Assassin's Creed is, for those who haven’t been kept up to date on this juicy little Ubisoft title, a stealth-action game with a difference. The game casts players as Altair, a member of the Order of Assassins, a real-life group that operated in the 1100s and was the origin of the word ‘assassin’.
At the start of the game, which is set in 1191 against the backdrop of the Third Crusade, Altair is one of the highest ranked assassins. A skilled hunter and investigator, Altair is disgraced when he messes up a mission and is demoted to the lowest rank possible. From here, players take over and must complete missions to regain the respect of the Order.
Starting with some simple targets, Altair must investigate and track his quarry and use his environment to his advantage if he wants to successfully kill his targets. A skilled gymnast and free-runner, the world is Altair’s playground and he can go anywhere in the three cities which comprise the game world or he can venture into The Kingdom – the land between the cities.
“Altair only needs two inches,” said Patrice as he showed us some free-running moves on the Xbox 360 version of the game (PS3 and PC versions are also confirmed) and ran up the side of a building. In the top right a map of the A/B/X/Y buttons shows Altair’s current options while the right trigger switches between normal and high profile movements, with combat and free-running being high profile moves that attract attention from guards.
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“With just two inches, Altair can get a grip and climb something, so the world becomes a playground. It isn’t just about finding a ‘ladder’ texture.” As I watched, Altair scaled a building inside the city of Acre. What was amazing was that even in this early beta stage of the game, Altair’s animations matched the environment perfectly – his hands always falling in the correct places to climb with.
On the top of the building, the uncharacteristically futuristic HUD changed again as Altair came out of high profile free-running mode and stepped back into his normal mode. The options of jump, attack, free-run and grab were replaced with blend and eagle vision. From previous experience with the game, I already knew what these two actions did. Blend is a fairly basic attempt for Altair to hide, making him assume a monk like prayer-walk that fits in with his white robe and makes him inconspicuous. Eagle vision is Altair’s basic power-up which throws the world into contrast and highlights persons of interest, whether they be guards, targets or civilians with side quests on offer.
Patrice gave us a little background on the situation and told us that although each mission in the game is formed of three phases – investigation, assassination and escape – he would be showing only the latter two before we were let loose on the game itself.
Patrice is obviously an expert at the game, so it wasn’t surprising to see him stealthily work his way over the rooftops and head towards the target without raising an alarm. The buildings were dotted with archers, but each one fell down to either an up-close stealth attack or a perfectly thrown knife.
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Slowly, the target came into view. A British lord of some importance, we watched from above as he ordered and lectured to a group of Templars and soldiers. “The Templars are the ones in full helmets and there is a set number of them in the game. Templars always attack you on sight and form a kind of optional mini-boss set which you can kill to unlock achievements,” Patrice said, probably trying to drown out the dialogue of the target so that we couldn’t pick up important parts of the story.
The game was in a cutscene mode which gives players some control of Altair, but not enough to make an impact on the game. Players can change the camera angle to one of a few different pre-sets, but that’s about it. As soon as the cutscene was over, Patrice sent Altair leaping dramatically off the narrow rooftop he had been on and careening into the targeted lord – a hidden flick-knife thrusting up from where Altair’s middle finger should have been, stabbing straight into the exposed throat of the target.
I was completely unprepared for what happened next.