Developers: Ubisoft Montreal
Plot: Desmond is kidnapped by a major company, who want to plug him into a machine called the Animus, which can extract the memories of one of his ancestors in 13th century Jerusalem.
Assassin’s Creed turned some major heads back in the day. The rumours spread about a game for the Xbox 360 that was carefully constructed, taking a lot of care to hire actual historians, making every detail count. It promised a gripping story and, best of all, it put you in the body of a lethal assassin, trained at killing his enemies without anyone knowing he was even there. We expected a historical Hitman series, but what we got was far better.
Bizarrely for a historical game, it opens in the 21st century, the gamer being thrown into the body of Desmond Miles, a confused bartender who was grabbed from the streets by black suits. They need to access the memories of his ancestors in a machine, as they believe he was an assassin in a secret organisation, stopping the Templars from seizing the throne. As Desmond falls deeper into the life of Altair, a disgraced assassin, he learns that the true goals of the Templar stretch far beyond seizing control of a kingdom. Everyone, and not just the Templar, seem to get drawn to the Apple of Eden, a strange artefact that Desmond soon realises has the potential to change the face of the Earth. The story is one of the best aspects of the Assassin’s Creed games. Even the weaker additions of the series entice gamers, because we are so hooked on this intriguing tale the writers have managed to weave. This original Assassin’s Creed is one of the tensest additions, as we only ever scratch the surface and our imaginations end up doing the work for us. It is a masterpiece of a story and one of the first games that made me appreciate the power of a plot in modern gaming.
The first Assassin’s Creed is a different experience from the other members of the franchise. It is actually a fairly rigid game, being released before the wonders of open world had become a mainstream thing. You are given a choice of cities to go to (Damascus, Jerusalem or Acre), where there will be a ‘target’ to be killed. When you get to a target, your assassin must take to the streets and take snippets of gossip from the surroundings. Once you have either pick-pocketed, overheard or bullied information out of various sources, you end up with a plan of attack on taking out the vital key in the Templar plan. We, then, head off for a boss fight, where we take on several interesting villains, ranging from an insidious medical doctor, a slippery slave trader or even the Grand Master of the Knight’s Templar, himself. The range is fun and it makes every section of the game feel different, even if you are essentially heading into the same city over and over again.
The fighting gameplay is amazingly well done. Admittedly, it does improve as each new title is released, but we can see the fundamental layout of the techniques we have grown to love. As we unlock each new weapon, we can assassinate in cool, new ways. However, if you prefer to take your opponents head on, it is fun to carry out too. Wielding a sword appears effortless, as long as you keep your reflexes honed. Tapping a button at the precise times creates a cool, little counter, which sends your enemy to a bloody grave. There really is a sense that you are this masterful assassin and that is one of the best feelings in the game. In your white cloak and shadowy training, you really are Altair, master assassin. While combat can get tricky, when the tougher enemies begin to surround you, in short bursts (as the developers want you to experience action in), it is exhilarating and fun to throw yourself into.
Playing the game back throws up some flaws. I have always felt that this game holds your hand too much. Collecting information becomes routine and boring; there is hardly any difficulty to salvaging the vital bits of intel. The game pretty much shoves the answers right in your face and when you have already completed the game, it does feel a little ‘through the motions’, rather than exciting. It becomes clear that a lot of the game is ‘padding’, making the action feel longer than it actually is. And the most annoying part of the game is the vast open world segment in between cities. In order to get from the Assassin’s lair (or Creed), you must travel through a battlefield, where the Templars hold the most ground. Stealth that comes so naturally in the busy cities is almost impossible and it becomes far too tempting to just run to the other side of the map, rather than hack your way through foes, exploring the area, that is actually full of interesting secrets. I always hated this aspect of the game, and it doesn’t get any better with multiple play-throughs.
Final Verdict: Looking back, the original Assassin’s Creed is fairly flawed, but it still deserves respect as the strong origin of this great franchise.