An oddly received game to be sure, and a minor let-down all being said, let me take you through the five major stages of Assassin's Creed grief;
Stage 1 - Denial
|The long-awaited third person platforming stealth game in which you play an assassin during the Crusades is here. But does it live up to the promise of those early sightings that set our collective willies alight?|
As the super sleek new silver-ised Ubisoft intro boots up, a pleasing grin spreads across your face. Reviews have been worryingly mixed regarding Creed...yet you care not. I mean, how long have we been waiting for this game? It's gotta deliver, surely? Word of repetition, rushed deadlines and iffy frame-rates? Pah! The press know nothing. Future master-piece, right here. Game of the year, shit-heads!
Laying eyes upon idealistic serial killer Alta´r in the game's opening sequence, you feel justified in such denial too. Surveying his surroundings in a pixel perfect city street, the guy looks amazing
. Undoubtedly the finest videogame model you've ever seen, he's so eerily realistic as to border on real. The thought of then taking this guy to the streets of Jerusalem - amidst the Crusades no less - then assassinating the dregs of society in a full-blown murder sim? Enough to make one cut their own finger off and install Creed's patented wrist blade.
And how about that atmosphere? Bathed in perpetual dusk in a time long past, you feel truly there
, man. The look and style are as good as, if not better than just about anything your precious Team Ico have pumped out, while Hitman
-vet Jesper Kyd's soothing tunes lovingly toy with your eardrums like a seductive tongue.
To think, fools claimed this game didn't deliver? Even spreading propaganda about some dodgy sci-fi plot twist?! Clearly bull-shart. It's a masterpiece. A work of artistic brilliance. The best game ever made
Stage 2 - Anger
|I'll avoid major spoilers regarding the insane sci-fi plot, but rest assured it's more flashback-centric than, say, virtual reality. Alta´r is very much real. Or is he?|
What the...! Okay, it may be pretty, but my TV seems to be messed up or something, 'cos I'm now getting all kinds of accursed interference and visual distortion. There are even Matrix-style numbers rattling off across my screen! Worst of all...beautiful Alta´r is fading away! Help!!!
Oh shit. My character just woke up in a lab. In the future. Sci-fi rumor-mongering proves true! ARGH!
Who I am, and what I'm doing here, I'll resist spoiler-ising, but needless to say, Ubisoft seem to have been holding back considerable chunks of this game's plot for the past three years. Pretty damn amazing, given the immense hype surrounding the fucking thing...yet the surges of immense hatred I feel towards its utter shit-ness ain't so impressed.
The more that's revealed of said pap plot, the more it feels at odds with the rest of the game in fact. You know...the good bit. You shortly return to playing Alta´r during the Third Crusade - thank fucking christ - but every time you're then dumped back out to Matrix Land, you can't help but give in to Ike Turner-esque anger.
A slow, confusing and laborious tutorial helps not.
Stage 3 - Bargaining
About an hour in, things pick up. The mundane prologue rounds itself off surprisingly well, setting up a pleasing plot in which a disgraced Alta´r must now murder nine marks, or face expulsion from the Assassins guild. Just like that, he's off to Damascus then, where victim number one awaits, and the horse-back ride there alone is enough to turn the love on full-force. That's nothing compared to what's in store when you actually get there either. Fuck me...
|Creed is without question one of the greatest looking games around. My only real gripe would be the lack of day/night cycles|
I'll just say it right now; Creed is pretty much the finest looking videogame ever made. This from someone who recently finished Crysis, I might add. There's just a sharpness and a precision here unrivaled by its peers, that when coupled with the truly gargantuan cities that spread out for literally
as far as the eye can see, forces you to play the game one-handed for the majority of its 10-plus hours. It's flat-out jaw-dropping to behold, and try as it might, minor screen tearing and the odd framerate lapse can't hold back the pretty. The
best character animation ever doesn't hurt either.
Going into Creed, I had images of a medieval Hitman. Self-contained third person hits that had to be carried out in turn before heading off to the next, but in practice, it's setup far more open and GTA-like. With a humungous hub world at your disposal, splitting off into three mammoth cities that you can peruse at your own pace, it's a pleasant surprise on this front, and far more freeing.
's actually a fairer comparison than Grand Theft in fact, as much like that game, Assassin emphasizes verticality as much as anything else. You'll be working your way up
buildings more often than in-between 'em, simultaneously using rooftops more often than pavements. The term they use, would be "free-running".
|Remember Crackdown's hidden orbs? Creed has its whole own hide 'n' seek mini-game by way of secret flags. Sadly, they do nothing|
For those not in the know, free-running is the bizarre urban phenomenon of what can only be described as skateboarding...without the board. It's all about using your body to propel yourself over barriers, onto walls, and across roofs, gravity be damned. Up in London I see it regularly - a bewildered look on my face the entire time, considering I myself can barely climb into bed - but the kids seem to be having fun doing it. Mad loons. You might recognize free-running from more recent Hollywood blockbusters though, which turn such shenanigans into heavily choreographed action set-pieces, namely the opening chase sequence from Casino Royale.
