The combat is more successful, though it isn't without its troubles. Engaging other enemies locks you onto your target and initiates an unhurried skirmish that will be familiar to Assassin's Creed fans. Combat isn't difficult, but it's still satisfying to pull off a successful counterkill. During a well-timed counter, Altair will spin about, the camera will zoom in, and he'll slice his sword across his target's neck or jam it into his chest. At first, it's a bloody treat, but the action gets tiresome. This is partially because there are too few stealth elements and missions to balance it out and partially because enemies seem to spawn out of nowhere to join the fray, which makes individual encounters drag. Some of the final kills also frustrate. In some cases, an enemy will fall to the ground, giving you the chance to hit the square button one last time and make a particularly gory example of his treachery. Unfortunately, the move doesn't always work, and your sword will just clip right through him if he's begun to stand back up. If you want to avoid full-on combat, you can take the sneaky path and silently stab unsuspecting guards or leap onto them for a high-profile hidden-blade assassination. Like standard combat, assassinations are initially enjoyable, thanks to the dramatic close-up and metallic sound effect that accompany them. But while Assassin's Creed wasn't known for groundbreaking AI, the guards in Bloodlines are out-and-out stupid. Some will wander past battle, while others will fail to notice a high-profile assassination occurring directly in front of them. Thus, kills with your hidden blade are just as unsatisfying as standard combat.
The missions tying all of these disappointing elements together are fine: timed deliveries, chases, key assassinations, and so on. However, the level design and flawed mechanics often interfere. For example, one timed chase mission is made frustrating by imprecise platforming; in other cases, the restrictive level design makes it tough to figure out what route you must take to reach your destination. Boss fights enliven things somewhat--pitting you against tougher enemies that require a bit more strategy--but not so much that they provide much challenge. Outside of story missions, you can climb towers, make a leap of faith into a hay bale beneath, and rescue besieged citizens, but the world isn't big enough and the cities aren't full enough to make these tasks feel particularly enjoyable. A few scholars and citizens wander about, but this world doesn't feel lived in, so you can't blend with crowds because there are no crowds. Thus, Bloodlines buries the series' concept of social stealth and does little to make up for the loss.
You just can't go home again. Even if Cyprus is home.
That doesn't mean Bloodlines is devoid of Assassin's Creed flavor. Altair looks great and is animated extremely well, which makes it a delight to watch him climb towers and leap across alleys. Many of the sound effects are pulled directly from the original game, and they're still fantastic, though it's disappointing that Bloodlines didn't also recycle the fantastic music of the tower top synchronizations. The game also captures some of the visual delights, like suspended platforms, crisscrossing beams, and nice lighting. It isn't quite the looker you may have expected, however. Plain environments, seams between geometry, and bland colors prevent Bloodlines from looking as good as its PSP competition.
Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines features a basic level-up mechanic in which you can spend the coins you find scattered about the world on upgrades like extending your synchronization bar or increasing your chances of a critical hit. But this feature is poorly implemented, forcing you to leave the game and return to the main menu if you want to spend the coins outside of the predesignated intermissions. It's just one more clumsy element that makes Bloodlines feel like a by-the-numbers spin-off that not only fails to deliver an experience worthy of the franchise, but also fails to be very good on its own terms. If you were hoping for a bustling world of agile assassins and testy Templars to fit in your pocket, Bloodlines will disappoint you.