Saturday, February 1, 2014

Full Review: Assassin's Creed: Altaïr's Chronicles (DS)

Well, due to Salty Liver only bringing up Assassin's Creed II a couple of times in the past, this renewed my interest in the Assassin's Creed series.  This lead me to the Wikipedia article which is where I found out / looked up the chronology for the series.  Being the kind of person that I am, I wanted to start the series in the beginning, even though the first Assassin's Creed came out on the PS3 and 360 back in 2007 (2008 for the PC).  The story in Assassin's Creed chronology begins with the DS game that came out in 2008, a year after the initial release.  It should also be noted that AC:AC, the DS game has been ported to Windows Phones, iPhones and Android phones, so a good portion of this review will be relevant for those OS' as well, just not the control schemes.

The nitty-gritty: AC:AC, while a Ubisoft property was developed by Gameloft, a French company who worked a lot with the Prince of Persia reboot series in the early/mid 2000s.  The company now mainly focuses on mobile and portable gaming, so it is not too surprising looking back that they were given the rights to develop this title, especially with their PoP background.

So let's get down to it shall we!

Assassin's Creed: Altaïr's Chronicles takes place in 1190, one year before the events in Assassin's Creed.  You mission is to recover "The Chalice," which has been recently acquired by the Templars and it is believed that The Chalice will bring victory to whichever side has it in their possession; so basically it's The Ark in The Raiders of the Lost Ark, and instead of events leading up to World War II, it's the Third Crusade.

Knowing from somewhere that the Assassin's Creed series had a rich backstory (how else could it have so many sequels that have spanned centuries?), I was ultimately a  little disappointed with the storyline in this game.  A lot of the missions were something a long the lines of, "Get info from this guy."  So you would go to City A, which we'll call Damascus, by way of fast map travel, followed by a linear (not an issue for me) level where you would traverse a city by way of leaping from building-to-building all the while avoiding spike traps and swinging axe pendulums. . . Yes,  apparently 12th century cities in the Middle East were very well equipped to deal with infiltrators.  So you would find the guy, get the info and then move onto City B, which we'll call Jerusalem.

For most of the game, it felt as if I could be playing any action adventure game.  It didn't overly feel like I was playing an Assassin's Creed game, although being the "first" game in the series that I have played, I guess my opinion is a bit void.  Regardless, the story is not what kept me playing the game, but my desire to play Assassin's Creed.

I thought it interesting that there was very little set up for the organization that you are a part of.  The game felt as if I were to have already played through the first game so why then bother with setting up the character and/or the setting?

You can't tell, but the apple and scroll are moving.
 You basically move between glowing points in the play area, occasionally come across a much desired checkpoint, then follow the glowing dots through some traps/hazards, often times jumping over gaps/water/sticky oil slicks, et cetera to the next checkpoint: occasionally you will fight a bad guy(s) and kill them.  That is the basic gist of the game.

The game itself is played (in regards to the DS version) on the top screen while a city map is pictured on the lower screen.  You also have the option to switch out weapons when they become available.  One of the first things I read about was how the touch screen was going to play a part in the game in a way that game elements were not be used in the first game.  This included pick-pocketing which really excited me.  The other mini game was interrogating people, which consisted of tapping numbers on the back at the correct time and pulling an arm up behind the shoulder blades.

The controls themselves were pretty straight forward for this type of game on the DS.  I will add that playing on the 3DS, I had the option to use either the directional pad or the joystick to move around.  I instinctively chose the joystick and much preferred this option to the directional pad as the joystick simply felt more natural. 

While researching AC:AC, one aspect of that stuck in my mind: that a number of reviewers wished that they could move the camera.  Initially I felt that going into this game as a DS game, I knew that there were going to be limitations compared to either a PS3/360 or PC game.  After a short while playing, I understood the desire to have a controllable camera.  The camera does frequently move, but it only moves along with you and you have no control over where it goes and what it does.  There were also times when Altaïr was obscured by a building or while travelling from left to right, Altaïr would be on the far right, unable to see exactly what was ahead of me.  If anything, a button to recenter the camera would have been nice.

