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What makes a video game great? The answer to that question is exemplified thoroughly in the Assassin's Creed series. For starters, these games tell an ongoing story that is both original and engrossing, so you have a solid plot tying things together and giving your character a purpose. Couple that with sandbox style gameplay and a wonderfully interactive world, and you get the kind of game that doesn't feel limiting. You can play for hours just running around exploring, and it's fun to do so.
Most video games released these days can be put in one of only a few different categories. There are too many first-person shooters with identical features, lots of action titles that force you into running down linear passageways while hacking and slashing enemies, sports titles that change little from year to year, and the occasional adventure RPG that will keep you busy for hours. In the past couple of years, few games have really stood out as something new. Among the truly innovative standouts are Red Dead Redemption and Batman: Arkham Asylum because they were different.
The Assassin's Creed games deliver a tremendous amount of entertainment with each new title, and you can expand upon the experience with downloadable maps and mission packs if you wish to keep playing past the core storyline. Instead of being disappointed by the lack of real change beyond new maps in the next FPS sequel you buy, you should give these titles a try.
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Entering the Mind of an Assassin
The setting of these games involves using a device called an Animus that works like the apparatus used to 'jack in' to The Matrix in the Keanu Reeves movies, except in this game it serves as a sort of time machine. You play a man named Desmond Miles who is able to use the Animus to inhabit the body of an ancestor who lived five hundred years prior. Your job is to thwart the efforts of the Knights Templar while past and present threats blend to create a non-stop series of confrontations.
Most of the series takes place in late 15th century Italy where you play a man named Ezio Auditore. In the first game, you play an assassin named Altair, then Ezio takes over for the two sequels. Your job is to search for clues left behind by other agents, and you will have to perform many assassinations and treasure hunting quests in order to put together the pieces of the puzzle, called Pieces of Eden, that was set five centuries ago and has present day implications.
In order to perform your duties, you will have to scale buildings, hide out in crowds, pick pockets, sneak up on guards, and more. Best of all, many of the challenges allow for multiple approaches, so you feel like you are more in control and not forced to take an overly difficult route just because some lazy game developer decides that is the only way to go.
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The Core Games
The first Assassin's Creed game came out in 2007 for PS3, Xbox 360, and Windows PC. It went on to sell more than eight million copies and won a bunch of awards, thus cementing it as the start of a great new series.
Assassin's Creed II came out in 2009 and picks up just hours after the first one ended. This game features numerous improvements over the original, including interface and control tweaks, better inventory management, and generally just a lot more to do. It is widely regarded as superior to the original.
The third game, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, was released in late 2010 and it begins immediately after the end of the last game. I played these titles back to back and the flow was seamless. The gameplay and other features are basically the same as the last one for the single player portion. However, this one adds a multiplayer online experience that is something completely different. You get to play an assassin in a small map filled with AI characters and a handful of villains, and your job is to tell the AI characters apart from the humans so that you can take them out before they kill you.
The next title in this series, Assassin's Creed: Revelations, is scheduled to be released in late 2011. It is to feature the heroes from all the previous games and is intended to conclude the story that has been running across these four main titles.
Since the release of the original game, this series has sold more than 28 million copies. That number is sure to climb by a few more million after the next game is released.
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In addition to the four main console/PC titles, some other games in this series have been made for portable game systems like the Sony PSP or Nintendo DS. These games, however, did not receive nearly as much praise as their big brother console versions.
Altair's Chronicles - This title, released in 2008, is a prequel to the first game. It was made available for the Nintendo DS, Android phones, and other portable devices. What's unique with this one is that you control Altair without the use of the Animus, so there is no modern connection.
Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines - Exclusively released for the PSP in 2009, this game takes place in between the first and second console titles. It plays a lot like the first game, but with more simplified controls to fit the limitations of the hardware.
Assassin's Creed II: Discovery - This game takes places years after the second title and was released for the Nintendo DS, iPhone, and other portable devices. It plays more like a side scroller and is regarded as the best of the handheld games from this series.
- Author's personal experience playing and completing these titles on the PS3.
- Images courtesy of Ubisoft press materials.
- Assassin's Creed Wiki, http://assassinscreed.wikia.com/wiki/Category:Assassin%27s_Creed_Series