Speak to any Assassin’s Creed enthusiast and they are likely to tell you the smaller scale of Mirage is what the series needs. Altair’s proof of concept has long guzzled itself into noticeable bloat - the maps of Origins, Odyssey, and Valhalla seasoned with a gluttonous dish of side quests that just want to spoon it in whether you’re hungry or not.
Mirage aims to burn the fat after 2020’s endless romp through Viking England by telling the tale of a younger Basim without an all-you-can-eat buffet served up on a crammed map of time-sapping proportions. Considering this is the first of multiple Assassin’s Creed games expected in the next few years, a more linear experience at a budget price is an attractive prospect.
It goes without saying, then, that Mirage was an opportunity for Ubisoft Bordeaux to be creative and to use the added confines of Baghdad’s constricted alleyways as a platform for a unique experience. That is wishful thinking. What we have here is a game of extreme repetitiveness, a formula that takes away from a narrative that nicely weaves Basim’s desire to liberate his people with the specter of political upheaval ushered in by the growing influence of foreign powers.
Baghdad doesn't feel too distinctive from other AC cities.
Pretty much all of Mirage’s gameplay can be distilled down to finding clues en route to executing members of the insidious Order that controls the city. You unearth information by using Eagle Vision, the series staple power that allows assassins to see things of interest through walls and via the ever-present eagle in the sky. That amounts to pressing a button, looking at what turns orange and then going over to interact with it. Basim might be uncovering things, but the player isn’t.
It’s a shame, because most of the Order members have an interesting backstory. They are rooted within the city’s politics; bazaar bigwigs, harbourmasters, slave traders. All major figures who induce fear upon a population that is struggling to assimilate the impact of trade from Greece, Asia and other parts of the world. There’s a seriousness to the story that the series doesn’t often play with, and it works well.
Direct combat isn't always necessary, but it is quick.
The gameplay loop does its best to halt any narrative momentum down via those Assassin’s Creed-isms we’ve seen many times. Find a way into the fort, get the thing, exit, repeat. It’s so low key I truly wonder if the Ubisoft staff even met to discuss something more ambitious or if the brief was just to apply the template and get the game out.
One section tasks you with freeing slaves ahead of an assault on the Order member who caged them; an epic moment on paper that should underline the resolve of a people under major duress. In reality, you open a couple of cage doors and a handful of you run up to a few guards before taking the cultist out in a brief strike. Eivor and their fire-flinging sieges on English villages are laughing.
You can expect the usual array of magical artefacts and steeds...
This dullness actually leads Mirage down a path to achieving the opposite of the ‘breath of fresh air’ it was meant to be. Assassin’s Creed’s worst pitfalls are exposed, perhaps most noticeably in the game’s iconic parkour traversal, which is more prone to getting stuck as you pass between confined ledges, balconies and rooftops. Wooden voice-acting also creaks loudly, amplified by the constant exposition of Basim who might as well break into a musical number about how he is just a poor boy with a dream.
That Assassin’s Creed is one of the biggest franchises in the world means the aging formula is unlikely to matter to series aficionados, though. You can do everything here you’ve been doing for years. You can dive into haystacks, you can hide in crowds, you can rip through guards with wonky combat that makes you feel powerful.
ASSASSIN'S CREED MIRAGE VERDICT
With so many games on the horizon, the series is threatening to mimic sports franchises on an action-adventure level; the addictive same-old repackaged and resold back to you year-on-year. Mirage might promise a fresh oasis from afar, but get closer and it’s the same formula, drier and less quenching than before.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Getting away with a stealthy assassination still excites.
Narrative intrigues for the most part
Comfort food for AC fans
Mission design is uninspired and repetitive
Barely any new ideas
Awful voice-acting and bad writing in parts
Combat remains dull