The first entry was developed at the Ubisoft Montreal office and was released for Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 in 2007. The framework for the initial entries of the game were all laid in the first Assassin’s Creed title with the framing narrative surrounding a core gameplay setting. For the first several entries you played as Desmond Miles (Nolan North), during the beginning of the first game you give the appearance of being a simple bar tender abducted by a massive corporation going by the name Abstergo. Their scientist Warren Vidic (Phil Proctor) and his lab assistant Lucy (Kristen Bell) force you to be a part of a series of experiments using the “Animus” technology to relive your ancestor’s lives, in specific that of Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad a mid-12th century member of the Hashashin a tribal group based out of the Syria and Persia that was founded around 1050 CE living through the Third Crusade (a period running from 1189 to 1192). Prince of Persia was always very much grounded in a fantasy world, essentially it was an Arabian Nights themed fantasy game with magic, djinn and evil viziers while Assassin’s Creed was always formed in actual history but twisted a little bit with the overlay of New World Order style conspiracy theories and magical realism.
The meta-narrative has Desmond going through a series of tests being submerged in to the life of his ancestor Altaïr and as the story progresses he learns more about this world by venturing to real life locations like Acre, Damascus and Jerusalem during one of the region’s most historically contentious periods. Dispatched on missions by Al Mualim (the mentor of the Assassins played by Peter Reneday) as punishment for carelessness at the start of the game, as you proceed you slowly gain knowledge of and recover a “Piece of Eden” from the Knights Templar all the while slowly revealing the nature of both Abstergo and the past that Desmond has been running away from (and the fact he may know more about Altaïr and the Assassins than he revealed at the start of the game).
Altaïr himself is a relatively unpleasant person and a surprising protagonist for the first entry of a new series. Gruff and at times rude he’s not the most friendly of characters but he is certainly effective and as the game proceeds you see his eyes open to the realities of the world around him.
Gameplay itself is using “parkour” traversal methods mixed with a rather fun camouflage system where you insert yourself in to crowds, hide in hay bales and blend in with monks. Scattered about the landscape are a series of flag collectables which unlock achievements but little else. Combat is a fluid affair stringing combos which can end in some really satisfying combat experiences. Alongside the combat and traversal mechanics is a series of “glitches” these are strange visual distortions during specific events that allow you to change the view of the scene and your “Eagle Vision” a power unique to certain members of the Assassins that allow them to see “beyond” (and also a convenient narrative based explanation for the in game systems allowing to tag and observe objectives).
It seems though while Altaïr is gaining powers during the reliving of your ancestor’s life Desmond is gaining them in the present. Finding hidden messages from Subject 16 scrawled in what appears to be his blood on the walls hidden outside of Eagle vision. These messages cause Desmond to fear for his life as it is clear things did not end well for Subject 16. By the end it is revealed that Desmond is fully aware of the brotherhood, Abstergo are a front for the Knights Templar and a modern continuation of their agenda to bring “order” to the world, there is a massive event that is coming December 21st 2012 (coinciding with the end of world prophecies of the Mayan calander), and that the Piece of Eden is in fact a relic from an ancient progenitor race. A race that engineered humans and the man and woman you saw fleeing in the video snippets left by Subject 16 are in fact Adam and Eve who were slaves of this master race of ancient progenitors. The last revelation is that Lucy is in fact an Assassin agent freeing you as you flee in to the night at the end of the game.
All in all this was an intriguing start to the series, the mechanics were promising if at times unpolished and the story was fun if somewhat overwhelming in scope and burdened with a protagonist that was at times hard to sympathize with but there was a seed of something great here. This was something that had some really fun ideas and the entire history of the world open to you for exploration.
Set in Demascus, Tyre, Jerusalem and Acre the gameplay itself is a fairly uninspired generic mobile game, reviews on the DS skewed a bit higher but on other mobile platforms (possibly due to dual screen optimization) they were terrible. Using on screen buttons and a virtual stick controlling Altaïr was like steering a boat (drifty and difficult). On top of this voice acting was terrible, though it’s understandable they’d not get all the same actors they got from the console game you’d think they’d try for some one that sounded vaguely like the main title’s actors.
Over the course of the journey you discover that the Chalice is not an object but a person Adha (possibly foreshadowing the Sage as represented in Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag). Adha possess many of the powers of Pieces of Eden, she is eventually kidnapped by the Templars and the game ends with Altaïr swimming after the boat she is being taken away on shouting how he will never stop looking for her. The funny part about this is if you played the original and so much as stepped toe in water you’d know Altaïr can’t swim and in fact instantly drowns so ending with him swimming is something that would possibly stick in some player’s craws.
Given the title it’s obvious they were trying to set up a line of portable games in all likelihood revolving around the quest for Adha. In an entry in Altaïr codex found in Assassin’s Creed II you discover that Adha died and initially Altaïr was stricken with grief but did eventually move on to find love again (which is good because if he hadn’t Desmond wouldn’t be around).
The second portable title was designed for the PSP and called Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines, unlike Chronicles this title never migrated to other platforms and the beefier specifications of the PSP and the heightened platform specific optimization led to an experience far closer to that of the console than the one provided by the Nintendo DS experience. Graphically it was certainly more attractive and the voice acting isn’t QUITE as terrible as that of Chronicles though it still leaves a lot to be desired.
This time set shortly after the events of the first Assassin’s Creed (and Chronicles) Altaïr discovers the plans of the Templars to escape to Cyprus and sets out to make their lives a misery for what they have done to his people. While this doesn’t quite work out for Altaïr he does capture Maria Thorpe, an English noble woman who joined the Templar order and served de Sablé a victim of Altaïr from the first game.
Discovering the existence of a Templar archive Altaïr sets about gaining control of it and making it an asset of the Assassins. Dragging his captive Maria around as a source of information over the course of their journey their relationship softens and eventually turns romantic (which is referenced in a “Bleed” event during Assassin’s Creed II). It seems his undying love for Adha was short lived because he seems to move on before he even finds her body. Unfortunately the plan to take control of the archive doesn’t work out as he finds it emptied and after defeating Bouchart (de Sablé’s successor) the archive collapses. So all in all Altaïr is swinging more misses than hits but one good thing came from this and that’s the future dynasty that would lead to Desmond.
Despite its superior graphics, controls and gameplay the title still received fairly poor to middling reviews and was not near the success that was hoped for. Unlike Chronicles the story is at least resolved in such a manner that allows for it to be directly referenced by the series and adds an interesting layer of back story to Altaïr’s history and the fact that it is the first instance shown of Templars changing alliance and joining the Assassins (though subsequent instances pretty much always seem to be the other way around).
One game full of potential and two mobile games that are borderline shovelware, an inauspicious start to the series but the seeds of a great game were there and enough people expressed an interest. Tomorrow we’ll talk about the charming scallywag Ezio Auditore da Firenze and the handful games making up Assassin’s Creed II.