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Assassin's Creed

Hands-on: The guards spoiled our fun...

There's already a lot of debate surrounding the state of Assassin's Creed, which is a particularly big deal because Ubisoft's 'celebration piece' means a lot not just to the legions of fans who've followed it from conception, but to the company's reputation (and bottom line) as well.

It's been in development at Prince of Persia studio Ubisoft Montreal for a good few years now, and will finally hit the streets this November.

Early showcases have caused a massive divide among the magazine press; some say its controls are flawed while others praise its gorgeous free-running platforming, which does look great in the barrage of media released. We finally got our hands on the latest version and here's what we think...

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As a free-running platformer it's an absolute success; as soon as we picked up the controller we were back in that Mario 64 zone where any small playground is fun to run, hop and jump around.

The animation work is fantastic; we found ourselves running in circles just to see where hooded protagonist Altair's feet would go, causing raised looks not only from the in-game guards but the PR staff standing next to us.

Essentially, while the game's controls are very simple (holding A has you run and climb) everything is automated to make your on-screen actions look even more fantastic.

Hopping between buildings isn't just an awkward jump, Altari will hop onto individual posts and swing from ledges, while the animations don't last long enough to make you feel disengaged from the character.

Even simple tasks like climbing a wall are made to look horribly complex, with Altair swinging across gaps and grasping individual stones to pull himself up to the next ledge. In reality, it's a simple task of holding up on the left stick - simple to play, but extremely satisfying to watch.

With this free-style system in place Jerusalem is your playground, and we quickly became absorbed in the Assassin's game world in the same way that Crackdown would have us surveying the local Starbucks for efficient climbing routes to the roof.

Combat, while less inspired, works well enough. Again using the 'simple to use, pretty to watch' mantra, Assassin's combat is controlled (mainly) using one button. Once your sword is drawn you can use a simple lock-on system to target enemies, then tapping A will result in a standard attack and holding it slightly longer will perform a heavy attack.

It's a simple, yet strategic system that results in stand-off bouts revolving around catching your opponent off guard and blocking at the right time to perform a counter attack.

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Once push and throw moves enter the mix (performed by B) this simple combat system gains a bit more depth; you can throw guards into each other and cause a pile-up for a quick escape - something you'll often have to do when battles get too hot.

And that's where we started to see some of the flaws mentioned in less-impressed magazine previews. As soon as our demo introduced the stealth elements of the game - which feature just as heavily as the excellent platforming sections - the whole pace of the game changed.

Tasked with sneaking up on a high profile assassination target, Altair can move through the crowd stealthily by holding down the B button - again pulling off a flurry of fantastic shoving animations that are in fact horribly simple to control.

When we're quite happy running and jumping around the streets watching Altair perfectly place his feet on every cobble stone, it all went a bit Splinter Cell.

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