Altaïr Ibn Al-Ahad (translation :P), essentially “The Flying One, Son of None” is quite now officially my favorite video game character. Assassin’s Creed is a gaming staple, a step in the direction of where games should be, and while it’s not perfect, it comes pretty damn close.
The story itself weaves between the events of the Third Crusade (creative liberties, yes, but a damned lot of it is historically accurate) near the end of the 12th century and the year 2012 as the modern character, Desmond Miles, is thrust into the genetic memories (everyone hark! A Dune reference!) of his ancestor, the aforementioned Hashshashin, Altaïr. As some conspiracy nuts may know, December 21st, 2012 is supposed to be one of the end-of-time dates, and the game makes full use of that in the modern storyline, through conversations, in-game events, and e-mails pillaged from the various researchers.
The gameplay is wonderful. As an assassin, Altaïr follows three main tenets: not to harm an innocent, always be discreet, and not to compromise the brotherhood–the Assassin’s Creed, if anyone was curious about the name of the game. You wander throughout three main cities–Jerusalem, Acre, and Damascus–in order to reach your targets, gathering information and performing little side-things, such as collecting flags, climbing high points for map updates, and saving citizens from being hassled by guards.
Stealth is paramount, so you can’t run amok killing everyone in sight, however much fun that might be. Main weapons are a wristblade, that extends from a sheath and past the stump of an amputated ring finger (very useful, very silent, very fun), a short blade/throwing daggers (depending on the range), and a regular ol’ sword. When exposed (i.e., guards know where you are, or who you are, or you pissed them off enough to earn their ire), you have a great deal of options to escape, such as hiding in hay piles, in rooftop gardens, blending in with the crowd, and a few more.
The combat is wonderful, in actuality, and its truly a pleasure to fight. Blocking allows for a set of increasingly more devastating counterattacks as Altaïr is awarded higher ranks, ranging from a simple punch to the stomach to a disembowelment. Altaïr can hold his own in a flat out fight, but that’s not the fun of it. The fun is the story, the sneaking, and frankly, the free-running, which involves almost free movement over every single surface, horizontal or vertical, giving extreme mobility that makes it that much easier to get away from guards or get close to a target.
Killing a main target leads to an almost-intimate interlude between Altaïr and his victim, where they explain their motives, their reasons, Altaïr’s folly, things like that. It’s actually very well done, a very nice touch (although in most cases impossible in reality because at least I tend to kill my targets in the heat of a battle, having intentionally or accidentally exposed myself, mostly to catch the target before they flee, or kill someone, or something of the sort, but I agree it’s an excellent plot device).
There’s the little fluff, too. The cities are extraordinarily detailed, and not just graphically. The amount of citizens is insane, not the odd one here and there but filled to overflowing, with thugs, beggars, normal citizens, marketeers, guard patrols, scholars, and more. Further, Altaïr, when leaping between buildings, casts a sort of eagle-shadow, due to his fluttering robes, the point of his hood, and is a nod to his name.
The game is technically linear, but it’s akin to a fly being contained in a mansion–it’s got walls, and there are ways you have to go, but for the most part you can do as you bloody well please. It’s not really open-ended, but it’s close to such as to make no difference.
The only flaws to it–some of the missions for information are ungodly difficult, and it has a little bit of a malware thing; every so often, it tries to send your computer’s information to an Ubisoft server that hangs the game, but the workaround is to simply disable all of your computer’s network connectivity; two simple clicks, really.
In essence, Assassin’s Creed is a staple for any gamer, whatever kind you are. It has its faults, but its glorious gameplay, deep story, and memorable characters are things that far outweigh any small slights. It is simply gorgeous, a must-play.