Whenever a game originally developed for consoles rears its underdeveloped, half-baked head as a PC port, it’s usually enough to set off the alarm bells. Let’s face it: ports usually have technical problems, with one version being obviously superior, the other falling by the wayside in terms of playability or performance.
With trepidation, I installed Assassins’ Creed: The Director’s Cut (more on this epithet later) on my PC. I must confess, I played the console version when it was released last year in November. While simply awed by the technical prowess of the title, I found the gameplay itself to be an exercise in monotony, mainly because, by the time you had assassinated your second target, you had pretty much seen everything the game was going to throw at you. The environment could change, but no new gameplay challenges were coming up after about 2 hours into the game. Considering that the campaign took about 10 to 12 hours to complete, and you can see how the repetitive nature of some of your sidequests could become very, very irritating.
With all that in mind, I undertake to review the PC version as a standalone product. Many people simply haven’t played it on console, and they deserve a review starting with a clean slate. However, I would be remiss if I did not at least point out some changes, for better or worse, from the console version.
Assassins’ Creed is difficult to describe. While it’s definitely an action-adventure title, it doesn’t easily fit the bill as a platform game, being far closer to a sandbox-style virtual world. Set during the Crusades in 1192, the game sees you taking on the role of AltaÃ¯r, a master assassin. Belonging to an actual, historical order of assassins – the Hashashin, from where the term assassin is derived, interestingly – you are tasked with eliminating 9 individuals who stoke the flames of war and escalate the conflict in the Holy Land. Of course, it’s hardly that straightforward: actually, you are Desmond Miles, a man living in the present day. AltaÃ¯r is actually your ancestor, and via some fancy technology, you can recall his memories due to the fact that it is passed down genetically. Held captive against your will by a group of people whose motives you don’t understand, the intrigue – both in the present day, as well as the action set in the world inhabited by AltaÃ¯r – pays off late in the game if you pay very close attention. In all, the plot itself is interesting, although very twisted and convoluted, and the setting is definitely unique. The ending is somewhat unsatisfying, though a clear set-up to an inevitable sequel.
The graphics are jaw-dropping. The amount of detail invested into the look and feel of each off the major areas you can access is simply astounding. Nowhere is the game as impressive as when you climb a very tall structure, and merely marvel at the beauty of the cityscape presented below you. The way in which shadows play off everything you see, or how the (thankfully) subtle bloom effects enhance the distant buildings silhouetted against the sun, really creates a beautiful and unique game-world. I cannot praise the graphical design or presentation highly enough.
Of course, to enjoy all this on a PC, you’ll need a fairly bas-ass rig, with minimum requirements included a dual-core processor. The game looks marginally better than on either of the consoles it was released on in November last year, owing to the higher resolutions, higher quality textures and DXx10 implementation. I myself upgraded late last year to a monster PC, capable of running Crysis pretty smoothly at high graphical levels, and even I saw the game turn into a slideshow when there are huge crowds onscreen at the highest level of graphical detail and quality. However, this is definitely one of those games you would want to own if you indeed have a PC capable of running it well: it’s an amazing showpiece.
The audio is another of the outstanding qualities of the game. The score doesn’t feature any memorable themes, yet I still found that I can recall how it set the mood very well: from walking through a crowded bazaar, to perching high atop a tower, hearing nothing but the rustle of the wind and some faint music. The voice acting is also very well done, for the most part, with the exception of AltaÃ¯r, who sounds a bit flat, compared to other performances.
At its core, the game is based on how you move through and interact with the environment, and it’s here that Assassins’ Creed truly shines. Ubisoft have developed a truly groundbreaking physics engine, allowing AltaÃ¯r to interact with his world in ways previously not seen. It easily outstrips Ubisofts’ revival of the classic agile swashbuckler, the Prince of Persia series. Literally everything you see in Assassins’ Creed can be scaled or interacted with as you traverse the city. Becoming proficient in this free-running style of travel is essential to your success in the game, and not surprisingly, the game is at its most enjoyable when you simply let loose and get from point A to B via any imaginable route possible. The game uses this to great effect when you need to flee from guards, which is akin to being chased by the cops in any GTA game. The frantic chases, both in the PC and console versions, stand out at the highlights of both iterations.
