by MARTY DEMAREST & r & & r & Assassin's Creed & r & Rated Mature; PS3, 360 & r & 2 Stars & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & ssassin's Creed, like the Hitman franchise, makes a game out of stalking and slaying, this time in the Middle East during the Crusades. As an assassin named Altair Ibn La-Ahad, I wander across a landscape that has the geological interest of crumpled paper and the color of faded dust. The same formation of five rocks pimples the ground and identical shrubs grow at such predictable intervals that they crop up in the middle of roads over which Christian invaders regularly tromp.

The medieval cities where most of my assassinations take place are packed with hundreds of people spawned from the same five or six models, all moving identically as they mill around the streets. They never go anywhere, unlike in Oblivion where the extra characters have homes to return to and jobs to attend during the day. In Assassin's Creed, they just clog the city until I jostle a jar from a woman's head or shove a beggar aside. Then they complain and the guards notice.

When I've been spotted by the authorities, I have the option of fleeing. Assassin's Creed attempts to make this into a videogame version of the sport of parkour -- the running, leaping and climbing of cityscapes that was featured in the opening of Casino Royale and which Spider--Man has been doing for decades. It initially adds some adrenaline to the game, as I dash across rooftops, catch the edges of buildings and swing from poles. But evading my pursuers invariably concludes with my diving into a pile of hay or a rooftop garden. At that moment, the guards forget about me, and I'm free to resume my meanderings.

Like an equation that is already balanced, the digital world of Assassin's Creed is barely affected by my actions. If I help someone who is being accosted by corrupt guards, the liberated citizen summons vigilantes who will grapple with my pursuers but won't assist their harassed neighbors. No matter how many Templars I slay, the leader of my assassins' guild doesn't acknowledge the bite I'm taking out of the heathen populace. And while scattered activities such as pickpocketing and eavesdropping are reminiscent of Grand Theft Auto III, Assassin's Creed is disappointingly blingless since I can't enhance myself with special weapons, horses or even a new assassin's cowl. It's a sad world where you kill somebody and have nothing to show for it.

THE GOOD: Only the medieval swordplay fulfills its potential. If I time my button taps in accordance with my attacker's actions, the fight moves beyond trading sword-swipes and I get the chance to execute brutal kills -- ripping my long sword along the backs of his ankles, or slashing my shorter blade across his face several times as he falls.

THE BAD: The voice acting is resoundingly awful. From the school of Shatner, the characters talk, pausing, erratically, between words, their voices, rising and, falling, in, stumbling cadences. Ethnically they sound like broad caricatures of Jewish grandfathers and Middle Eastern Edward G. Robinsons. Background chatter resembles Henrietta Pussycat's "meow-meow-meow" from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Assassin's Creed is a repetitive cycle of city exploration and unrewarding murder, which plods from slow to slower and back again.

  • or