Way back in 2007—when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows was just published, Barack Obama was vying to be president, and a funny gadget called an iPhone first appeared—the original Assassin’s Creed game hit shelves with an exotic sneak-and-kill-in-the-shoes-of-your-ancestor vibe.
Over the next 15 years and more than a dozen games, the franchise has spiraled out in different historical directions and swelled its entries into massive 100-hour titles bloated with all sorts of recognizable historical figures, gaming extras, exotic weapons and extravagant backstories. And in a large sense, Assassin’s Creed went from being a small-scale sneaking around title to being more of a large-scale action-adventure battler.
The new Assassin’s Creed Mirage is gamemaker Ubisoft’s attempt at trimming everything back to a semblance of where the series began: with a sword, a knife and a whole bunch of slip-through-the-shadows-to-steal-and-kill quests. A game where stealth is key.
The story revolves around a Baghdad pickpocket named Basim ibn Is’haq. After a bold palace burglary goes sideways and the local Caliph ends up dead, Basim must hightail it out of town. But he happens to also cross paths with a member of a group of assassins called the Hidden Ones.
And Basim comes to realize that a huge plot is unfolding, led by another group called the Order, a secret society that’s worming its way into Baghdad’s upper echelons of power. Those who know anything about Assassin’s Creed games, recognize those two groups as the predecessors of the ever-battling Assassin’s Creed and Templars.
Before you can say, what’s that blade up your sleeve?, Basim is now a hitman-in-training. And he’s preparing to take on quests and “honorably” serve everything good by uncovering and murdering everything bad. Oh, and yes, there’s a major twist that’s revealed by the game’s end.
As mentioned, everything in Mirage feels a bit scaled back compared to some recent entries. And some gamers will appreciate that. The map, for example, is centered only on the ancient city of Baghdad—but that smaller region is fleshed out with more details and quests. Parkour, close-quarter combat, and stealth are core elements of play.
The pace of combat is slower this time around as well. The weapons are fewer and upgradable. The character skill trees are smaller, more defined and flexible. And many of the quests are, in a way, set up more like a Hitman game. Players are given open objectives with a variety of ways to explore, slip in and out of crowds or behind the scenes, and figure out how to use the environment and other characters to eliminate the target before them.
Assassin’s Creed Mirage is strictly a single-player game.
Mirage’s gameplay is focused and its world is detailed and inviting. And the story has an interesting (if well-worn) twist by game’s end.
This is an M-rated action-adventure title with lots and lots of bloodletting in its mix. The gamemakers go to great lengths to drive home that our secretive murderer is the good guy while the opposing secretive murderers are the really bad ones, but the game’s frankly all about people being impaled through the throat, temple, chest and back in a variety of gory ways.
Swords, daggers, arrows and a concealed wrist blade are the common weapons of choice. And they can be upgraded to increase their deadly potency. You can, for instance, obtain a blade ability that dissolves a body after a kill and melts away any fleshy evidence.
This game also introduces a sneaky new multi-foe murdering technique called Assassin Focus. If the protagonist is perfectly hidden, he can mark up to five enemies whom he kills in rapid succession as time slows. This ability is recharged by then performing more stealthy kills.
All of that is to say that even though Mirage rewards sneaky choices, it’s still plenty bloody. And the combat can become very frenetic at times with painful screams and gushing goo. There are also some dark cutscenes, including: Basim’s dreams of desiccated corpses; a scene where he chops off his own finger; children being hung up on posts; a prisoner being slowly killed with a blade sinking into his chest.
You also encounter sporadic uses of the f-word, s-word and other lighter profanity.
Assassin’s Creed Mirage attempts to harken back to a time when the kills were more hidden from view. But there’s still lots of gushing jugular slashing here, and you see it all.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.