A Portable Assassin?
I will be the first to admit that I was skeptical about the original Assassin’s Creed. In fact, I was downright cynical. I was convinced that a game with so much hype around it could not possibly deliver. And while the game was not as fantastic as the two-year media campaign would have liked you to believe, it is a pretty enjoyable game. It featured engaging stealth-based gameplay and gave players a lot of freedom. Oh, and it had some awesome graphics. So needless to say, after riding the high after finally playing through the original game, I was pretty pumped for the Nintendo DS prequel. But unfortunately, I found myself rather let down by this title.
Let me start off by saying that Assassin’s Creed: Altair’s Chronicles is not a bad game. It has all the core elements of a game that is worth playing. But the trouble is that the game never seems to take any elements beyond a simplistic level. One of the first areas where you will notice this trend is in the game’s story. I expected this prequel to have a fairly expansive and gritty story detailing how Altair got his trademark bad attitude. But instead I got a very generic feeling story revolving around Altair’s quest to recover a lost artifact. One real departure in the story for this title is the absence of personality. Not only is Altair’s sassy attitude gone, but my personal favorite character from the original, Al-Mualim, seemed completely wooden. Of course, some will argue that DS games aren’t supposed to be epic or have engaging storylines, but I would invite those people to invest some time into any of the Final Fantasy titles that are on the platform.
But shallow story aside, Assassin’s Creed: Altair’s Chronicles has some pretty solid gameplay behind it. Since it is a prequel, you will only be playing as Altair, but in my opinion that’s pretty okay. In your quest for this lost artifact, you discover new abilities and hone your skills as an assassin. Your weapons of choice in this game will only be your sword and your handblade (but only for stealth kills) and you can also do hand-to-hand combat if you so desire. Attacks are executed via the X and Y buttons, which represent strong and medium attacks, respectively. The power up system in the game is executed via blue orbs that guide you through maps. Collect a certain amount of these orbs, and you can increase your health meter or your sword power.
In addition to the hack ‘n slash nature of the game, there are also some pretty cool mini-game elements to the gameplay. There are two situations where mini-games arise: pick pocketing and interrogation. The pick pocketing mini-game has you searching through a subjects bag for the item you need (generally a key of some sort) and then lifting it out of the bag without touching any other items by using the stylus. The other mini-game is the interrogation mini-game where you have to put timed pressure on different points of your hapless subject’s body. In order to execute this one, you’ll have to tap shrinking circles with the stylus as they get smaller. If you’re thinking that this sounds like Elite Beat Agents, you’re basically right, because it plays exactly the same, just with less catchy music.
One element of the original game that I was sad to see go was the element of freedom that the original game had. You were able to carry out extra missions if you wanted to, and didn’t feel the confines of an otherwise linear story. There were plenty of things to do in the original Assassin’s Creed, but the prequel is a strictly linear affair and doesn’t feature any additional missions, collectibles or things to do beyond the basic core gameplay. Another element that is sorely missed from this title is the element of stealth and subsequent hiding in the original. Instead of finding yourself exposed at the tiniest thing and running for cover all the time, this title has you in guise most of the time. And if you do somehow manage to expose yourself, the game just treats it as if your character died and you go back to your most recent checkpoint.
Another area where I found myself quite disappointed was in the realm of graphics. I can’t say that I expected this title to look anything like its PS3 or Xbox 360 console cousin, but I did expect above average graphics. But as I stated before, this game seems to resign itself to average in most respects, and the graphics were no exceptions.
Environments looked pretty good and featured some nice texturing, but the people in this game just looked atrocious. Altair looked like a big pixilated mess most of the time, and facial expressions did not seem to exist for most of the characters. The camera was a big problem too because it would focus on background objects like pillars and leave the action completely. There were times when my character could not be seen on screen at all, and because there were no camera controls, it was a little more than agitating. The game also had a few minor framerate issues as well, and although it was largely unnoticeable 90% of the time, characters would seem a little jumpy from time to time.
The sound quality for this game was also quite underwhelming. There is a fair amount of dialogue in the game between characters, but it is all delivered via scrolling text, which is a real let down. Sound effects were also a little disappointing and seemed like just recycled ambient noise sampled from the original. Music is this title is okay, but not really anything stands out about it. Although I can’t really knock it too hard for its simplistic sound scheme, I get the feeling that (like many other aspects of the game) it could have used just a little more polish.
Assassin’s Creed: Altair’s Chronicles essentially represents an average handheld experience. It has about eight hours of gameplay that is very conducive to the pick-up-and-play experience. Most mobile gamers looking for a portable experience will probably enjoy the fun hack n’ slash gameplay along with the fun mini-games. But as a fan of the original console version, I just feel that this game lacked a little of the prowess of its predecessor. If a little bit more time was spend polishing some of the aesthetic aspects of this game, as well as maybe the inclusion of a more in-depth story, this game could have been a triple A companion to its console big brother. But as it stands, this title is just a good handheld spin-off that follows in the footsteps of a great console game.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.8 Graphics
A modest effort, but the whole thing lacks polish and the action looks a little jumpy at times. 3.9 Control
Standard controls work well enough, although they lack the precision and freedom of the console version. Pick pocketing and interrogation mini-game controls are a little unorthodox but cool nonetheless. 2.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Average at best. The game has almost no spoken dialogue, sparse sound effects, and only average level music. 2.0
There are several difficulty levels, but there are no extra missions beyond the linear gameplay, so you probably won’t pick this one up again.
3.4 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.