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Looking Back: Assassin’s Creed

by Joseph Holman

 

I fondly remember the first time I laid hands on Assassin’s Creed. It was the summer of 2007, and I had just recently acquired my very own Xbox 360. It wasn’t long before I had blown through the few games I had managed to get on my own or borrow from my neighbors before I found myself looking for something fresh to play. I decided to take a walk down to the video rental shop (remember those?) and see if anything would pique my interest. I can’t remember the other game I had brought home with me that day as I had more than likely taken advantage of the eternally running “rent one get one” promotion, but I do remember Assassin’s Creed. The hooded figure on the cover and a vague recollection of reading something about being able to climb on virtually any structure in the game had intrigued me enough to bring it home for the week. While I don’t remember the rest of the details from that summer I know that I enjoyed my time with Assassin’s Creed back then. I remember completing it and being both satisfied at its conclusion, and frustrated at having to wait for the inevitable sequel that its cliffhanger ending ensured would follow. However I, like many others, filed those thoughts for another year and moved on to another game. Thirteen years later the AC franchise is still going strong with its latest title; Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla looming on the horizon. I have decided to revisit one of Ubisoft’s most successful franchises, beginning with the maiden entry in the series.

 

The story of Assassin’s Creed catalogs the eternal struggle between the Templars, an ancient order of holy warriors who seek to bring peace to all through order and control, and the Assassins, who believe that mankind should be allowed free will in all things. The assassins act in the shadows to thwart the templars at every chance. The latest battle in this new age holy war involves Desmond Miles, a bartender who has been kidnapped against his will by Abstergo; a shady mega corporation acting as the main front for Templar operations. However, Desmond was not kidnapped at random. In truth he himself is descended from an Assassin and with the help of their new invention called the Animus, a device capable of allowing a person to relive their ancestors memories in great detail, the templars hope to learn the location of a mythical artifact called the Apple of Eden. This apple is said to have amazing powers which the templars wish to use to further their goal of peace through control. The apple was last seen in the hands of the Assassin’s, and it is for this reason that Abstergo, with the help of. Dr Warren Vidic, our resident bad guy and his somewhat reserved assistant Lucy Stillman, is forcing Desmond into the Animus to reveal its last known location via his ancestral memories.

 

Once inside of the Animus we are introduced to Altaïr ibn-La’Ahad, an assassin who lived during the crusades. Our first look at Altaïr shows him on a mission with two of his assassin brothers to locate the apple itself and liberate it from templar control. While his partners advise Altaïr to avoid conflict and stick to their creed and focus on the task at hand, Altaïr believes himself superior to both his allies and enemies alike, challenging the templars to battle directly. This ends poorly for the assassin’s and Altaïr returns home empty handed and believing his two partners dead. For his arrogance the leader of the assassins demotes Altaïr claiming that he must start from the beginning to remember what it is to be an assassin.

 

In order to restore himself to his full rank and abilities Altaïr is tasked with eliminating nine Templar captains, thus reducing their presence in the region and strengthening the interests of the Assassin Brotherhood. At this point the game itself opens up a bit, giving the player a choice of which target to take on first and generally giving you the pick of two or three at a time situated between the cities of  Jerusalem, Acre and Damascus. Each of these three cities are absolutely beautiful with their own unique architecture and colors; each with streets bustling with an impressive amount of NPC’s to breathe a real sense of life into the location for good and ill (more on that later). All of this combined the game’s minimal use of music, which opts to appear during dramatic high points in the game rather than a central theme playing constantly the background, creates a gameplay environment that just oozes with personality as you climb, interrogate, and of course assassinate your way through Altaïr’s tale of redemption.

 

Upon your arrival to any of the three cities mentioned earlier Altaïr will visit an assassin bureau where he will be given permission to assassinate his target under the condition that he has acquired enough intel on the target to proceed. It doesn’t matter if you gather the intel before or after speaking with your bureau contact, only that you’ve gathered it. This is done by completing one of a few different mission types within the city, which are revealed by what I think is the first instance of the now infamous Ubisoft tower method of exploration. Whereupon the missions are revealed after climbing a tower and Synchronizing with the Animus.

 

Firstly there are the eavesdropping missions. Altaïr must blend in with the crowd either on a bench or in a crowd to listen in on a conversation that will reveal a key detail about the target as well as provide some insight as to their personalities. In almost every instance the templar target is inflicting some form of injustice among the populus, believing it to be for the greater good.

