Have You Played… Assassin’s Creed?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

The first Assassin’s Creed, with its underwhelming and repetitive missions, seems destined to be judged as Ubi’s half-decent prototype for the much better AssCreeds to follow. But as much as the sequels added some much-needed character and features, the series also lost something. Most people will probably be happy it’s no longer a part of the game, but I really liked it when you had a long, final chat with the people you killed.

Later games reserved these spaced-out “deathbed discussions” only for the most major of characters, if they included the sequence at all. By Brotherhood, all we got was a couple of sentences or a brief “requiescat en pace”, making you wonder why Ubisoft continues to bother with this confessional sequence at all.

But the original embraced a weird notion that, upon assassinating someone, you were obligated to listen to them talk about themselves for a while, as they spat some blood. It was so strange, the both of you surrounded by the dull light of the Animus, chatting about utilitarianism with the fellow you’d just stabbed in the throat. Often, you’d get an insight into the way they thought, the reasons they did what they did, or they’d highlight your own confused reasons for killing. A doctor asks you where his patients will go now, now that he’s dead. A templar will say he didn’t fight for Christianity, but to free the holy land from toxic faith full stop.

All right, it was a little bit “we are not so different you and I” but it did show more thought than simply accepting your targets as targets without motive. “Bad guys don’t think they are the bad guys,” is common advice to anyone writing an antagonist. For all its flaws, the first AssCreed came closest of all games in the series to following that rule.

35 Comments

  1. iainl says:

    The original AssCreed was really good, I thought. Possibly because I didn’t spend hours rinsing it in a few sittings, though. The argument against it is that the missions aren’t varied, and everything you do in the game is basically the same five things over and over in different locations. But the thing about the first game is that all of those five things are GOOD things to do.

    I like climbing the buildings. I like infiltrating a location, stabbing a guy in the back and legging it. I like freeing someone from a group of guards by trying to kill that group, without letting things escalate until you’re just legging it through the whole level, and so on.

    Come the sequels, Ubisoft had the budget and manpower to add a whole lot of variety to the games, sure. But that variety included a bunch of things like bizarre tower defence nonsense, instafail stealth sequences and far too much flag collecting. No longer could I turn the game on for 30 minutes, do a handful of side missions and feel that I’d both progressed and enjoyed myself the whole time.

    • N'Al says:

      Those five things are GOOD things, you say? Are you sure?

      One of them involved nothing but sitting on a bench, after all… ;-)

    • SanguineAngel says:

      For me, my favourites are 1, 2 and unity – for nothing other than the sense of place each one possessed that I felt was a bit lacking in the others.

      I really wish that someone would have another stab at the original setting – it’s a really interesting one.

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      Ninja Dodo says:

      It’s easy to forget for all its repetition but Assassin’s Creed’s free climbing was completely unprecedented when it came out and, despite the lack of challenge or skill required from the player moment-to-moment (which is a design choice you can disagree with but it’s a choice) is still unmatched by most other games. I was playing Uncharted 4 the other day and found myself wishing for AC’s more player-directed approach to climbing.

      The investigations were overly limited in what you actually did, but there’s a lot to be said for AC1’s explore-investigate-plan-execute-escape structure and the setting despite not being nearly as detailed or varied as later games was really something.

      For gameplay my favourites are Brotherhood and Black Flag, but I still have a lot of fondness for the settings of AC1 and 2.

    • welverin says:

      I too liked the first more than most, and like you it had a lot to do with not binge playing it.

      I only played it about once a week and never did more than a mission or two at a time, so I never suffered the sensation of repetitiveness others did. While AC2 improved pretty much everything from the first game, I think by trying to reduce the repetitiveness the assassination missions lost something as a result.

  2. Thirith says:

    Nice write-up, especially since RPS has a tendency to be glibly dismissive of the Assassin’s Creed games, which also tends to ignore their more interesting aspects. I miss the weird, surreal ‘deathbed discussions’ – I miss the way they hinted at something more stylised and less straightforward than the games’ often rather po-faced fiction.

    • Jekadu says:

      If we could have another AC with the heart and beauty of the second game combined with the surreal and interesting story of the first one…

  3. Pilgore says:

    The only Assassin’s game that was actually about the quasi-historical Assassin sect. The first Assassin’s Creed had a real historical weight to it that even it’s much praised (mechanically better) sequel lost.

    You were an assassin, with a list and orders to kill. No personal goals, just…go kill these men. A single hidden blade, a sword and a dagger. It’s all you needed to get the job done.

  4. CowboyCurtis says:

    This is the only one in the series I ever finished (not that it’s the best one mind, it was just a lean year for me games-wise, as I recall).

    One hilariously irksome thing I remember (other than the utterly pointless flag collecting) was all the barnyard sounds of goats and chickens, etc. but nary an animal to be seen. Great “immersion” there, Ubisoft.

