I really enjoyed the first Assassin’s Creed. While it was certainly a flawed game, there was enough meat on the bones to give me a more than satisfying gameplay experience. When word broke of a sequel, both for home consoles and the PSP, I was a bit confused. A PS3 or 360 follow-up made sense, but Assassin’s Creed on the PSP? Admittedly, I was skeptical at first, but when the initial images and videos were released, I was downright doubtful that this downsized version was going to be remotely enjoyable. Fortunately, I was wrong. Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines isn’t the travesty I imagined, but it’s not the belle of the ball either.
Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines picks up almost immediately after the conclusion of the first game with Altair continuing on the trail of the Templars in hopes of stopping them from getting their hands on the “Apple of Eden.” True to the apt title, you’ll be assassinating key members of the Templar Knights that didn’t make the cut in the original game. You’ll forge an uneasy alliance with Maria, the female Templar who used to run with Robert DeSable, as she assists in your efforts to prevent the discovery of not just the artifact, but the Templar Archives as well. The story fits within the universe’s parameters fairly well, but there’s nary a sign of Desmond the entire time you’re playing. The lack of any developments in the future timeline that would progress the overall franchise narrative is both good and bad. On the one hand, the game is much more accessible to those who haven’t played the first game. Conversely, those fans of the so far short-lived series won’t find any new ground covered here, and may find themselves asking, “That’s it?” when the brief adventure ends.
Compacting a sprawling open-world game like Assassin’s Creed down into a miniaturized version couldn’t have been easy, but the game certainly does suffer for its lack of depth. Combat controls are surprisingly decent, and just about all the moves players had in the original game are implemented here. The only concession the developers seem to have made with the action is the enemy AI. Many of the foes you’ll fight are pretty stupid. I don't know whether there wasn’t room on the UMD for more intelligent coding, or enemies are simpletons to make up for the game’s less than stellar camera controls, but you’ll find that you’ll be able to best the Knights in combat quite easily. That is, unless you run. Evasion is also extremely easy this time around, with people losing sight of you much quicker, and thus giving up on the chase before too long. For me, one of the most enjoyable parts of Assassin’s Creed was escaping through the alleyways and across the rooftops to avoid confrontation as much as possible. Here though, in spite of how unintelligent the enemies were, I found myself fighting every soldier that spotted me since the parkour aspects of Bloodlines aren’t as anywhere near as sharp as the console version.
In the first game, I spent hours just roaming around Damascus and Acre, exploring each and every facet of the medieval metropolises, just because I could. I didn’t mind not progressing the story because Assassin’s Creed provided a fresh, new way to navigate the world, and I never got bored with it. In transferring the game to the PSP, the parkour gameplay has seen the biggest drop off. There are still plenty of buildings to climb, areas to explore, and perches to leap from, but the climbing in this game feels much more linear that it did previously. Instead of being able to grab nearly anything when climbing, the footholds are very obvious, and take away the awe and wonder of leaping from rooftop to rooftop. The lack of a second analog stick only ever hurts the PSP when camera control is an issue, and in a game like this, ease of camera control is huge. I can’t stress enough how much of a thrill kill it is to have to stop and adjust the camera when you have a real solid roof run going. The camera problems didn’t bother me so much in combat thanks to the lock-on button, but I’m still waiting for some developer to find a way to cure the PSP’s camera woes completely.
The PSP is certainly not the PS3, and I never expected Bloodlines to come close to its big brother’s presentation capabilities. That said, I also didn’t expect the game to be such a graphical disappointment either. There are hardly ever more than a handful of characters on the screen at once, and textures in the game are nearly non-existent. While the few cities in the game are actually a pretty fair size, they’re extremely compartmentalized, which means you’ll be waiting for loading screens more often than you should. The original game didn’t present a very vibrant color palette, but Bloodlines dulls it even more. It’s hard to believe there could be so many different variations of grey and brown as there are in this game. The sporadic splotch of red on a Templar soldier breaks up the blandness of the world, but not very much. The game makes up for pathetic draw distance by implementing the mysterious white glow of the Animus around borders, despite the machine not appearing in the game whatsoever. Voice work isn’t great, but it’s passable. Repetitive animations are noticeable, but can be forgiven considering the limited storage capacity of the UMD. It’s just a shame the space they saved by reusing movements wasn’t put to better use aiding any of the game’s more obtrusive graphical limitations.
Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines isn’t a great game. There are better platformers on the handheld, like Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters, and there are better action games to choose from, like God of War: Chains of Olympus. Bloodlines combines aspects of both of those games into something a little less impressive and coherent, but somehow still entertaining. Getting past the game’s shortcomings isn’t easy, but if you’re able to deal with a wonky camera, less than impressive graphics, and combat that’s at times insultingly simple, you’ll find that Bloodlines is mildly entertaining. So it’s got that going for it.