Assassin's Creed

By now, Assassin's Creed's failings as an action game have been documented exhaustively. But it looks much better if it's seen in the right light—namely, as a scavenger hunt set in a lifelike medieval Middle East, and starring a monkey-like guy in robes who can scale walls and hop across rooftops with ease. Usually, collection activities are the cheapest of dodges, yet it's surprisingly fun to prowl the grimy, leper-filled streets of Damascus to grab 100 hidden flags. And while button-mashing fights are usually tedious, and Creed is slow to dole out useful moves, the brawls are thrilling for the body-blow animations alone.

The conspiracy story that drives the game—and accounts for its lengthy, unskippable cutscenes—doesn't drive the player as much as the setting itself. And while it's nominally a game about assassination, the stealth mode is unplayably dull: Sneaking around at a slow shuffle pales next to the joy of tearing across town with two dozen patrolmen on your heels. (And anyway, why would you murder people in broad daylight if it weren't so much fun to get caught?) Creed could use more activities and the robustness of a true sandbox game, but as it stands, it creates an absorbing, beautifully crafted world for anyone patient enough to explore it.

Beyond the game: Reportedly, when Ahmed Chalabi was selling the Bush administration on invading Iraq, he promised to find us a battalion of guys who could run up walls and scale minarets with their bare hands.

Worth playing for: The "leap of faith" move lets you jump from a dizzyingly high tower and watch yourself fall several stories down into a haycart. It never gets old.

Frustration sets in when: It says something about the writing that the game rewards you with XBox Achievements just for paying attention to the dialogue.

Final judgment: Thoroughly flawed, but eminently playable.