Earlier today we got a chance to sit down with Ubisoft and get shown Assassin's Creed up close and personal, while at the same giving us a chance to actually control Altair ourselves. The demonstration was the of the same mission shown at Microsoft's Press Briefing from Tuesday night. Fortunately, we got to see the objective through to its completion, whereas Jade Raymond's cut off as soon as the slaver was assassinated. After our Ubi rep went through the mission, he handed us the controller and let us have a go at the streets and rooftops of Jerusalem, which is 15 times larger than the previously demoed city at E3 06. Did it play as good as it looked?
The first thing that we examined was the UI during gameplay. On the top right is your action set with the face buttons, with each corresponding with a section of your character's body. Y controls the head, and allows you to access "eagle vision", B is your weilding hand, X is your unarmed hand, and A is your feet. Pulling the left trigger allows you to lock onto targets, and the right trigger changes your action set to aggressive variants or "high profile", where instead of punching someone with X, you'll assassinate them if pressed from behind. We only saw the left bumper briefly on screen, but it was listed as "action view" during the rep's run through.
Below that is the radar, which is pretty straightforward in its design. it displays the target's relative direction and distance from you, as well as other pertinent information such as your starting point, or if you're trying to lose line of site with guards: hiding spots. Small blue circles within the radar indicate these spots where you can blend in with the crowd. On the top left is your awareness meter. There is a triangle that indicates how much attention you've received, with white as stealthily blending in the crowd, red as in enemies' line of sight and being followed, yellow means they've lost line of sight, but are still trying to chase you. At this point, you can use a hiding spot to lose them. When in hiding, the triangle will pulse a light blue while the guards search for you, and blink green when they've lost you.
As opposed to the über-stealthy approach you've seen, we took a more direct route to the target, even assassinating a civilian to get the guard's attention, without realizing we were the culprit, to bypass security. Killing unarmed NPCs is generally frowned upon, and it decreases a status bar beside the awareness meter, which goes down when you take damage, as well. When the bar is depleted completely, your HUD disappears, and you get a slight static filter on screen. When the bar is full, you get a rotating double helix behind it. Also, the "Matrix code" fluctuations actually resemble molecular models, The Ubisoft rep couldn't elaborate on the notion behind any of the "futuristic aspects" of the UI, but said that they'd be revealed within the first 5 minutes of the game, so it wasn't some big secret, just something they wanted players to experience fresh upon release.
The free running and climbing in the game is really intuitive, especially considering the whole city is accessible by your character, and anything that protrudes two inches from the wall is usable when scaling it. Rather than using any buttons, it's all done with the left thumbstick, as you hold it in the direction you want to move, towards any of the aforementioned protrusions for you to grasp. Use of the right trigger increases your climb speed, as well as enables Altair to do horizontal leaps to ledges out of arms reach. The A button can be used to jump away from the wall, and the B button will release your holding, for dropping down, while tapping B again will grab on to the next ledge as you descend.
All in all, the game looks very solid, and should be entertaining for those looking to explore and find the coolest lines of free running, while allowing for dynamic combat and stealth based assassinatory activities. As an added bonus, we uncovered the equivalent of teabagging in the game, which doesn't have a "crouch" button. "High profile" and holding A prepares Altair for a leap, so holding A while repeatedly pulling the right trigger makes your character crouch repeatedly. Pulling this maneuver on some fallen guards we just dispatched got laughs out of the Ubisoft reps fortunate enough to watch. Given that there's no demo planned, we're going to have wait it out till November..