A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this game's protagonist is a righteous assassin who kills anyone who gets in his way as he carries out what appears to be a just and important mission. The sword-based combat is bloodless but still quite brutal thanks to the game's impressive 3-D graphics and character animations. You will see your character forcefully plunge a blade into a foe's chest. Plus, you are occasionally instructed to stealthily attack enemies from behind, giving the violence a murderous twinge. The game's events are framed within the context of the Third Crusade, and a basic overview of the conflict that raged between the Crusaders and the Saracens is provided. However, the story stops short of providing a proper history lesson, electing instead to focus on the concocted mythology of the Assassin's Creed universe.
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What's it about?
ASSASSIN'S CREED: ALTAIR'S CHRONICLES for the Nintendo DS is a prequel to last fall's Assassin's Creed released for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The game provides preamble to its forebear's dense and complex story by expanding upon protagonist Altaïr's quest to find and destroy a mystical object called the Chalice. The game itself is vaguely similar to its predecessor in that players once again get to explore beautifully recreated 12th-century Arabian cities by climbing walls, jumping from one rooftop to the next, and regularly getting into frays with local guards. However, while the original allowed players to explore the game world in whatever manner they wanted and complete missions in their own particular style, Altaïr's Chronicles is much more linear, forcing players to follow a set path through each level.
Is it any good?
At the start, most players will likely be impressed by the striking 3-D environments and characters, which are easily counted among the best yet created for Nintendo's two-screened handheld. It's a gorgeous game full of detailed buildings and accurately scaled people who move with motion-captured fluidity and grace. Indeed, controlling Altaïr as he moves around city environments is like playing in a giant urban jungle gym -- a video game version of parkour. The problem, as is unfortunately the case in many action/adventure games designed for the DS, is that the system's minute screen is just too tiny for what the developers wanted to do. For starters, we can't really see more than about 10 yards in front of or behind of Altaïr, which means many of our jumps are made with blind faith that there will be a platform for our hero to land on.
Aside from jumping, climbing, and fighting, the only other activities in Altaïr's Chronicles are little mini-games that make use of the DS' touch screen. One sees players interrogating enemies by touching pressure points on a drawing of a human back, while another involves pickpocketing other characters by looking at a close-up of the contents of their bags and using the stylus to drag the desired item through a clutter of objects. Both are somewhat silly and unrealistic but can be surprisingly challenging. Still, they get a little tiresome after the first couple of times you play them.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the Crusades, what they were, and how well or poorly the game handles the subject matter. Do you enjoy games that attempt to root themselves in history? Do they make you more interested in learning about history? Did you feel like you learned something while playing this game? What do you think of the notion that an assassin could be someone fighting on the side of justice? Is it possible, or is it just a contradiction?
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