Assassin's Creed PC Preview

While I found the theatrical cut of Ridley Scott's Crusades Era epic Kingdom of Heaven to be decidedly average, the director's cut was a completely different story, a surprising piece of work that managed to transform a flat film into one of my favorites.

So it is fitting that a game likely influenced by Scott's movie was also similarly improved by its own director's cut. I still can't claim to be a frothing fan of Assassin's Creed--Jade Raymond, bless her, is a far cry from Ridley Scott--but there is no doubt that, provided your machine can run it smoothly, Assassin's Creed: Director's Cut Edition (PC) reigns supreme over its console forebears.

And yet, the game is essentially the same in ported form. You still play as Altair, the angsty third-person assassin taking orders from a secret society of trained killers. You are still faced with carrying out nine murders, moving from town to medieval town, leaping across rooftops and dispatching various enemies that stand in your way. You still must sit through long, belabored cutscenes between each chapter of the overwrought story. It's still not quite as fun as it should be.

And while I wasn't wild about the console versions of Ubisoft Montreal's Assassin's Creed, to my surprise, the few additions made to the PC version partially alleviate my main complaint with the original: the dreadfully repetitive investigation sequences.

Law and Order: Jerusalem
A major annoyance in the console version, players must perform tiresome investigations before being allowed to destroy their primary targets. Consisting of exciting activities, such as sitting on park benches and following old men down alleyways, these tasks were typically a drag, like being made to watch an episode of Murder She Wrote before playing Grand Theft Auto. The rest of the game didn't justify the amount of boredom thrust upon the player.

However, the PC port remedies this problem by filling in the gaps between the action with--wait for it--more action. Yes, action in an action game--who would have thought?

Rather than forcing bench-sitting as a prerequisite to murder, the designers have now allowed you to complete several other, less tedious challenges that fulfill the same function. Players will have the choice of participating in timed rooftop races, archer assassinations, merchant stand destruction, and escort challenges, in addition to the five previous tasks. All are fairly self-descriptive, and all serve to infuse the investigatory intermissions with some much-needed life, by way of death.

The archer assassination challenge is a prime example of Ubisoft learning from its mistakes. Messing around with the standard rooftop-posted archer enemies was one of the more entertaining things to do in the first iteration of Assassin's Creed. Now players are not only sanctioned to do the same, but the archer slaughter works to replace the painfully dull, aforementioned challenges of Ass Creed proper, killing two boring birds with one knife.

Crusade Against the Machine
Other than the mission additions, the game remains mostly untouched. From a mechanical standpoint it operates well enough with a mouse and keyboard, though an Xbox 360 controller is of course supported. The game's graphical touches are largely intact, with only a few minor bugs and glitches showing up. For all its faults, Assassin's Creed is a technically impressive game, and its PC port is no different--that is, if you can run the beast.

Read 'em and weep.

Minimum system requirements:

  • Processor: Dual core processor 2.6 GHz Intel Pentium D or AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ (Intel Core 2 Duo 2.2 GHz or AMD Athlon 64 X2 4400+ or better recommended)
  • RAM: 1 GB Windows XP / 2 GB Windows Vista
  • Video Card: 256 MB DirectX 10.0-compliant video card or DirectX 9.0-compliant card with Shader Model 3.0 or higher (see supported list)* Sound Card: DirectX 9.0 or 10.0-compliant sound card (5.1 sound card recommended)
  • DirectX Version: DirectX 9.0 or10.0 libraries (included on disc)
  • DVD-ROM: DVD-ROM dual-layer drive
  • Hard Drive Space: 8 GB
  • Peripherals Supported: Keyboard, mouse, optional controller (Xbox 360 Controller for Windows recommended)
  • Supported Video Cards at Time of Release:
    • ATI RADEON X1600*/1650*-1950/HD 2000/3000 series
    • NVIDIA GeForce 6800*/7/8/9 series
    *PCI Express only supported
In some cases besting the likes of Crysis in the department of computer domination, the Assassin's Creed port isn't just a beast--it is The Beast, the PC Antichrist, a wicked thing that only the very courageous will attempt to face.

On an Intel quad-core with 3GB of RAM and an 8800GTX, running at 1900x1200 resolution and max graphical settings, my own machine kept its head above 20 FPS, typically resting somewhere between 30 and 60. It runs better than Crysis most of the time, but not by much.

One upside to all of this is that the load times on the PC are considerably faster than you'll experience on the Xbox 360 version. Often the annoying tutorial voice had barely begun speaking before I was warped from the loading paddock into the next scene.

Regardless, those PC gamers with weaker systems will be stuck wondering whether it's worth the hassle to play a title that left many gamers divided last year.

Peter Parkour
Jokingly referred to as a murder simulator, it's really more accurate to call Assassin's Creed a climbing sim. The parkour-style rooftop crawling is the real focus here, and it's carried off with some brilliantly realized animation blending. Leaping from ledge to ledge across the expansive medieval cityscapes is a decent amount of Spiderman-like fun--especially when being pursued by a host of soldiers. At its best, it's Need for Speed meets Kingdom of Heaven, a real technical achievement.

But for me, Assassin's Creed remains a game that fails to live up to its potential. After hours and hours put into the thing, I still feel like I'm going through the motions, with little room for experimentation found within the game's open world--a giant series of cities that tend to feel more like static backdrops than living, breathing towns.

Moving from objective to objective, following the GPS-like minimap from one end of Jerusalem to the other, killing targets and sitting through dreadful cutscenes--none of it brings me back for more. Each piece is mildly fun, but the sum tally amounts to a lacking number of stand-out moments. The extra missions make the game thoroughly tolerable, but not great.

In any case, if you're at all interested in playing Assassin's Creed, this is looking like the copy to own. Just don't be surprised if it ends up owning your system.

Assassin's Creed: Director's Cut Edition is set for release on April 8, for an MSRP of $49.99. It is also available on Steam.