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Take on the roll of the deadly assassin Altair to reclaim a holy relic lost in the midst of the Third Crusade. Journey across the Holy Land using stealth and strength to bypass Crusaders, Saracens, and Templars to obtain information from the secret order of assassin's and a network of spies. Leap across rooftops or navigate treacherous tunnels all laden with traps and pitfalls or run the open street to pickpocket, interrogate, and kill your way to your goal - the lost Sacred Chalice.
Assassin's Creed: Altair's Chronicles HD is a port from the 2008 Nintendo DS version of the game and prequel to 2007's Assassin's Creed on consoles and PC. But does it hold its own on Windows Phone 7?
Hit the jump to see if Altair operates as well on WP7 as he has on every other device out there.
Gameplay is broken down into three distinct and mutually exclusive forms - platform acrobatics, quick mini-game sequences, and combat. The player moves Altair along a 2.5-dimensional plane. Think of it as a classic side-scroller with a bit of near-far depth. We can operate on street level or climb to the rooftops. Street level gameplay takes place in the foreground whereas rooftop gameplay takes place primarily in the background.
The player has the option of using a 360-degree virtual control stick or 8-direction D-pad on the bottom left of the screen to move Altair around each level. Action buttons for jumping, grabbing items, attacking and environmental interactions and so on appear on the bottom right. I found that the action buttons were constantly in the way of what was going on in the level, needing to have the thumb at the ready for a quickly executed jump often blocked seeing the jump up ahead. It didn't break the playability of the game but was certainly a hindrance. Combat was afflicted by this problem as well because the buttons to execute attacks were located in the same area. I found it was easier to play the game using my good ol' pointer finger on the right side and just holding the phone and controlling Altair's movement with my left hand.
Interrogations and pickpocketing were turned into mini-games for Altair's Chronicles. The mini-games are timed, but will be over long before you even notice that there is a timer. Opponents that have information you want need to be stealthily put into choke holds from behind. A sequence of screen taps then begins. A series of circles indicating pressure points on your victim slowly draw smaller and smaller and the objective is to tap them in succession before they close. This mini-game gets exponentially less fun each time you have to do it. I suppose it's there to break up the gameplay a bit but it really just extends gameplay by being more of an annoying distraction than an entertaining bonus.
Then there's the pickpocketing mini-game. I could hardly tell if this one is really fun or not since it's over just as soon as it begins. I liken the experience to dragging and dropping files on a computer. It's pretty much the same thing. Find the item you need (almost always a key), click it, drag it to where it's needed. The mini-games really draw the momentum out of the game because they take the player away from what is really the only fun half of the game - the acrobatics and combat.
Combat in Altair's Chronicles relies heavily on swordplay and is directly related to how many times you can swing your sword at other guys who also have swords. Really, that's all it boils down to. Altair is capable of blocking and parrying strikes from his opponents to which he may end confrontations with a single deadly swipe, which is pretty cool, but there is no strategy or finesse to the combat system. To win any battle the player must choose to between two tactics - block, counterattack, death-strike or keep swinging until everything else is dead. By the time you've battled through half the game you may find yourself avoiding combat just because you don't want to deal with it anymore, not because it's too challenging, but because it's just become so repetitive and mundane by that point.
It's unfortunate but the vast majority of the gameplay is at first a lot of fun but drowned in so much redundancy to become utterly trite and dull. I believe the only reason that I completed Altair's Chronicles was to see what the next level looked like and to reach the end of the story.
I really wanted to enjoy Altair's Chronicles because the console and PC titles in the Assassin's Creed series are really quite good. Too often though, I felt that Altair's Chronicles was really kind of thrown together for WP7 and left rather flawed as a result. The potential for a really good game is there and it has everything a good game should have, but it's all broken. The level design is great but is riddled with clipping errors and terrible character interaction. The graphics are really nice but they're plagued by dropped framerates, stuttered camera movements, and embarrassingly poor scaling issues. Seriously, if you look at some of the screen shots try to measure the characters up against a window or a door.
I was really surprised by the quality of the sound, it was fantastic. Then the characters started talking and ruined everything. Poor voice acting is one thing but what threw me was really odd - characters would switch their lines. One moment Altair would be talking to a market vendor and when the vendor replied, he replied in Altair's voice. When it came time for Altair to speak again he would speak in the market vendor's voice. Okay, I thought, weird glitch. But then it happened over and over again in a host of other dialogues between other characters. Sloppy things like this ruin games for me and while they are kind of funny they don't belong in a game that attempts to convey a storyline seriously.
Despite the slew of flaws and glitches that run rampant throughout Altair's Chronicles it's still fun trying to get through them to the end of the game - if you've got the patience and time to kill. Total play time can last anywhere between five to eight hours which is really decent for a mobile adventure game. The replay value is kind of low considering that no new content is unlocked by completing the first play through. Hard mode is unlocked but the levels and storyline remain completely unchanged. Enemy AI is a little but tougher to withstand damage, will block more frequently, and will attack all at once instead of one at a time. The biggest difference between Hard and Normal (or Easy) difficulty that I've noticed is how much damage Altair is capable of withstanding and how much is regained post battle, which is very little.
The price tag of $6.99 is justified by the length of game time but still a little steep when compared to the quality of other titles in this bracket. You may want to consider spending your money on something like Max and the Magic Marker or The Harvest that won't leave you feeling any buyers remorse. I'm not saying you won't be having any fun with Assassin's Creed: Altair's Chronicles, quite the opposite. It's a very fun game. It's just a bit more frustrating and disappointing than it is fun.