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      Ninja Dodo says:

      Actually that WAS great immersion, ditto sounds of smithing despite there being zero smith NPCs. They very cleverly used sound to create the *illusion* of the world being more complex and varied than what their budget and time allowed them to actually create… That’s just smart game development: pick your battles, put your energy where it counts the most and fake or cut the rest.

    • poliovaccine says:

      Old MacDonald had schizophrenia, e-i-e-i-o

  5. GallonOfAlan says:

    I played about half the second one. Haven’t felt the urge to revisit any of them to be honest.

  6. alh_p says:

    I liked the settings of the first two a lot and the rooftop perspectives. The animus was a bad idea from the get go, creating some rubbish RL character to supposedly help you identify with the story fell very flat with me. Maybe it would have been different had I played it at a more impressionable age.

  7. wombat191 says:

    ohh assassins creed i remember being really excited for this.. loading up the game, discovering really shitty mouse and keyboard controls and giving up in bored frustration when i reached the first city

  8. Vedharta says:

    (I’m ‘Middle eastern’..) -> I really thought it was awesome to play a AAA action game in which the cool guys where suddenly Hashashins and there was rime and reason to it and all.

    Great, a story line about non-white dudes being awesome and all……….and then….ALIENS.

    I never played any of the other games after that, because screw that.

    • elaforge says:

      I think I remember the otherwise American-English main character would pronounce place names with a more Arabic sound (Acra with a qaf? is that even correct?). The impression left by just those little crumbs of reminders shows how short we are of middle-eastern heroes. I remember wishing for actual dialog in Arabic, to emphasize the difference between Muslim quarters and European quarters.

      Maybe the Italy one was the better game, but I never got through because just renaissance-style Italy is just not so interesting as an amalgam of ancient middle eastern and european culture.

      • batraz says:

        Not many german heroes in 40’s Hollywood pictures either.

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          Phasma Felis says:

          Yeah, the WWII Stateside racism against anyone descended from The Enemy was pretty nasty. We were putting our own citizens in concentration camps for the crime of Japanese ancestry. It’s a shame to see that being recapitulated today.

          …Wait, did you mean that as a defense?

          • batraz says:

            Of course ; if I’m allowed to think so, that is. If not, replace my words with yours and free thinking will be safe ;)

    • April March says:

      Yeah, I remember when it was amazing that this series would take place on a new, untapped locale. Nowadays, what do we have? Except for Black Flag, it’s all Europe and US.

  9. poliovaccine says:

    I was actually just spouting off about this in the comments section of the most recent “what are we playing this weekend” – specifically, I was saying how I thought it’s actually fairly underrated as a stealth game.

    I played ACIV and Rogue and a few later ones before I ever got around to the original (well, the Directors Cut version, idk what’s the difference). Basically, I had filed it away in my head as being a series about parkour and swordfights and action… there were always stealth elements, sure, but only the first game ever really felt to me like it was *encouraging* of and *designed around* stealth. I mean, Black Flag had stealth, but everyone knows that one is about naval combat and sea shanties. Syndicate had stealth, but it also had fuggin *car chases,* even though cars werent invented yet (so, horse and buggy chases). Even ACII felt like it was dipping more into parkour than stealth, though that one is still pretty solid as a sneaky game.

    But yeah, I definitely think the first one’s a little underrated, and it’s more for its narrative and stylistic faux-pas than anything so deeply wrong with the gameplay (like yeah, missions are repetitive/samey, but when we say that, are we speaking relatively to the other games in the series? Because if so, uhh… which ones *arent?*).

  10. Merus says:

    I too played Assassin’s Creed a chapter at a time, and it works well that way. The thing I ended up missing the most from the later games was the big set-piece assassinations – they’d have maybe two or three and the assassination itself wasn’t that spectacular. But in the first game! Because this was the chance to give your target some character, each assassination had an event going on that kept you a little off-balance. I don’t think any of the later games ever equalled the assassination where your target is throwing a party, and it becomes clear the host has poisoned the wine, so people – the crowd you were using for cover – start dropping like flies around you.

    I think the mission structure was salvageable – if they turned it away from collecting ‘progress points’ to gathering specific pieces of information, it’d give them room to make the particular conversations and mechanics less generic while still keeping you in the world. But they went for a mission structure instead, and boy howdy am I over a game about picking your own goals in the moment except when it locks you into a minigame for ten minutes while it tells story at you.

  11. wonboodoo says:

    Played AC1 and AC2. I much preferred AC1 as guards chasing would not give up until you were able to scramble to a legitimate hiding place, which was usually a cart full of straw. As you passed more guards they’d all pile on until there were a dozen or so chasing. Fun. AC2 I remember them just giving up if you got significantly ahead of them, regardless of whether you found a hiding place. Easy and boring.

