Assassin’s Creed‘s first venture into the handheld market was an abysmal experience; released on the Nintendo DS, Altair was severely limited in his assassin-like efforts, only able to execute a fraction of his abilities due to the hardware’s limits. While it aided in continuing Altair’s story, it didn’t exactly strike a chord with critics or consumers, and was met with mixed reactions.
Learning from these mistakes, developers Ubisoft Montreal and Griptonite Games look to change things around by delivering a far more faithful adaptation of the third-person sandbox action adventure. But even on more powerful hardware, can Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines recapture the freedom and extravagant setting of the original while not falling victim to the same problems that marred the first installment?
Though Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines has its fair share of problems. None are so serious that they will hinder the generally engaging and fast paced experience, though it doesn’t quite reach its full potential. Combat is swift and fluid, and exploring each area is rewarding, but because of its fair share of technical problems, hardware limitations, and just a flat-out boring story, the game suffers the wrath of mediocrity.
The overarching plot behind the AC series revolves around Desmond Miles, descendant of some of the world’s most deadly assassins. Because of his DNA code, he is able to tap into his ancestor’s memories and relive them through a machine known as the Animus.
In the first AC, we are introduced to Desmond’s ancestor, Altair, who returns as the main protagonist. However, Bloodlines doesn’t utilize the Animus as a plot device, and is strictly a hub station between missions, with no explanation of what it is or why it’s being used. The game simply focuses on Altair and his quest to put an end to the Templars and their thirst of power once and for all. If this is your first venture into the world of AC, you’ll find yourself a bit confused, but incontinuities are not what keeps the plot down; it is poorly told through pitiful cutscenes, and equally lackluster voice acting.
Where narrative fails, gameplay attempts to pick up the pieces. If you’re not familiar with the first installment of the series, Bloodlines plays like any other sandbox-style game: enjoy free exploration of the area, use your crazy assassin skills to murder a bunch of enemies, and go through a series of missions and sub-missions at your leisure.
Much of your time will be spent hopping around from building to building to remain “in the shadows”, and gain an advantage on your target or mission – but this is not easily done. In general, the camera and platforming are very finicky; often, you’ll find that you’re not jumping the direction you know you should be, which makes fluid travel by rooftop quite troublesome. Not to mention that staying “in the shadows” isn’t a necessity as it was in the original Assassin’s Creed.
Although the platforming aspect may cause some gripe, the combat system has had some improvement, albeit slight, from the first installment. Where fighting felt clunky and forced in the original AC, Bloodlines flows more fluidly, and gives a better sense of control over Altair’s movements. You’ll still rely on the ability to counter almost every enemy (including bosses), but it’s not as heavily emphasized as it was in the first game.
You can now more freely face your opponents head-on with chained attacks, if timed correctly. Altair will perform melee combos that will run your targets on the other end of his blade. Although, more freedom in combat comes at a price: the stealth aspect is relatively nonexistent, and enemy AI has been dumbed down to such an extent that you’ll easily be able to tell when and where you’ll be attacked, despite five or six enemies may surrounded you. The Templars will even wait their turn as you fight and kill their comrades, an archaic aspect I once thought dead from this current generation.
While the sandbox style of play survives the transition from console to handheld, it’s far from perfect. First off, the graphics are top notch for the PSP, and rival the best the hardware has to offer. But the world you’ll explore, two cities on the island of Cyprus, are downright unacceptable. There is very little detail, the areas are too small, and they all look exactly alike. Besides two parts of the cities that are on the shoreline, I really couldn’t tell where I was or if I was in a different place, and I was only able to traverse each area by focusing on the minimap. And, when combined with the poor platforming aspects, exploring Cyprus is dull and very underwhelming, taking away a vital component of the Assassin’s Creed IP.
Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines may bear a strong resemblance to the stealth-driven, sandbox action-adventure, however it doesn’t live up to its title. Sure, all the pieces are there to make a quality side-story, but Ubisoft Montreal and Griptonite Games didn’t quite put them together correctly. The overall experience is definitely fun, but poor platforming, dull exploration, a forgettable story, and an almost nonexistent stealth aspect (the staple of the series) keep Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines from becoming a must-own title for the PlayStation Portable.
While Altair flows beautifully and, at first glance, his surroundings are gorgeous, you'll notice the areas are far too small and sport little detail differentiating each city.
|How does our scoring system work?|
Though combat has been improved to allow more head on encounters, platforming is not much fun and pretty frustrating.
The sound effects are good, but the voice work is pretty lousy.
There are a bunch of side-missions available throughout the game, but because the cities are so small, they don't take very long to complete at all. There's also nothing to do once you beat the main story.
Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines has all the makings for a great continuation of Altair's story, but it's fraught with presentation and gameplay problems that keep it from becoming a truly fantastic experience.