Nothing is true. Everything is permitted. This might sound like Sven-Goran Eriksson's justification for his cack-handed England World Cup campaign, but it is in fact the actual guiding motto of a secretive cult of warriors from the 12th century who became feared for their tactics of killing political and religious opponents. Taking their inspiration from this murderous medieval sect, Assassin's Creed is the latest title from the Ubisoft Montreal team responsible for the rather excellent Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time.
Already over two years in development, the game is an incredibly ambitious third-person action-adventure set in the Holy Land in the year 1191, using the historical backdrop of the Crusades, with Richard The Lionheart and his Christian soldiers battling against Saladin and his Muslim army of Saracens. Religious conflict in the Middle-East? Pah. Surely they'll sort that out within a millennium anyway...
The anti-hero protagonist in Assassin's Creed is Altair, a master assassin who's disgraced when he fails to kill the Templar leader Robert de Sable, and is demoted to the lowest rank in the Order (presumably where he'll have a desk job involving filing, photocopying and other demeaning assassin administrative tasks).
To redeem himself, Altair is given missions by the leader of the Order, Sinan, to kill various corrupt individuals in the Holy Land who are exploiting and prolonging the terrible war situation of the Third Crusade, but he discovers a deadly mystery along the way...
Unlike the whimsical fantasy of the Prince Of Persia however, Assassin's Creed has a real medieval setting, and instead of just a palace to explore, you now have an entire kingdom. There are three huge cities, each with its own unique atmosphere and socio-political make-up: Acre, a war-torn European-flavoured coastal settlement recently conquered by the Christian Crusaders; Damascus, a desert town featuring dust-blown markets and majestic mosques; and Jerusalem, the multi-cultural melting pot it's always been.
In-between these major cities, rather like GTA: San Andreas or Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, is wild countryside, with verdant hills, scorching deserts, dense forests and icy mountain regions, hiding away stunning vistas, castle hideouts and secret locations to explore and discover, on foot or on horseback.
Although sightseeing is encouraged, the main dagger thrust of any assassin's lot is killing people, and Ubisoft has spent a considerable wedge of development time on the creation of bustling city environments teeming with over 60 NPCs on-screen at once. To complete assassinations, Altair has to work his way stealthily through the crowds, deftly moving past people or even putting a hand out and pushing them out of the way, carefully ensuring that he doesn't alert the potential victim to his presence. Of course, if you prefer the more direct route, you can just barge forcefully through the crowd like a city gent on a tube train or whip out a suitable weapon and start hacking your way through the startled throng like a maniac, but the various reactions of the town dwellers could reveal your position to the authorities.
Individuals can just raise a disapproving eyebrow, stare gormlessly or look at you with suspicion, but they can also run away frightened or even turn on you and start a fight, calling on nearby pals to surround you and join in on the thorough beating.
If any of the AI-controlled townspeople get hungry, they may visit a stall to get food, or if they're bored, look out for entertainment in the square - each has a role, whether that's a beggar, salesman, bodyguard or soldier, and will act and react to you according to their unique personality. The believable organic world is also brought to life by the various different languages that people can speak, which Altair can translate to hear useful gossip and info on the local area.