Jeremy Jastrzab
19 Dec, 2009

Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines Review

PSP Review | Filling the gaps with... blood?
It isn’t the first time that Ubisoft’s controversial hit, Assassin’s Creed, has migrated to the handhelds. Assassin’s Creed: Altair’s Chronicles for the Nintendo DS was released in the months following the original console release, but it didn’t really leave much of a positive impression. So now that the second title, Assassin’s Creed II, has been released, Ubisoft are taking another crack at the handhelds. While Assassin’s Creed II: Discovery on the DS is another take on Ezio’s journey, Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines on the PSP goes for one more mission with Altair.

Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines is supposed to take place sometime after the events of the original game. For the uninformed, you are ‘playing’ as Desmond Miles, a bartender who is caught in the middle of an underground war between the religious organisations, the Templars and the Assassins. Captured by the Templars, Desmond is forced into a machine called the Animus, where he is forced to puppet his Assassin ancestors and relive their journeys. For fans of the original, this will make sense. For newcomers, they might be quite confused by the strange interface and story that refers to a lot of past characters.

Now, how to get down?

Now, how to get down?
Oddly enough, we aren’t told anything about when Desmond was meant to live through this story. You spend all your time playing as Altair, and only come to the Animus menu in intermissions. Either way, the game takes place between the main console editions. Altair, who is now older and wiser than in the first game, is chasing the remaining Templar leaders to Cyprus. Those with a keen memory will remember Maria, with who plays a role in both console titles. She is kidnapped by Altair at the beginning of the game, to help him against the Templars, and the fluctuating relationship along with a few interesting twists are fun to watch. The rest of the story is a mix of vague philosophies and rather forgettable characters, but it does justice to the universe that has been created.

Rather than looking to borrow from the improved Assassin’s Creed II, Bloodlines settles for monkey-ing the original, while making some reasonable concessions for the portable format. As such, there’s a lot on the surface that is impressive about the title. Through out seven memory blocks (levels), you’ll follow your mission’s objectives that lead up to the assassination, and then the escape. Still, not all of them pan out like this. None of the missions are exceedingly long, and the majority of the checkpoints are generously frequent to take into account the portable nature of the title.

Most of your missions will either have you locating the waypoint on your map, which in the process allows you to utilise the free running mechanics, assassinating or beating someone up or the occasional sneaking mission. You also have numerous optional missions such as saving citizens from mean guards and races, as well as a number of Templar coins in each memory to collect, which as used to unlock Altair’s upgrades. In the end, the six to eight hours for the main story aren’t going to cause the lack of variety to be too much of a concern. An occasional problem is that you are given an objective, but aren’t given a clear explanation of why you’re doing it.

Take your pick.

Take your pick.
Obviously, the levels that you play in are much smaller now, and there aren’t too many load screens in between. Each town now is divided into several smaller areas, and as such, has less potential for acrobatics far off the ground and less potential for subtlety in the environment design. However, the major issue for the game is the functionality of the free-running mechanics, which are too hit and miss. Often, you’ll get to a jump or a wall, and Altair will just halt in place. This also happens while you’re climbing. As such, the game feels much clunkier and less functional than the console versions. Really, a portable version ought to be more lenient rather than require more precision. It doesn’t help that the analog nub is nowhere near as dexterous as an analog stick.

Otherwise, Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines seems to be rather heavy on the fighting. In the original Assassin’s Creed, there were only a handful of instances where you had to fight, where as the rest of the time it is mainly for self defence. Bloodlines seems to take a liking for the fighting mechanics and uses them quite a lot. It’s not a matter that fighting isn’t a deep exercise, but it seems to have been pushed ahead of the stealth and sneaking. Furthermore, once you’ve been caught by the guards, particularly in each fortress, you’re pretty much stuck with the entire force on your tail. So you’re pretty much forced to fight, as the PSP interface is not flexible enough to allow for you truly scope out the quietest routes. Disappointingly, each assassination plays like a boss fight, rather than an actual assassination. However, the system isn't varied enough to make these encounters dynamic or particularly compelling, while the bosses tend to be overpowered.

Still, even without the primary developers, Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines is a good game. It has been reasonably well crafted for portability, but while managing to keep a lot of what made Assassin’s Creed good and fun in the first place. While the requisite for patience doesn’t always work with portables games, it’s primarily the clunkiness in the free-running controls, a rather obvious lack of polish at times and restrictions in the freedom of design choices that hold the game back. It seems that developers were all too content to sit back and use what was on offer, rather than try and improve or add to the game.

Don't point that thing at me.

Don't point that thing at me.
There are a lot of impressive aspects to the graphics, which do a reasonable job of recreating the look of the original. You can still see exactly where you can go (regardless of whether it works), the game is impressively visceral for a PSP title and smaller details such as the animation work is fairly good. However, the environments are very empty and the lack of polish comes from a number of typical graphical issues such as aliasing, jaggies and clipping. These add to the unpolished feel.. Altair is no longer voiced by Desmond and just sounds like a random now. It doesn’t help that the dialogue is mixed between some endearing lines and bottom-of-the-barrel generic ones, and not to mention the occasional hiccup and delay. The music is reminiscent of the original game but set pieces mean that it loses its dynamic appeal.

As mentioned, Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines is a solid and faithful recreation of the original Assassin’s Creed that has been moulded quite well for portable play, while fans of the franchise will definitely get the most of this. The compromise of smaller environments has allowed for more focused objectives and very frequent and generous checkpoints. However, the game’s inconsistency in the mechanics, lack of evolution and rather apparent lack of polish hurt a good and solid portable recreation, while players with no experience will probably be left out in the cold. Otherwise, there isn’t too much more that could have been done.
The Score
Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines is a good title that rides nicely on its predecessor's coat tails, but is let down by a lack of polish and evolution. 7
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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Australian Release Date:
  19/11/2009 (Confirmed)
Standard Retail Price:
  $69.95 AU
  UBI Soft
Year Made:

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