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Assassins Creed Review

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Getting medieval on your ass.

★★★★

Pushing through high-street crowds on a Saturday afternoon or squeezing onto a train packed with scowling commuters, it’s hard to imagine how any game could find fun in jostling with a belligerent sea of humanity. But with sprawling ancient cities teeming with life and endless opportunities for mischief, Assassin’s Creed shrewdly uses pedestrian gridlock as an ever-shifting backdrop for its diverse challenges and brutal combat.

Set during the Third Crusade - and taking in bustling urban centres such as Jerusalem and Damascus - Creed casts players as a member of the Hashshashin sect, devoted to bringing about peace by assassinating key members of rival factions using a blend of sneaking, subterfuge and sickening violence. So far, so Splinter Cell. But aside from its backdrop, what sets the game apart from its peers is clever crowd dynamics that can either land you in hot water or be exploited to your advantage.

Need a throwing knife to slice a sentry guarding the castle gates? Then sneak up behind a chubby merchant and steal one from his belt. Being chased through the streets by a bellowing army of soldiers? Then duck around a corner, throw a cowl over your head, and blend in with a group of benevolent monks who’ll shield you from harm. But, by the same token, if you show little respect and unceremoniously shove strangers out of the way while on the run, don’t be surprised if a passer-by trips you up or points out your lofty hiding place when you’re skulking on a balcony.

But while crowds are nothing new in video-games, Creed takes the idea of a living, breathing digital world to impressive new heights; up to 150 characters can appear on the screen at the same time, each composed of random body parts and elaborate costumes that make them seem a world away from GTA’s Identikit citizens. And as the city folk will also give you clues to track down targets, provide a wealth of bonus missions and allow you to build alliances with other factions, striking relationships with the people around you can dramatically change how the story unfolds.

When it comes to the nitty-gritty of assassination, the game does a fine job of allowing players to tackle missions in a way that best suits their playing style. For every player who enjoys sneaking into enemy fortresses, there will be others who prefer a more direct assault, Creed’s simple interface making either strategy a cinch to execute and allowing even the most cack-handed player to look like a gaming god.
Ironically, though, the game’s friendly controls could also be considered its shortcoming; killing your target normally instigates a chase sequence where you free-run across the rooftops and make fearsome leaps of faith to dodge your pursuers. But the simple control system means that our hero will perform most acrobatic feats automatically, stripping the game of the visceral thrill of making moves at precisely the right moment, as in Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time. The result is a far more forgiving game, which limits frustration but hurts the excitement a little, too.

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