Assassin's Creed CoverThe advantages to reviewing videogames years after they come out are that you can pick them up really cheap, and you can talk about the endings without worrying about spoiling it for anyone. I was probably the last person in the world to play Assassin's Creed.
I was missing a lot. The Assassin's Creed games are pretty fun. This is the freerunning sandbox game. I think the freerunning is really the best part of the experience. After I play these games I'm always looking for a way to climb up the buildings I pass by. The stealth and escape mechanics are pretty good. The combat, only fair. Honestly I found the combat generally boring: I got tired of the killing. In the first game, there were freelance missions to assassinate soldiers who were doing what soldiers have always done to conquered peoples: rape and pillage. This in and of itself wasn't that bad, but you usually attracted a lot of attention on these missions, and you ended up killing three times the number of men you started out to. This always gave me pause, the first set of soldiers were obviously guilty, but their buddies who rallied to their aid could potentially have been innocent.
These games taught me why assassination is an immoral way of conducting warfare. It seems like the greater good, you only kill the really really bad guy, and everything is better. However, in just war theory, the object of war is to destroy the enemy's will to fight, not to destroy the enemy. Supreme excellence in warfare consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without having to fight. If the enemy asks for quarter, you have to give it to him. For an assassin, however, the intent is only to kill. If the enemy asks for mercy, you kill him anyway. It is intrinsically immoral because the intent is always wrong. A soldier, as a soldier, can show mercy, but an assassin never can.
There is a great deal of interesting history in the background. The first Assassin's Creed is set during the Third Crusade, and it features Richard the Lionhearted and Saladin. The Assassin's themselves were also real historical actors in the Middle East of the time. This plot element caused a bit of a stir, because the Assassins are still around, although they call themselves something else now. This spoiled an attempt to novelize the game because the Aga Khan told the publisher it was disrespectful to his people.
Accordingly, in subsequent games, the Muslim aspect was eliminated and we got more of the tinfoil hat conspiracy theories, which are definitely the worst part of the experience. I like secret histories as much as the next guy, but the storyline here is Erich von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods with parkour. There is at least some good historical background here that can provide familiarity with key times in history. All the usual warnings about getting your historical knowledge from popular entertainment apply. The feel of the cities is very good, and the historical and architectural tidbits the second game provides when you pass by landmarks in Italy are fascinating.
These were fun games, but they have zero replay value. The sandbox elements are really good. The rest, disappointing. However, how many games have their final boss fight as a fistfight with the Pope?