|May 16th, 2006: Original Preview Written By Jarrod Nichol.|
The PS3 has continued to struggle when it comes to competing with the Xbox 360. The reason entails one word, exclusives. Since a majority of developers were hardly anticipating Sony's current uphill battle, a good number of currently available and upcoming games were PS3-exclusive. It doesn't help that the industry works better on the 360 due to its additional year of existence, which has resulted in graphical and framerate flaws in PS3 titles. However, come November 13, a game is finally arriving that should end up a cross-platform equal, and it's none other than Assassin's Creed.
Altair is Ubisoft's newest medieval-style assassin, hence the game's title, and you follow his exploits in Jerusalem during the Third Crusade. The city is actually modeled as if it were the 12th century, so the ability to see and touch some historical landmarks is bound to touch some hearts. For instance, the Tower of David stands in all its glory, and it's just itching to be climbed, and who better than Altair to do so? Ubisoft is really pushing a free-roaming, do whatever the hell you want sort of game, as you can literally visit what you can see while playing the game. You aren't limited to Jerusalem either, as neighboring cities Acre and Damascus are just as accessible.
Yes, my right hand is on you, just because it can be.
Yes, the focal gameplay of Assassin's Creed is eliminating targets of interest as Altair, but exploration also holds as a significant draw. You control the plot's progression, as you're literally able to stop everything you're doing in the middle of a mission handed and shift your attention to something entirely different. This freedom even extends to the three cities, as you can bounce between them as you like, and have accomplish tasks in progress in each. This can also be used to your advantage as you obtain more effective items and equipment from one mission for use in another, pretty nifty if you ask us.
Learning how to control Altair is going to be quite the task though, because Ubisoft is going after something unique with the system of Assassin's Creed, which we're hoping doesn't backfire. Each face button actually manipulates individual parts of Altair's body. His head is to be controlled for eavesdropping and utilizing your assassin's intuition, his lower body is exploited to do things like jump; his weapon hand controls your means of offense and defense, and his off hand for miscellaneous things such as grabbing onto a ledge. Ubisoft is appropriately calling these puppet strings, can you guess why? The right shoulder trigger also plays the role of our hero's emotional control. With it, abilities such as free run [for scaling buildings] and power strikes [for battle] are possible, amongst others.
Believe it or not, horseback combat is in Altair's repertoire.
What is really bound to open your eyes though, just as it has for COE, is how expansive Altair's range of movements really is. Many will compare Assassin's Creed to one of Ubisoft's other renowned franchises, Prince of Persia, in this regard. Let's just say, PoP has peaked at about 5,000 unique character animations, but that pales according to the 2:1 ratio that AC beats it with. That's right, the people of AC sport around 10,000 possible animations, 70% of which are contextual, meaning they have to be triggered. How sick is that?
Now before we describe how Altair carries out his assassinations, why don't we touch base on what he can do with that flexible and physically able body of his? COE definitely respects Ubisoft, as what they're managing to do with AC is making the art and graphical aspects of the game work hand-in-hand with the gameplay. At the very least, this allows Altair to grab onto anything in the game that you might see in real life that can be treated in the same way. Do you spy a significant crack in the wall? How about a rock just barely jutting out of a building? If you see it and believe you can hold onto it, chances are that you can. Even more impressive is that Ubisoft hasn't turned Altair into some superhuman wannabe, as all of his acrobatic skills come off as convincing, even if a majority of them are death-defiant.
This part of the game is extremely important, as your exploration not only expands your in-game map to reflect where you've been, but Leap of Faith points are also found this way. An eagle circling the peak of any architectural structure you see denotes that particular location as a landmark. If you scale something and find a flock of doves at the top, you'll have found where you can make a Leap of Faith. It sounds fancier than it really is though. It's merely a way for Altair to show off his swan dive and [hopefully] land on a bale of hay below, or bludgeon his own head if you manage to screw up. It's key to realize that how you can interact with the environment is truly limitless since Ubisoft wants you to touch everything. This simply doesn't extend to indoors, but who cares about that really?
