Assassin's Creed - Altair's Chronicles
iPhone App
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Assassin's Creed - Altair's Chronicles

Our Review by Chris Hall on April 23rd, 2009
Rating: starstarstarhalfstarblankstar :: RECOMMENDED
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Assassin's Creed on the iPhone is a fun, but utterly frustrating experience. The game has the mythological "it" factor, with somewhat charismatic characters and vibrant graphics, but I have a hard time getting past the grey hair inducing platform jumping.

Developer: Gameloft
Price: $9.99
Version Reviewed: 1.1.1

Concept [rating:4/5]
Graphics / Sound [rating:3.5/5]
Gameplay [rating:3/5]
Fun [rating:4/5]
Lasting Appeal [rating:2.5/5]

Overall Rating: starstarstarhalfstarblankstar

Let's say that this is Christmas, metaphorically speaking, and Assassin's Creed is all of my presents wrapped into one. You might think, "Wow, this game must be the best game ever!", but what I see is a game that has an astounding amount of pressure put on it. Not only is Assassin's Creed one of the largest names in console gaming, but this is one of the first iPhone games to borrow heavily from its DS equivalent.

Unfortunately for us, Assassin's Creed for the DS was not a critically acclaimed game and was widely viewed as just mediocre. The heavy hitters, IGN, and Gamespot, gave the DS game a 7.0 and a 6.0 respectively. Fortunately for me, and I suppose you for that matter, I never played the DS version of the game so I won't be tainted with thoughts of average gameplay. I went ahead and downloaded the game like it was Christmas morning, waiting for the downloading process about as impatiently as an 8 year old that wants his new Ninja Turtle.

Concept Rating
The story in Assassin's Creed puts you in control of saving the world from the savage Crusaders. Right off the bat, you, as Altair, the hero of Assassin's Creed, are tasked out to find "the chalice" in order to save the holy land from its vile invaders. The chalice, not at all unlike the Holy Grail, has the ability to unite the factions of whomever gets their grubby paws on it, which would in turn change the course of the holy war. The story boils down to an Indiana Jones style romp through the Middle East is search of an all powerful artifact that will save the world.

The difference is that Altair, unlike Indiana Jones, is a master assassin that is able to pickpocket, torture, and kill his way to the chalice instead of frantically running away from his enemies. The goal in the majority of the game is to jump from rooftop to rooftop till you find your man, get the information from him by any means possible, kill him, and then get away. The premise is rather simple, but it is also surprisingly fun. There is a welcome polish, a few pieces of flair if you will, to this game that the majority of iPhone games don't have.

Graphics / Sound
The graphics and sound of Assassin's Creed is probably the toughest part of the game to review. The graphics of the game are about as bright and vibrant as you will find in the app store. The animation at first glance is all very nice, with Altair doing flips and assassinations with ease, but it's luster wears off relatively quickly. Maybe its because of the iPhone's underpowered hardware or maybe it's just the culmination of bugs that need to be worked out, but Assassin's Creed is one glitchy game. It reminds me almost instantly of trying to play a newer game on my old Mac Mini. Sure, the game will run, my Mac can take on any task, but it is definitely going to be a rocky experience. The sound in most parts of the game is equally as choppy and weird. There are definitely some clips in the game that queue up and just don't work at times. I'll be running up a wall, trying to get to a box to drop on an enemies head when my appropriately themed Arabian music turns into a chopped and screwed version of itself. Part of me doesn't want to complain because of the games otherwise high level of execution, but the other part of me just wants a song to play without flaw.

Enough complaining... besides some of the games apparent flaws, the game looks great. The fighting and animation are all top notch and the scenery definitely has a good deal of polish. Towns are filled with actual people (most of which are attackable) and the people are actually bothered when you sprint full speed into them. The in-game cut scenes are pretty good too if you remember that you are playing on an iPhone and not a PS3. I did have one instance in a cut scene where the people had a whole conversation facing away from another, but for the most part, the cutscenes work.

