Assassin's Creed PC Review
Core 2 Duo 1.66GHz
8800GTS Go Video
3GB DDR2 RAM
Dual Core CPU
256MB Video with SM3.0
1GB RAM in XP or
2GB in Vista
It's interesting to see how Assassin's Creed, released last November on Xbox 360 and PS3, saw great success despite lukewarm reviews. Much like with Eidos' Kane & Lynch, an interesting presentation and a good amount of marketing overcame ho-hum responses from critics to make it a successful title with over a million copies sold. And now, Ubisoft is delivering Creed on the PC with a few new features that have been put together to address one of the biggest concerns about the game. But are the tough system requirements going to make this title worth it for a majority of gamers?
Assassin's Creed tells a unique story of a young man in the modern day, kidnapped by some high-tech group and forced to relive the "genetic memories" of his ancestor, Altair, a professional killer in the Middle East during the Crusades. You spend almost all of your time as Altair as his impressive story unfolds, and you'll get to explore huge medieval cities, investigate your targets, and take them out with your deadly wrist-drawn blade. As you get nearer to the end of the game you figure out who these people are and what they want with the memories of a long-dead killer. ories of a long-dead killer.
The game drops you right into the story and begins a long tutorial sequence that advances the plot while teaching you most of the basics. It can take up to a full hour, and while it's excellent on your first try, it will wear on you if you've seen it before (like, say, if you've played one of the console versions). Still, once you're unleashed to explore both the "Kingdom" (the large outdoor area that serves as a hub for the game's three major cities) and the first city you visit, Damascus, you'll probably find yourself having a lot of fun in Assassin's Creed.
The holes in game design start to become apparent in the next hour or so, however. Altair is assigned to kill nine major public figures, all of whom allegedly disrupt the peace and may also be contributing to the Crusaders' increasing foothold in the realm. Before he can take out a target, though, he must choose from several activities that give him info on how the kill will go down. You can pickpocket key info from someone close to your mark, interrogate someone to extract intelligence, or sit in a key place to eavesdrop on an incriminating a conversation. It doesn't matter which investigation tactics you choose, as your subsequent approach on the target is always the same, and once you've done 3 investigation missions then you're thrown into the mission to do the deed. Some have complained about not being able to finish all of the investigation missions, but I find them to be the worst parts of the game - I didn't mind having them closed off once I finished three.
Generally, your assaults on the game's nine targets are much better than the preceding investigations, but even these sequences bring out issues I found with Assassin's Creed. First, the correct approach with blending in to your surroundings must be made if you want to get close to your target without alerting nearby bodyguards; once you get in range, you can do one of your signature stabs (which, when used on the main targets, trigger some thought-provoking cutscenes with a level of philosophy you rarely see in a video game) and then must make your escape. The problem is that most of the creativity the player can exhibit is in the escape rather than the kill, as you will be unleashed upon the city to find a way to hide from the guards. Your assault also can easily be botched, causing a brawl that will force you to take down your mark the old fashioned way - with a swordfight.
And that's what I find to be the biggest real disappointment in Assassin's Creed: this professional killer has a very limited set of moves for taking out an unsuspecting target with. I understand that the free-running escapes are a big part of the game and the developers tried to show these off, but come on - there have got to be just a few more ways Altair can dispatch his marks. Sure, the developers Hitman: Blood Money didn't have the burden of needing to design whole cities in their game, but IO Interactive's sequel had an incredibly rewarding system where every single kill in the assassination missions could be creatively done in many ways (including making them look like accidents). In the end, Assassin's Creed doesn't actually have any stealth gameplay, and it just doesn't seem right. I'm really hoping that in the inevitable sequel, there's a way to sneakily kill a foe without having to subsequently turn tail like a murderer caught in the act every damn time. Having the ability to switch disguises after the kill and just casually walk out of the place like a badass would be so much more sinister and fun.
Your escapes from guards do highlight probably the best part of Assassin's Creed - the free-running that allows Altair to run through and climb over complex, uneven buildings and vertical structures in the most natural way we've seen yet in any game. It's almost fascinating to simply pick a direction, start running in it, and hold the two buttons required to make Altair navigate almost any obstacle. It's even more exciting when guards chase you, as they'll climb and even throw rocks at you, knocking you from your own climbing position, if they get the opportunity. The end of these chases result in disappointment, though, as there are only three very specific ways to hide from guards: rooftop gardens, hay bales, and sitting on a bench between two bystanders. It's these kind of rigid requirements that make this game, which otherwise offers a free-roaming experience, feel simultaneously limited (from the game's side) and limiting (from the player's perspective).
These issues, a serious source of frustration in what otherwise could be a fantastic game, will likely trigger players to lose interest and just start screwing around in the cities. They'll find quite a bit of fun here, though, as the cities are incredibly detailed both at the street level and up on the rooftops and from up on high. Getting into swordfights with groups of guards is pretty entertaining, as the game includes a sort of rhythm-based combo system where Altair continues his combo if you time your second attack to start right when your sword makes contact from the first maneuver. Sure, you can get into fights with guards through side quests to stop them from harassing innocent people, but more often than not I would just get frustrated with the investigations and decide to lash out, assassinate random people to trigger the guards' attention (this breaks the in-game Creed, yet there's no real punishment other than the guards' wrath) and get into a brawl - just for fun.
The PC version of Creed includes four new mission types that are unlocked when you reach the first major city, Damascus. Unlike the incredibly dull investigation missions, these ones are actually a lot of fun and take advantage of the best parts of the game. It's still a shame that these fun side-quests are the best ones around, as you've still got to do the repetitive interrogation, pickpocketing, and eavesdropping quests to advance the plot in any meaningful way. Sure, you can climb up to the top of towers and collect flags littered throughout the game's cities and the Kingdom, but those are mostly just for completionists and don't really add anything vital to the game.
It's also important to mention the system requirements, which have gotten some bad press as actually being worse than first person shooter behemoth Crysis. But Creed runs quite a bit better than Crysis does, though, and I think you'll find that the detail doesn't have to be turned down near as much on slower systems to get good performance. Frankly, many PC games include minimum requirements that I find to be pretty unreasonable; many "recommended" systems are closer to what I would find to be a good minimum. Here, the minimum will get you relatively decent graphics and performance, while the recommended system gets you an experience that's generally better than you'd get on the console editions - mostly through the higher resolution on most PC monitors and the addition of antialiasing.
Assassin's Creed has excellent production values, a wonderful story, and tons of creativity, but it's still seriously flawed. Maybe there was a big time crunch for Ubisoft Montreal's development studio that caused them to limit Altair's options in-game; maybe his limitations were the result of a poor design decision settled long before the release date. The PC port's new additions are fun, but they're not enough to convince a console gamer to re-buy it on the PC. The system requirements are tough, limiting this game's audience to those who have built PCs in the last year, but they are still more forgiving than you might expect. While Assassin's Creed oozes potential, gamers will be let down when they find out how little of it was realized. It's certainly not a bad game, but don't expect too much out of the Creed.