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Assassin's Creed is a new franchise from Ubisoft on the Xbox 360, PS3 and later on PC (with a DS spin off). It is a game that has divided critical opinion, the main point of contention being whether it is too repetitive. The game is set in an imaginary (religiously charged) Holy Land that consists of four cities each aesthetically cued from their real world counterparts: Jerusalem, Acre, Damascus and Masyaf.
Stealth games revolve around the player's ability to complete certain tasks without detection by computer controlled game characters. They usually provide an indicator of the player's visibility as they work their way through the environment. In addition to camouflage and hiding in shadows, stealth games also enable the player to perform James Bond style silent assassinations. These games, although retaining a degree of combative violence, usually reward the player for more thoughtful peaceable progress.
Assassin's Creed provides an impressive looking environment in which to sneak around. The different locations each have a sense of place and are easily distinguishable. The main character's animation is generally considered to be the most fluid game visuals seen in recent years. This is put to impressive use in the player's ability to climb any building, wall or other element in the game world. In this way the player's movement through the environment draws on the sport of free running (also Parkour) whereby everyday architecture is used as apparatus to travel gracefully through a space.
This explorability coupled with the sneaking genre is a good partnership. It provides the player with a large variety of ways in which to achieve the various objectives. There are real benefits in the game to learning the layout of each location, particularly when you are running to avoid detection.
Compared to other games Assassin's Creed offers a limited structure whereby you work your way through a series of assassinations. At odds with the rest of the game, in this respect it is very linear. This is offset to some extent by the increasing need to conceal your movements around the city, meaning the player must adapt their approach to each target appropriately.
The free running interaction with the environment is an experience to behold. The player can pick their path around the world as they run, jump, leap and swing from rooftop to rooftop. Couple this with the impressive cities themselves and intelligent camera angles and the game often takes on a filmic quality. It is most likely the opportunity to control a character in these scenes, rather than the play mechanics themselves, that first bring players to this game.
The earlier assassinations can be completed in a half hour session. As the game progresses however, and the narration gets a little longer, you will want to put aside a good couple of hours to complete a level. The main game can be completed by most players in nine or ten hours, although to finish all the sub quests will take a good deal longer.
Assassin's Creed has an 18+ PEGI rating with a violence content indicator, it also has BBFC 15 certificate with consumer advice that it contains strong bloody violence. These descriptors reflect that the topic of the game - assassination - is by nature a bloody and gruesome activity, and something depicted in some detail. Accordingly it is unlikely to be considered suitable for a younger audience. As mentioned on the BBFC website, "This includes sight of gushing blood when characters are attacked by a variety of hand-held weapons including swords, daggers and throwing knives. However, this violence does not extend to body dismemberment or other similarly gory images. Altair is also shown stabbing some enemies in cold blood or slitting their throats, although the sight of the latter is obscured by the camera angle." Additionally some moderate bad language is found throughout the game such as 'bastards' or 'shit'.
Older novice players should be attracted to the impressive graphics and fluid movement of the characters, and possibly the mixed religious themes. The controls are relatively complex and may take time to get used to, although they are introduced slowly throughout the game (as you increase your skills) which helps a little. The plot is at times a little trite - with a Sci-Fi meta-narrative, but in general the dialogue and proceedings are convincing.
Experienced players will enjoy the later levels where you are forced to take to the roof tops in true sneak-em-up style. The degree of lateral thinking required will also be appreciated by older players, for instance killing a nearby guard to create a distraction to gain access to a heavily guarded citadel. Although some will decline this experience due to its violent nature, there is a sense of consequences to the actions in the game and a general theme that raises interesting questions about the morality of these assignations.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
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