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Assassin's Creed: Altair's Chronicles

For: DS   Also on: Android, Mobile, Palm, Xperia Play

A cut above the rest?

Product: Assassin's Creed: Altair's Chronicles | Developer: Gameloft | Publisher: Ubisoft | Format: DS | Genre: Adventure | Players: 1 | Version: US
Assassin's Creed: Altair's Chronicles DS, thumbnail 1
It's said there's no honour among thieves. After playing Assassin's Creed: Altair's Chronicles, the same can be said of assassins. Rather than fulfil the promise of exciting stealth kills and intense run-or-die chases as implied by the title, the game dishonours the DS with a mediocre action-adventure rife with problems. And while it does possess some redeeming qualities, overall it's a disappointment.

Assassin's Creed ropes 12th century hitman Altair into a quest for a holy relic known as the chalice. The Knights Templar have ardently been searching for the artifact rumoured to grant enormous power to its holder. As such, they hope the chalice will give them the edge needed to complete their Christian crusade. In order to prevent the Templars from taking it as their own, it's up to Altair to track the chalice down. Of course, the path is lined with the bodies of assassinated Templars.

For a Middle Eastern assassin, Altair acts an awful lot like a ninja. Instead of honing in on assassination targets, most of your time is actually spent traversing rooftops and slinking across narrow catwalks, and that's because Assassin's Creed focuses more on platforming than action. That would be all good and well if it weren't for iffy controls that make negotiating the gameworld a total pain.

Altair can run, jump, shimmy across ledges, and even walk up walls. All are done via the D-pad, whereas tapping the B button enables you to jump. The problem lies in responsiveness, or more appropriately the lack thereof. You often need to press on the D-pad twice before Altair starts moving in the desired direction, while inaccurate jumping frequently moves you too far or a smidgen short of where you intend to land.

It's a shame because poor controls make it hard to enjoy the beautifully-crafted levels. Fully three-dimensional environments are open for exploration… along a set path. If only an assassin's job were so easy. Much like the mobile iteration of the game, Assassin's Creed sticks to side-scrolling despite the 3D visuals. The camera stays in place when walking about the horizontal levels, which makes it obvious where to go.

Thankfully, the platform challenges are clever and appropriately difficult. Levels come packed with all kinds of booby traps and tasks, from narrow passages lined with swinging axe blades to series of crumbling precipices that have to quickly be jumped over. Few new ideas are here, but at least it's entertaining enough to keep you playing even when the controls throw a kink into things.

There's more to Assassin's Creed than hopping about, though. Altair's got a trick up his sleeve – literally. As an assassin, you come equipped with a basic scimitar, throwing daggers and other various weapons but also a forearm-mounted retractable hidden blade for silently dispatching targets.

Starting off, though, you only have a sword, with new weapons and attack combos becoming available as you work through the game. Additionally, orbs littering each level and left behind by fallen enemies enable you to upgrade your sword and expand your health meter.

During the course of the adventure, Altair can pickpocket needed items and even interrogate characters who have vital information. Both prompt mini-games utilising the touchscreen. Pickpocketing has you quickly scribbling the screen to figure out what's in the person's pocket, then carefully dragging the item from the pocket without touching any other objects. Extracting info, meanwhile, tests your reflexes with taps and drags of the stylus.

The mini-games are decent enough, but where are all the assassinations the title promises?

Unfortunately, you don't get many chances to assassinate enemies since most confrontations occur out in the open. Sneaking up on a target affords the option of assassination, but the game more often than not forces you to fight face-to-face.

Combat, then, involves mashing the attack buttons and biding your time for a counter kill. Pressing the Y button yields a light strike, with X executing a heavier blow. Multiple presses of each result in different combination attacks, whereas holding down R and hitting the Y button when an enemy strikes triggers a counter kill which is highly effective against stronger foes.

A lack of depth and emphasis on direct combat versus stealth kills leaves the action underwhelming at best, though. This is Assassin's Creed, after all – we want to sneak up on our enemies and kill them with a quiet flick of a blade, not clash swords with stupid soldiers. Sure, there are moments where this is possible but the overwhelming focus lies in platforming and direct combat.

As such, Assassin's Creed ends up more a sub-par action-adventure than true stealthy assassination story. Even if you're okay with that, you still have problematic controls to deal with and absolutely no replay value – once you've completed the three- to four-hour storyline, things are over faster than a blade to the throat. And that's about what it'll take to get a recommendation out of us.
Assassin's Creed: Altair's Chronicles
Reviewer photo
Tracy Erickson | 14 February 2008
Filled with flaws, underwhelming action and lack of staying power, Assassin's Creed composes a chronicle of mediocrity
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