Ubisoft’s trimmed down portable Assassin’s Creed provides all the basics the franchise is known for, but repetitive missions and stale combat dull the experience.
World-building & Story
Following on directly from the end of the first Assassin’s Creed where Altair defeats the Templar leader Robert de Sable, Bloodlines chronicles Altair in his pursuit of the remaining Templars who have fled to Cyprus under the rule of a new leader – Armand Bouchard. From here, he assists in freeing the repressed island while continuing to find our more about the mysterious Templars.
Surprisingly, Bloodlines neither feels like a pointless spinoff nor does it detract from the original game. It depicts a logical series of events following the conclusion of Assassin’s Creed and even expands on it in interesting ways – with more revealed about the Templars and their goals, as well as Altair’s personal story. PSP had its fair share of watered-down titles with no relevance to their console counterparts, but this definitely isn’t one of them.
Most interesting the relationship between Altair and Maria, an antagonist from the previous game whose life he spares. Initially presented as a prisoner of the Assassins, she slowly grows to trust Altair as their fates are forced together and the way conversations shift from antagonistic joking to more friendly exchanges are fun to watch unfold. While Altair himself is a fairly bland protagonist, he’s much better when paired up with Maria.
The story as a whole is fairly standard fare, though. You’ll engage with the local people who have a variety of mundane problems while slowly working towards infiltrating the Templar Order by picking off bosses one by one. You’ll uncover bits and pieces of important information along the way, but overall this isn’t one of the more exciting plots the series has produced. It isn’t helped that nearly all the side characters and even bosses are poorly fleshed out due to the title’s rapid plot progression.
At least the world-building is handled better, with the two Cyrpiot islands used feeling like realistic places. A lack of civilians present on the streets (a hardware limitation) is explained by fear of going out under oppressive Templar rule; buildings have that familiar Mediterranean feel and the way the story progresses gives you a good overview of each area you visit. I certainly felt engrossed in the Assassin’s Creed universe when I was playing.
Presentation & Sound
As one of the later-life PSP games from a major western publisher, Bloodlines is a brilliant looking game for the hardware it’s running on that still looks great on Vita – despite a few rough edges.
The detailed character models are one of the game’s greatest assets – while some occasionally dopey-looking quest-giving NPC’s can drag things down, Altair’s model is brilliant. He looks very cool in his hooded Assassin suit and realistically leaps between rooftops and clambers up the sides of buildings in pursuit of his targets. Little flourishes of detail like him tumbling when running into civilians or perching on a wall just add to the immersion.
Environments remain less impressive. The series’ trademark vantage points to sychronise with the area are still here and provide a brilliant sweeping shot of the whole area – it’s very impressive to see open landscape of this scope on PSP and that’s to be commended, but once you’re down on the streets things are less impressive. Lots of buildings are repeated and feature stretched textures; things like the familiar hay bales don’t animate at all when dived into and the lack of civilians does soon become apparent.
Other issues are prevalent too. Enemies are often repeated over and over – armored Templars in either red or silver are seen far too often, often showing up in fours or fives for fights. Similarly, some climbing animations aren’t particularly smooth, with Altair appearing to glide between objects rather than moving with precision. There’s nothing majorly wrong here and it’s impressive for a PSP title, but things could have just used a little bit more polish.
Sound at least is much better – all the familiar sound effects and noises from Assassin’s Creed are here from the sheath of a blade being pulled to the familiar jingle when a mission is completed and the game is saved. Voice acting is on good form too, with the majority of the cast putting in a solid performance – even if some of the side characters come across a little cheesy. I can’t say there’s anything particularly memorable about the soundtrack however, which is slightly disappointing.
Gameplay & Content
Taking the same stealth-action gameplay in open environments that made its predecessor so popular, Bloodlines does a good job of distilling the core Assassin’s Creed experience to a handheld. Still, at times the game feels sparse and a little simple, meaning long-time fans may come away slightly underwhelmed.
At all times you’ll control Altair, who veers wildly between being easy to control and being a pain in the ass. He has two control modes – normal will be more stealthy allowing him to blend and walk at a slow pace; while high-profile allows him to move more swiftly but attracts a lot of attention. Being an assassin means you’ll often have to opt for the quieter option which can be frustrating when you want to blast around the city, but fits in with the game’s atmosphere and feel.
One of the series’ main traits is the ability to go nearly anywhere and climb nearly everything which is fully in tact in Bloodlines and is incredibly impressive for a handheld title. Being able to just escape up the side of a building then dive into cover to hide from pursuers is liberating and there’s an enjoyable aspect to just exploring around. Yet it’s also frustrating, as routes that look manageable won’t register and on more than one occasion I had Altair jump in completely the wrong direction to his death thanks to some appalling camera angles (a particular platforming section in the castle was particularly bad for this).
Still, the world presented here is an impressive technical feat and fun to explore around. Rather than giving you a completely open map, Bloodlines divides things into smaller zones which you can freely roam with loading screens in between each. It works well, still giving a great feel of exploration without having terrible draw distances or pop-in; meaning a realistic and enjoyable representation of Cyprus can be made.
Sadly, outside of the main story there’s precious little to actually do in this world. Each area may have two or three side missions and these are often the same tasks repeated over and over – capture a fleeing spy; assassinate a specific target or (worst of all) save a civilian from a group of Templars. The tedium in undertaking these tasks rapidly sets in and although they’re optional, a little more variety would go a long way. Collecting hidden coins does little to stave off this feeling either, even if they are used to enhance Altair’s combat skills.
While exploration and mission variety is slightly disappointing, combat is a massive letdown. While it’s smart on paper – you can anticipate enemy moves and counter; dodge out of the way and use a variety of weapons, in reality it merely boils down to waiting to counter then killing a foe in one or mashing square until their guard breaks and you can strike. Things are complicated when multiple enemies are involved but even then, I rarely found myself particularly challenged.
Bloodlines is at its best when it gives you the opportunity to engage in pure stealth, picking off foes from following patterns with your hidden blade or finding a perch to throw knives from – this feels rewarding and very fun. Yet the game chooses to engage in pure fighting more often than not, which rapidly becomes an exercise in wasting time until every one is dispatched. It’s disappointing since there is the basis for a brilliant game underneath, that Griptonite chose to ignore in favour of irritating combat.
There’s also not a massive amount here – you’ll likely see the majority of what the game has to offer by around the 5-6 hour mark. It’s a fun distraction, but not something I feel is particularly essential playing for fans of the franchise.
An impressive technical feat for the PSP that manages to keep the core Assassin’s Creed experience in tact, Bloodlines suffers from repetitive mission; tedious combat and some imprecise platforming controls. There’s an enjoyable open-world to explore here and a rather enjoyable love story between Altair and Maria, but I’m not sure it’s worth enduring all the flaws to see this through to the end.