Assassin’s Creed started off with a punch – it sent our computers reeling. Not in the same way as Crysis or The Witcher 2 did, perhaps, but the punch was felt nevertheless. It also was somewhat mind-boggling in the way that it gave us a strong sense of freedom. Run, jump, climb, fight, escape, explore. Rinse and repeat.
Of course, the (first) game got its name for a reason: we played an assassin. And he broke the creed. I’m not quite sure why the name stuck to the whole series (it could have been Assassin’s Creed, Assassin’s Journey, Assassin’s Revenge, Assassin’s Revelations, etc), because the sequels have few ties to the creed idea, but it’s not a bad name.
The first game struck me as quite brillant. This was because I was exploring some beautiful, old, real-world cities and towns during an era that I enjoyed. I jumped roof-to-roof in Jerusalem, Acre, and Damascus, hiding from annoyed guards and being, simultaneously, a gentleman and a nuisance. The second game got me dunked in rivers a lot (who decided that jumping from roof to roof in Venice was a good idea?) but was a lot of fun anyhow. And it introduced an entirely new concept to the game series – a likeable character! This game was sequelled brilliantly in Rome, and then Constantinople, with the same character. Ezio Auditore, a young nobleman with a romantic heart and a dangerous sword. But then the series took several turns for the worse in Assassin’s Creed III. Navigating slanted roofs was tricky, but running from tree branch to tree branch and across trunks laid out in perfect lines was more sigh-worthy than fun. The game also forced you to endure unforgiving mini-games. But worst of all, the character was hopeless. Why would anyone want to assist the survival – and success – of an aggressive, angry bully? Especially after having played three consecutive games from the perspective of a hopeless romantic! Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag was a fresh breeze after that. The game series goes on, but (other than Shadow of Mordor, which was made by a different developer but feels like exactly the same game) I haven’t invested in further titles. (Update – Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag is a combination of Sid Meier’s Pirates (curious, but I already played 50+ hours of that game and got mostly over it) and semi-functional button combinations (“block” and “use” don’t belong together). But sea travel is quite pretty.)
The gameplay in Assassin’s Creed is fresh and fluid at first, but after a few hours it begins to feel the same. We walk around, we surprise some guards, we run up a wall, we hide, we rinse and repeat. Doesn’t matter which city we do it in. Doesn’t matter what people around us are wearing. We find some more variety when Ubisoft added mini-games and (semi-)dynamic events such as jumping challenges, tower defense games, or random pickpockets, but these did little to enhance the experience. Assassin’s Creed (to its credit) added ship combat, which – while amusing and new – was more challenging than it should have been for scripted gameplay. But there were also terrible additions, such as a static battlefield command mini-game (with a horrifying interface).
The main underlying story behind the Assassin’s Creed gameplay is one jumbo conspiracy theory. That’s kind of cool. Mostly. We’ve watched enough conspiracy theory movies to know that it’s fun to watch all kinds of events and historical facts turn into big clues left by conspirators and their opposition. If only we saw more of it, though. Assassin’s Creed wavers between giving us several historical stories and one modern story, and tries to tie them all together. Apart from some minor connections, the ties seem to be somewhat unnecessary (until Desmond starts seeing assassin memories without using the animus). In some ways I wish it would just make up its mind and give us more modern story or more historical story. At least that way we would get to do and see more in the modern setting (which we see and learn very little of) or encounter less interruptions in the ancient setting.
Nevertheless, the first five PC titles in the Assassin’s Creed series are worth the time.
- Smooth combat control
- Freedom of movement
- Historical locations and people
- Interesting conspiracy ideas
- Gorgeous musical scores
- Beautiful scenery
- (early titles) Good optimization for PC
- Repetitive combat
- Repetitive scenarios
- Too little story
- (newer titles) Annoying scripted mini-games
- (newer titles) Poor optimization for PC
Disclaimer: I have not played every single Assassin’s Creed game that exists. There’s an awful lot of handheld console versions (and when I tried one it almost completely failed to convince me that it was in any way related to the smooth-and-playable PC games).