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Assassin's Creed: Hands On

25 July 2007

Altair, along with other assassins, has a pretty good life in the 12th century. He wears a cool robe, has a blade underneath his arm, pushes people around, and runs his ass off from the streaming rush of adrenaline after killing someone. We assume the role of Altaïr (Arabic, for “The Flyer"), a member of the Hashshashin sect, during the Third Crusade in 1191 AD. With his faith, comes the primary objective to assassinate the nine historical figures who are instigating the Crusades. If you’re looking for a game that’s filled with day to day missions that involve killing historical people or playing a game that requires the character to make quick shot decisions on killing them, Assassin’s Creed is your game. But if you’re looking for the definitive experience, part of a greater journey that you as an assassin can choose, you won’t find it here.

 

 

The E3 demo proudly shows Altair, standing on a roof high above Jerusalem. The city was recreated to match the 12th century depiction, containing various historical landmarks for example: The Tower of David, and the wondrous Jaffa Gate through which you make a sometimes daring trip through with your horse. The scope of the city's size is certainly inspiring, as each building is made up of numerous footholds and handholds that allow Altair to climb anything and everything---all part of the bigger “climb-all” philosophy. In total, the game will have three cities just as equally expansive as this one. The cities will comprise of Jerusalem, Acre, and Damascus.

The control scheme is pretty straightforward after reading the manual. This was a crucial aim that Ubisoft wanted to make clear since the beginning--the easiness in knowing what controller face map affects what part of his body. To truly make you feel more psychically fit like an assassin come alive, the R2 activates free run. As you free run, you build up immense momentum as you run. You will majestically climb along any wall by using the foot and handhold's after you run towards a wall with free run activated. For this effect, the animation was certainly perfected by using Spherical Dynamic Animation only in battle, which allows for midway changes in a sequence of a full animation, and therefore creates for a much more smooth transition from the environment to the wall scaling.

 

 

In many games from the past, the art and level design department have worked separately, until now. As you scale a building, you need to put full focus on the detail in every building, because as you get to higher ascents it is compulsory to look for handholds to continue your ascent, much like ordinary rock climbing. The beautiful animations make the climb fantastically convincing. Altair shifts his weight when he is going down, and it seems the symmetric model for his animations, which allow them to split the body into different structures, truly paid off. The game further offers plenty of other opportunities to explore the seemingly easy technologies implemented which results in decent graphics on an expansive scope. One example is the marked “Leap of Faith” or “Pigeon” spots. Basically, these areas contain many pigeons representing the symbolic view of pigeons from the debut trailer as Altair went down to kill the main instigator in a flight of faith for his cause: the stop of conflict and trepidation between both sides.

Sure. The demo contained several bugs, palpable by several animation issues, a few times where Altair got stuck, sometimes when the enemies did not die and the mission could no longer progress, and unrecognized, inactive footholds and handhold's, which most likely can’t be fixed due to the programming scheme of the wall objects. Despite all of these things, there are many things which can be mended by November, 2007.

Our demo with Assasin’s Creed started off with the objective to study Talal, a dirty slave trader that Altair has to kill, but at the right time. So, we’re told without mention by someone at the booth to head over to his marker by using our HUD radar, which allows this to be possible. After we study Talal, we find out that he always goes past a path with many guards, some even hired professionally. After we figure out that Talal heads here every morning from his a nearby friend's location by an apparent runaway slave, it’s our time to strike.

From this point forward, we have no other option but to jump down. Down-climbing would take too long. So, we take a leap of faith to the stack of hay below. An interesting thing to note is that even though we are taking leap of faiths, the “intelligent” A.I. doesn’t seem to notice someone hawking down the wall with speed into a hay pile. The streets are certainly busy with guards chasing thugs, children, merchants, and even beggars, some of which are wives. They will spot Altair in his fanciful robe and will plead for money, or assistance--ranging from money to even killing someone. If you happen to help the guards catch a thug, or perhaps even give him a good hard beating, no one will mind. Each character has a societal value, subject to change. But, if you hurt someone like a guard, expect utter death.


