The original Assassin’s Creed was so ambitious; so uncompromising in its scale and vision, that “next-gen” consoles could barely heft its weight. The result? An uneven experience, and a handful of thumbs-downs from a fair number of critics. Yet here we are two years later, asking Sony’s puny PSP, with its creaky, PS2-era innards, to achieve what the Goliaths to its David could not. And so, by all logical accounts, this should be the part where I absolutely ream into Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines, leaving it torn and bleeding in a bargain bin with so many other failed PSP conversions.
But it’s not.
I’m happy to report that Bloodlines is, by and large, a good game. Now, it’s not a game-of-the-year contender dark horse or anything like that, but it did keep me fully enthralled from beginning to end, which is more than I can say for the original Assassin’s Creed.
The game picks up shortly after Assassin’s Creed’s ending, more or less. Desmond’s nowhere to be found in Bloodlines, so don’t expect the game to tie all of the original’s dangling plot threads into a neat bow. Instead, Bloodlines‘ plot feels like a section of decent, but ultimately inconsequential fluff that was cut from the original; a director’s cut type of deal that sees Altair return to Templar country for his dessert and a thin mint. Really though, between Altair’s “cool,” but mostly boring stoicism and a narrative that accomplishes very little in the grand scheme of things, the plot comes off as little more than an excuse for Altair to hop around killing people.
But that’s not actually a bad thing! As those of you who’ve played Assassin’s Creed probably know, killing’s all that made Altair’s first jaunt – or the playable bits of it, anyway – worthwhile. Fortunately, Bloodlines’ developers were well aware of this, so unlike its predecessor, which might as well have been called Flag Collector’s Creed or Amateur Pickpocket’s Creed, Bloodlines makes no bones about your role as a relentless killer. In fact, aside from a few side missions, almost every mission in the game demands that you add at least one new body to your growing mountain of corpses – typically more!
Fortunately, the game does a pretty good job of dressing its stab-happy central goal with enough variables that you probably won’t be distracted by the admittedly repetitive nature of its naked core. Toward the end of the game it becomes apparent that the developers either ran out of time or ideas, with a mish-mash set of story missions that force you to sprint around cities, picking fights with nameless goons for no real reason.
Aside from that little gaffe, Bloodline’s setpieces deserve major props. Infiltrating the lairs of important targets is tense yet never plodding, and the ensuing boss fights are surprisingly creative – except for the final baddy, who renders all of your accrued knowledge and battle tactics useless with one strike of his unblockable, lightning-quick cleaver. In general, though, missions are well-paced and bite-sized – practically beckoning you to play “just one more” before sleeping, eating, or performing other such inconvenient survival rituals.
Beyond that, Bloodlines can best be described as an ode to the “assassin” parts of Assassin’s Creed. As such, the series’ counter-oriented combat, one button free-running, and open-world exploration make the jump to PSP fully intact. Or at least, as fully as the PSP’s single, not-so-nimble analog nub allows, which causes Altair’s famous eagle-like precision to suffer from a case of clipped wings. The game’s somewhat finicky camera and tendency to slightly misread control inputs can be frustrating at first, but before long, accounting for the proverbial horse’s occasional buck becomes second nature.
Bloodlines certainly makes the PSP sweat, with sharp visuals and expansive vistas. Unfortunately, the apparent technical wizardry uses its fair share of smoke and mirrors, resulting in nearly deserted cities and some occasional environmental clipping and tearing glitches. These technical flaws don’t hamper the fun factor too often, nor do many of the game’s other issues. Certainly, if you’ve got some sort of beef with Assassin’s Creed’s combat or free-running systems – which are front-and-center for the majority of Bloodlines – then this isn’t the game for you. But if wanton murder with a side-helping of parkour has you licking your chops, Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines is a bloody good time.
Bottom Line: Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines is by no means perfect, but in many ways, it’s a step up from Assassin’s Creed 1. Sure, the controls are a bit janky and the story will have you reaching for the nearest can of Monster, but on the whole, Bloodlines is quick, violent fun.
Recommendation: Rent it. Since the game lacks Assassin’s Creed 1’s filler missions, yet doesn’t compensate for them with Assassin’s Creed 2’s bountiful wealth of content, Bloodlines clocks in at around five or six hours long. A few unlockable item and stat upgrades, along with hidden coins, extend the game’s life a tad, but not enough to warrant a full purchase.
Nathan Grayson thinks all this fictional Team Jacob vs. Team Edward nonsense is foolish, and instead recommends that people redirect their energy into the very real Templar vs. Assassin war that’s going on right outside our homes.