For most people Assassin's Creed is going to be either one of the most enjoyable games of the year, or a bit of a disappointment. For every triumph Assassin's earns, it drops the ball slightly via less-than-stellar execution - but there is plenty to like about it.
The platforming, to get it out of the way first, is arguably the game's biggest strength. Your journey through the Crusade-era holy land, assassinating the nine targets said to be the source of war in the era, winds you up in plenty of pursuits, and hopping from rooftop to rooftop not only looks fantastic thanks to some truly outstanding animation work, but it's a joy to play as well.
Altair, the game's hooded protagonist, hops between platforms, onto individual posts and swing from ledges with astonishing finesse, while transitions between animations are so smooth they are impossible to notice. It's worlds head of the jittery movements of most third-person games.
Even simple tasks like jumping from one platform to another or climbing a wall are done so gracefully it's a joy to see each and every time. You can see every hand and foot placement make a physical connection with specific rails, ledges and other bits of scenery. Not a finger is out of place.
Now, graphics aren't everything, but animations this impressive go a long way to making the frequent roof-top chase scenes all the more enjoyable.
The platforming system itself is about as simple as it could possibly be; holding down the right trigger will have Altair run and hop between gaps, while pressing A (or X on PS3) will engage a wall climb where pushes of the thumbstick will automatically cause him to clamber about walls and ledges.
It might sound overly automatic, but it's incredibly satisfying to pull off and pressing the stick the wrong way will land you on your arse, so there is some degree of judgement - if not skill - involved.
Soon you'll be absorbed in the same way that Crackdown had you surveying the local pub for the most efficient way to climb to the roof.
Fighting is the same; simple but incredibly stylish. The left trigger is used to lock on to your targets while swings of your sword are executed solely with the X button. Hold it down longer and you'll perform heavy attacks, and later on things get deeper with timed counter-attacks and dodges. It's easy to learn but is, again thanks to some fantastically bone-crunching animations, wonderfully satisfying.
With these solid foundations in place the medieval streets of Jerusalem and co are your playground. What lets the more-than-solid game systems down is Assassin's linear and repetitive structure.
Every single assassination in the game goes down the same way; you'll visit the city's assassin's bureau to get the low-down on your target. Then clamber atop various high spots to open intelligence targets on your map. Then fight, eaves-drop and pickpocket your way to knowledge. Then run back to the Bureau to get permission for the hit. We played through the entire game waiting for this structure to change, but it didn't.
At first we had no problem with it. It gave us an excuse to clamber atop the gorgeous city skyline, immerse ourselves in the surprisingly well-written narrative behind each target and - if we were in the mood - do a stealthy job of it like we should.
By the end of the game, however, it was all business as usual; 20-man sword fights and just getting the intel search out of the way so we could have a five-minute chase on the rooftops. With so much work having gone into the stealth systems, this is a shame.