 

Next are the citizen missions, which involve an innocent citizen being accosted by guards for no good reason. These missions almost always end in a pile of corpses and Altaïr fleeing the scene before returning to the now rescued citizen to receive aid in the form of a group of mercenaries taking their place. While this doesn’t seem like much of a reward, I have on more than one occasion had my assassination target stopped by one such group just long enough for me to take them down. Occasionally a fellow assassin may also appear and request Altaïr’s aide in exchange for information as well.

 

If straight up murder isn’t your M/O but you’re still ok with getting your hands a bit dirty there are interrogation missions which will have Altaïr target a street crier and follow them into a less populated area, usually an alleyway where you then proceed to beat them senseless until they cough up the information you so politely request. Of course not one to leave loose ends this encounter always ends with the informant getting a taste of the hidden blade.

 

For players who prefer a more peaceful means of gathering information there are also pickpocket missions. These missions are just as straightforward as they sound. Altaïr will listen in on a conversation. One side of that conversation will be given a note of some kind and it is your job to tail them and steal it off their person without them knowing. This information is usually a diagram of some kind, detailing enemy guard placement during the assassination or the location of the target directly.

 

In the end however you wish to obtain the information needed to begin your assassination is your choice. It usually only takes about five or so of these missions to appease the bureau and allow you to move on your target. However each mission also counts towards a set number of upgrade points that will provide you with additional health and further information on the mission, so it definitely doesn’t hurt to go above and beyond the bare minimum.

 

If everything you’ve just read seems like a lot to take in, it’s because I’ve just described a solid eighty percent of the entire game. Altaïr walks into a city, talks to his boss, busts a few towers, kills a guard or two and then moves on the assassination target and in my case doesn’t even kill them the way it feels like the game wants you to kill them. Almost every assassination target I encountered in that game started out with a solid plan and devolved into me chasing them into the streets and waiting for them to trip until I fell upon them and gave them a new hole to breathe out of. From there it’s back to assassin HQ to receive an upgrade from the boss which takes the form of an additional segment of health along with a new weapon or ability; After which you are given a couple more targets to hunt down and the gameplay loop really makes itself apparent.

 

That’s not to say that the gameplay loop is particularly bad however. The invention of the hidden blade was a game changer for stealth combat. Additionally  the ability to climb on practically any structure and run across the rooftops chucking throwing knives at unsuspecting guards is always a joy and the swordplay while being a pretty basic combo and counter kill system that will come to be expanded on in later games is still pretty fun to engage with, as later in the game you eventually become a hooded engine of death and will literally kill so many guards there will be a pile at your feet and even the most hardened soldier will flee from you in terror. However before you manage to make the streets run red you will often be the one running, jumping and climbing to escape the city guard who in this day and age will aggro on you for the simple crime of moving faster than an arthritic snail. This too can sometimes be entertaining as the free running system in place was revolutionary for its time and came to be a staple in every Assassin’s Creed game moving forward.

 

In between every other chapter or so Desmond will be pulled out of the Animus for one reason or another, be it to rest or due to the machine overheating; allowing players the ability to control Desmond and explore his limited surroundings, as well as talk to the good doctor and Lucy, which unravels more and more of the mystery surrounding Abstergo, the templars and the assassins. While the bulk of our adventure takes place from Altaïr’s perspective I found myself far more interested in what would happen next in the real world. As expected by the end of it all you’re left with a fairly shocking revelation and more questions than answers that create a cliffhanger that I can only imagine was pure torture for myself back in 2007.

 

All in all, Assassin’s Creed is relatively short. So short in fact that I managed to finish the entire game in two long sessions (granted the aforementioned loop of the game really seemed to be what my brain needed at the time so I may have been a tad overzealous in my playthrough) and while the game suffers from its repetitive mission structure and lackluster set pieces regarding the assassinations, I still managed to have a pretty good time overall and can still firmly recommend it to newcomers with the caveat that they may want to lower their expectations a bit, where others might suggest you skip it entirely. Ultimately if I had to summarize 2007’s Assassin’s Creed in one sentence it would be this: “It is the start of a wonderful franchise, but more than that it was always more of a proof of concept and tech demo for a much better game.” I’m sure most of you already know where I’m going with this but if not be sure to tune in to my next article where I dive back into the Animus to learn even more about the Assassin’s Creed.

 

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