s legacy and coming into that role. The only time they actually develop that story is at the end of Brotherhood, but as I have not played 2 or 3 yet, I didn’t understand what was happening.

One final note before I get into the spoiler section – the locations where incredible. I climbed the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem! The cities were awesome in their accuracy and in the architecture which was so fun to explore.

**Spoilers**
First I have to say that I loved the games way of starting me at the weakest and building my skills.  Again, very unique style. You start as a fully trained master assassin, but because of your hubris you are stripped of your rank and made a level 1 killer again. Very cool explanation (I know it doesn’t really work that way in life but remember we are in the Animus). That was cool.

Basically you get 9 names of men you must assassinate in order to restore your honor. That works pretty well and makes sense – story wise (more on this later). You followed the proud Altair as he relearns what being an assassin is all about and humbles himself. A nice change of pace from games where you start off low and unrespected and then work your way into cockyness.

Some really amazing twists at the end. I got totally taken by the fake Robert, was surprised to find that my teacher was out to kill me, and that there were more Pieces of Eden. I thought the ending was truly fantastic! But then he came out of the Animus…

Basically you sit on the Animus table listening to the scientist conversing with some business men, have your life spared “just in case they need you”, and then they leave alone. Desmond has some “bleeding over” from his time in the Animus and can now see in Eagle Vision (let’s you see secret stuff). Looking around his room he sees someone has written secret messages all over his walls and floor. “What could it mean?” END.

Yup. It sucks. Their is no emotional ramp. There is no cathartis or conclusion. There is NO PROGRESSION! That is my beef with this whole game – it goes nowhere and it takes forever getting there. After a long set of credits it spits you back out into your little world at Abstergo where you can *Gasp* read emails. 😐  Really Ubisoft? Really?

I know from having read a synopsis of AC 2 that it starts with Lucy coming in and busting you out of Abstergo. WHY DIDN’T YOU END ON THAT UBISOFT!? It would have been amazing had they ended with a nice musical ramp, you look at the stuff on the wall, and then are interrupted by gunfire or something and Lucy runs in saying “We have to go!” That would have all the emotion I need and enough momentum to carry me over to Assassin’s Creed II. I was just a very disappointing end to a phenomenal story. I definitely plan on continuing it to see where they go with this.

FINAL ASSESSMENT – STORY:   4 out of 5

3. Gameplay

As I am sure you have guessed by now, the story was awesome but the gameplay sucked. It was long and tedious, time wasting quests that ultimately made me lose my love for it while I was playing.

It goes back to what I said before – NO PROGRESSION. What I mean is this: when I got to Damascus for the first of the 9 assassinations I had to complete some fact gathering missions so I would know when and where to get him. Being fresh into the game, I went ahead and did all six missions, saved all the citizens in the city (small perks) and found every viewpoint (enhances your map). Then I completed the assassination and returned to my home for the next assignment.

It was here that I discovered I only had to do 3 of the 6 to get through. For the rest of the game I did only just enough to get by, which is sad simply because it really shouldn’t be an “only just enough” sort of game. What really ticked me off was that, after I have done all of that and my honor is restored, I go to take out Robert de Sable in Jerusalem AND STILL HAVE TO FACT-GATHER!!!! Are you kidding me!? I have been doing this forever and now at the end of the game you make me do it more? Now, it makes sense that the humbled Altair doesn’t mind tracking his foe but I, the player do.

Basically I am playing the same game at the end as I was at the beginning. How it should have been done is on the first mission, when Altair is at his lowest and I am most excited, I should have to complete all 6. Then the next two assassinations (which are paired together) should be down to 4. The next three, 3. The last two, 2. And then the last kill (Robert de Sable), I shouldn’t have had to do anything. This creates a nice progression, eases up on the player, and gives the game a flow. They really dropped the ball there (and that is the same issue as how they messed up the end of the story).

Speaking of the end, I have a bone to pick with whatever bleephole designed the real Robert de Sable fight. The way it works is you fight 10 Templar guys and then Robert comes out and you take him on, all in front of King Richard. There is a cliff on one side and a large wall on the other. SO WHY DID YOU MAKE PART OF IT OUT OF BOUNDS! There is a section where “memory cannot be accessed” in the middle of the field. So I go for my second try, have the best fight I have had in game period, BEAT Robert, and when I go for the neck stab he has fallen into that out of bounds section. I beat him but am “Desynchronized – Death”. 😐 I was screaming at my TV. The level has enough natural boundaries. Why put in more? To tick me off, that’s why.

