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Assassin's Creed: Altair's Chronicles


Play the role of a 12th century assassin on your Nintendo DS
Sequels and to a lesser extent prequels are something of a standard in the gaming universe. When a game is released and is a success it naturally follows that fans would be clamoring for more. Many times such sequels or prequels are just as much of a success or surpass their predecessor. At the same time, there are those sequels that either fail or do nothing innovative or expand upon the world that was presented to us.
And while many times these sequels are released with noble intentions, you can often discern when a game is churned out in quick succession hoping to cash in on the continued buzz.

If you have had the pleasure of playing Assassin's Creed on either the 360 or PS3, you were treated to a visually stunning and immersive world that was fun to play in. The execution and way that the story was presented to you were an interesting and unique way in which to convey the details. Still, when a game presents a well thought out story and gameplay that is fun, when it is all over, you cannot help but to want more. I'm fairly certain that that is the type of feeling that Ubisoft hoped gamers would have and released Assassin's Creed: Altair's Chronicles for the Nintendo DS.

Gameplay:

Assassin's Creed: Altair's Chronicles stands as a prequel to the recently released Assassin's Creed on the PlayStation 3 and XBox 360. In Altair's Chronicles, the gamer will learn some insight into the back story presented in its predecessor. The difference this time is that you are in control of only Altair throughout the game. You will not find any twist, as there was in Assassin's Creed. Altair is part of a secret society of assassins bent on maintaining peace and order. As a part of this society, you will be responsible for covertly assassinating people identified as stirring up disorder. The game is fairly linear and doesn't allow for much free exploring as I would have hoped. You will find yourself moving from point to point with occasional tasks or fights that you need to complete to progress. The story comes via the conflict between the assassins group and the templars, a strict religious group. Each side is trying to shape the world as they see fit.

For the most part, Altair's Chronicles will feel more like a platformer. You will control Altair as he scales a building, traverses a narrow platform or jumps from one building to another. For the most part, the controls work and you can easily move Altair from one area to the next. There are also times when you will miss step or miss a jump because the camera is blocking part of the screen. With no way to adjust the view, you will often times find yourself dying and having to attempt the motions again. This can lead to much frustration and really hamper your enjoyment. However, these were luckily not normal occurrences. You will need to pay attention to details in the game to move stealthily around your settings. Just moving Altiar with the d-pad, he will move at a normal pace and can cause an alerted enemy to notice you. By pressing the right bumper button, Altair will crouch down and move slower. This movement is also necessary to traverse the narrow platforms you will often encounter. During combat and some movement from building to building, you will also note that Altair can move forward and backward on the screen in addition to left and right. Many of the areas will contain traps or puzzles for you to navigate through. Many of these elements work fine and you can proceed through them with little issues. However, there are the occasional times where you might step into a trap because of the camera fighting against you. Normally you will be able to see obstacles well enough in advance to avoid or time your movements so that you do not end up being killed.

As you move from area to area, the game displays a series of blue rings that serve as a rough path to follow. In addition, the game also displays an arrow on screen serving to show you which direction you need to be heading. There are also checkpoints that are in various sections that will serve to save your spot should Altair find an untimely death. However, these checkpoints will appear similar to the blue rings marking the path. Also scattered throughout the areas are blue orbs that you will collect. By collecting enough of these orbs, you will be able to purchase upgrades to your various weapons and health bar. These will come in handy as you progress further into the game as you will encounter more and sometimes tougher enemies.


At certain times, you will be required to perform different tasks to proceed. What is interesting about the way these tasks are performed is in the minigame presented to you. One task might have you pickpocket a guard for a key to open a gate. As you near the guard, an icon will display prompting you to press the A button and start the minigame. Most times this works out just fine and the desired action will take place. However, I found myself at various times having Altair jump instead of trying to pickpocket. Once the minigame starts, you will have limited time to complete the task before you are noticed and combat ensues. The addition of the minigames was something of an afterthought, it seems, and was just a way to take advantage of the touch screen portion of the DS. Regardless, the minigames do work and give you a sense of satisfaction when you complete them. The pick pocketing minigame requires you to use the stylus to rub the screen as you look for the item you seek. Once you find it, you must navigate the item through the rest of the contents and out of the bag. If you run out of time or hit another item or the sides of the bags, you will alert the person you are trying to steal from. Another task that you will employ often is that of a stealth assassination. Once you creep up to your intended target and press the A button, you will be required to tap the screen in certain spots at precise moments. If you have ever played Elite beat Agents, this minigame should be fairly easy to you. The timing is very tight and you must tap each spot in sequence. The difficulty comes in when there are multiple spots activating rapidly in sequence and you must keep up with them. All in all, they do add another level to the game and present a unique way to incorporate some of the DS touch functionality into the game.

