In November, Ubisoft will release one of the more highly anticipated games of the year when Assassin's Creed II arrives on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. This sequel will push the story forward a few hundred years and introduce a brand-new protagonist, but it won't be the only Assassin's Creed game released this holiday season. Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines, a PSP exclusive, will serve as a more direct continuation of the original game as players, once again, assume control of the acrobatic killer Altair.
The story in Bloodlines picks up more or less right after the first game's cliffhanger ending. The primary difference is in the way the story is presented. Rather than showing long, drawn-out scenes of modern day bartender Desmond Miles coping with the memories of his medieval ancestor, Altair, Bloodlines is presented in a format that Ubisoft and developer Griptonite Games expect will be much better suited for the portable experience. Long story short, you'll play purely from the perspective of Altair--no Desmond this time--in a game that features shorter, more easily digestible cinematics while maintaining the same open-world style of gameplay. And because it takes place after the original, Altair has all his weapons and abilities from the outset--no need to earn them all back again.
In Bloodlines, the Templars have occupied the island nation of Cyprus, and it's up to Altair to methodically seek out and assassinate every one of their commanding officers to weaken their presence in Cyprus and eventually drive them out. We saw a demo from early in the game where Altair had to chase down a commander named Moloch the Bull inside a fortified Templar base in an old castle. The demo began with Altair perched atop a castle wall and surveying his surroundings before dropping down to silently kill patrol guards with his hidden blade. From the way Altair fell gracefully into a cart of hay to the burst of blood that cascaded from the unfortunate guard, it was clear from the outset that this portable take on Assassin's Creed is aiming to keep the experience close to the console original rather than the coolly received DS game that was released some months after.
Taking the series to the PSP--and the time that's passed during this transition--comes with its share of benefits and drawbacks. Adjusting the camera seems like it may trip up some players because the lack of dual analog sticks means you'll have to hold L and press the face buttons if you want to adjust your point of view. But on the positive side, Bloodlines has been given the gift of a few new bells and whistles that Ubisoft has added to Assassin's Creed II. One example Ubisoft was keen to show off was a new move in Altair's deadly repertoire: the ability to grab guards while hanging from a ledge. This move blurs the line between the game's combat and climbing because you can shimmy along a ledge and yank down any guard within reaching distance without having to break stride.
Ubisoft and Griptonite have also taken fan feedback into consideration in a few different ways. After Altair managed to take out Muloch the Bull--a boss fight that required patiently timing his attacks and countering with your own--the dialogue sequence that followed was remarkably short. This is in comparison to the drawn-out conversations you couldn't skip that followed each boss encounter in the original game. According to Ubisoft, part of this change came about because a lot of fans didn't care for those parts of the game. The other part of the change had to do with Ubisoft's goal of crafting a game that's meant to be played in shorter bursts on the PSP.
Overall, we walked away impressed with the work the development team at Griptonite has done with Bloodlines. While we didn't get to play the game, it looks like this PSP version will incorporate most of what made Assassin's Creed so great. The climbing looks just as slick and effortless while the combat looks just as brutal. The presentation has also clearly benefitted from a solid attention to detail in both graphics and voice work. The big questions left to be answered are how much the story feels like a necessary addition to the series fiction and how well the open-world areas capture the feel of those bustling cities that Assassin's Creed depicted so well. Expect more coverage in the next few months.