If the Assassin’s Creed series took place in the Pirates of the Caribbean universe, it would look a lot BackStab. Much like how Shadow Guardian was a not-so-subtle take on the Uncharted franchise, BackStab is eerily reminiscent of Assassin’s Creed, which means there’s plenty of clambering up onto rooftops and stabbing people with swords. The formula doesn’t translate perfectly to the iPhone, but it works well enough.
As you can probably gather from the title, BackStab is a game about betrayal. Henry Blake was once a respected officer in the British Navy, but when his former friend conspires with the Spanish, he pins the whole thing on Henry. With nothing left to live for, Henry sets out to get revenge, and along the way transforms into generic video game hero #326, complete with a shaved head and a constant scowl. When he changes up his look in order to remain anonymous while being hunted by soldiers, Henry becomes indiscernible from other, similar looking heroes from games like inFamous or The Force Unleashed.
Have at you!
The plot is largely forgettable, and it takes quite a few curious twists, including an encounter with zombies that feels very out of place. But it does provide an excuse to travel to a wide range of locations, from tropical jungles and beautiful island villages to ancient temples and port-side towns.
As an Assassin’s Creed-inspired experience, BackStab puts a lot of focus on upward momentum. You can climb up walls and hop from rooftop to rooftop with ease. This process is largely automatic, as, for example, climbing a wall requires nothing more than simply running straight at it. But at the same time, the movement doesn’t feel as fluid as it should. This is largely due to the camera, which frequently gets turned around, forcing you to stop and re-adjust it on a regular basis.
The combat also feels devoid of much strategy, but at the same time is surprisingly satisfying. You rarely have to do much more than simply spam the attack button, but the easy-to-pull-off combos feel good and the one-hit-kills feel even better. You also have long-range weapons, such as pistols and bombs, but these are slow and rarely necessary, giving you little reason to use anything other than your sword for most of the game.
What BackStab really lacks (and what makes Assassin’s Creed so compelling) is a sense of freedom. The game is largely linear, with constant checkpoints that make it nearly impossible to get lost. There are some side quests to take on, and you can go hunting for treasure chests as well, but you never get the sense that you’re exploring a big open world. It doesn’t help that you’re regularly sent out on dull fetch quests, though horseback and cannon-firing sequences do help to break up the action somewhat.
As with most of Gameloft’s games, BackStab is still an impressive feat even with all of its flaws. It’s the best Assassin’s Creed-style game on a mobile device, and it offers a relatively lengthy and diverse quest to follow. It also shows that the developer is at least making attempts at creating more original games, as BackStab features an entirely different plot and setting than its inspiration.