The year is 1191. The third Crusade, led by Richard the Lionheart is raging in the Middle East. At the heart of the conflict are the Assassins, famed for their ruthlessness and cunning, and tasked with suppressing the Crusade by thinning the ranks of both sides. However, the Assassins' failure to assassinate the Grand Master of the Knights Templar has thrown the region into turmoil and the hitman responsible, a man named Altaïr, is demoted to the lowest Assassin rank there is - Uninitiated - and stripped of his equipment. However, Sinan, the leader of the Assassin's Guild offers Altaïr a chance at redemption by tasking him with the assassination of nine prominent figures responsible for continuing the Crusades, thereby allowing Sinan to usher in an age of peace in the Middle East. That's where you come in.
You've got to pick a pocket or two
What this translates to for the gamer is a series of missions whereby you must identify and then eliminate a specific target located within one of three medieval Middle Eastern cities - Damascus, Acre and Jerusalem. Each city is a sprawling metropolis, rich in historical detail and packed with non-player characters, hidden secrets and side missions for you to accomplish. You can't just go straight in and take out your target, you have to gather information on them first, something you achieve by pickpocketing messengers, interrogating informants and listening in on conversations, all the while remaining inconspicuous. To find the locations of these objectives, Altaïr must climb to specific viewpoints located at the top of tall buildings, which offer you an elevated view of the whole city, and mark mission-critical items on your map. The views are spectacular and, after the long climb up, you can always swan dive down into conveniently placed bales of hay to make your return journey a lot quicker.
Getting there is half the fun, however. The developers have created an incredible interpretation of the art of Parkour; free-running techniques that allow you to overcome obstacles as quickly (and impressively) as possible. The control system is unusual, but innovative, with Altaïr's limbs being mapped to different action buttons allowing you to put together combinations that the game interprets based on the context in which they are pushed. So for example, running at a wall and pressing the Legs button will cause Altaïr to jump it, while pressing the Arms button will cause him to vault it. It might sound complicated, but in no time at all you'll be stringing together incredibly graceful combinations and scaling buildings with feline grace in ten seconds flat.
Getting away with murder
The life of an Assassin isn't an easy one. Sure, you get to travel the world and meet (and then kill) interesting people, but once you've taken out your target, their bodyguards tend to be a bit upset about it. Altaïr's notoriety is monitored by an alert meter in the top left of the screen and doing anything out of the ordinary, such as barging through a crowd, or backflipping off a roof into a fountain, is likely to attract attention from passers-by and eventually guards looking to cut you down to size. Take out your main target however, and the city is thrown into a full state of alert and you have to use every hiding place and diversion at your disposal to make it out alive. These include crowds of people sympathetic to your cause who will block pursuing guards, groups of hooded scholars for you to blend in with, and, when all else fails, giant bales of hay for you to jump into and hide until the heat cools off.
Sometimes there's just no escaping however, and then it's combat time. Altaïr is equipped with a sword, a dagger and a retractable wrist-blade for stealth killing, and the melee weapon fighting is a good balance of attacking, blocking and instant-kill counter moves that you can pull off with a bit of precision timing.
The game looks great too thanks to gorgeously rendered character models and fluid animation so lifelike it's easy to forget you're not watching a live action film. As you progress through the game you can also unlock customisations for your weapons to make things easier, as well as new items to help you out with your assassinations, such as better boots and gloves for climbing.
With its gorgeous presentation and incredible atmosphere, Assassin's Creed is the perfect title for those who like their games packed to the brim with action, intrigue and adventure. A must-have title for fans of action adventures, as well as anyone looking to channel their inner medieval super assassin.