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Platform(s): Nintendo DS
Website:Assassin’s Creed: Altair’s Chronicles
Assassin’s Creed: Altair’s Chronicles is a prequel to Ubisoft’s multi-platform 2007 hitAssassin’s Creed. As it’s a DS game, you won’t be scaling high points and riding horses, but you will participate in a fair number of activities from the console game, most of them with a DS specific twist. Unfortunately, despite the crisp visuals and touch screen utilization, the game falls short of greatness thanks to a number of frustrating quirks.
Set years before the events of the console game, Altair’s Chronicles follows super athletic assassin Altair on his quest to recover the chalice from the templar clan. The story is told through in game cut scenes and dialog accompanied by static pictures. It’s not a very compelling tale with flat, obvious writing, and it’s missing the mystery of the console game. Also, other than the look of the menus and life bar, the digital sci-fi effects are nowhere to be found. This game is called Altair’s Chronicles for a reason; don’t expect Desmond Miles to make an appearance.
Gameloft is responsible for porting many of Ubisoft’s popular franchises, like Prince of Persia and Splinter Cell, to handhelds and it shows, as Altair’s Chronicles feels a lot like their previous work. The levels are strictly linear and require precise navigation around impossible geometry and Prince of Persia style traps. Gameloft even managed to squeeze in some of Altair’s free running moves, like running up walls and balancing on beams. At it’s best, the platforming is exhilarating, flying over and around obstacles at a dangerous pace feels highly reminiscent of the console game. It’s too bad that the game only attains such fluid excitement a handful of times.
Most of your time in Altair’s Chronicles will be spent cursing the unresponsive controls. Many of the jumps and maneuvers require precise input that the controls can’t offer. Hundreds of cheap deaths await you as you overshoot jumps, fall from ledges, and run off buildings. The game also features a number of context sensitive button presses, all of which suffer from the same unresponsiveness. You have to be in exact positions in order for them to work, which often results in you mashing the A button and wiggling the d-pad hoping to find the sweet spot.
The frustration doesn’t stop at the poor platforming, it spills over to the combat as well. Equipped with a sword, and strong and weak attack buttons, Altair has a number of flashy combos to dispatch foes with, but only one of them is worth using. Most of the combos are too slow, and the blocking and counter attack mechanic is useless. The game tries to have a deep system, but it doesn’t work well enough to warrant using it. The hit detection boxes also seem irritatingly big; you’ll often take hits from enemies standing out of reach. Combat wouldn’t be so annoying if it wasn’t all over the game. It really kills the pace of the fun platforming when you have to stop and take down a bunch of guards every few jumps.
Despite the major annoyances, Altair’s Chronicles manages to do a few things right. First of all, it looks amazing. Assassin’s Creed was one of the best looking games of 2007, and it’s nice to see the same effort went in to making Altair’s Chronicles look as good as the DS would allow. The frame rate isn’t always stable, and the animation isn’t the smoothest, but the overall look is impressive. Many of the levels feature small details and decorations and most are populated with town people. The levels are linear, but offer a bit of exploration room and some surprising verticality. Other neat effects include raindrops sticking to the top screen, transparent walls that make level navigation easy, and non-intrusive guides. The sound is also of top-notch quality with Middle East inspired music and immersive ambient effects. There is an annoying loop of music that pops up whenever you’re in combat though, which is a shame because it drowns out the rest of the great sound.
The repetitive pickpocket and interrogation missions of the console game appear here in a less monotonous form thanks to some interesting touch screen mini games. The pick pocketing mini game has you pulling a key out of a pouch without touching the other objects, while the interrogation game has you tapping pressure points to make the informant squeal. The games aren’t addicting by any means, but they are a fun distraction and a neat way to get you more involved. Other than the mini games, you’ll also use the touch screen to switch weapons and target enemies, but the touch points aren’t as responsive (shocker) as they should be.
Overall, Altair’s Chronicles is a fun distraction that might be worth a rental for fans of the console game. It shouldn’t take you longer than five hours to beat, though the cheap deaths could extend that by an hour or so. There are certainly better, less frustrating platformers on the system, so you’re better of saving your purchase money for something else.