Our first impressions of Assassin's Creed weren't so shining. The then-unclear control scheme left us confused and the overly harsh enemy AI made it hard to have fun inside the medieval city walls. But that was then and now that we've got the near final code sitting on our laps we couldn't feel more differently about it...
After diving head-first into the middle of the game and getting our arses kicked last month, we're never going to complain about having to sit through tutorial levels again.
Learning the basic principal of Assassin's control layout makes stealth, killing and legging it on rooftops far less painful than if you were just told which buttons do what (like we were last time around.)
The face buttons for example represent Altair's head (Y), left and right arms (X and B) and finally his legs (A). With this basic principal lodged in your head it's easy to figure out which button you should be pressing in a crisis.
A will make you slow down and blend in, X is your weapon hand and B is used for off-hand actions such as pickpocketing. Y meanwhile is reserved for Altair's Eagle Vision.
The triggers simplify things further by separating socially acceptable and aggressive actions. Press B without trigger use for example, and Altair will softly push through the crowd. Hold down the right trigger however and he'll grab your target and violently throw him with the thumbstick.
Instantly this solved many of our problems navigating through the early training town. Accidently punching someone in the face becomes a non-occurrence when you've figured to leave the right trigger alone, and using B to push through a crowd is second nature.
So the controls work well when you've grasped the idea, but throw a friend in at the deep end and we reckon they might just free-run off a cliff...
Gently Does It
To help see if the hide and seek gameplay works any better once you've mastered the controls, we jumped into the second mission in the foggy city of Acre.
Our target is a nasty old hospital leader called Garnier de Naplouse (nothing to do with the shampoo), who was exiled from France for cruel and unethical treatment of his patients.
But before we run straight in and stab him in the face, we've got to do some investigation to gather when and where is best to strike. This is a three-way process of heading to the local Assassin's Bureau for info (as you do), climbing tall city buildings to synchronise your map and pickpocketing, interrogating and eaves dropping the locals for even more info.
The investigation process is one of the most enjoyable parts of the assassination mission because you get to play around with arguably Assassin's Creed's biggest strength; it's fluid and beautiful platforming system.
The game's free-running, as we've always said, is brilliant. The animation is fantastic, the controls simple and it's simply satisfying to run about the rooftops upsetting enemy archers. This has always felt like Assassin's biggest success, and we reckon the overall verdict will come down to how the other gameplay features perform, because the platforming itself is a triumph.
Scaling the spire of a local church reveals intelligence targets on our mini-map. Each synchronised point is joined by a 'leap of faith' location, allowing you to quickly jump down to the streets into a nearby haystack. This is another area that's far more straightforward after the final game's tutorial; visual cues like birds indicate where you can jump from - something we didn't have a Scooby Doo about in our last hands-on.