May 11, 2006 - Ubisoft seems to have been on fire recently with Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter netting high praise all around and its forthcoming next-gen games Splinter Cell 4: Double Agent and Rainbow Six Vegas looking very hot here at E3 2006. While these games build upon proven franchises, it's a new IP in the company's portfolio that may wind up being the most interesting of the bunch: Assassin's Creed.
The game somewhat seems like a mix between Prince of Persia and Hitman. Each kill begins with sneaking into position and ends with running, climbing and scurrying away with your life. It's also a game of options, like figuring out how to get your kill without drawing too much attention, and picking the best out way of a tight situation.
Rather than using shadows to mask your presence, you'll need to blend in with crowds - social stealth as Ubisoft puts it. The coolest parts about all of this are the ways that crowds react to your actions and the manners in which you can interact with them. As a simple example, you're able to gently push or shove villagers out of the way, depending on how quickly you need to be somewhere. Shoving someone will bring attention to the guards, so you'll want to play things cool and calm until the deed is done.
It's much more complicated than this, though. People will realize what you're doing, whatever that may be, and act accordingly. If you drop down from a rooftop into the middle of the street, the crowd will back away and keep their distance as this obviously isn't a common thing to see. And again, the more attention you draw to yourself, the more likely you're to be recognized by guards.
One really cool aspect is that you're able to help out certain civilians if you'd like, who in return will help you out in some way. In the demo we saw, there were clergymen that'll help conceal you as one of their own if you somehow help promote their cause, allowing you to get really close to your target without much trouble. In an opposite case, there are street thugs about that will attack you on your way out of the city if you hadn't helped them with some task beforehand.
It's the acrobatics and skills of your assassin persona that really gives the game is style. You have many of the same skills that the Prince of Persia has in his repertoire, like being able to run up a wall and grab the top. Many of the assassin's tricks are his own however, like being able to leap directly off the back of his horse to reach higher spots.
One really sweet part about the game is that you're able to climb any ledge or piece of architecture that sticks out at least 2". The game's engine automatically tags these areas for designers so that they need only construct the environment and then everything works. In other words, if you think you should be able to climb it, you can.
The combat is where the assassin shines, though. Much of the combat is based around defensive maneuvers and counters. In one instance we saw, the assassin was toe-to-toe with a swordsman, himself unarmed, and simply stood in a rather loose pose. As soon as the swordsman lunged forward to strike, the assassin stepped to his side, grabbed the soldier's head and shoved him violently to the ground, all in one very quick, very smooth motion. In another case, a similar move was performed only this time the assassin was armed and ended up stabbing the soldier in the back.
There is of course "classic" combat in the game, sword to sword type of stuff. We didn't see all that much of this so we can't really speak about its subtleties, though we were told that the game's focus really is on being defensive and relying on the counter system as the fights are somewhat realistic - in other words, you won't be able to live long taking more than a couple slashes from guards, so the quicker the kill, the better.
There seems to be a whole lot of stuff about the game that we haven't been clued in on yet. For example, the game's HUD has a futuristic look with a technology-skewed symbol sitting at the base of your health bar. Ubisoft was quite tight-lipped about why this is, but we're told the story is one that spans a great length of time and that there's quite a bit of historical conspiracy intertwined within. Intriguing, to be certain.
Assassin's Creed looks cool as hell right now. It's still a tad rough, with a few AI bugs and an inconsistent framerate, but the game isn't due out until Q1 or 2007. Assuming that Ubisoft can polish the game up like a brass door handle, we could find a really sweet game in our systems come the beginning of next year.