Assassin’s Creed Retrospective Pt. 1

When it comes to triple-A gaming, there are a few series that come to most people’s minds: Call of Duty, Mario, Metal Gear and Sonic The Hedgehog are just a few of them. Yet the vast majority of them started in the 80s and 90s: of the triple-A game series aiming to rival them in the eyes of most gamers since the 2000s started, there have been a surprisingly small number of them that have made quite the same impact that these older legends have. There have certainly been successes, like Halo, the LEGO series of games by TT Games and Gears of War, but few have managed to be quite as iconic as these old legends.

Of these attempts, arguably one of the most well known is the Assassin’s Creed series. With nine main games in the series (the most recent of which, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, was released earlier this year), Assassin’s Creed has come a long way since the 13th of November 2007, when the first game in the series was released, having covered six locations (The Levant, Italy, North America, the Caribbean, France and Britain), followed eleven playable characters (more if you include DLC) and sold over 73 million copies of the games as of April 2014 (which was before Assassin’s Creed Rogue, Assassin’s Creed Unity and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate had been released, so that figure is almost certainly over 100 million by now). If nothing else, it is Ubisoft’s best selling franchise and one of the few high profile video games where having a huge interest in history makes the whole experience more interesting, not entirely unlike a Sabaton album.

Where do I personally stand on the series? Well, I absolutely love it: as a history buff, I love seeing the effort that goes into the research for it (and, consequently, means I get REALLY annoyed when it gets it wrong…but we’ll come to that later!) and, as a fan of this type of game, I really appreciate that the series has stayed fairly true to the core roots that it laid down from the start. You could argue (and many do) that the gameplay of the series hasn’t evolved a huge amount over the years and that wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate, but I have to say that I find it’s a formula (because there is one in place, that’s hard to deny!) that works.

However, that’s not what we’re here to discuss. See, as part of my articles for the site, I feel that it is worth looking back over the series to see where it started, where it hit its stride, where it started to slip in terms of quality and give an idea of where it stands today. This is, obviously, just my opinion and not a definitive statement on the series, but I’d like to think that these articles will at least prove interesting to read!

So, without further ado, let’s start with Assassin’s Creed! Developed by the Montreal branch of Ubisoft (then previously best known for the first few Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell games, a few early Far Cry games that usually were just remaking the first game and, of course, the Prince of Persia Trilogy), Assassin’s Creed was actually originally intended to be a new Prince of Persia game (which explains the overlaps with the control schemes between this game and the Prince of Persia series), but became its own series due to various conflicts in the design process (two ideas I’ve seen mentioned were having the game be inspired by the life of Hassan-i Sabbah, who founded the group known as the Hashshashin, and having the prince be an AI-controlled character being rescued by a played controlled assassin…both of which are actually interesting ideas, although I can’t say that I’m upset that the decision was made to not have a new Prince of Persia game now!). I will admit, when I saw the trailer for this game, I thought it looked awesome, although I will admit that the period of time that the game was set in was a point of contention with me due to the Third Crusade being a time when humanity was basically being highly unpleasant to each other over what basically amounted over a disagreement of beliefs. However, I kept an open mind and gave the game a chance when some of my friends picked it up on the XBOX 360 (due to the PS3 launch being a bit later than the XBOX 360 release of the game).

I was not disappointed in the slightest! However, I will admit, replaying the game now that the series has continued the way it has, you can kind of tell that the series was still trying to find its own identity back then and that it hasn’t really aged well overall, although I wouldn’t call it a bad game now either. The free running, which had me hooked when I first played the game, now feels somewhat slow by comparison to later installments, as the distance between locations can REALLY slow the game down. The fast travel system of later games was definitely a welcome addition, to say the least! The framing device of the game, Desmond Miles, ironically feels unnecessary in the game, as his parts of the game don’t really add much beyond a few bits of exposition that don’t really get followed up until the sequel. The balance between the memories and Desmond’s story is MUCH better in the later games, as he controls a lot better in them and he is actually capable of doing stuff in the later games, but here…you could probably have cut him entirely from the game and nothing of major value would have been lost. There’s also the fact that Altair is completely unable to swim, which is probably justified on some levels, but it can make some of the assassinations ruthlessly difficult because a single missed step means you have to restart the whole assassination from the start…which is kind of appropriate when you’re playing as an assassin, I guess, but the ability to swim in later games is much appreciated!

However, some things about the game do hold up very well. The combat is arguably the most complex that the series has had to date, being just simple enough that you can pick up the basics, but having enough challenge that, when you do find yourself surrounded and outnumbered, you KNOW that you’re in for a difficult fight, as you can’t counter every attack thrown at you and combo your way through a bunch of enemies in a short period of time. While it is arguably a bit more awkward to use than the current system in the series, it does require you to think about fights more than you’d expect, as even being able to regain health doesn’t make the combat any easier. The story, while not quite on the level of complexity as later games, is still very engaging and kept me going through the game when the free running started to feel like a chore, and the voice acting, while a bit weaker with the present day cast, is mostly very well done, with excellent Arabian accents on the part of the cast (aside from Altair’s voice actor, Philip Shahbaz, who doesn’t bother with one and instead speaks in an American accent that feels very out of place compared to the rest of the game…although I have to say that his voice, while DEFINITELY much improved in Assassin’s Creed Revelations, doesn’t bug me as much as it did when I first played the game, as I found him very dull the first time around and now he doesn’t bother me so much). I must also state that, considering the game is now over 8 years old, the visuals for it still look very impressive now. This might not seem like a noteworthy statement in and of itself, but I’m used to playing Skyrim with a bunch of visual mods that further improve the graphics and play it on PC while I play Assassin’s Creed on the PS3 and I would still say that the visuals in Assassin’s Creed impress me now.

Ultimately, as a starting point for the series, it’s fair to say that age has started to catch up a little bit with Assassin’s Creed and the series’ changes do make some of the creative decisions on here feel somewhat strange, but it is still a solid game. It isn’t the best the series has to offer, but there are far worse ways to start out a franchise than this game!