I'm gonna fly like an eagleÖ..into the hayÖ.
With that out of the way, there are four different phases to get the meat of Assassin's Creed cooking. The only way to start a mission is to receive one, done so by visiting an Assassin's Guild. This is when you're clued in to some details and the significance altogether of your bullseye. With the contract in your possession, it's time to investigate further into your target's activities, eating up as much information as possible in order to ease the intricacy job. When you feel confident, it's then time to steal inside the target's shelter and carry out the assassination. However, sending your prized kill into the afterlife isn't enough to complete your mission in its entirety. To finish it off, you must not only escape from the scene of your deed, but manage to find harbor at an Assassin's Guild.
However, for any given mission, certainly don't be surprised if you become entangled in some intense combat situations. We say intense for a reason, because the way the battle controls have been mapped for Altair will make this a challenge for anyone that plays AC. In the same token, once you learn the how, you'll be ripping apart all who stand in your way. The right trigger is pretty key since it commands Altair into a defensive standpoint. As such, he'll automatically try to fend off attacks with his armed or bare hands; either is workable in these situations. The shoulder on the other side of the controller does enemy lock on. This is also important functionality, as it not only allows you to focus on whomever, but the system has been designed to automatically switch to any assailant landing blows on you. All you have to focus on is returning the favor.
Altair doesn't have to be a protective pansy though. Our hero can dodge, grab his adversaries or pull off some sick combos with properly timed button presses. Timing actually means something, because if you think mashing is going to do you any good, well, look forward to seeing a bloodied Altair on the ground. Counter attacks are also part of the equation, but it's not something you'll do seamlessly off the bat. Clever timing is also necessary, as you have to make it so that your attempted strike lands just as your threat's animation starts. Good luck with that, but at the same time, pulling it off results in a grotesque display of bloody execution. Finally, and as if this wasn't already enough, each weapon has an effect on Altair's dexterity. His sword moves slow, but is also his power weapon, which is the exact opposite of his blades, which are meant for quick strikes, but less damage. Ubisoft is actually claiming that you can push through most of the game just by using the blades, if you're skilled enough with them at least. Then before moving on, we simply can't forget to point out that Altair can break peoples' knees for crying out loud!
Cool people don't have the show their face.
What also should give Altair plenty of headaches is the AI system, as Ubisoft is truly exploiting the current generation technology to develop a sweet system of artificial intelligence. Assassin's Creed is just one of the [hopefully] many games taking advantage of this. A mind-blowing number of scenarios are affected by this, so we'll as might as well pick at them all. When going after a target, you may end up pursuing them throughout the entire city of Jerusalem, and what's neat is that the route taken may be different for everyone who plays AC. Don't be surprised if you end up fighting the crowds of denizens either, because your enemy is smart enough to force you through that, in addition to taunting or tossing random crap at you. It also won't be much fun if you run into more of their servants, as they too will parry, dodge and flank you so their master can escape safely. In the event that you manage a quick assassination though, the man's guards will find out, and will sniff you out, regardless of whether they succeed or not. As you take Altair back to his hideout, those soldiers will take what they believe to be the shortest route to cut you off. It definitely would be wise to try to hide [which I'll detail more here shortly] if you notice yourself in danger of being found. Therefore, as long as you don't give yourself away, you'll scoot away to freedom.
The impressive AI doesn't end there, as it also extends into Jerusalem's general population. Every citizen carries with them a social rating which is quite relevant, considering your treatment of your fellow people invokes varying reactions of not only the other common folk, but the city's guards as well. It is rather humorous that Altair's very unique attire warrants no special attention, considering all the traditional garb everyone else is wearing, but on the same point, if you're seen traversing the rooftops [of which there are plenty], people will think something is up. On the ground however, plenty of things can happen. Poverty-stricken ladies may purposely approach you begging for money, some kind of assistance, or general kindness, which shows just how desperate they are. If on a typical walk, or while doing some random exploration, you encounter an up-to-no-good thug picking on someone, you can torture him as you please, since the crowd acknowledges your heroic deed by simply ignoring the situation altogether.
