Review: Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines

ReviewThe PSP has died many deaths in its lifetime. And the commonly proclaimed reason for its untimely demise is the lack of quality software on the platform. While games such as the recently released Motorstorm: Arctic Edge, LittleBigPlanet and Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars chip in from time to time as counter arguments, it is fair to acknowledge that the story of Sony’s handheld isn’t exactly a fairy tale come to life.

At this point, you must be wondering if this is the review of Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines or an obituary for the PSP. The thing is, Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines felt like an obituary to the PSP. For all its flaws (which I shall describe to the tiniest gory details shortly), the fundamental mistake lies in the core design model that many developers have attempted time and again on the PSP and failed at it more often than not. Bloodlines goes down as yet another futile attempt at delivering an experience similar to that of the home consoles.

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In their eagerness to emulate the home console version of the game, Griptonite Games ignored many things that led to an endeavour which is mostly frustrating and ultimately irrelevant. The irrelevance comes foremost from the story. To put it simply, it doesn’t exist. Even the most die-hard fans of the Assassin’s Creed series might be tempted to smash the UMD to tiny bits by the time the rather short single player campaign (I clocked it at less than 5 hours) rolls to an end.

The alleged ‘plot’ follows the exploits of Altair after the events of the first game. And that’s it… I really can’t think of anything else to say about it; not even spoilers. The game was also supposed to be the missing link between the Assassin’s Creed 1 and 2, but if that link was established anywhere during the course of the game, I completely missed it. There are a few nods and winks to Assassin’s Creed 2 scattered here and there, and Altair thankfully doesn’t have an American accent, but beyond this, I have nothing positive to say about the story or the characters. Mostly they’ll just bore you to a point where you would stop caring.

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The next sore point that sticks out is the control scheme, and to be more specific, the camera controls. The developers wanted the player to be able to do everything that is possible in the console versions, but a camera controlled by the face button while holding down a trigger completely kills what should be a fast paced experience. Since the player has to hold down X to run/jump, every attempt to reorient the camera breaks any momentum that you might have built up. While this is not a deal breaker, it takes away a lot from what could be called the signature Assassin’s Creed experience. That said, the combat controls are adequate and responsive, and the animations that come with executing counter kills are very good.

In terms of gameplay, Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines plays out more like the first game than the sequel. This means that the boring missions make a return, and with a vengeance. All story and side missions are broken down into six categories: Assassinate, Theft, Intercept, Interrogate, Tail and Delivery. The boredom in all these missions comes from what seems to be a lack of interest and effort that went into crafting them. There was one delivery side mission I attempted in which I simply ran along the ground without ever attempting to take higher ground and reached the destination well within time.

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Completing a sequence of missions leads up to boss battles, which are the most disappointing aspect of the gameplay design. The assassination of key characters in the series has always been a high point, where multiple tactics at the player’s disposal and the general open-endedness of the mission often made way for some memorable moments. In Bloodlines, these encounters are generic boss battles which are nothing more than an exercise of dodging and counterattacking. In fact, the usual battles with guards are much more satisfying than what should be the highlight of the game.

Enemy AI has never been the strong suit of the series, and Bloodlines serves as an all time low. Archers keep trying to shoot you down even when you are right next to them despite having a short blade for close quarters combat. The guards will get suspicious and even give chase if you run by them like a maniac or start climbing structures, but come to a halt anywhere, even midway climbing a building, and their suspicion will begin to wane. Perhaps people hanging off the sides of buildings is commonplace in Cyprus. A few bugs have also crept into the final code, such as the earlier bosses losing health even while blocking when you attack them.

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The graphics are only saving grace for the game, but only partially. Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines is a generally good looking game with good character models, animations, lighting and textures. But the limited processing power of the PSP comes in as an impediment in this department as well. The series is famous for its sprawling cities full of life and incredible draw distances. However, the cities in Bloodlines are sparsely populated, and because of predominance of grey and yellow in the colour palette, the good graphics are nullified by the washed out look. The cities themselves are divided into segments, with loading required as the player moves from segment to segment. Each segment has its own viewpoint which unlocks the location of side missions. However, you will never feel the grandeur of scoping out the entire city that comes with console versions.

The game also features goodies for Assassin’s Creed 2 through PS3-PSP connectivity. The player can earn Florians to spend in Assassin’s Creed 2 depending on how many templar coins you collect in Bloodlines (the in-game collectible). The game also offers six unique weapons that are exclusive to the PS3 version, which unlock as the player progresses the story in Bloodlines.

Conclusion

After playing through the game, I couldn’t help but come out with a feeling that Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines is biting off more than it can chew. It joins the ranks of many games that tried to replicate the home console experience without taking into account the limitations of the PSP, and their combined weight is only burying the PSP deeper into its grave. The key to success is to understand the hardware for all its strengths and weaknesses, and designing a game that plays to the strengths and works around the weaknesses. Griptonite Games and Ubisoft failed to do so, only to deliver a game that we find very hard to recommend even to the most devout fans of the series.

(+) Good graphics and character models; fluid animations
(+) Exclusive weapons and currency for Assassin’s Creed 2 through PS3-PSP connectivity
(+) The opening cinematic is very good (Yes! I’m that hard-pressed)

(-) Poor camera controls break the momentum of fluid movement
(-) Numbskull enemy AI
(-) Dull, uninspiring and forgettable boss battles
(-) Plot is non-existent
(-) Washed out colour palette


How we score games

Title: Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines
Developer/Publisher: Griptonite Games/Ubisoft
Genre: Action-adventure
Rating: 16
Platforms: PSP (Rs 1,599)
Reviewed on: PSP

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