The assassin, Tancrede de Nerac, is a former Knight Templar who decides to seek out the legendary city of Jebus in Syria after years of attempting to establish a domain for himself in the disintegrating Crusader kingdoms of the Holy Land in the 13th century. Jebus was founded by the followers of a mysterious mystic, Simon de Lancrois (a.k.a. "The Prophet") on the principles of tolerance and cooperation. The city was intended as a place where Jews, Muslims and Christians could live in utopian, symbiotic co-existence, rejecting the sectarian violence that had ravaged the region for hundreds of years.
When Tancrede, now going by the name of As Sayf, reaches Jebus, he finds it deserted and ruined, with no sign of Simon. At this point, you take on the assassin's role, in a puzzle-based journey to find Simon in an effort to hold him accountable for his false prophecies and abandonment of the people of Jebus. Distressed to find his dream of finishing out his life in peace dashed, Tancrede wants answers and justice.
The storyline is obviously a bit different from the normal played-out themes and imagery to which many computer adventure games of recent vintage (late 90s, early 00s) have fallen prey. It's refreshing to find a story fleshed out by developers who actually took some time to work out the settings, characters, and visual design, even if the ending isn't complete. The game wisely avoids the recent trend toward Tolkien-like elements, as well as the romanticized view of Crusades, knights and feudal Europe so prevalent in the current spate of adventure journeys. Instead, the story delivers characters with complex psyches and the ability to deal with revenge without opening the "can of whip-ass" mentality that often passes for plot.
The cultures of the Holy Land, and the Middle East in general, have barely been touched by western game makers, and for that reason alone, the developers of The Legend of the Prophet & The Assassin deserve high marks. The story comes in two parts on four CDs, with Part 2: The Secret of Alamut completing the adventure. The art alone from developer Arxel Tribe makes the journey worthwhile, and brings author Paul Coelha's work alive.
de Nerac's character invites thoughtful consideration, and his motivation is not always clear. He's obviously a man that few people have a desire or fortitude to mess with, an aspect he relies on during his dealings and interactions throughout the journey. However, his desire for peace is genuine, as is his disappointment. More so than most fictional characters, he's a well-written human character with contradictions and internal conflict galore.
The adventure to find Simon is full of interesting people and places, like Jerusalem, oases, palaces and caravans, and feels like a long journey partly due to the game's healthy length, as well as the change of tone as you move through different sections. You get a real sense of psychological movement as Tancrede struggles to get answers to the mystery behind The Prophet's bad behavior.
The game's worst aspect, though, deals with what should be the strength of a puzzle-based game, namely, the less-than-seamless integration of the puzzles into the story. On many occasions you'll get the feeling that the designers simply developed a huge list of "brain-teaser" like ideas and then tried to cram then into the story without any logical thought as to why. Some puzzles are not solved with any discernible logic, and many rely on trial and error (nearly impossible to solve), degrading the overall effectiveness of gameplay since they take away from the central story.
Overriding this glaring defect, though, is the originality of the story, meaningful character development and complexity, and beautiful graphics. The Legend of the Prophet & the Assassin rises to a cut above the usual mediocre DreamCatcher title, due in equal parts to the design team and above average story.
Graphics: Game-play environments and animated sequences are beautifully detailed.
Sound: Voice talent is actually quite good.
Enjoyment: Interesting storyline is often hampered by contrived and difficult puzzles.
Replay Value: As with most adventure stories, not much changes to warrant a second replay. In this case, though, the sheer beauty of the graphics may warrant additional attention.
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