So, Assassin’s Creed’s biggest secret isn’t its weird sci-fi framing story – sorry if I gave the game away to anyone whose residence is under a rock somewhere on a remote portion of Orkney – but the fact that for all its glamour and incredible technology, it can be a bit of a bore. To make this worse, the game relies more and more on guard numbers and mass combat as time goes on, in the mistaken belief that if two minutes of rooftop escapes or battling four soldiers is fun, then six minutes and eight soldiers will be proportionately more enthralling. Sadly, this isn’t the case.
It’s actually the framing story that saves it, retaining your interest even when the gameplay threatens to lose it. Altair’s story is doubled by the story of a modern-day descendant, who is exploring Altair’s memories, genetically encoded in his body, at the behest of a sinister organisation. Short interludes, reminiscent of a Fahrenheit-like graphic adventure, give you new perspectives on Altair and his actions and give them a relevance to today. What are the Assassin’s real purposes, and how do they link up to the organisation’s? Why are you here, and what is going on? These are the questions that will keep you moving through.
The important thing here is to admit but not get bogged down in the game’s faults. Play Assassin’s Creed for hour after hour and the repetition gets you down. Give it a break and play it in shorter stints, and you begin to see again what made it so appealing during the first few hours when you played it. At the halfway mark I was sorely tempted to drop the game for good, but I came back a day or two later and found that between scaling Acre’s giant cathedral and a particularly exciting escape from a Crusader stronghold, I was getting some exceptionally good vibes back again. In the time since, my interest has ebbed and flowed, but I’ll say one thing. When it’s good, Assassin’s Creed is exceptional. When it’s bad it’s merely mediocre. For a game with such stratospheric ambitions, that has to be a source of disappointment, but it’s a mistake to let that feeling go too far. For all its flaws, there’s something unique and magnificent here to be savoured, and my only hope is that Ubisoft Montreal can give us a sequel that pays a little less attention to the stuff that looks good in the show-reels, and a little more to the stuff that feels good when you’re sat in front of your console screen at home. Goodness knows, there’s a game in here that deserves it.
For the first few hours it’s unbelievable. For the next few hours it’s getting tiresome. In subsequent hours it oscillates wildly between these two extremes. Buy Assassin’s Creed as a work of magnificent ambition, but try not to get caught up in its faults.