Assassin’s Creed: Altair’s Chronicles Stealthily Invades the iPhone

altairchronGameloft continues to release big titles for the iPhone and iPod Touch, and their most recent release is no exception. The title in question is Ubisoft’s runaway success, Assassin’s Creed, which was wildly successful when released for both the Xbox 360 and PS3 platforms in 2007. Prequel Altair’s Chronicles came out for the Nintendo DS last year, but was met with less than stellar reviews. This year, Gameloft has ported Assassin’s Creed: Altair’s Chronicles ($9.99) to the iPhone platform. Would it fare well on Apple’s handheld? Let’s find out.

Graphics

photo4The game looks good on the iPhone, about as good as it does on the DS, judging from the screenshots I’ve seen online. Going from dual to single screen means that some game elements change, but it never felt like I was missing out on anything by not having the second display. Gameloft throws in a video introduction which is gorgeous, with gameplay footage taken from the PS3/Xbox 360 installment of the series. It might mislead people not familiar with the graphics limitations of the platform, but it’s not a big deal.

In-game CG video segments are just plain bizarre, though. Often I had trouble figuring out what was going on, and they’re shown in little frames in the center of the screen, making them very, very small. Also, during non-playable interactions using the actual sprites, character movement was often improperly synced with voice-over audio, which just seems unprofessional in a title of this caliber from this particular developer. I also think that some video segments just plain didn’t play, because there were times when I had no idea how I got to be where I was.

Still, minor issues aside, it’s a good-looking game, and gameplay only slowed a couple of times — pretty much on par with Hero of Sparta, or Gun for the PSP.

Audio

photo-41Despite sync issues, and problems with the game’s writing and storyline, voice-over work was actually pretty impressive in Altair’s Chronicles. The audio quality of the voice tracks is great, and the acting isn’t terrible. There seem to be a lot of arbitrary differences between what characters actually say and what the subtitles think they’re saying, but it’s more amusing than anything else.

Soundtrack and sound effects are both done well. I especially appreciate the sound that indicates a special action button is available, because I’d miss it without the auditory cue most of the time. My largish thumb generally obscures that part of the screen.

Gameplay

I actually haven’t played Assassin’s Creed for either the PS3 or the Xbox, so my impression of the gameplay here won’t be comparative with that title, which I don’t think is fair anyways, considering the disparity between the platforms. The most important factor for gameplay on the iPhone/iPod Touch, for me, are controls. In this case, Gameloft stuck with the formula that worked for them in Hero of Sparta and Brothers in Arms: Hour of Heroes. That means you control movement via an on-screen D-pad, and jump/attack/perform actions with buttons on the right side of the screen. The difference is that where those games were primarily action-oriented, Altair’s Chronicles is very much a platformer.

photo-3It works well enough, although there were a few very frustrating moments when it seemed like bad camera angles and awkward controls combined to make simple tasks infuriatingly difficult. In fact, that probably helps explain why Gameloft peppered in Checkpoints with such frequency. It almost makes frustrating control experiences seem like challenging gameplay. Almost, but not quite.

Even so, I did finish the game the same day I started playing it (albeit on “Easy”), so the control issues weren’t enough to make me give up altogether (although I did have to take a couple extended, frustration-based breaks). The game is thoroughly playable, and some of the mini-games, like picking people’s pockets or interrogating people, are perfectly suited to the iPhone platform.

Verdict

If you liked Hero of Sparta, and/or Brothers in Arms for the iPhone and iPod Touch, you’ll probably also enjoy Assassin’s Creed: Altair’s Chronicles. Don’t go looking for a great and illuminating story line, however, since it seems like a broken and hastily cobbled together prequel at best. Also, be ready to wish you had a physical D-pad, which for me is just part of the iPhone gaming territory at this point, and a trade-off I’m willing to make for some more traditional platform gaming from time-to-time.

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