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E3 06: Assassin's Creed first look

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Rumors have long swirled about the existence of this game, which casts the player as a member of a shadowy brotherhood of killers determined to end the third Crusade - even if they have to kill every powerful figure on both sides. Now, after seeing the fully-revealed game in motion and getting our hands on it for a brief mission, we're thinking 12th century Jerusalem is a very interesting place.

Clad in a monk-like hooded white robe, the player character is at least as mobile as any game character this side of Spider-Man. Any surface that sticks out two inches or more can be climbed, so it's entirely possible to scurry up walls or scaffolds with an ease of effort that would make a gymnast jealous. It's a very easy to remember system thanks to the fact that everything is context sensitive - you simply press either the "leg" or "hand" buttons, depending upon the thing you want to climb, and the appropriate moves comes out. Once that's done, you can use the game's verticality - namely, the rooftops - to move virtually undetected.



This is a critical ability, both because of the nasty work you do with weapons including a sword, throwing knives and a sneaky wrist-mounted, retractable dagger, and because people react to your actions. The crowds in Jerusalem have minds - if you draw your sword, they might run. If soldiers are running after you, a brave soul might tackle you to help out. If you push your way through too ruggedly (using the "hand" button and possibly the "shift" button R1 to dictate how hard or soft you want to shove them), you'll attract unwanted attention. This crowd dynamic factors heavily into the gameplay - an assassin wants to be inconspicuous, so the fact that non-player characters are aware of their surroundings and your actions can cramp your style.

With hands and legs accounted for, there's a "head" button as well. It enables you to look around (or behind you) in first person, and triggers your intuition  - a sort of medieval spider sense that helps you pick your mark out of a crowd.

Your goal is always to make the kill and get away quickly, but you aren't totally helpless if things go pear-shaped. When the target our demoer was hunting saw him too soon (must've been the flying leap from horseback we goaded the demoer into that tipped him off) and sent a group of sword-waving knights after us, he felled two or three of them before breaking off and running away. An assassin's strongest moves are not direct attacks, but parries, like quick jabs when an enemy rears back, or a spinning counter that deflects a heavy sword slash and stabs its dealer in the back.

The crusades have been over for nearly 800 years, but all signs point to them feeling very much alive when Assassin's Creed ships in 2007.

May 08, 2006

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