Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines doesn't get it. On the surface, it offers many of the features you'd want from an Assassin's Creed game on the PSP. It puts you in control of Altair, the first game's nimble protagonist, and sends you on a mission to assassinate your Templar enemies, who are equally eager to plunge their swords into you. If you delve a little deeper, however, you'll find that Bloodlines skimps on what makes the console games so special. The joy of rooftop running has been diminished by flawed platforming and smaller environments, bustling cities have been replaced by barren districts on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, and AI problems render the stealthy approach all but irrelevant. Bloodlines still delivers the brief bloody thrills you get from a well-timed counterattack, but on the whole, it is a neutered and unsatisfying adventure.
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If you're an Assassin's Creed fan looking to further delve into Altair's life of intrigue, you'll likely be disappointed by the blandness of both the story and the hero. Smartly, the actor voicing Altair has been replaced by a more expressive and appropriate one, thus making it easier to identify with the protagonist. While the game's interface oddly utilizes interface elements and terminology that relate to Assassin's Creed's real-world elements (a synchronization bar, animus menus, voice-overs), Bloodlines is grounded firmly in the past. Unfortunately, the story fails to meaningfully expand on the conspiracy that drives the franchise, delivering instead a halfhearted tale that elicits plenty of yawns but few thrills or surprises. Maria, the Templar Altair spared in his original adventure, is the lone bright spark and provides a bit of sharp-tongued energy in the plain narrative. But even her liveliness can't overshadow the poor voice acting of the minor characters, scattered misspellings in the subtitles, and the generally disinterested manner in which the story is told.
A dreary story could be forgiven if Bloodlines delivered the joy of movement that characterizes the console games, but in time, moving about the rooftops becomes a chore. When the level design and animations work together successfully, which isn't frequent, you can string some enjoyable moves in quick succession by jumping across roofs and platforms, as well as climbing to the tops of tall towers. Unfortunately, city areas are small and there's too much space between the scattered buildings. As a result, you can never establish the momentum that would have made jumping about fun. Other problems further sully the platforming. It's easy to get stuck midstride as you run across slanted roofs, too many walls are smooth and can't be scaled, and multiple sequences hem you into specific platforming routes. Any groove you may establish will also be hindered by the in-game camera, which you manipulate by holding the L button and pressing the face buttons, forcing you to often stop midrun to adjust your view. The camera is largely a consequence of the PSP's lack of a second analog stick, but the resulting micromanagement will make you wish the game had sported a unique design that took advantage of the platform's strengths while minimizing its limitations. Eventually, you'll find it easier and quicker just to stick to the streets, which is a shame in a series that usually inspires you to rise above them.
The combat is more successful, though it isn't without its troubles. Engaging other enemies locks you onto your target and initiates an unhurried skirmish that will be familiar to Assassin's Creed fans. Combat isn't difficult, but it's still satisfying to pull off a successful counterkill. During a well-timed counter, Altair will spin about, the camera will zoom in, and he'll slice his sword across his target's neck or jam it into his chest. At first, it's a bloody treat, but the action gets tiresome. This is partially because there are too few stealth elements and missions to balance it out and partially because enemies seem to spawn out of nowhere to join the fray, which makes individual encounters drag. Some of the final kills also frustrate. In some cases, an enemy will fall to the ground, giving you the chance to hit the square button one last time and make a particularly gory example of his treachery. Unfortunately, the move doesn't always work, and your sword will just clip right through him if he's begun to stand back up. If you want to avoid full-on combat, you can take the sneaky path and silently stab unsuspecting guards or leap onto them for a high-profile hidden-blade assassination. Like standard combat, assassinations are initially enjoyable, thanks to the dramatic close-up and metallic sound effect that accompany them. But while Assassin's Creed wasn't known for groundbreaking AI, the guards in Bloodlines are out-and-out stupid. Some will wander past battle, while others will fail to notice a high-profile assassination occurring directly in front of them. Thus, kills with your hidden blade are just as unsatisfying as standard combat.
The missions tying all of these disappointing elements together are fine: timed deliveries, chases, key assassinations, and so on. However, the level design and flawed mechanics often interfere. For example, one timed chase mission is made frustrating by imprecise platforming; in other cases, the restrictive level design makes it tough to figure out what route you must take to reach your destination. Boss fights enliven things somewhat--pitting you against tougher enemies that require a bit more strategy--but not so much that they provide much challenge. Outside of story missions, you can climb towers, make a leap of faith into a hay bale beneath, and rescue besieged citizens, but the world isn't big enough and the cities aren't full enough to make these tasks feel particularly enjoyable. A few scholars and citizens wander about, but this world doesn't feel lived in, so you can't blend with crowds because there are no crowds. Thus, Bloodlines buries the series' concept of social stealth and does little to make up for the loss.
That doesn't mean Bloodlines is devoid of Assassin's Creed flavor. Altair looks great and is animated extremely well, which makes it a delight to watch him climb towers and leap across alleys. Many of the sound effects are pulled directly from the original game, and they're still fantastic, though it's disappointing that Bloodlines didn't also recycle the fantastic music of the tower top synchronizations. The game also captures some of the visual delights, like suspended platforms, crisscrossing beams, and nice lighting. It isn't quite the looker you may have expected, however. Plain environments, seams between geometry, and bland colors prevent Bloodlines from looking as good as its PSP competition.
Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines features a basic level-up mechanic in which you can spend the coins you find scattered about the world on upgrades like extending your synchronization bar or increasing your chances of a critical hit. But this feature is poorly implemented, forcing you to leave the game and return to the main menu if you want to spend the coins outside of the predesignated intermissions. It's just one more clumsy element that makes Bloodlines feel like a by-the-numbers spin-off that not only fails to deliver an experience worthy of the franchise, but also fails to be very good on its own terms. If you were hoping for a bustling world of agile assassins and testy Templars to fit in your pocket, Bloodlines will disappoint you.