Assassin's Creed is a series I couldn't imagine playing on consoles with less graphical horsepower than the Xbox 360 and PS3. The two games released so far (ignoring the handheld games) have relied on the processing power of current systems to create massive, sprawling cities, incredible animations and stunning scenery. Trying to take this and make it work on the PSP didn't seem like the best idea, with the handheld's relatively meagre horsepower unlikely to be able to do the series justice. So, with Assassin's Creed Bloodlines, Ubisoft has proved me right. While an impressive achievement on a handheld, Bloodlines isn't a patch on the brilliance of the recently released Assassin's Creed 2.
Bizarrely, although perhaps quite pleasing for fans of the original, Bloodlines sees you playing as Altair, the hooded assassin from the 2007 game. Ezio, the Italian charmer from Assassin's Creed 2, has been pushed aside - although he does appear in the DS spin-off. Bloodlines picks up from the end of Altair's story in the original game, but this time the action takes place in Cyprus. You're once again viewing memories inside the animus, but you never get to see the world outside of the machine.
Just as in the home console games, Altair is a fairly nimble guy, able to run and leap about his surroundings and take on guards using weapons. The free-running mechanic is present and correct, initiated by holding down the R button on the PSP. Combine this with the X button and Altair will automatically jump from beam to beam, rooftop to rooftop and ledge to ledge. The fact that this mechanic is included is great, but the locations to play in aren't nearly exciting enough and feel too barren.
Add to this the fact that the camera isn't as easy to control (hold L and use the face buttons to manoeuvre it), and you have something that feels shoehorned into the PSP. With this control set up you have to choose between being able to jump and the ability to control the camera. It's not ideal and for some players could well be a game breaker - especially if you're used to being able to run about at high speed on consoles.
Given the PSP's limitations the basic Assassin's Creed look and feel has been captured extremely well, but the grandness that is evident in the console games is completely missing. The environments are quite large and the visuals, compared to other PSP games, are impressive, but if you've played either of the proper games Bloodlines will feel too basic. The style of the series has been recreated exceedingly well, with some brilliant menu and HUD designs, but unless you've never played the big brother versions, Bloodlines will impress and disappoint in equal measure. Thankfully loading times between areas are relatively brief, especially if you install a small amount of game data.
Combat fares rather better. It makes use of the same counter-based system found in the console games, in which you simply time your attack as your enemy begins his. It's pretty simple, and somewhat less dramatic and bloody than I'd like, but it works. There's very little stealth on display here, with the majority of missions asking you to kill people in the open. You still have to run from guards (always good fun), but this PSP game definitely feels like a more arcade-like entry in the series, designed for instant gratification.
Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines is about as good as I could imagine a game in the series being on the PSP, but that doesn't automatically make it an excellent game. Control issues to do with the use of a manual camera, the PSP's lack of horsepower and a series of missions that focus almost entirely on killing make this an Assassin's Creed game that lacks the quality seen in the console games. Altair fans might want to see what he got up to after the original game, but the experience isn't one best suited to a handheld.