Finally, someone's designed a city with the bustling activity it should HAVE!
However, if you're feeling devilish enough to beat one a woman, you may cause people to flee in fear, but be prepared if the townspeople confront you, in addition to the guards being rather pissed off at your misconduct. Remember, they're just there to maintain order, they don't know you're an assassin. Heck, you can even cause a disturbance by making a woman drop her pot of water, which makes guards just glance over at you, since Jerusalem apparently isn't too sensitive about their hydration. There are other troubled people you can choose to save as well if you care, such as the women [again], or the various scholars and monks. Help out a lady, and somehow a relationship between you and their friends or brothers is generated out of thin air, and they will even help you on missions, serving as human roadblocks for any pursuers you have on your tail. Assisting a scholar or monk, on the other hand, nets you the ability to disguise yourself as one and blend into their little cliques for whatever reason. Just be aware that if you take that route, prepare to behave just like them, or else your cover won't be very effective.
What if you manage to tick off some guards enough that they feel the need to physically deal with you? What are your options then? Well, there are two, fight or run, pick one. If you feel brave enough to stand your ground, it's in your best interest to target the guards of higher esteem, as they too have their own ranking system. Ripping the leader(s) a new one may strike fear into the hearts of their subordinates, making the fight easier for you, as they may run off altogether. Running would also prove interesting, and perhaps even more dynamic given your sense of strategy. If you spot a bale of hay, hiding in there not only restores your health, but allows you to pop back out and blend into the crowd. If that's not possible, it's your objective then to lose the guards' line of sight, which you can see on the radar. Red means you're still sticking out like a sore thumb, and flashing yellow means you've successfully managed to flee. If you choose to swim into the city's sea for the advantage, that may work, but keep in mind the people aren't just going to know you want them out of your way, so you may have to do some tackling.
Surprisingly enough, there is even more I could choose to cover here for you guys, but I think this is a good place to stop. We've given you the low-down on everything that's especially important, so that should make you happy. Or you could just see this as an excuse given that I've claimed in that past that previews should be all the detail or none of it, but my hands are actually starting to hurt right now, especially since I injured one of them yesterday, so heh, yeah, feel free to send me hate mail as a result.
Really, for a game turning out as awesome as Assassin's Creed is, this information should be more than enough to excite you as much as it is us. It's strange tough, because I remember hearing elsewhere that Ubisoft's next delivery to the gaming world was failing to live up to expectations. What was with all that fuss? All these features and different directions seem pretty solid to us. Could it be that Europe's largest publisher is pushing this as not a stealth game, but an action-driven title like MGS or Splinter Cell? Who knows, but COE definitely should when the time comes, as yours truly is looking to hopefully have your review. We're seriously being bombarded with new titles on November 13, as our own Ahmad has cleverly pointed out as unlucky for us COE staff, but hey, we've weathered storms before, and this is no different. Hopefully we can pull through again, and Jarrod doesn't go insane.
Original Preview - May 16th, 2006
When Ubisoft first revealed Assassinís Creed the gaming world was flipped upside down. To think that everything they showed us was in-game footage was a little hard to believe. The first official unveiling of the title came at Sonyís press conference right before E3 2006 kicked off. The title looked so polished that everyone in attendance could have sworn that it was just another FMV showcase. Nothing could be further from the truth though as Ubisoft held a behind closed door event showing off the title in playable form. Thereís virtually no doubt out it, Assassinís Creed is the single most impressive title coming out of E3 2006. Nothing comes close to what Ubisoft has been able to achieve with this game. To think that Assassinís Creed is being created by the same team that brought Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time to life only makes this game that much more exciting.
