I finished Assassins Creed a few days ago, so time to sum up some thoughts about the game. The press and plenty of forum posts have been rather negative on the game and not completly without reason, but overall I think a lot of it was really overreacting and missing the point.
The game puts you into the role of an assassins at the time of the crusade that has to kill a handful of evildoers spread out over a handful of cities, but all that happens with a twist. You are not actually the assassins, but just some guy who happens to be a descendant of said assassins relieving its memories thanks to some sci-fi device. The sci-fi scenario happens in between the assassination missions and has a very much adventure game to it, however a rather limited adventure game, since you are limited to just three rooms and asside from talking to the two other characters and reading their email you really do anything.
The beginning of the game starts out rather week, just like in Metroid Prime or a handful of other games, you start with all your powers and upgrades, but soon lose them after your first missions. Not quite sure why they did that, but I found that it disconnects you from the story quite a bit, since it just feels like a cheap trick, not something that makes much sense in terms of the story. After that is over the game goes over into routine.
Missions always start out at your base where you get your orders, after that you ride to the next city where you have to solve a few minigames to gather information about where to find your target. Once done you get close to your target, watch a cutscene, kill the guy, watch another cutscene and then be back into the sci-fi setting before the circle repeats again.
While this sounds repetative and certainly is to a degree, since the minigames are pretty much the same thing over and over again, it really isn't that bad, since the core gameplay is really well done. The cities themselve are huge and leave you the freedom to go pretty much wherever you like. Thanks to the ability of your character to climb you can reach basically every rooftop. The climbing in this game is quite different then in most other games, since you can not only grab ledges, but you can also grab onto pretty much anything that sticks out a tiny little bit. This allows you to climb extremely fluently and easily. The troublesome part about this is that climbing really isn't much of a challange, jumping as well as grabbing happens automatically without much user interaction, you press a button and are ready to climb around as much as you like, you just have to press the stick into the direction you want to climb. However the ease of climbing also allows you to quickly navigate around in the game world, which becomes an important point when you are involved in chase sequences or just try to get away from guards.
When you come into contact with a guard you can take your sword and start a fight. Fighting in Assassins Creed feels quite close to how it was in the original Prince of Persia DOS game, namely it is mostly blocking and countering and not just wild button mashing, which I really like.
Another albeit rather small part of the game is horse riding, since you can just teleport yourself to the next city in the later part of the game. Horse riding is pretty much the weakest part of the game, unlike Shadow of the Colossus you don't really have any freedom in where you want to go, the whole world is just a series of narrow roads, which leaves you with just two options: forward or backward. Every now and then you also get the choice between left and right, but thats it. There is no exploration going on when on the horse and nothing really to do.
The story of Assassins Creed is kind of a mixed bag, for one thing the sci-fi twist is really interesting and well done, but on the other side it leads nowhere, you get a few hints here and there whats going on, but in the end it has "please wait for the sequel" written all over it. I still liked it for what it was, but I would have definitivly prefered to have a more active part in the future setting. The crusade setting on the other side is rather weak and while it is a little more conclusive, it never managed to engade you, since the reason why you shall kill this or that guy stays rather foggy for most part and you also don't really have other characters to interact with.
While its interesting that the cutscenes before an assassination follow directly from gameplay, without interruption, it is also annoying that the cutscenes don't allow any interaction beside movement. So you always have to wait for them to finish, before you can start your attack. I would have much prefered it when the assassination would have been possible while the cutscene was running. Another annoying part is that you kill harmless people that give you information after the interrogation automatically. Maybe its just me, but killing unarmed people just ain't a thing that I like to do. And this isn't the first time, GTA4 had it, Call of Duty 4 had it and Uncharted had it too, i.e. basically all Playstation3 games I have played so far had such idiotic use of violence without reason, I really don't like that trend.
Another small annoyance with the game is that its rather full of HUD elements, which makes finding minigames a little to easy, since you end up following icons on the map instead of looking around in the city. One weird part with the map is that later in the game, when you have to enter a new district in the city, it doesn't actually tell you what to do, instead you have to figure out yourself that you have to climb a huge building first before you can see icons on the map. Its a small thing that doesn't take to long to figure out, but for a game that is otherwise completly driven by blinking icons on the map, not having those looks more like a bug then like a game mechanic.
In the end the biggest problem of the game is that its just way to mechanical, it follows a pretty strict structure for each mission that just repeats over and over again and close to the end it actually gets quite a bit worse, since it introduces minigames with a time limit, which neither makes sense nor is fun. They also seem to have run out of ideas in the last mission, since it just throws one enemy horde after the other at you, leaving nothing of the sneakiness that you would expect from an assassination game. The core gameplay also has its flaws, for example you can only hide from guards in predefined hiding spots, hiding elsewhere doesn't work, which is just another part of the game that is to mechanical.
Another huge annoyance is that the game doesn't have a real sandbox mode, whenever you want to reenter a city that you already have solved earlier, you have to rewatch the introductory cutscene of that mission again and again, so it can take multiple minutes till you are finally in the city where you want to be. This only becomes a real issue after you finished the game and want collect some remaining flags or stuff, but then it really becomes a huge issue since it makes it impossible to just do a quick dive into the gameworld and have some fun. For some reason the game also lacks subtitles, little weird in times where basically every game has them.
With all its faults however the game succeeds for most part at creating a huge interactive world, starting a fight with guards can be repetitive, how you proceed with that fight however can be pretty dynamic. You can flee over rooftops, block their way with civilians, fight them and all kinds of stuff, you have pretty much the whole city to toy around with and that is what makes the game a lot of fun. Chasing another character through the city is equally fun and dynamic. So while some parts of the game can by repetitive I can easily overlook that since the core exploration and navigation through the city is just good old fun and it is also something that feels new and fresh and leaves you plenty of freedom. Something that not many games these days manage. None of the flaws in this game really matter much in the end, since I simply had fun with it from start to finish. It could have been better for sure, but as it is, with all its flaws, its still pretty damn good and so far my favorite PS3 game.