  12. jeremyalexander says:

    The only game series I can think of where I’m not doing the same 5, or less, things over and over is Grand Theft Auto, and for some reason that makes me sad. It’s funny to see this article now as I am an Assassin’s Creed virgin, but I own every game up until Unity, thanks steam sales, and I’m about to start a Let’s Play series where I play every game start to finish and buy the later ones as I get closer to them. Somehow I’ve never been spoiled about this series so it will all be fresh, but I’ve messed around with the first enough to know I hate the controls, so wish me luck.

  13. Samudaya says:

    Homophobia is what I think of first. The massively obese, acne-ridden, stereotypically gay merchant is one of the more offensive sissy villains. All others assassination targets have weapons and will fight back. He however is unarmed. So he runs away from you like a coward by default. He fondles his male bodyguard in a cutscene. He uses poison to kill people. A way of killing deemed by society as preferred choice for women. He is most disgusting by design and implied homosexuality serves to make him even more vile. A dev actually said the team called him their ‘little shemale’ on record. The series hasn’t improved one bit since then. Jacob Frye is meant to be bisexual according to the game’s writer. However this is never even so much as hinted at in the game. Meanwhile Jacob has to kill a very clearly gay villain.

  14. Faldrath says:

    It’s also the game you just couldn’t quit:

    link to youtube.com

    I played a bit of it. Never touched the series again.

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      phuzz says:

      Doesn’t Alt-F4 do exactly as you’d expect?

    • trollomat says:

      Same. I bought it because it was given a nod in The Witcher 2, so I thought it couldn’t be too bad. I’ll never know, couldn’t withstand the hollow and ridiculous combat and just barely made it through the tutorial.

  15. Xiyng says:

    It’s still the most memorable one for me, and not just for being my first AC game. It has a much more serious tone than the others, accompanied by more stealth-focused gameplay than its sequels. It sure has a ton of flaws that were fixed in later games, but none of the later games I’ve played matches the first one in atmosphere and stealth. It’s mostly the atmosphere and tone I love though. The sequels can’t be taken seriously due to all the ridiculous and ‘funny’ stuff they have.

  16. Freud says:

    I played Brotherhood. It was fairly enjoyable but I feel I have gotten the basic Assassin’s Creed experience and don’t have an urge to play more of them. I have Syndicate since I got it with my Nvidia card but I doubt I will play it.

  17. TychoCelchuuu says:

    Loved this game. I think one of the most interesting things about it is that you can sort of see the skeleton of an alternate game in there: all the investigations actually give you a ton of info, although it’s buried in a menu so terrible and obtuse that you’ll basically never see it.

    But it does sort of suggest an alternate reality where instead of following dots on your minimap or the bright red person in AssassinVision™, and instead of being able to just run up and stab everyone, you’d actually have to investigate yourself and play somewhat stealthily.

    I guess a bit of that is still there in the optional “assassinate the target without being seen” thing you can always do, but already in this first game you had the skeleton of what all UbiSoft games eventually became, which is “here’s a map marker, just go to it and kill everyone.”

    Not like I dislike the end result – like I said, I love this game. I just wish that the AC series went in a different direction, away from the sort of UbiGame that all their games are, just like I wish the other UbiGames were less “follow the formula” and more their own thing. Far Cry doesn’t get better with crafting, looting, map markers, and climbing towers, etc.

  18. fish99 says:

    The only AC game I’ve finished, and I didn’t get round to playing it until after BF was released, so I played it a long time after most people. I really enjoyed it, despite the repetition, clunky controls and mediocre story. I think the authentic feeling atmosphere drew me in, and the gameplay was mostly fun.

    I’ve played about half of Syndicate too, which 10 years later features exactly the same clunky controls.

  19. Pravin Lal's Nuclear Arsenal says:

    For all its flaws, it’s the one I remember most fondly.
    It tried to paint some grayness in the Assassins’ morality and in the wars, cool villains and the medieval parkour was an interesting novelty.
    The mechanical improvements of the sequels were great, but I’d have preferred they kept the “spirit” of the first one instead of a basic: “Assassins love freedom and freedom is good”.

  20. KenTWOu says:

    People who think that the first AC was stealthier (or more focused on stealth) than later games are delusional. Side assassination contracts of the 2nd game alone have more stealth than all AC1 campaign missions put together with their forced detections and chase sequences.

  21. vorador says:

    It was pretty interesting, despite being somewhat unpolished on its ideas. It introduced some gameplay mechanics that Ubisoft and others has been using ever since (the map hidden until you arrived to a vantage point, lots of side quest, activities and collectables to find and get, between others)

    Definitely worth checking out.