Combat in the game is handled in an unconventional manner. When you boil it right down to the essence of the system, it’s a timing based minigame, with you required to click at precise intervals to activate the combo system. Seeing as it doesn’t require you to madly flail away at your enemy, the combat allows for a very cinematic approach, with camera angles shifting to the most dramatic view every time you manage to pull of some particularly spectacular piece of bad-assery. It is not very deep, but it is satisfying, when encountered in small doses. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case, as I’ll discuss below.
The controls on the PC version rely are, in my opinion, more difficult to get the hang of than those of the console version. While it’s by no means impossible to get to grips with, it’s definitely not intuitive. In a game where you’ll be making split second jumps across rooftops, this can result in you faceplanting in the dusty streets of Jerusalem not a few times. It gets better if you have a controller – like the Xbox 360 peripheral Microsoft is selling specifically for PC use – to play the game with.
Up to now, the game has firmly been in the 90% plus territory, doing a lot of things absolutely brilliantly. Unfortunately, the gameplay is where Assassins’ Creed lets itself down in a big way.
Before you can take up the assignment of offing your target, you need to gather a portfolio of intelligence with which you will efficiently enact your kill. To gather this information, you are forced to engage in sidequests throughout the city. In the console version, there were only 5 variations on this: interrogation (where you follow some poor sap to a quiet place and beat information out of him); eavesdropping (which literally consists of you parking your ass on a bench and listening to a conversation); pickpocketing (where you nip some vital document from an unsuspecting victim); flag collecting (a truly bizarre side-mission where an informant will give you help if you bring back x amount of flags within y amount of time); and finally, stealth kills (taking out two or three random guards without creating a fuss.)
Well, these 5 are back, and trust me when I say that doing each of them at least two times when gathering info about a target gives you a recipe for tedious gameplay. None of these involve AltaÃ¯rs’ athletic ability to any significant degree, immediately removing the single best element of gameplay the game has going for it. In this Director’s Cut, they add 4 new types in response to the outcry created by the limited scope encountered in the previous release. Firstly, marketplace destruction, where you create a huge brawl in the market and fling the guards into the stalls maintained by the vendors (this is actually fun, since it combines combat and agility when you pull it off); rooftop races, in which you need to meet an informant in a set time limit. This is actually redundant, since you’ll be moving across rooftops at speed for most of the game, anyway, but at least it centres around AltaÃ¯rs’ athletic ability. Thirdly, you get a variation on the stealth kill mission, except you now need to take out several rooftop archers quietly. Again, nothing you won’t be doing in the normal course of the game. Finally, you get missions where you escort fellow assassins to safety. This turns into a predictable mission, where you get attacked from all directions at various points along the route. I hate escort missions with the energy of a thousand fiery suns, so this doesn’t help the game at all, even in terms of diversity.
As such, don’t let the Director’s Cut title fool you. In six month’s time, they’ve added 4 new sidequests, spruced up the graphics and sorted out the controls. There’s no new assassination missions, characters, plotlines or even resolution to plotlines left hanging. You’ll still spend
most of your time saving citizens being harassed by the local Gestapo (unlocking either a band of thugs that will buy you some time when guards chase you, or a group of monks you can blend in with to move unnoticed into sensitive areas.) The overuse of this mechanic tends to blunt the enjoyment of the combat section of the game.
To paraphrase Douglas Adams, the hours are OK, it’s just the actual minutes that are very boring. I highly recommend Assassins’ Creed: The Directors Cut to anyone who hasn’t played it on console, and enjoy sandbox-type games, with all the freedom of interaction that brings. If you are playing it through for the first time, it’s fresh and original, and by doing only the minimum of side quests, you can cut out a lot of the tedium. For anyone who has the console version, The Director’s Cut doesn’t sufficiently add new content to warrant a repurchase.
Gameplay: 70 %
Originality: 85 %
Tilt: 80 %
Overall: 80 %
Metacritic Average: 78%[Ed]I just have to say that I am impressed at someone’s ability to replay the same game on a different platform by choice. I am terrible at finishing games never mind repeating them.
Last Updated: April 14, 2008