|System: PC, PS3, X360||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Ubisoft Montreal||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Ubisoft||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: April 8, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Travis Fahs
After a year and a half long blitz of hype, promises, and lofty ambitions, Assassin's Creed was destined to be one of the year's biggest sellers, despite mixed reactions from a polarized press. The virtual Holy Land the assassins protect bleeds production value from every stone, and Altair's nimble moves would humble even Strider Hiryu - more than enough to capture the attention of any gamer. A few months later, some of the excitement has cooled down, and Ubisoft's PC port has finally materialized, but it's still not clear if this is a new classic or a lot of untapped potential.
If you've played Ubi's usual PC conversions, we'd expect you to be cautious. They generally range from buggy and unfinished, as with Splinter Cell: Double Agent, to sharply downgraded, like Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, and almost always show a fundamental lack of understanding for the format, as evidenced by the missing controller support in Beyond Good and Evil. After so many consistently botched efforts, PC gamers probably feel like Charlie Brown winding up to kick that football one more time.
But the "Director's Cut" moniker inspires a bit of hope that this time might be different. Ubisoft has the confidence to imply that this is the definitive version, and they've actually delivered. Despite the generously high system requirements (which seem to be a bit more than it really needs), Assassin's Creed runs smoothly, looks even better than its console cousins, and has faster load times to boot. We experienced no noteworthy glitches, the menus work with the mouse or controller, and there's even a bit of new content. There are still a few oversights - the analog triggers aren't properly supported on Xbox 360 pads (the "recommended" controller, no less) and there's still not a proper save management system - but these hardly drag down an otherwise very solid port.
None of the "wow" factor has faded in the few months since the game premiered. It's still immediately apparent why we were all fascinated by every trailer. Set against the backdrop of the third crusade, Assassin's Creed recreated four cities of the medieval Holy Land with unparalleled authenticity. From atop cathedral spires and towers, you can see these walled cities extend for miles in every direction, every bit as large as they were in real life. It's a time and a place that has gone underrepresented in gaming for too long, and being able to run through the crowded marketplaces of Damascus or scale the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is novel in and of itself.
Controlling your hooded hitman is equally novel. Ubisoft Montreal has taken the concept of context-sensitive controls to a new level. Altair can perform a wide array of acrobatic maneuvers to make even the Prince of Persia jealous. This is inspired by parkour/free-running, allowing you to leap across rooftops and scale sheer walls. While the controls are very intuitive, they may have been streamlined too much. At times it feels like all you have to do is point in the right direction and watch Altair run, leap, grab ledges, and swing from posts, negating any depth this could have had. Still, it's almost hypnotic to watch this beautifully animated character perform such a dynamic display every time you run around.
We start to run into real problems with the mission structure itself. Billed as an open-ended "sandbox" game, Assassin's Creed promises you free reign to explore the cities' streets while you hustle for information to find and eliminate your target. Unfortunately, these missions generally boil down to the same four or five tasks over and over again, and most of them are uninteresting at that. You might have to sit on a bench and eavesdrop a conversation or walk slowly behind someone to pick their pocket. After the first time, these really feel like filler to get to the more interesting assassination missions that let you flex your infiltration skills.