I still remember picking up the first Assassin’s Creed as a teenager living in the Middle East. The moment I began playing it, what immediately caught my eye was the fact that here was a game with a Muslim main character, something I had not previously encountered before. While that may have been a glorious introductory hook, what kept me sated was the free-running exploration, combat, stealth, and historical setting.
Years of staying true to that formula has kept the franchise a firm favorite of mine, even as it strayed from the mechanics and style that made it as big as it was. Mirage represents a return to those roots in the best way imaginable: free running in a unique historical setting, boatloads of political intrigue, a character plunged into a shadowy war, and the kind of combat I dreamed about as a kid.
This time we find ourselves in the shoes of Basim ibn Ishaq, a thief living in the city of Anbar at the start of the game. Shenanigans lead to him breaking into the palace of the 9th century Caliph Abu Fadl Al Mutawakil who winds up dead after a short struggle. Basim, as a result, finds himself a wanted man and taken in by The Hidden Ones, as the Assassins are called. A few training segments in Alamut later, he is a full-fledged member of the order and sent to take on their enemies in the legendary Madinat As Salam or, as others called it, Baghdad.
Its hard to understate just how much fun it is to free run in this game. Whether on the outskirts of a city, the palm-laden farms a stone’s throw from the great Abbasid metropolis, or in cities, there’s a thrill to finding out just what’s around the corner. There are plenty of missions, side-quests, and collectibles to keep you on the move if the beautiful settings aren’t enough. And should you find yourself face to face with an enemy a robust combat system reminiscent of early AC games will see you out of trouble.
For his part, Basim is a refreshing protagonist. Ubisoft have taken a different approach this time, giving us someone with more of an emotional core than the brooding Altair or brash Edward Kenway. Yes, he’s got plenty of guts, but there’s a thirst for justice that moves him and a deep desire to be more than he is. He wants to be somebody and to make the world he was born in better. It may sound hocky, but it’s written well and seeing him grow is a real joy. Veterans of the franchise will find some great parallels between Basim and the remarkable Ezio Auditore.
Great story and tons of action make it a must-play. But just as important is the work Ubisoft put into creating an authentic setting. In a world full of xenophobia, bigotry, and racism, it’s refreshing to see Arab-Islamic culture rendered sincerely and, for the most part, accurately. Hearing people speak Arabic properly, pronounce names properly, and faithfully recreate what has become a legendary period in history is wonderful. Most importantly is that it isn’t all flattering or a rose-colored view of the past. It’s an excellent historical-fiction tale that is a much more realistic interpretation of that time-period than most others.
In a nutshell, this is Assassin’s Creed returning to what it does best. Come for the engaging story, fun gameplay mechanics, and beautiful graphics. You’ll find yourself staying for its great setting, enchanting characters, and a chance to experience one of the high-points of Middle Eastern civilization.
Ismael David Mujahid, Managing Editor