Once you've escaped the guards and have the required info on your target you head back to the Bureau and you're given the go-ahead to make the kill. It's here that the game is perhaps the most disappointing, as the assassinations simply aren't as diverse as I hoped they'd be. Once you make it to the sign-posted area an in-game cinematic kicks in, before you are left to take out your target. Try as I might, I simply wasn't able to make stealth kills, resulting in the guards spotting me and being on my case.
Again, once you've completed the kill and watched the target speak about his actions, you must head to the Bureau to confirm the kill - only after you've shaken off the guards and returned your social status to normal. It's then back to Maysaf to speak to your master, who gives you another target and handily upgrades your abilities and/or weapons. To begin with you're rather limited, with little more than a sword and the robe you wear, but by the end you'll be able to grab hold of ledges while falling, throw ninja-like blades and hold your own against a mob of enemies.
Combat in Assassin's Creed is something I have mixed feelings about. It's definitely not going to appeal to everyone, mainly down to the lack of skill required, but it serves its purpose and makes for great looking fights. You essentially have to rely on countering the attacks of your enemies, which when done correctly either knocks them to the ground for an easy kill or performs an instant kill in one of many bloody sequences. When you start your quest to kill the nine targets you'll be worried about taking on guards (especially the harder to kill Templars) but soon you'll be quite happy to face five or more, safe in the knowledge that you'll be able to take them all out without too many problems.
And that is the game. While you get new targets and move to new locations in each city, what you do is essentially the same. Side missions come in the form of collecting hundreds of flags littered throughout the cities and free-roaming kingdom (which you can travel through by horse), scaling all the view points, and citizens can be helped out which in turn give you allies who will block pursuing guards, to help you escape.
'While you get new targets and move to new locations in each city, what you do is essentially the same.'
As stunning as the game looks and as enthralled as I was by the story - which really is quite intriguing if you look for all the information - the game's flaws are too hard to ignore. They mostly boil down to how the game seemingly goes out of its way to make things less fun than they should be. Escaping should be something Altair is highly skilled at, but guards are just about as agile, leaping from building to building after you. Time after time I was moments from taking shelter in some hay, in a roof garden or in the safety of a group of scholars, when a guard would spot me, and another lengthy pursuit would ensue - what should have been great fun quickly devolved into a chore.
Don't take this to mean that I didn't enjoy the game; it's something that I highly recommend, but it's just not as polished as it should have been. While it looks utterly amazing, the frame rate drops to sluggish levels in both versions of the game - usually while free-running on roof tops - and the PS3 game suffers from a slightly less than great frame rate during most of the game. There's also noticeable tearing in both versions of the game. It's not enough to put you off the game, but a shame nonetheless. If fully polished Assassin's Creed would have hands down been the best looking game of this console generation.
Enemy AI is terribly erratic. They can chase you for minutes, but then you can walk behind one of them in a way so obvious a normal person would be highly suspicious of, and then stealth kill them from behind. Oh, and Altair, a man who is probably one of the most deadly characters ever to appear in a video game, dies when he hits water. I'm sure there's some reason for this, but it's still completely ridiculous.
And don't get me started on the ending. This pretty much nailed the coffin shut on the game's fate as a good but not stunning title. You'll have to experience it for yourself, but it simply didn't deliver what it should have. It left me wanting more, which Ubisoft may well see as job done, but gamers don't buy games with the hope that they're completed within the next few years; they want a conclusion straight away.
As I stated at the beginning of this review, Assassin's Creed should certainly be played by anyone who's taken the jump to the next-generation consoles, but don't expect to be playing something that will go down in history as one of the greatest games of all time. It's ambitious and succeeds more than it fails, giving me hope that one day Ubisoft Montréal will deliver the game they originally set out to make.