'Assassin' hits target dead-on, brings city to life

Review: Assassin's Creed; A

'Assassin' hits target dead-on, brings city to life
A FOR "ASSASSIN" - Altair, the protagonist of "Assassin's Creed," fights various enemies in the cities of Jerusalem, Acre and Damascus. He is on a quest to redeem himself after failing to kill an opponent and is working his way up the ladder of the myster

Many games have tried to fuse an action-oriented game with a city that feels completely alive. While there have been many noble attempts, most of them have ultimately failed. At best, a designer could hope for a minute amount of a "natural feel," while only providing the player with civilians who dawdle around and run at the sound of gunshots.

In "Assassin's Creed," a city has never felt so alive. The game, made by Ubisoft, is set during the Third Crusade and allows the player, posing as an assassin, to travel through the cities of Jerusalem, Acre and Damascus, as well as the Hashshashin fortress of Masyaf.

All of these cities are intricately modeled. In Jerusalem, for example, you can climb the Dome of the Rock, while in Acre you can scale the walls of the fortified city. But it's the people who elicit the greatest amazement. In "Assassin's Creed," the city is completely alive. Beggars will harass you for change, people will run into you and drop their urns and guards always eye you with suspicion.

Likewise, as an assassin, you can either choose to blend with the crowd or simply run through and push everyone out of the way. And, most importantly, the crowd reacts to your every move. If you throw one of the beggars to the ground, the crowd will stare. If you try and climb up the side of a building, not using the "socially acceptable" form of a ladder, they might even throw rocks at you to knock you down. And of course, the guards always react in sync with the crowd.

The game puts you in the dual role of Desmond Miles and his ancestor, Altair. Miles was captured by a mysterious corporation that uses a futuristic machine, called the "animus," to tap into the genetically stored memories of his ancestor. Early on, you find that Desmond is the modern descendant of Altair, an assassin tasked with taking nine evil lives who propagate war in the Middle East during the Third Crusade.

For the most part, the plot is excellent. The missions are all similar - you are sent to one of the cities, each time a different district, and you must accomplish smaller missions such as pickpocketing, helping informants, eavesdropping or interrogating people to gather intelligence to perform the assassination. Yet, after each assassination, the despot justifies his actions, and all of the nine, no matter how perverse their misdemeanors, seemed to believe it was for a greater good. The only flaw is the repetitiveness of the missions.

Like the plot and city environment, the game play is fantastic. The cities are easily divided into the ground, where the people dwell, and the rooftops, where Altair can jump, usually unnoticed. Scaling a building has never been more perfect in any game.

There are few times when games such as "Assassin's Creed" get everything right. That's what makes this game so special. The intense action and beautiful visuals make it one of the best and most innovative games.

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