Assassin's Creed Identity Review

Stab, Hide, Stab

Assassin's Creed Identity
Ubisoft

Since the launch of the App Store in 2008, few franchises have seen quite as many iPhone releases as Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed. The studio has released nearly every sort of game you could imagine on mobile, from tabletop-style card games to multiplayer arenas. There is even a great pirate game that recreated everyone's favorite part of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag - high seas adventure.

Many of these have gone the way of most older mobile games, but despite the bevy of releases Assassin's Creed has seen on the App Store, there's never been a game that tried to accurately recreate the stealthy fun of the console originals.

Assassin's Creed Identity is the first game to try and fix this oversight, and it makes a valiant effort - but ultimately misses the mark.

What is it?

Returning to a series favorite era and locale (the Italian Renaissance), players set off on a series of missions to solve the Mystery of the Crows. I wish I could tell you more about the story than that, but unlike a traditional Assassin's Creed game in which you live the story through gameplay, the narrative in Identity is doled out in text-based mission descriptions, leaving the gameplay with little more than tasks like "identify the Crow" or "assassinate this character" to forward the plot. 

Sadly, this isn't the only compromise that's been made for series fans. 

While Assassin's Creed Identity does its best to recreate the hiding, climbing, and stealthy killing that the franchise is known for, the gameplay feels considerably stripped down from its console counterparts.

Rather than having to figure out the best way to ascend a building, for example, you'll simply move your thumb towards a wall and your assassin will automatically scale their way to the top. Murder a guard in broad daylight, and you'll be able to walk away casually 90% of the time. (The other 10% you'll just have to stab whatever guard also saw you, which takes all of two button taps, or escape to a roof an wait until the heat dies down, which seems to take 10-20 seconds).

But is it fun?

The areas aren't terribly large, and the missions aren't terribly exciting. This is a game of straightforward kill quests, escort missions, and playing Renaissance Postal Service. By offering a level-based design rather than a single open world, the game skews more towards mobile sensibilities - which is appreciated - but ultimately reduces the fun of discovery that comes with most Assassin's Creed games.

The missions do sometimes feel a bit meatier, with the fifth mission, "Broken Chains," remaining a personal favorite. In this instance, I needed to free a prisoner who was being held in the city, but to do so I needed to avoid the gaze of regular guards while finding captains that I could bribe. Missions like this held some real excitement, and really helped a lot of the game's basic skills come together in neat ways. Had all of Assassin's Creed Identity felt like this, I think they really would have been on to something.

After a while though, even opening up each mission could be a pain. Access is tied to your current level, and while simply completing missions would result in enough XP to level up in the first few stages, pretty soon I found myself without the experience needed to unlock the next part of the story.

This means going back to grind through past missions, or participating in simple "contracts" that give you a single task to complete and can usually be wrapped up in less than a minute.

Easy on the eyes

What it lacks in gameplay, Assassin's Creed Identity makes up for in visuals. The App Store has a lot of gorgeous games, but there's no denying that Assassin's Creed Identity could make a serious claim for the throne. There are moments where the environments look awfully close to the Assassin's Creed II art direction that inspired them. In short, if you're looking for a game that says "mobile games are gorgeous too!," nobody would argue with you once you showed them Assassin's Creed Identity.

And yet, even here, some weird compromises have been made. Missions are typically met with rewards of new gear, but equipping these only changes your character's stats, never their appearance. In 2016, I'd be hard-pressed to find another big-budget mobile game that doesn't give you that nice ego stroke of "look how much cooler my character is now because I made them that way!" And the user interface feels very crowded at times, which can make the whole experience feel clunky - so much so that I've triggered the Options Menu a half dozen times in mid-gameplay without even knowing how I did it.

More money please

Assassin's Creed Identity is a premium iPhone game with a premium price tag, but it wasn't always this way. The game first soft launched in select markets nearly two years before its eventual release - and back in those days, it was a free-to-play experience. 

There are other games that have successfully made the transition from free-to-play soft launch to paid worldwide release, but they're few and far between. Hitman: Sniper is a good example of when this works well. Assassin's Creed Identity is not.

While there are no energy timers to limit your progress in Assassin's Creed Identity, there are multiple nudges and reminders that you can spend real money to get a little bit more of what you want. Forging weapons doesn't just require old items to destroy; you'll need to spend in-game currency. Want a slot for a second assassin? You'll need a ton of in-game currency here too. Or maybe you just want to spend that new skill point you've earned: let's hope you have enough of the associated currency to buy the skill you want.

It speaks volumes about the game that it even has multiple currencies at all.

This is fine in the world of free-to-play, but most consumers would hope that a game they paid to download would be content with the money they've already ponied up. Feeling the artificial wall of "not enough currency" when you have all of the other components is a brutal feeling in any game - and if it's a game you've already paid for, that's downright sinful.

Do I buy it?

Assassin's Creed Identity isn't a bad game, but it isn't a particularly good one either. It has the look of a proper game in the Assassin's Creed series, and it tries hard to mimic the gameplay, but there's no denying that the soul of the franchise feels somehow absent. With shorter missions, stripped down gameplay and simpler objectives, it feels more like a mock-up that someone might use to explain Assassin's Creed than it does a proper game in the franchise.

It's playable, and it gets interesting in parts, but fans of the series will no doubt be frustrated by its limitations.

Assassin's Creed Identity is available on the App Store.