Partly based on the rec of alert reader Andrew, I picked up Assassin’s Creed, not to be confused with Apollo of that ilk.  It was on sale for just $5, though it’s back to $20 now.

So, you’re this assassin, Altair, and you wander all over the 12th century Middle East assassinatin’.  You’re a member of an order of assassins, presumably a nod to the original assassins of Alamut, but much nicer.  No hashish, and apparently we work for justice ‘n stuff.  Also no screenshots, because I couldn’t get them to work.  It’s a really gorgeous game, though– huge beautiful cities, great animations.

I’m just one assassination in, out of nine.  Most of the game you spend riding to cities, climbing up vantage points, rescuing citizens from guards, and doing reconnaissance (eavesdropping, pickpocketing, chasing informants, and more– you somehow sense where they all are, though).  You get additional weapons and skills as you go… my latest is Counter-Kill, a fancy counter-attack that generally brings a gruesome kill.

Perhaps the best part is the parkour.  In some ways it’s more fun than Mirror’s Edge, and that’s saying a lot: you are not restricted to a more or less linear path, but can go anywhere.  It’s a lot more vertically oriented, too– you can climb straight up a wall, though maybe Faith could too if she had this many handholds.  Running over the rooftops is not only fun but is generally the easiest way to get around, especially as the game has the concept of high and low profile actions.  High profile actions can attract guards, who must be killed or evaded with special, rather cute actions– e.g. blending in with passing scholars, or hiding in a haystack.  Just walking down the street can be tricky– people will get upset if you knock them down.  Fortunately you can gently shove them aside. 

There also isn’t ME’s emphasis on falling to your death, which is good.  Altair will usually recoil from a jump that’s too far for him.  It’s possible to hurt yourself anyway, but correct timing isn’t nearly as important.

There’s some grinding involved– e.g. there are reasons to save every hassled citizen in a town– but the reward, really, is the excuse to use more parkour.  Instead of running races or replaying chapters, as in Mirror’s Edge, you just fulfill all these in-game side missions.

The emphasis on stealth is fun, though it requires some suspension of disbelief.  You’re not exactly a master of stealth when every mission requires slaying loads of guards and running acrobatically over the rooftops.  (A nice touch, though, is that passersby who see you will comment on how crazy you must be.)

There is a framing device, set in the present, which I’m not even going to get into.  It allows a few neat ideas during the actual gameplay, but I’m not convinced it was a good idea.

The Middle Eastern atmosphere is well done, complete with accents and references to historical figures… though it somehow feels decultured.  Presumably Altair is Muslim, but there’s no exploration of this so far.  Everything looks right, but it doesn’t give a feeling of being in Arabic culture– not even a fantasy version of it, like Jade Empire’s version of China.

Also see my friend Chris’s review.  He makes some entirely justified criticisms, especially about the absurd exit sequence.  It’s also dumb that you can’t simply save a game.  As a result you may end up replaying some bits when you start up again.

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