Assassin’s Creed: Director’s Cut Edition
The PC version of Assassin’s Creed manages to improve upon the most memorable aspect of the game. Its graphics, which were stunning on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, look even better on an appropriately beefy PC rig. The busy alleyways of medieval Jerusalem and the views from the highest towers in Damascus are the stuff that tech demos are made of. However, the label of “Director’s Cut” on this PC port is a bit of a stretch. There are no new characters, areas or subplots. Instead, there are only a few minor mission types and the same problems that plagued the console versions.
The blending of a medieval swordplay with a science fiction plot rubbed some people the wrong way, but the dual narratives are more engaging than the typical videogame storyline. Desmond was working as a modest bartender until he was kidnapped by a shady pharmaceutical corporation involved in some groundbreaking experiments. In this unspecified time in the future, the company has developed a way that ancestors’ memories can be accessed and replayed, hence the Crusade-era action. A great suspension of disbelief makes this plot device unique and not entirely silly, but it’s impossible to ignore how willing a captive Desmond is. He never tries to escape, follows orders directly and is even fairly polite at times. Desmond sounds only slightly inconvenienced whenever he mentions how he has been taken prisoner.A Different TakeFor a more positive look at Assassin’s Creed, check out what Phil, the editor in chief, had to say about the Xbox 360 version.
These moments in the future only take place in-between the medieval stages, which make up the bulk of the game. The star is Desmond’s badass ancestor, Altair. Not only does he look just like Desmond, but he also has the same jarring American accent. He is an assassin with a mean streak, and once he lets his arrogance jeopardize his mission, his superior Al Mualim demotes him. All his sweet skills and high health bar from the introductory stage are removed, and he’s forced to work himself up again. Al Mualim gives him nine targets that need to be eliminated, which makes up the rest of the game. Compared to the futuristic plotline, the story here is woefully repetitive and predictable. Most of the time it’s easy to ignore this plodding narrative because running around as Altair is much more interesting.
The assassin has the agility of Spider-Man, and he handles perfectly with a controller. Jumping from rooftops is practically done automatically just by moving and holding the trigger button, but Altair needs to be aimed to perform successful acrobatics. Altair’s many movements are brilliantly animated, so everything always feels lifelike. He sprints along narrow beams, climbs enormous towers and majestically navigates not only the rooftops, but also the busy city below. Guards become suspicious of such behavior, and the chases that ensue can be quite exciting due to the assassin’s nimble moves. Having to hide in a bale of hay, as if it was a cartoon, is a little silly. So are the other methods of stealth, like hiding on a slightly obscured rooftop garden or entering a group of similarly dressed scholars. Fighting is just much more fun.
Since Altair fights so well, Assassin’s Creed is very forgiving if stealth is ignored. The assassin is almost always outnumbered, but he fights so swiftly that it’s not fair to the opponents. By blocking and hitting the attack button at the same time, he busts out a deadly counterattack that usually kills the helpless enemy. A nice touch is that they sometimes scream in agony until they finally die. The bad guys get tougher, especially the rare Templar Knights, although they’re never too difficult to kill. Anyone can be easily dispatched by throwing them to the ground and striking them over and over. Aside from a few brawls, Altair is always in total control of the fight and can just toy with his hapless prey. The optional “rescue the citizen” missions scattered throughout each stage means there’s always an opportunity to enjoy the swordplay.
“The world is breathtaking, but it’s all so superficial.Before one of the targets can be assassinated, Altair needs to gather information and then get permission from the local guild. Assassin’s Creed faltered with this aspect on the consoles, and it has the same problem on the PC. The assassin needs to climb enormous towers to adjust himself to his surrounding, and then the mini-missions become visible on the map (it’s called a GPS, which tightens the bonds between the two storylines). The view is astounding, especially with the moving musical score playing, but having to climb a dozen towers per assassination is far too time consuming. Even worse, the rest of the missions are just as dull.
Sitting on a bench and overhearing a conversation is the worst of all these, while running from checkpoint to checkpoint to obtain some fool’s flags just feels out of place. Pickpocketing for information is just a tad harder than overhearing a conversation. The best of all these are the rare missions where a set amount of guards need to be eliminated unnoticed. This becomes increasingly difficult, and on the later stages this can be quite challenging when there is a time limit and multiple targets. The hidden blade is a great accessory that works perfectly in these stealthy missions. To be fair, only a couple of the mini-missions need to be completed to get permission to assassinate the target. By avoiding these, Altair will rarely receive health upgrades. For every 15 missions he completes or towers he climbs, he gets a new bar. Having to become stronger shouldn’t feel like a massive chore, but it does in Assassin’s Creed.
The sole addition in the Director’s Cut is a few new types of these missions. On the console versions, the slim variety was a frustrating problem throughout the nine stages. These new missions help a little, but they’re of little substance. The rooftop races are mildly entertaining since they take advantage of Altair’s fancy gymnastics, but this is nothing more than a simple race against the clock. Escort missions are never a good time, but for some reason they’ve been added. The guy that needs escorting walks to his destination as if it was a leisurely Sunday stroll. The other two new missions involve destroying merchant stands and assassinating a set amount of rooftop archers. The latter is more of the same, but destroying the merchant stands by tossing guards into them is something truly new. The new missions are inconsistent, and while some of them are entertaining, they do little to fix the core problems with Assassin’s Creed.
Aside from all these missions and the main assassinations, there is little to do in the world of Assassin’s Creed aside from hunting down scattered flags and Templar Knights. This is a shame considering how lively all the locales are. Vendors hawk products, while wretched beggars look for change. Women carry large urns on their heads and Altair has to be wary not to knock them over. Thugs roam the streets and zealots spout their messages to any passers-by. Each location has different architecture that feels authentic and well-research. The world is breathtaking, but it’s all so superficial since there’s such little depth to everything. With the game clocking in at a little north of ten hours depending on how many mini-missions are attempted or towers are climbed, Assassin’s Creed: Director’s Cut Edition winds up underwhelming. The cliffhanger ending promises brighter things, and although this game is unspectacular, the groundwork has been laid down for what will hopefully be a greatly improved sequel.