A lot of AC:AC is jumping from one thing to another thing.  Things include buildings, pillars, levitating platforms, rope nets, floating platforms, rafter/support beams.  And at times, you even get to jump over things, such as pits, pits filled with spikes, city streets and cobras; although the cobras could be easily dispatched with your sword.  So basically, knowing where you were going to jump was very important and just about half of the time I could not tell either how far away my target was or if I was jumping onto onto something at my own level or below me.  I cannot tell you how many times I over/under jumped a target, but it happened a lot.
I guarantee that you will see this screen a lot.

Ultimately, my biggest issue with the game was the gameplay.  While traversing a beam that I had to climb upon in order to jump to the following rooftop, I would sometimes let go of the beam and fall (often to my death; see above picture), I would wobble off the beam, although still grasping it or I would jump to my target and either make it (more often than not I would make it if the target were a rooftop) or I would miss it, if I were aiming for another beam.

Fighting also became somewhat tedious.  You start out the game with basic attacks and as the game progresses, you (somehow) learn different button mashing combos (X-X-X, X-X-Y, Y-Y, et cetera) as well as a couple differing ways to block and parry (of which I rarely used as I found them to be ineffective; or I was just doing it wrong, which is also very possible).  The system isn't bad, it's just that by the point where you frequently ran across the stronger Templar Knights [There are five different types of Templar that you fight: un-helmeted grunts, helmeted grunts, Templar Knights (with and without shields) and crossbowmen], I would almost exclusively use the X-X-Y combo to kill them (after four to five hits) as they seemed to block everything else I tried and counter attacks never seemed to work.

Keeping in mind that this is a DS game that came out six years ago, I liked the graphics.  They fit in with the setting.  All the enemies and NPCs intermingled without one being brighter than the other also meaning that both groups blended well.

My only gripe with the graphics partially relates to not being able to move the camera.  At times I could not tell where the platform was in relation to where I was jumping and I would frequently dying from a missed jump because I couldn't tell what I was looking at.

Of the few cutscenes in the game, those that bookended the game itself, each looked about alright.  They do not really stand up to the cutscenes/graphics of the PS3/360/PC versions, but nobody should be expecting them to hold up to comparison.  They look good for what they are: DS in-game cutscenes from 2008.

Overall though, I was quite pleased with how the game looked.

I was happy with how the music sounded.  Sadly, after going through the credits twice, I was unable to find out who composed the music for this release.  Even a pseudo-broad search of the internet (including IMDb, VGMPF and VGMDb) turned nothing up.  It might have been Jesper Kyd, the composer of a number of the entries in the  Assassin's Creed series, but that is just speculation.

I really enjoyed the sound editing for the game too and as is the case here too, there was no sound editor of any sorts to credit here.  A lot of the sound effects, the background noise of the various cities were all very fitting.  I don't know if I would say that I was impressed, although I will leave it by saying that I was very pleased.

Overall, Assassin's Creed: Altaïr's Chronicles was a game.  I played that game and completed that game and that game took me 16 hours and 38 minutes from start to finish, most likely because I died very frequently.  Saying that it was a "good" game might just be a little too much credit.  There were times when I enjoyed what it was that I was playing and other times when I was simply frustrated by the gameplay, level design, camera angle, et cetera and had to put the game down.  If you were to look at my statistics for the game, you will see that I would frequently play the game for about half-an-hour before (having to/needing to) putting it down.

It is only mildly tempting to pick the game up again once I complete the first Assassin's Creed, but I most likely won't.  I guess my recommendation would be that if you haven't played any of the games in this series and you have a DS/3DS, don't spend more than $10 as the end result will most likely just leave you upset.  In the end, Assassin's Creed: Altaïr's Chronicles is a somewhat solid action/adventure game if you don't care about a storyline and can handle/deal with a computer controlled camera and repetitive killing of enemies.

Bewildered On Enchanted Ways

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