Want to see the definitive Assassin's review? We've got it right here! Plus: if you've already finished the game, don't forget to check out our startling Q&A which has sent the internet crazy. It's spoiler-filled, though, so approach with caution...
You wouldn't think it but Assassin's Creed should be considered as important a step forward for the sandbox genre as Prince of Persia was for platformers. Tucked away behind one of the dullest introductions we've seen in a while lies a game crafted with such care and attention that it's far too easy to take it everything it does for granted. Because, quite simply, Assassin's Creed makes every other open world game look amateurish. No mean feat.
It's largely thanks to the game's startling architecture. Forget for a moment about the Kingdom and the Assassins' hideout; the three major cities (Damascus, Acre and Jerusalem) each contain three districts, all with a slew of unique houses, churches, castles and towers to scale. And climb you will, for almost every vertical surface is adorned with crevices and handholds. The authenticity of the world in Assassin's Creed is a large contributor to its enjoyment, so it's extremely refreshing to see that these objects aren't just thrown about haphazardly. Instead, every building has been meticulously designed. Items are never there to simply open up paths: they're there for structural integrity, or for decorative purposes. Importantly, it all works.
KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
Spend five minutes in one of these cities and you won't want to leave. In fact, you won't want to play another sandbox game for a long while. Not only is the world far bigger than what we've seen before, it's only the second to multiply its size by containing true vertical gameplay (Crackdown being the first). Running up flat skyscrapers with superheroes will not cut it any more: we want to figure out how to climb up buildings. Altair can grab on to almost anything when he's impersonating a monkey, and he's packing some of the best animations we've ever seen. Such a dense world could be tricky to navigate, but thanks to the unique control scheme it's simplicity itself.
Instead of hitting buttons to leap or grab onto objects Altair will intelligently respond to his surroundings depending on which state he's in. Holding down the right trigger will make him run, and in conjunction with a he'll sprint up walls and hop across beams. Concerns that the controls have dumbed down the game should be laid to rest: the system is so intuitive, and so effective, that over-complicating the controls would only harm the game's fluidity.
Before you're allowed to kill your target you must gather intelligence from around the city. Climbing towers and surveying the map will unlock the locations of sub-missions, after which it's time to ditch the skies and explore the cities on ground level. Push your way through the vibrant crowds and you'll stumble upon further missions. Rescuing citizens in distress will gain you allies, but be warned: nearby civilians won't always take kindly to you killing guards. Frustratingly, the beggars and drunks that hinder your progress can't be paid off, and they crop up quite a lot... although twatting them nice and hard around the head is mightily satisfying and will usually do the trick.
CALL ME AL... TAIR
These missions lead up to one goal: the assassinations. There are nine key targets in all, and even though they're just as weak as anyone else in the game it is hugely satisfying to bump them off. An interactive cut-scene will precede every hunt, and when you're finally back in control you've got to work out the best method of getting past their entourage and stabbing them up real nice. Unfortunately the freedom you're given in doing so (and this proves to be true of other tasks as well) turns out to be the game's eventual downfall.