That's Assassin's underlying pitch though; the first (real) free-running game. A platformer with a difference. The idea being you use the principals of said discipline to find the quickest and most direct route to your soon-to-be dead mark, before carrying out the deed and making the sleekest of aerial get-aways. It wastes no time getting you up and free-running yourself with that in mind, with said cities taking just way too damn long to traverse by pavement, and thus designed around the concept pretty much from the ground-up. Every single window ledge, wooden beam and most insignificant of stone outcropping can be grabbed, climbed up and leapt off, resulting in cities more akin to virtual climbing frames, than a collection of roads and buildings.
From the smallest step, to the tallest chapel spire, Alta´r has no trouble finding a vertical path up it, and to leap from each to the next provides quite the exhilarating sensation, let me tell you. The aforementioned animation alone, in which Alta´r grabs onto each individual inch-long jut with alarming realism and beautiful delicateness is enough to set your mouth agape, in one of those ever rare, oh so memorable "next gen" moments that's significantly elevated over just about anything you saw on the previous systems.
|Creed comes from Sands of Time and Splinter Cell vets Ubisoft Montreal. There are elements of both in the platforming and stealth, though never quite to the renowned level of those that spawned them|
I should point out, rather than settle for the standard run 'n' jump button config to pull this all off though, the game uses a far more automated setup that does the bulk of the work for you. I had visions of constant button presses ala Tomb Raider here, but in practice, such delicate fingering just wouldn't really work, thanks primarily to the freakish complexity and ludicrous speeds of Alta´r's moves. Instead, Creed uses "stances" of sorts, flipped on by holding down specific buttons as and when needed, with stealth being another such example.
The "R" trigger and "A" buttons invoke the free-running stance though, and when in effect, Alta´r will charge, clamber and vault in whatever direction you push him...leaping over fences, running up sheer walls, and even diving through market stalls to much vexation of their owners. It actually handles less like a traditional platformer with that in mind, and more like some kinda human driving game, with you merely "steering" Alta´r than all-out controlling him. Your true test of skill becomes avoiding obstacles, fellow civilians, and the all-too-prominent city guards, as opposed to constant button taps. Fail to do said avoiding, and our boy'll topple over in beautifully animated calamity, often signaling the difference between a clean getaway...and a sword-wielded gang-bang.
If this all sounds a little off-the-wall - literally - it's because it is. Assassin's control scheme takes some serious bargaining with, and a major bout of getting used to. It's a new type of game though, and with it, boasts a new type of control. Over time, with a little give and some serious take, you do learn to work with it though, and it all kinda makes sense in a mildly bizarre way. Your first handful o' hours with Creed turn from aggravating and disappointing to far more enjoyable as a result.
Finally set loose upon these glorious cities then, with a control scheme to match...it soon turns time to get your kill on.
Stage 4 - Depression
|Missions prove so god damn repetitive as to result in RSI, only sprucing themselves up towards the very end of the surprisingly long campaign|
The underlying mechanic with the hits themselves, is to gather clues and information as to the whereabouts of your mark, before you dive in and start with the murderin' a proper. This entails pick-pocketing notes, questioning informants, and even roughing up those unwilling to spill. This collecting info, figuring out your target's location, then taking the sucker down is a fantastic premise, and pretty much Creed's core gameplay in a nutshell. Such a pleasing set-up shortly gives way to a tremendous opening kill, with a ridonkulous smile plastered across your psychopathic face the entire time, and for a moment, Creed's promise feels realised. That is, in spite of the absolute botch-job you'll no doubt make of remaining undetected. First-timer's jitters in effect, even the local guard onslaught and resulting Benny Hill chase won't detract from what is otherwise most definitely a one-of-a-kind experience.
Well, not so much. When I say this comprises Creed's gameplay in a nutshell, I mean it quite literally; variety ain't this game's strength. With just nine such targets to take down from beginning to end - stretched across one of the biggest damn game worlds you've ever seen - you'd expect some added tricks along the way. Unfortunately, all nine targets entail that same handful o' clue-gathering missions every single time though, followed by strikingly similar assassinations on top. The first five or six almost feel like the exact same mission, set on a loop.
|Creed endows the player with Zelda-style horses, but they prove about as useful as riding a turd, due to the guard's insistence on constantly killing them for no reason at all|
In light of the variety of activities that a GTA or an Oblivion
tosses out with comparative ease in their respective sandbox worlds, this comes across as a huge disappointment, and more bizarre than anything. Even Hitman boasted immense variation from one murder to the next, thus keeping you engaged from beginning to end. Not so here. Thinking about all the potential quests you could fold into these environments - from races against fellow assassins, to crossbow-centric sniper levels, to even Thief-style night-time missions - fills one with an epic sadness. What a god damn waste.
Endless repetition driving a nail through my heart, I wasn't a particularly happy bunny around this portion of Creed, and some worrying truths hit home; it's all a bit of a "Dead Rising", 'init? A superbly realised world, awesome premise and glorious setting...that sadly forgets to give you much to actually do
within it. The blueprint is exceptional, housing potential for one of the most interesting and inventive experiences ever...but ultimately the game doesn't really make good on it.
