I’ve had a quiet week in gaming terms. With an awful lot on my plate in other areas, it was inevitable that something was going to suffer – and, unfortunately, it’s been my gaming time that’s taken the hit this week.
However, I have still managed to find the odd half an hour or so here and there and – perhaps surprisingly – I’ve mostly been playing the very first Assassin’s Creed game. This was initially prompted by me seeing the Assassin’s Creed Odyssey trailer; it looked so good that I really did find myself wanting to give it a try. However, I’d only ever played the first game in the series at length and became so bored of it – around a third of the way through – that I put it down, never bothering to play any of the subsequent games (aside from a relatively brief stint with the fourth main title – Black Flag – on PC, which I admittedly did enjoy – though didn’t play enough to give it a fair, review-style assessment).
So, as I’ve done quite a bit recently, I decided to start at the beginning again and work my way through the series (though my previous attempts to do this – with Gears of War and Halo – have stalled, mostly due to lack of time rather than a lack of interest).
Initially impressed with the visuals (that mostly hold up very well – despite being just over 12 years old) and the audio (the soundtrack, by Jesper Kyd, is fantastic), it didn’t take long for the cracks to show in the gameplay. There’s nothing wrong with the moment to moment gameplay – the parkour elements are compelling and addictive, with combat feeling cinematic and satisfyingly brutal – but the tasks between the main assassinations, in which you’ll gather information on your main target, are limited and extremely repetitive. There’s so few mission types, and they’re repetitive not only in their scope and overall design but even with the dialogue, with the same few lines repeated by a similarly limited number of actors.
The parkour, as previously mentioned, is wonderful. There’s an often dizzying and impressive verticality to climbing structures and a satisfyingly straightforward control scheme in place, that’ll see you jumping from building to building with ease (most of the time). The views from the highest towers still impress (though this may be helped by the Xbox One X enhancements – please see my note at the end of the article) – and the ‘leap of faith’ that you can do from these buildings is a fantastic touch, even now.
A closely guarded element leading up to release, the modern day Abstergo sections – featuring the descendant of the Assassin you control – are still just as limited and tedious as they always were. The story isn’t particularly interesting and it completely takes you away from the main action; it feels as if this was included in order to justify the video game elements of the main game, such as the UI and the closing off of certain sections of each city until you progress in the story.
The AI of the enemies is spectacularly bad too, with some horrendously over-sensitive and bloodthirsty antagonists as you travel between cities (just riding past them on a horse triggers their attacks) and the opposite issue within city walls, where the guards are very, very dumb.
The main assassinations are well done, but again tend to be very repetitive in terms of execution, not feeling drastically dissimilar to normal combat – though you’ll very often have to chase a speedy, escaping target. Even these get repetitive, with a little cutscene after each one in which the target reveals that all may not be as it seems with regards to their villainous nature.
All of that said, I have managed to persevere past the point where I previously gave up out of sheer boredom – it was quite amusing to see an achievement pop up nearly 9 years after I last unlocked one. I’m not far off from halfway through the game this time and – having now got access to remastered versions of all of the early games in the series, as well as the current gen versions of the rest – I’m determined to push through the tedium of the first game and reach a stage where the concept truly takes flight; I’m reliably informed that the second game is light years ahead of the first in almost every conceivable way (including in its protagonist – the first game’s assassin, Altair, is another crushingly dull inclusion). It’s somewhat fascinating to me that such an incredibly prolific and successful series was launched from such a weak opening chapter, but it’s not altogether unsurprising considering the hype – and very strong marketing campaign – that the original was blessed with.
The series did suffer from franchise fatigue, with a glut of subpar instalments – not helped by being released in unfinished, bug- and glitch-ridden states – but has, by all accounts, found its footing again with both reinvention – the last two games, Origins and Odyssey, being much more open-world RPGs than the third person assassination-parkour of the previous titles – and a relaxation of the aggressively frequent release schedules that UbiSoft previously insisted upon.
I have cheated a little and jumped forward to check out the opening scenes of Origins; it definitely has a drastically different feel. I’m most certainly looking forward to getting that far, though it’s likely to take me quite some time, especially given how long it’s taking me to progress through the first game, which is – by all accounts – probably one of the most straightforward and brief of the games in the series.
Note: I’m playing the first game with Xbox One X enhancements and it’s this, perhaps, which has ensured that the visuals hold up a lot better than they otherwise would have. I seem to recall quite a bit of screen tearing, amongst other things, but this is totally absent when playing on the X – which really does give the game an impressively modern look.
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