A few other notes. The combat has come under fire a lot and now I understand why. It consists mostly of mashing the square button and occasionally holding R1. Also, there are three weapons (hidden blade, knife, sword), yet you really only ever use the sword. The hidden blade which was a major part in putting Assassin’s Creed on the map is almost unusable because they block you if they even see you coming. Disappointing.

Also, I don’t know if it is the weaponry on my side or the large sign on my back that says “I AM AN ASSASSIN!” but everyone seems to notice me. If you aren’t mashing the “blend” button, you are spotted in half a second. No one else knocks the jars off of women’s heads. No one else gets targeted and smacked by those bleeping lepers. No one else gets hounded by the beggar women, about whom you can do nothing without drawing major attention to yourself. Basically I get the Inception treatment – I am the outsider in a world trying to find and expunge me. It is just poor programing, and I know that would be crazy hard but I hope in later installments they fix the “it’s all about me” feel.

Finally, there is no reason for me to do the side quests. The side quests are finding flags scattered in all the maps and to kill 60 Templars also scattered all over. In the end, there is no perk to my completing them so I have no reason to do so.  Compare that to Sly Cooper. In a story about a thief regaining his honor (sound familiar?) the side quest is to find 100 bottles per level which unlocks a safe. Inside the safe you get instructions on how to do a special move like the Spire Jump or even Slow Motion. It enhances the game by giving me options, helping me complete tasks, or just making it fun. I need some reason to work for it and Assassin’s Creed doesn’t give me one.

Ultimately what made me keep going was the story, not the gameplay. I was sorely disappointed by the clunky controls and lack of advancement or progression. The open world was fun but give me a reason to actually explore it.

FINAL ASSESSMENT – GAMEPLAY:  2 out of 5

4. The “Christian Element”

I wanted to take a second to respond to the discouragement I received from my Christian friends and family. First of all, I was surprised and impressed before the game even started. Ubisoft put a note during the loading screen saying that “This work of fiction was designed, developed and produced by a multicultrual team of various religious faiths and beliefs.” While it is not specific or really personal, it does carry the thought that they care enough to address it. I thought it was a nice goodwill gesture.

First and foremost, the purpose of this game is NOT to kill Christians as I was told by every Christian I knew. You aren’t fighting the Crusaders (directly) and you assassinate an equal number of Muslims as you do Christians. The 9 you are sent to kill all have good reason to be taken out. One is a demented doctor who experiments on healthy citizens. You take out slave traders, corrupt leaders, power hungry fiends. Not harmless church leaders.

On that same note, the Assassin’s fight the Templars and it is made very clear that the Templars aren’t fighting for God as they claim. They are working for their own ends – their control of the world. Their Christian front is exactly that: a front!

Finally, the game has come under fire for the morals put forth by the Assassin’s. Their key phrase is “Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.” Obviously this doesn’t jive with Christian theology. However I simply ask you to consider this:  If nothing is true is that statement false? If everything is permitted, is ignoring that adage okay? The point of the phrase isn’t to be held as a hard-and-fast rule; it is meant to get one in the mindset of questioning that which is told them. It is about seeking truth and not letting your search for it be hampered by other’s rules. Seek truth. That sounds more in line with what we believe. Don’t take it as literal but think and seek the truth in it.

So there you go! A phenomenal story muddled by poor gameplay, with some interesting philosophy thrown in.

FINAL ASSESSMENT – 3 out of 5

I enjoyed following Assassin’s Creed and I do plan on finishing the series over the rest of the year. Please let me know what you think about my review in the comments below. Also, check out my review of the Assassin’s Creed Revelations trailer on The Art of the Trailer!  Thanks again and God bless!

Please Comment Below and Subscribe!

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Author: Tyler D. Welch

Filmmaker, Storyteller, Scholar

11 thoughts on “Assassin’s Creed – Review and Thoughts”

  1. Honestly, I’m pretty sure most of the Crusaders’ Christian faith was only a front. I think that most of the Crusaders were less concerned with regaining Jerusalem for the Lord and more concerned with killing Muslims and getting more land. Yay religious wars!

    Yeah, you probably wanted a comment on the game. Too bad.

  2. True to the point on this one. i was disappointed in Assassin’s Creed – so disappointed that I stayed away from the sequels.

  3. My son gave me this game and has a Christian was asking was this game right for me to play. I can see from your review that it is a good game.

    Thank you for you review and God Bless

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