Game Review: Assassin’s Creed

Assassins Creed

Wow I can’t believe that it was roughly 13 years ago that this game came out, and since that point we have been treated to a total of 11 main games, and roughly 10 spin-off games, a series of books and comic books, and a live action movie. But today I will be talking about Assassin’s Creed, the first game, and the one that started it all.

So I think, on reflection that part of the initial popularity of the game was that it tried to do something different. It blended the open world sandbox environment more commonly associated with Grand Theft Auto, The Elder Scrolls and Minecraft with the heavy pseudo history of period dramas like The Borgias, Vikings, The Tudors and Spartacus: Blood and Sand and of course the platforming and free-running element from the Prince of Persia.

Anyway, for anyone reading this who somehow missed the impact which Assassin’s Creed has had over the past decade or so, it’s basically an action-adventure video game developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft. It follows initially the main character called Desmond Miles, a bartender, who is kidnapped by agents from a pharmaceutical conglomerate called Abstergo Industries. They force him to undergo experiments using a machine called the Animus which can decode our genetic memories, and allow the test subject to experience them in a form of augmented/artificial reality. In this game, he relives the early memories of one of his ancestors, Altaïr Ibn-LaʼAhad (an Arabic name, which when translated roughly means ‘The Bird, Son of No One) who is a member of the Assassins Guild during the Third Crusade of the Holy Land in 1191. As it turns out, the events of Altaïr’s memories are related to the plot set in the modern era, throughout the game he is set to assassinate various targets who are later revealed to be Templars, and that they are attempting to locate an object reputedly said to possess phenomenal power, known as the ‘Apple of Eden’. As it turns out Abstergo are a modern incarnation of the Templars, and that their goal is still to find the Apple, they took Desmond because his lineage can be traced back to several Assassins and they believe that the memories of his ancestors, in particular Altaïr and later Ezio Auditore da Firenze, would help them to locate it.

Moving away from plot for a moment, the controls of this game are superb, they hold up really well, only feeling clunky in comparison to later games in the series, and then again only because advancements in the mechanics make the original game feel more limited as a result. I think what I liked most about it was that you can really get a sense of building tension and/or excitement when being pursued, and being able to climb and leap to aid in your escape make it a lot of fun, even just passively.

I do have to be honest in these reviews, and this is a complaint that to an extent is a part of the franchise as a whole, it is guilty of being repetitive at times. This issue is somewhat fixed in subsequent games, by providing a variety of other things to do in game, to break up/supplement the core gameplay, but obviously this game cannot benefit from hindsight the same way future games could and as a result it can and does feel a little repetitious at times.

Having said that, I don’t want to give the impression that there was nothing to do besides the main missions, you could climb to the top of all the towers to map out the surrounding area, which is both fun and helpful from a progression point of view, save citizens from guards or collect flags. So it’s not too lightweight, plus even if it can feel repetitive, the core storyline is very engaging, and fun to play.

Assassin’s Creed was released right on the heels of parkour and free-running really starting to break into the mainstream, in 2006 the year before Assassins’s Creed was released ESPN reported on parkour and featured Laurent Piemontesi and Châu Belle Dinh, members of Yamakasi, the original group of parkour practitioners from Lisses, France.

Yamakasi also had two movies made (without the approval of David Belle or Sébastien Foucan) which were loosely based around them and the parkour movement, these were the 2001 French film Yamakasi where a group of young thrill seeking teens became cat burglars (utilising parkour) to get money for a child’s heart transplantation and its semi-sequel which was released In 2004 called Les fils du vent, where the group move to Bangkok and get involved in a battle between the Yakuza and the triads.

Lastly, one of the founders of the parkour movement, Sébastien Foucan appeared in Casino Royale, the 2006 James Bond movie where he played Mollaka, a freelance terrorist associated with a criminal organisation known as Quantum. In the movie he demonstrated his skill at parkour and freerunning and very nearly escaped 007, further bringing parkour into the spotlight.

Brief side note, the parkour movement became so pronounced that even in Scotland people were doing it, I even floated about on the peripheries, although I was never really good, but some friends of mine really took it seriously and became devoted to the parkour and free-running movement. While it appears they are no longer currently active, you can check them out as ‘Team Pulse’ on Facebook and on YouTube.

Anyway, I think utilising a free-running and parkour mechanic in the game really made the game what it was, I mean sure the assassin element was a fun and interest component of the game and it’s certainly part of the appeal, but if people just wanted to kill and/or be an assassin, the Hitman franchise had been releasing games since at least 2000, so its clear that it was at least a contributing factor in the initial success of the game.

Something that I really liked and that helped to keep the idea of being in a simulated reality in the forefront of my mind, was that when you take damage, you become more desynchronised from Altaïr’s memories. Speaking of which, apparently Ubisoft’s marketing team was not into the idea initially of the Animus, they believed that players would be confused and would be disappointed that the game was not a true medieval experience.

I also feel that the more you play the game, the clearer it becomes that it was initially planned to be a continuation of the Prince of Persia series. Despite enjoying Prince of Persia, I am glad that it was developed into its own game, and later franchise, because it game it more room to grow and develop.

Overall I can see why this game outsold expectations and why it deserved a sequel, I enjoyed the core gameplay and appreciated the improvements made in its eventual sequels. I think I will give Assassins Creed a 6/10.


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