Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Assassin's Creed (Continued)

During Altair's mission, he'll be able to explore three major cities in his quest: Dasmascus, Jerusalem and, Acre. Each one has been rendered based on archive material and are historically accurate, which helps to increase your sense of immersion dramatically. As you explore, you'll see many landmarks such as churches, courtyards and castles, each of which is fully explorable and constructed to scale. The cities themselves offer a vast terrain to explore and are impressive from both a visual and architectural standpoint - bringing this historic era back to life in brilliant form. There are hundreds of buildings in each city, and since Altair can jump up and climb onto the roofs to scope out his surroundings, there are definitely some quite impressive vistas. The game's graphic engine is quite impressive, with an astonishing level of detail evident throughout. Altair's movement and animation is smooth and concise, giving his actions a deadly elegant grace that lends him an almost superhuman feel at points. This is especially true during the sequences when he's running through the streets after an escaping target, jumping off walls and swinging through areas in his pursuit or while he's jumping over gaps between buildings to evade capture, which makes these sequences even more breathtaking and exciting. The gameplay does an excellent job of balancing the more puzzle-oriented exploration and investigation sequences with these intense, adrenaline pumping sequences which makes the experience all the more gratifying.

The actions and situations you find yourself in might have made for an unwieldy title, Assassin's Creed is a joy to play thanks to its intuitive controls. Most actions you perform are context-sensitive, meaning that you need only press a single button to perfom an action such as pick-pocketing or attacking a foe. Each button has been mapped to specific actions and are placed in such a way as to make them quickly become second nature. Climbing is fairly simple, and only requires you to press the directional pad up to continue. Likewise, you can jump across large gaps without much effort. The combat system is a bit clunky at points, but is quite easy to become accustomed to as well. This system makes the game a joy to play, so any slips are usually your own fault. There are frequent save points as well, which makes progression a lot easier than it could have been. Unfortunately, there are some long load times between levels and when you first begin the game, but this is relatively minor since once you're in the game, things become almost seamless.

While beautiful, Assassin's Creed's cities aren't static museum pieces, and are instead full of life and people. When you're exploring and investigating leads, you'll find hundreds of unique characters crawling the streets. You'll find preachers, beggars, soldiers, rich and poor in each city and how you interact with them actually plays a large effect on how you're perceived. One of the cooler things you can do in the game is to use your eagle vision, which gives you a kind of heat-sensitive mode where you can see each character painted in different colors, depending on their threat level. This is an especially helpful technique to use when you need to pick a target out of the crowd or need to find the location of an ally. If you choose to go through the streets in low profile mode, you'll go largely undisturbed, but you'll obviously go much slower. When Altair is in high-profile mode, he moves much faster and can perform some pretty spectacular moves such as jumping through the streets and towers. This means he'll draw a lot of attention to himself, which can be a bad thing if he doesn't want to become a target. Assassin's Creed's impressive crowd AI works fairly accurately in relation to the events you create. For example, if you become involved with the guards, the civilians nearby will begin to panic and run away screaming. In another sequence, if you rush through an area recklessly, the crowds will turn on you which will make your movements slower while also tending to alert the nearby guards to the presence of the hated assassin. This gives Assassin's Creed a very different feel from most games on the market, and requires players to approach each mission with a subtlety and sophistication than is usually demanded. In most games, you're rewarded for blasting through, but you won't get very far if you take this approach. Instead, you need to soak in the atmosphere, retain information and look at the bigger picture while also keeping focused on the seemingly tedious task at hand. It requires more commitment than you'd expect, but Assassin's Creed rewards the intelligent player with an unforgettable experience few other titles even try to achieve.

The easy path would be to pick things apart and dwell on the negatives, such as the monotonous tower-climbing, the seemingly tedious information gathering and its somewhat slow pace, but this would neglect what is a very impressive accomplishment in the bigger picture. You can tell immediately by looking at the muted, almost monochromatic color palette that this isn't your typical action-adventure title. Assassin's Creed may look slick and beautiful, but it isn't another mindless action game. There are plenty of battles and confrontations but these sequences aren't the main thrust of the game. Instead of taking the usual approach where there's a perfunctory story designed to get you to the next battle, as is usually the case, the battles in Assassin's Creed drive the story. Understanding this unique difference in approach is essential to enjoying an experience that is structured more like a mystery novel instead of a traditional game. Here, the story unfolds at a deliberately slower pace in order for the game's secrets to unfold. It's an effective approach that helps to bring you deeper into the game. Instead of being merely mindless vessels, the characters all bring with them unique personalities, conflicting motivations and usually, unexpected secrets, some of which can affect your entire perception of the game. There are several instances where characters you think are basically evil become much less so, and those who appear righteous become shadowed as things progress. It starts off slowly, but as Assassin's Creed builds up its momentum, you can't help but find yourself engrossed in its twisting storyline. There are many unexpected layers and threads that appear, that we don't want to ruin, but bring a dramatic change your character's perceptions that helps you question everything you thought you knew. Its this kind of sophisticated, intelligent approach that's been sorely lacking in many titles with cinematic pretensions but becomes inherent in the structure of Assassin's Creed. This isn't a perfect or flawless game by any means, but this is one of the most ambitious, innovative and imaginative titles we've played in a very long time. It delivers an excellent mix of exploration, action, and drama that puts it several leagues above what you'd expect from an action game, making it one of the year's most impressive releases.

- Michael Palisano


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