Say what you will, but there's no denying that last winter's sandbox venture Assassin's Creed, was an original, open-world experience that was as much fun as your imagination permitted it to be. Nevertheless, big franchises do eventually get cheap tie-ins, habitually being dumbed down prequels or sequels and on unexpected platforms no less. A prime example of this is Altair's Chronicles, which illustrates the life and times of Altair before the epic quest we all grew to love (or hate) him for. And on two tiny screens no less.
Don't expect Academy Award-winning storytelling, for Altair is caught up in the same jovial mess he was stuck in the previous time, fetching more ridiculous relics (this one called “The Chalice”) for head honcho assassin, Al Mualim; another unfounded, unreasonable excuse for his petty treasure hunting. Each one of the cities Altair searches high and low for the Chalice are bite-sized renditions of the same places visited in the 360 and PS3 titles (Acre, Damascus, etc).
And unlike the next-gen title, there is so very little to climb, hang and swing from. You can scale walls and posts, but unlike having hundreds of possibilities of routes to choose from, playing on the DS forces you to tread the same one or two paths over and over again. A hint indicator breaks the creativity in finding another route, and also causes the game to become extremely linear, directly seeing the correct path in place of finding your own. Aesthetically, all the towns feel very empty, with 10 to 12 NPCs walking about, leaving it feeling very empty if you're used to the hundreds of commoners, beggars and merchants filling the streets – to say nothing of the very, very gritty 3D pixelated visuals. It can come off as detailed and impressive at first, but after a few hard looks it becomes clear that the graphics are just an utter, jagged mess.
Combat is the same as it's always been, with repetitive button mashing and overpowered combos which disperse a crowd of guards in but a couple of minutes. What's even worse is that there's little to no more creeping up on people and stabbing them in the neck, back, or (my personal favorite) straight in the face, which was one of the original games most exhilarating features. You rarely ever sneak up to someone for a sneaky kill and the handful of times you do get the chance, it just doesn't feel as epic as on the 360 or PS3. You just feel more like a random klutz rummaging over the Acre walls and Damascus rooftops, than a silent thief in the night.
Having said all of this, it is very difficult to recommend this title to fans or even to the public for just a rental. Which is so very saddening, because I found the next-gen version to be quite excellent. This game is a watered down, poorly structured disappointment for a DS game, using the Assassin's Creed brand name. And for each interesting idea it seems to incorporate (like breaking arms Ouendan style), they cancel each other out with linear gameplay and tedious platforming. Altair's Chronicles is a stale, uninventive rendition of the universe of our favorite wall-jumping assassin, Altair and should be avoided at all costs. Even he will break your arm if you play this.