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RePlay: The Assassin's Creed Experience
by Joey Núñez

In RePlay, Joey Núñez gives GGTL readers a taste of gaming from his own perspective. With the start of his 'The Gaming Experience' series, he proves exactly why a jump into the world of Assassin's Creed is something every gamer should undertake.

What's that? The memories of my ancestors are stored in my DNA?

Excuse me? You have a machine that will access my DNA and take me to some virtual reality world which will let me live through my ancestors memories?

Sorry, my ancestors are bad-ass assassins, you say? Well strap me in and call me Altaïr, I say hell yes.

Yeah, I'll admit it: when I break down the basic plot points of the Assassin's Creed games like that - well, the story sounds like complete rubbish. However, I can guarantee that it definitely isn't; not for the most part anyway. The weird pseudo-historical sci-fi tale that Ubisoft has crafted in some strange way just works. What isn’t sci-fi nowadays anyway?. You, as the gamer, just buy it. And you know why you buy it? Because these games are cooler than Sonic the Hedgehog circa 1992. Trust me, that is pretty darn cool.

Now, I know that there are some non-believers out there who just refuse to buy into all this 'assassins' hype. Well, considering the fact that Assassins Creed: Brotherhood was just officially announced, and a deluge of information on that game is just bound to slap you in the face come E3, I figured it was my responsibility to let you know exactly what makes Assassin's Creed work.

If you’re willing to enter this world and believe what the story has to tell you, the Creed games will provide you with a finely-crafted gaming experience, which I consider to be a true work of art. No joke. Ubisoft’s ability to create (and pardon me as I use this cliché) a living, breathing gaming world is truly stunning. Not only are you allowed to venture into some of the most recognisable sites and cities of recent human history - spanning from the Holy Land during the crusades, to Renaissance Italy - exploring every single alleyway and climbing up every rooftop, but these cities will react to you in believable ways. You are in these cities. You are an Assassin. You are in for quite a ride.

"Alright Joey, it’s a free-roam sandbox game. It’s been done before. Heard of Grand Theft Auto? Get over it."

Yes, the hater voice in my head does have a point. When Assassin's Creed came along, other sandbox games had already come and gone, but none of these games in my opinion were able to create a world as deep and as involving as the Assassin's Creed games. Most sandbox games gave you a free pass to explore the nooks and crannies of a nice enough city, sure, but each Assassin's Creed game featured upwards of three cities, and not just some made up pastiche of New York City. I’m talking Jerusalem, Venice, Florence, Acre, and Damascus. Exotic, visceral real-world locations which would be interesting enough to explore in a present day setting, and become that much more interesting when set in the 11th and 15th centuries. Not to mention the care Ubisoft has taken in recreating real world sites with an astounding level of architectural detail and fidelity, and though you can buy yourself a plane ticket and visit the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, I can assure you that Assassin's Creed will hurt your wallet a lot less. I’m also pretty sure you wouldn't be able to climb up the side walls of the Dome and gaze down at the city sprawling out in every direction in real life. Assassin's Creed will let you do that, and more.

Probably my favorite aspect of these games is the way you move. Granted a parkour, Prince of Persia inspired set of moves, Altaïr and Ezio (protagonists of Assassins Creed and AC2, respectively) flow through the cities gracefully. They are a part of these cities, and you can feel it. There’s a real exhilaration to be felt when your realise you’ve been free-running from rooftop to rooftop for over five minutes, in what would appear to be a perfectly choreographed set of moves, with the bustling streets of Venice flying by beneath you. I can't count the times I poured hours and hours into the Assassin's Creed titles just running around cities, taking in the sites, feeling free as a bird. And freedom is the key word here: invisible walls are down to a minimum, and for the most part, if you can see a location, you can get to it.

These are real cities, with beggars on the streets, pickpockets lurking in the corners and crowds who move and flow through the city; all of which react to your presence in mostly realistic ways. I know the HD generation of gamers have become somewhat jaded in recent years, and this level of freedom and attention to detail is almost expected, if not demanded; but as a gamer who was around when Tomb Raider was the pièce de résistance of 3D gaming, I can appreciate the technical feat which Ubisoft have accomplished.

However, none of the above would even matter if there weren’t solid gameplay mechanics backing up the pretty package, and luckily the Assassin's Creed experience doesn’t let down here either. Both games work around a mission based structure, in which you dive into your ancestor’s memories, are assigned a few assassination targets and are let loose on the poor digital bastards who have been marked for your blade. In the first game, you would have to waddle through a few fact finding missions before actually being allowed to go after your target, mostly in the form of eavesdropping and pickpocket missions. In theory this was a smart game mechanic, as I would suppose a real 11th century assassin would also get the four-one-one on his target before running in all-guns-blazing. Well, more like swords blazing: if there were guns back then, information on the target wouldn’t be so important, huh?

This system worked well enough, but was plagued by a sense of repetition brought on by a lack of variety in the mission objectives. This by no means broke the game, as in the context of the game-world the missions worked to make you feel that you were living the life of an assassin, but the problem was that life started to become somewhat boring as the hours of gameplay piled on.

Ubisoft was quick to address these complaints in their follow-up to the original game. Anyone who has played both Assassin's Creed games will be sure to tell you that the second game far surpasses the original, mostly due to the innovations made in terms of mission variety and gameplay options. Examples? Don’t mind if I do. The simple inclusion of optional assassination missions make you feel that much more like an assassin; having a real full blown Italian villa as your base of operations, where the choices you make affect the look and economic growth of the place is a definite win; the availability of shops, thieves guilds and helpful “ladies of the night” who will distract your prey are pretty awesome; and, because two is always better than one, dual hidden assassin's blades to help you kill two targets for the price of one.

All of the above, combined with a story which is much more personal and centered on the growth of your protagonist as a person as he accepts his destiny, makes Assassin's Creed 2 the stronger of the two games, capping off a franchise which is bound to stick around for the next few years. And you won’t hear any complaints from me as those sequels keep on coming. I’ll jump into those assassins robes as many times as they’ll have me.

So, why aren’t you playing it yet? That is the best question I’ve heard today. Rent, buy or borrow, it doesn't matter: somehow, get your hands on one these games and live your own Assassin's Creed Experience. You won’t regret it. Or perhaps you will, but this is the internet folks, and it’s not like I can be held accountable for my recommendation.


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- Joey Núñez

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