So here we are, coming up to a year of iPhone gaming and Gameloft’s 19th title. The mobile masterchefs have cooked up some good games so far, so is Assassin’s Creed yet another feather in their cap or a damp squib?
In this conversion of the DS edition of the game, you play as Altair, a crusades-era assassin on a quest for a Chalice. In the console original you were imprisoned in a futuristic device called the Animus which recalled the ancestral memories of a 2012 bartender and took place in a sand box style 3D world. The iPhone game doesn’t really go into this Animus story, apart from the odd reference in the menu system, and assumes you have played the original. Instead, it concentrates on delivering hack n slash and platforming thrills along the lines of Hero of Sparta and Prince of Persia.
I was surprised how enjoyable AC is. I was expecting a rather lacklustre, cut down to size experience when in actual fact the game is pretty deep. As well as a large helping of free-running style platforming elements, there is pretty solid sword play system too.
Using Gamelofts tried and tested virtual analogue stick setup, successfully used in Hero of Sparta, Brothers in arms and the upcoming Terminator salvation, you can pull off all manner of moves along the rooftops of the middle-east. Yes, now and again you’ll make the wrong move, but thanks to the unlimited lives, you’ll live to try again, and any errors will be down to lack of skill than the controls themselves. You’ll be running up walls, balancing on rafters, and swinging across bottomless pits with your trusty grappling hook to name but a few. There are two control stick options you can choose from, 8 way and 360 degrees. 360 degrees gives you the most manoeuvre-ability, but I found the 8 way option more precise. As well as the control stick you have two sword strike buttons, and context sensitive action buttons that appear when required, which include activating switches, grappling hook and laying smoke bombs ninja style.
As you progress through the game you unlock swordplay abilities. These are taught to you in mini tutorials when unlocked and require you to carry out various button combos to pull them off. While the majority of the time you can button mash your way through the game by simply tapping the one sword button, it’s far more satisfying to learn the ways of the blade and dispatch your enemies with blocks, parries and finishing moves.
Visually, the game looks great. When the game was first announced as a port of the DS version I wasn’t expecting much of a looker. While the DS is capable of delivering fantastic gameplay, it’s not up to much in the looks department, with most games looking more in line with old N64 visuals than the PS2/PSP graphics the iPhone is capable of. To my surprise then I find that the iPhone version has had a fresh lick of paint, with crisp high resolution texture work adorning the chunky polygons of the characters and the environments. This all runs smoothly for the most part, with the odd stutter in framerate during the more action packed scenes.
Finally, not only did the graphics get an overhaul but the gamelife did too. The DS version was criticised for being to short, and while it’s still not an epic adventure on iPhone, the 6-7 hour runtime for a leisurely walk through is pretty good for a mobile game. On a second play through, if you are so inclined, you may be able get to the end in half that, not that your battery will last that long.
While some of the enemies become more of a challenge later on in the game. I found the boss battles to be a little on the light side, with the majority of them requiring repetitive button presses along the lines of hero of sparta instead of letting you show off your recently acquired skills. After completing the game, a hard difficulty setting was unlocked, but I didn’t notice the boss battles getting any more challenging.
Assassins Creed features a hefty amount of voice acting during cutscenes to tell the story, and while I would usually applaud it’s use in a game, I found the voice work in AC to be very amateurish and crude, which seemed to jarr with the tone of the action. For example, I expected the hero Altair to be a little more rough and ready in his tone. Instead he comes across sounding more like a saturday morning cartoon hero, than a lone, bitter assassin. I half expected him to shout ‘Thundercats Ho’ any moment. One of the big issues though is the timing, there are too many pauses during a conversation and it sounds unnatural, as if the voice actors were not given there lines in context. At one point a character even had a different voice, only to change back a few scenes later.
Another element to come from the DS version are the touch screen mini games. At certain points you may be required to pick a pocket or interrogate people, when this happens you must complete a touch based mini game within a time limit to advance on. The pick pocket game plays a bit like Operation, requiring you to pick up the object you need and move it to the pock exit, without touching any other objects. While these are a nice idea in practice they do little to build on the game play and come across as shallow diversions and little else.
The bottom line
I enjoyed playing through AC immensely, it had just the right balance of action vs exploration and the difficulty is balanced too, teasing you with over easy tasks only to present you with a seemingly un-crossable chasm. For action adventure fans it offers the closest yet to delivering a fleshed out console experience. And while it’s not perfect in every respect, it’s certainly worth the premium price tag of $9.99, especially when put side by side with the $30+ DS version.
Presentation and graphics
Looks great on the iphone screen. As you progress the environments get bigger and look better. It keeps the DS’s low poly models but wraps them in a cloak of high resolution goodness
The music has a filmic quality to it highlighting the action and setting the tone well, however the voice acting, while a welcome addition, doesn’t gel with that tone, resulting in a clash of identitly for the main character with his look and profession.
A 6 hour romp through a fun, if a little cheesy, story taking place in the crusade-era middle-east. You’ll battling templars, rescue damsels in distress and navigating perilous obstacles. The mix is just right, but I advise turning off the help in the options menu, unless you like having your hand held! Gameloft once again get the touch screen controls right, where so many others fail.
Not much to do beyond replaying in Hard difficulty. And while I think the games length is just right for a mobile game, some may feel it’s short. A few extra modes where you can fight with your unlocked abilites, arena style, would be a nice addition.