IGN Review of Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines
Having experienced great success with the first Assassin's Creed on consoles, Ubisoft is turning the series into a full blown franchise with installments on every gaming device known to man, including the PSP. Assassin's Creed Bloodlines attempts to recreate the look and feel of the first game, while bridging tidbits of the story before the events of Assassin's Creed II. The result is a valiant effort -- a product that, at a glance, looks and feels like the console versions of the game. Upon closer inspection, however, it suffers from some control and content issues that hold it back from feeling complete.
Bloodlines continues the story of Assassin's Creed exactly where the first game left off. As it turns out, the villain from the original Assassin's Creed had a love interest named Maria and Altair takes her hostage in his pursuit of the fleeing Templars. The trail leads him to Cyprus, an island torn between Templar invaders and members of the resistance. It's interesting to watch the relationship between Maria and Altair fluctuate, but the rest of the story is only somewhat interesting. Strangely, we're presented the game through the context of a time travel machine (the animus) but we're never shown who's memories we're experiencing or why. If you're new to the series, prepare to be confused.
If you're a huge fan of the series then you'll be excited to know that in an amazing technical feat, Bloodlines accurately captures the look of Assassin's Creed on a handheld. The open city environments, the free running, and the climbing systems are all on display in a scaled down fashion. Everything from the user interface to the menu screens is faithful to Altair's first adventure. It's quite impressive to look out over a city and know that everything in sight is accessible. The visuals go a long way toward making Assassin's Creed a desirable game on the PSP. Oggling the environments is enjoyable but the game starts to break down once you get into specifics.
From the beginning, Altair has access to a long sword, dagger, assassin's blade and throwing knives. Most of the game is spent using these deadly implements to kill Templar guards outright in bloody street fights. The interesting bits of being an assassin (the approach, the stealthy kill, and disappearing into a crowd) just aren't very well represented in Bloodlines. Players can still move through the city in high or low profile mode, but keeping a low profile isn't encouraged through the mission structure or the gameplay.
Instead, there are a number of mission types that have players cut down targets in broad daylight under slightly different conditions. Sometimes you must kill a certain number of adversaries within a time limit, while other times you must kill everyone en route to a specific location. Only rarely will you be asked to eliminate a target without alerting the surrounding guards. This means that Altair's longsword is the weapon of choice, though the rhythm-based swordplay isn't engaging enough to keep the adventure interesting. The action-oriented end result is perhaps better suited to a handheld, but not all that entertaining.
The different areas of the game are separated by a brief loading screen which is even shorter if you choose to install a portion of the game onto a memory stick. These areas are divided into cities and walled fortresses. Cities have a smattering of citizens, and plenty of guards that give chase to Altair if he wanders close enough to them without maintaining a low profile. This happens with enough frequency that players will resort to running through cities with a group of angry guards in tow. You can simply ignore pursuers and head to your next destination as displayed on the mini-map.
Fortresses are only inhabited by guards, leaving players the option to slash their way through the opposition or engage in some light platforming to avoid combat. Sword fights are fairly simple -- players tap the attack button with enough rhythm to perform a combo. There's also a throw, a dodge, and a counter-attack action, but they aren't as effective as hacking away at your opponents. The few boss battles do very little to change up the formula, as you'll just spend more time dodging incoming attacks.
Free running and climbing work well enough, but the three dimensional maneuvering does highlight the lack of a second analog stick on the PSP. Camera control is handled through a "center" command on the left bumper and specifically adjusted through the face buttons when holding down the right bumper. Disabling the face buttons for this purpose means that at some point players will have to choose between camera control and jumping. It isn't gamebreaking, but it is annoying and there are plenty of instances where the default camera angle is obstructed.
Bloodlines is arranged into rather brief levels. You can plow through the game in around five or six hours. Luckily there are plenty of collectibles in the form of Templar coins and a deep reward system that slightly stretch out the experience. The PS3 connectivity options are a fun way to spread your Assassin's Creed love across both consoles, but it isn't all that difficult to obtain these upgrades under normal circumstances. There are also optional side missions which lead to more free running, combat, and sometimes an assassination. They add more content, but do nothing to flesh out the gameplay.
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