The gameplay of Assassin's Creed boils down into two parts, platform jumping and combat. The majority of the game is about maneuvering rooftops to get to the next cut scene that inevitably leads to some combat. To preface my platform jumping critique (more complaining... sorry), I will first explain the controls. The game is primarily a 3D side scroller, giving you a virtual joystick on the left side and some combat buttons on the right. My problem with 3D games (and 2D games for that matter) on the iPhone is that I never really know where my thumb is at during gameplay. Usually when I want to be running right I am actually running diagonal right. These problems don't really manifest during running, but the jumping pains my soul. Sure, I can jump in straight lines (most of the time) but timing a running jump is like walking on hot coals. Every time I'm on a platform I just hope that my left thumb stays straight and my right thumb presses on the button. The only thing worse than the running jumps is when the camera decides to angle itself ever so slightly to give you a better view of what you are jumping on, Just imagine trying to make a diagonal jump with a virtual joystick... it is virtually impossible.

The combat on the other hand works quite well. There is a button for weak attacks and strong attacks, and when you hit them in combinations you perform different moves. The AI for combat is pretty dumb, but I guess it is no worse than the enemy thought process in a Van Damme movie. Everyone just crowds around you and your soon to be victim while you fight. You very rarely get attacked by two people at the same time, and when you do you just have to hold the block button. The block button in the game blocks everything. Everything! I can't emphasize this enough... if someone shoots a crossbow at you from point blank range, just hold block. The other part of combat, the part that I really like, is the assassination. To perform an assassination, you have to slowly move up to an enemy while they are zoning out (you get an on screen indicator letting you know) and then, by hitting the action button, you perform some kind of awesome assassination. My only issue with the assassinations is that they requires you to walk up slowly, which is assuming that you know where your thumb is on your virtual joystick. Good Luck.

There are also these mini games that I failed to mention. Every once in a while there are mini-games that you get to play. Much like Gameloft's other big title, Oregon Trail, little parts of the game are controlled by mini-games. Pick pocketing, my favorite mini-game, makes you drag a key out of a pouch without touching any of the other items within. The other common mini game is the interrogation mini game which requires you to hit pressure points to acquire information. These games are quite fun, but not a huge part of the game. Please, don't buy the Assassin's Creed because the mini-games look fun. Play Flight Control if you are looking for a mini-game.

The thing that this game really has going for it is fun. As brutal and taxing the platform jumping is, there is a real sense of wanting to beat the game. Other 3D games (Otto Matic comes to mind) just make me want to toss my iPhone into the pool, but this one just makes me want to persevere. Even after what was probably my 10th death from trying to simply walk onto a moving platform, I still wanted to trudge on. Platform jumping on the iphone will haunt my gaming dreams for years, but this game has moxy. It has the "it" factor that everyone wants in everything. Maybe I'm biased because I have been waiting so long to get a real game on the iPhone, but this game has the charisma to make me want to come back for more, at least for one go around.

Lasting Appeal
Assassin's Creed should take you a few hours to beat, giving you plenty of time to get your gaming fix. The game on the first time through is pretty enjoyable, but I don't think I will play it again for a few months. Platform jumping on the iPhone is a brutal experience... sometimes rewarding, but often maddening. I seriously died close to 100 times from falling off of platforms while playing the game. I am, as of right now, retired from Assassin's Creed. Maybe this retirement will be Jordan-esque, but it is in fact a retirement.

Hands-on Video: Slide to Play Thanks guys!

Wow this review is long. For those of you that just skipped down to this section, I commend your time management skills and will try to recap in one paragraph. Assassin's Creed is a highly charismatic iPhone "port" of Assassin's Creed on the DS (a real game on the iPhone! I'm excited too!), but it has some flaws. First off, platform jumping with a virtual keyboard is a chore and a half and jumping onto moving platforms almost brings me to tears. I like this game, I really do, but it will make you mental. Imagine playing Mega Man years ago and dying on the same part 10 times in a row. Now double the level loading time and you have Assassin's Creed. The other concern with the game is the price. At $9.99, this game is probably the most expensive game (by far) that most people will buy, and people really only want to buy quality games. Look at it this way, the Nintendo DS version is 3x the price and is widely accepted as being just an average game. Take the same game, lop the price off (and a solid controller) to make up for the iffy reviews, and you have the deal of the year that is Assassin's Creed. For the price of three beers at your local bar (at least where I live, yay Phoenix) Assassin's Creed cam be your iPhone gaming anchor. I feel like you need either Assassin's Creed or Metal Gear to be a legitimate iPhone gamer, and I'd probably give the nod to Assassin's Creed.

iPhone Screenshots

(click to enlarge)

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