This ain't helped by Assassin's somewhat questionable AI. Guards patrol every single street of this entire game - often in high numbers - and their logic proves quirky at best. They'll regularly spaz out for no real reason, shouting insults, giving chase, and skewering you like a pig for merely walking too fast, and don't even think
about riding on a horse in their presence whatever you do, as it appears to be the medieval equivalent to handing out kiddy porn.
It all makes for quite the depressing time really. "Ass Creed" became the game's name around this point.
Stage 5 - Acceptance
|Creed's an odd game that grows infinitely cooler as your skills do. Once you master the combat, perfect the parkour and nail the assassinations? Inherent sweetness awaits. It'll take some patience, though|
The craziest thing eventually happens however. Creed finally clicks. After going through the motions of pick-pocketing, roughing up, and finally murdering the same damn goons over and over and over again as to border on obsessive compulsive...you fail to notice that, well, you're actually getting pretty darn good at it along the way.
Earlier blunders in which you'd stumble into a target's headquarters, alert every bodyguard in the vicinity through sheer carelessness, then have to hack and slash your way through 200 of the lemming-like bastards before finally nailing your mark, dissipate in favour of super sleek Sam Fisher-style stealth operations in which you strike targets down with beautiful finesse and alarming precision. With - I might add - not a single witness nor a flicker of a hint you were ever there in the first place.
The free-running becomes second nature too, with little of the smackin' into walls, dropping off five-story-rooftops, or catching your precious nut-sack on rusty nail outcroppings that comprise the game's earlier experiments. You'll find beautiful fluidity and artistic grace coursing through your veins instead, more akin to that of a robed feline than a murdering hoody. Hopping from rooftop to rooftop, tossing knives at archers, subduing annoying beggars, then pouncing upon your mark in a splendid display of brutality is truly spectacular stuff - just as fun to watch as it is to play. And when pitiful guards opt to then give chase on the rare occasion they actually catch you in the act, on-the-run escape sequences start to resemble something more akin to the Bourne Identity flicks than a bog-standard video game. You feel like a fucking bad ass, to be frank.
|Alta´r himself is a striking character, somewhat iconic in his appearance and superb take-downs|
Even the combat turns wondrous. It's pretty obtuse at first - you really have no clue what the hell's going on, nor see the point of it - but some practice here and some unlocked abilities there - it kicks in in a big way. For a somewhat stealth-centric title, Creed still provides the much-needed last-ditch ability to fight your way out of a tussle when all else fails, it'll just take some serious concentration and pixel perfect timing to do so. Blocks and counters become your primary mode of offence, and when tackling a group of 10 to 20 guards at once - which you will do regularly - laying into the a final straggler with a shockingly violent finishing move is incredibly satisfying stuff. Bloody hell.
The point being...while the game hasn't changed much throughout its surprisingly long and worryingly repetitive campaign...you however, have. Your skills have matured. You've come of age. You finally feel fit to wear those robes of white. With it? The game's sense of fun elevates hugely. And just like that, you accept Creed for what it is. A shallow, simplistic experience, more than made up for in sheer "bad ass" factor alone. One only ever as good as you are at it
This team's other humungous hit - Splinter Cell
- was the same in many ways. Those able to nail Fisher's covert antics, taking out cameras and slitting throats with razor sharp precision saw the dingy brilliance lurking within, while those unable to get their heads around relentless alarms and green-o-vision goggles cast it off with an "I hate stealth" mantra. History has a way of repeating, I guess.
Sadly, just as you begin to align yourself with Creed in a serious way - love seeping through the cracks like you knew it always could - the damn thing ends. The final batch of hits are god damn brilliant, coinciding wonderfully with your exponentially improving skill, and you simply can't bear to see it wind down. Not when there feels like so much more to do in this universe.
|I won't lie when I say Creed disappoints at times. At others, it's utterly incredible though. A weird one, then|
There really isn't, of course - a sad example of how the game never really
fulfils the incredible potential of the amazing world housing it - but the promise is there, and with it, the yearning for more. A truly limp-dick ending that drops humungous hints towards a franchise follow-up doesn't help either. Are we to expect the typical annual Ubisoft follow-up right around the corner? All signs point to yes, but that does little to alleviate the anti-climacticism felt as Creed's credits roll.
Is that a word?
So there you have it I guess. Your experiences may differ, but completing AC was a bizarre, turmoilous and perplexing experience for me, encompassing everything from epic highs to disastrous lows. It really was all over the place - the most gorgeous game I'd ever seen one minute - capturing my imagination and sense of elation like nothing else - the most boring and monotonous the next - yet by the end it'd secured a place in my heart almost as precious as Sands of Time and Splinter Cell before it. This team continues to rock my world in each of their respective projects - even if they go about it in quite the round-about way this time - and I can't wait to see said sequel hopefully fix up its numerous flaws.
In the meantime, I'd say Creed's well worth at least a rent 'n' play from all reading this, due to all it does right. Sod that, it's worth a full-on completion actually. 'Cos if you're anything like me, it'll take you that bloody long to learn to love it. And that I do. Quite a bit. Honest.
So much so in fact, I just muttered 3000 words on the damn thing without reeling off the name "Jade Raymond" once...