The response of the A.I. crowd to your actions towards a person is far from amazing or believable. They cheer if you catch a thug, and run if you scare them, but one of the most disturbing thing aside from the A.I. crowd not noticing a person tomahawking into a hay bin, is them saying the exact same thing. Pure verbatim in their reaction is a huge turn off. “Run! Please don’t hurt us!” is the only response you will hear when they are scared at the slightest. It’s as if you casually sock someone’s arm, it’s as if you’ve brutally beaten them in public and gouged their eyes out. Or a bleak “hail to the kind stranger!” If you do, however, attract the attention of the guards due to this serious “intelligent” A.I. crowd flaw, you need to break their line of sight if they are chasing you. To do this, an alert meter in the top left of the HUD will show red if guards are onto you and flash yellow the moment they lose sight of Altair. That’s your cue as an assassin to slip in somewhere. If you can’t do that, head around a corner and use the “blend” ability to assume the role of a monk, constantly praying while walking slowly.


When we enter Talal’s slavery location, we are launched into a cut-scene which reveals that the whole thing was a ploy, and he knew we were following him, by some miracle. As this happens, we are flashed by a spot of light on the screen occasionally, even an "Initializing Image..." text. You'll be able to see scenes of your enemies showing off, hitting the active scene button, or currently R1, correctly. Holding down R2 puts Altair in a defensive stance. He’ll skillfully dodge any attack and while he does it, can make a counter attack by hitting X. Targeting an enemy requires just a tap of L1, and that can lock you onto a specific target for a more centric approach. Don’t worry. He is still defensive, and automatically switches to a new target if he is hit. For the entire attack system, timing is everything. Hitting X as soon as your enemy's combat animation begins will play a cinematic like sequence that shows the opponents destruction.

All of this is supported by 10,120 string animations for Altair, not dynamic animations used in a majority of Sony’s first party titles. As a short brief, string animations are simple animations pieced together to add for a fluid effect. But, in reality, even a millisecond move of the blade or any object for the entire Altair character counts as 1 animation, not his whole character movement as 1 animation. String animations extremely simplify the process of detailed editing, exemplified from Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune or Heavenly Sword, and allow for a minimally smooth effect. So, don’t be fooled by this figure when it’s referred to as “animations” for Assassin’s Creed. Another gripe is that the camera is a huge irreparable problem in Assassin’s Creed at this point. It can sometimes lose its place or get stuck behind bushes and against walls.

In terms of overarching gameplay and storyline, Assassin's Creed is not meant to be stealthy. There are elements where you will need to be a bit sneaky, but this is rarely always the case as you'll be forced to make split-second decisions on a regular basis and will almost always be running from something (dun dun dun) or someone. As for storyline, Assassin’s Creed takes place in an open world environment. True. You can go to any city, and choose where you will carry out a specific mission and how you will do that. That’s fine. But the apparent downside to Assassin’s Creed in general is that for a game claiming to be all about interaction and consequences, “the consequences of your actions will not alter Altair’s fate in any way,” said Jade Raymond. The display of their Le Parkour system, the crowd blending action, wall climbing with addition to the details for the environment as crucial, is certainly impressive. But the fact that their aim was to provide for an interactive experience that not only insinuates consequences of any action you choose, whether through the A.I. or the game’s main storyline missions, it will not affect Altair in an unique way, while still driving the central plot through----the stop of the Crusades.

Despite all of these flaws, some minor and some major, Assassin’s Creed looks to be a promising title for anyone who wants to scratch the surface of the history of the Hashshashin sect, as fixing the core gameplay at this point will be impossible. And, I'll have a full review of this game when it hits store shelves. But, for anyone looking for a truly enjoyable definitive experience in the life of an Assassin, Altair’s robe is something you might not want to try on.

 


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