For those that have no knowledge of Assassinís Creed, you take on the role of Altair, an assassin during the third crusade. All of Jerusalem will be your playground. Altair lives by a special code: ďNothing is true. Everything is permitted.Ē Truer words have never been spoken. Altair has so many abilities at his disposal that heíll likely take most gamers by surprise. To help Altair on his quest, Ubisoft has given him a nice assortment of weapons that range from a sword, a crossbow and a hidden wrist knife. All of these weapons will need to be mastered if the player has any chance at completing this epic game. The general idea behind Assassinís Creed is to give players the option to do whatever they want within the confines of the story. Altair can go ahead and kill everyone he sees but doing so will make his quest virtually impossible to complete. You see the people that live around Altair are real, living, breathing people. If one person sees you kill an innocent bystander, theyíll cower in fear, run away or try and stop you. Youíve never experienced anything like this before, I guarantee it.
The realism doesnít stop there though, not by a long shot. As Altair moves around crowds of people, he actually moves like a real person. You take for granted how you act in real life until you see it within a game. Altair will slowly take his hand and gently move people aside as he passes through them. Of course you are free to shove people out of the way but the more suspicious you act, the more likely people are to keep an eye out on you. Remember the time period here, people were very nervous in their everyday lives. If you just suddenly decide to climb up a wall or break into someoneís house, you can be sure theyíll react negatively. Speaking of climbing up on objects, if thereís anything that protrudes from a surface thatís over two inches thick, Altair will grab on and try and climb whatever it is. This realism goes forth in every aspect of the game from walking to running and yes, to fighting.
If Altair runs, heíll be shoved over rather easily while fighting. You have to change your entire mentality about videogames when you see Assassinís Creed in action. This is about the most realistic videogame ever created. If you decide to do a lot of aerobic activities like running, climbing and fighting, you wonít stand a chance against a horde of people. Thatís right, not only guards attack you but regular people. If you decide to kill a manís wife, you better be on the lookout because this man will hunt you down until youíre dead. I could go on and on about how this game reacts to human responses but really, seeing it is about the only way youíll understand how incredible all of this is.
Fighting is something else altogether. Since everything else about Assassinís Creed is based on realism, you can be sure that fighting is as well. If you take your small hidden knife and slice someoneís throat, that person is dead, no health meters here people. The same goes for you. Defending is all done automatically but that doesnít matter because of the control you have over everything else. Everyone needs to see this title in action because these words simply donít do it justice. Hopefully the screenshots provided will give you a better understanding of what Assassinís Creed will offer.
If you thought Heavenly Sword had superb animation well thatís nothing compared to what Assassinís Creed offers. Altair has literally hundreds of thousands of different animations. Every single situation Altair comes into, heíll react differently. All of these animations were hand made too which is even more incredible but it explains why everything looks so impressive. The graphics as a whole are at a whole new level never before seen in a videogame. Everything from environmental effects to superbly impressive character models, are present in Assassinís Creed. The sound effects are equally impressive. There are just not enough good things to say about this title. The only time there was any noticeable lag was when Altair climbed up a huge structure and overlooked the entire city. I canít even begin to imagine what the finished product will be like given the early stage itís at now and how polished it already is.
Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of Assassinís Creed came from the end of the demo. After Altair was overtaken by several villagers, the screen went black and a computer display appeared on the screen that said ďSystem Offline.Ē Care to explain that? I know that I canít but I can tell you that I havenít been this intrigued by a new IP in years. This is how I felt when Metal Gear Solid was first announced. Iíll be following this title extremely closer as it nears completion. Right now itís a PS3 exclusive but there are rumors itíll be heading to the 360 and PC later on at some point. Regardless of what happens in the future, right now its reason enough to buy a PlayStation 3. This was hands down my favorite game of E3 2006 and itís likely to be one of your favorite games once it gets released sometime next year. Iíll keep you posted.