Guest Author - James Shea
A prequel to Assassin's Creed, "Altair's Chronicles" explores the titular assassin's life before the events detailed in Assassin's creed. It also makes the rather clumsy transition from the PS3 and Xbox 360 to the Nintendo DS.
The story is much more simple in this game than in the original, possibly because if the events of this game were particularly ground-breaking the events of the original would not make as much sense. Altair is attempting to find the Chalice - a powerful artifact said to be able to unite many groups under a single banner - by the order of his superiors. If the Crusaders or Saracens should find it, they would use it to end the Crusades and dominate the holy land. Notably absent is the "modern day" setting present in Assassin's Creed - showing the use of the Animus machine to re-live past events and so on (though the main menu is meant to be the Animus' display).
The gameplay is meant to be similar to Assassin's Creed, but isn't quite as advanced. Altair runs, jumps, and climbs like he does in the original, though with slightly less grace. Attacking has been reduced to attacking, blocking, and countering, with a lot less of the subtlety that made it so fun in Assassin's Creed. The top screen usually displays gameplay, while the bottom screen holds a map showing where all the people in the area are. Certain activities, like interrogation and pickpocketing, have been turned into touch-screen minigames. The former relies on a timed sequence of point-pressing to simulate pressure points, while the latter involves dragging an item through a bag without touching the bag's other contents. Instead of the old system of getting upgrades after completing missions, Altair must now collect "blue orbs" - slightly out of place in the otherwise fairly realistic setting - to upgrade his health and weaponry.
The graphics didn't survive the transition to the DS very well. The attempt at 3d is grainy and blocky, with little of the detail shown in Assassin's Creed. The level design is especially artificial, contrasted with the occasionally improbable but still acceptable cities in the original. In Altair's Chronicles, the buildings seem much less sensibly constructed, with one village containing giant stone arches and pillars that seemed out of place amidst its otherwise low-level construction (of course, you have to follow the path up and across the pillars the continue). As a whole, they seem fairly obviously like an attempt to compress cutting-edge graphics into a portable system (see also the GBA Splinter Cell games). The sound is similarly disappointing, being barely noteworthy in any sense of the word.
As a whole, the game fails to live up to the original Assassin's Creed. Even on its own, it's not a very good game. Despite an attempt to use the dual screen function, it seems more like a gimmick than an actual gameplay point. This game just doesn't have anything that the original did; everything, from story to gameplay to technical things, is eclipsed by the original.
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