You will find yourself fighting many enemies to keep moving along to the different areas. The controls serve their purpose, for the most part. There are two types of attacks at your disposal, a light and a heavy attack. You can perform combo moves by pressing different button combinations. You are also able to block and counter attack any hits that come your way. In theory, this all sounds good and it should make each fight interesting. However, I found myself mashing solely on one button and had relatively no troubles dispatching enemies I encountered. As you defeat enemies, you will gain health and possibly more blue orbs that are used to upgrade your character. The difficulty found in Assassin's Creed when fighting guards is noticeably absent from Altiar's Chronicles. It was a little disheartening to be able to win fights simply by pressing a single button repeatedly. But overall, it seems to come together and provides an enjoyable experience on the DS.

All in all, Altair's Chronicles had a lot to live up to coming on the heels of Assassin's Creed. Slight issues with the camera and movement controls, the game delivered a solid experience. The game is short, compared to other similar games, but there is quality to it that makes up for its length. If this prequel had been created for the same consoles as its predecessor, I imagine it would have consisted of a longer story line. But, for a handheld gaming system, these shorter, quality games are desirable.

Graphics:

Considering that Assassinís Creed was a visually stunning game sets up a set of expectations for what any sequel should look like. When the resulting game is on another platform those expectations can often be unrealistic and somewhat disappointing. The details and surroundings of the 12th century are as detailed as they can be on the smaller screen of the DS. The buildings have a sense of depth to them as you wander around each area. The game does succeed in providing a world that feels 3d. Enemies you encounter will move up and down on the screen as well as from left to right to truly appear to be in a 3d world.

Recreating a lush world on a handheld has always been something of a hit-and-miss operation. Many times, the games can look kind of muted and muddled and really detract from the experience. On the other hand, games can appear stunning and truly draw you into their world. Altairís Chronicles exists in between those two extremes. The game manages to succeed in an illusion of a 3d world while still maintaining a 2d platform style to it. In few instances, the graphics in game are something to behold. Cutscenes in the game are slow motion pans of the cityscape or location you are entering. Most often, the story elements are driven forward through static screens showing a picture of Altair and whomever you encounter. The details are presented as text that you must read and touch the screen to progress through.


Audio:

With such an ambitious game on a handheld system, it would be a lofty goal to deliver truly immersive music and sound effects as you would find on a more powerful home console. While such things are often a way to draw you into the world more, when they are missing or not as rich as you might hope, they can effect that experience. Most of the sounds you will hear in the game consist of generic background music that sounds vaguely appropriate for the setting.

Adding to the distraction are sounds you will encounter frequently, such as the loud beeping you will hear when you health is low. The game will continuously, and loudly, beeps at you until you regain some health. Another sound is that of the enemies you fight who respond to each attack with a dull grunting sound until they are dispatched.

I think part of my disappointment in this aspect was due to having played the games predecessor on my XBox 360. Assassin's Creed had such a rich musical score and sound effects that really pulled you into the world. Battles were met with sounds you would expect to hear from a great sword fight combined with the enemies taunting you or calling for more guards. However, had I not played that game, I still would have been slightly disappointed in the sound experience in Altair's Chronicles.


Replay Factor:

Outside of gaining the ability to play the game on a harder difficulty setting, there is not much in the way to hold your interest for a second play through. Finishing a game is a reward in itself, however something or anything to extend the life of a game would be a nice touch.

Conclusion:

Having played Assassin's Creed will not be a necessity to get enjoyment from Altairís Chronicles. This game serves as a way to expand upon the story presented to you in Assassin's Creed. If Altair's Chronicles is your first adventure to 12th Century, I would highly recommend giving its predecessor a play through once you complete the game. Not only will the story in Assassinís Creed make a little more sense, you will possess knowledge of some of the plot details that this game expands upon.

Even though there were some issues in the execution of the game, it was still an enjoyable ride, albeit short. Perhaps I had set myself up for disappointment with regard to its length, but clocking in around 5 hours to complete the game just left me wanting more. If you are a fan of Assassin's Creed or the genre in general, I would not hesitate to recommend it for purchase. However, if you are only mildly interested or did not particularly enjoy Assassin's Creed, this game might be better served as a rental in your case. Either way, I do not think you will be disappointed at all and will be joining me in anticipation of more from Altair.