Assassin's Creed Hands On - Altair Comes to the PC

We dive into this high-flying action-adventure game just before it makes its leap of faith onto the PC.

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Last year's Assassin's Creed from Ubisoft combined an unusual high-tech mystery, a medieval stealth adventure, and spectacular free-running acrobatics to offer a unique experience. The game is now headed to the PC and looks set to offer all the same high-flying action and challenging stealth gameplay, translated from the gamepad to your keyboard. We took a hands-on look at the early part of the game to get a sense of what you can expect. If you haven't played any of the other versions of the game and are unfamiliar with the story, please be advised that this preview contains spoilers.

The medieval assassin known as Altair is set to make his debut on the PC.
The medieval assassin known as Altair is set to make his debut on the PC.

Though you might've seen early glimpses of Assassin's Creed that showed the hooded protagonist Altair swinging his way through Crusades-era Europe in search of his next target, the game's story actually involves an entirely different protagonist, Desmond Miles--a bartender who was apparently raised to be a career assassin, but who escaped from his upbringing at a young age. It seems that Miles has been kidnapped by a mysterious group that is performing experiments on his psyche because they need to access certain memories trapped inside of his head. Unfortunately, his only choice is to cooperate or die.

This is where Assassin's Creed's main gameplay comes into the picture. Most of the action sequences require you to play as Altair, who was apparently an ancient ancestor of Miles and whose past life and actions hold the key to what his captors seek. Given that you play as both Altair and Miles--who exists in the present tense, long after Altair's existence--the gameplay moves at an extremely brisk pace as you relive Altair's exploits and switch from memory to memory, autosaving after various key moments rather than having to revisit save points.

The control scheme of Assassin's Creed has been translated to the PC to make use of the keyboard. The default layout takes some getting used to, but it affords the same level of control that the console versions do. You move using the W, A, S, and D keys like you would in a first-person shooter, though the A and D keys cause Altair to walk in that direction, similar to what you'd expect from a gamepad. You also use the E key to go to Altair's eagle-eye first-person view, and the space bar to activate Altair's leg functions, such as walking slowly to blend into a crowd. The shift key serves as your multipurpose low-profile key to shove people out of your way, grab people when used with the attack command, or enable your acrobatic free-running abilities when pressed with the space bar. Your mouse can be used to control your camera (along with separate camera controls tied to the arrow keys, and the first-person eagle-eye view). Your left mouse-button attacks your enemies, and your right-mouse-button lets Altair break into a sprint.

Like the console version, the PC version of the game begins with a brief tutorial and a handful of starter missions that generally go easy on you. These introductory escapades let you familiarize yourself with the control scheme and Altair's impressive acrobatic skills. Fortunately, even though Altair's missions often require him to leap across rooftops, run across catwalks, and run up the faces of walls (not unlike a certain Persian prince), the PC version of the game, like the console version, seems to gives you a good amount of leeway when navigating tricky cityscapes. Altair can maintain his balance in tight situations, and he teeters to one side to let you know he's about to fall, which gives you enough notice to step back from the brink. At his very best, using his most advanced assassin's skills, he can hop and skip across rows of ledges and flagpoles as if he were running on solid ground. Nevertheless, some of his most advanced skills are held only by high-ranking members of his assassin's guild, which requires him to maintain the tenets of stealth, not harming innocent bystanders, and eventually attempting to bring peace to the world.

Using the free-running ability, Altair can leap across tenuous footholds with ease.
Using the free-running ability, Altair can leap across tenuous footholds with ease.

Although we had a chance to play through only the first few missions of the game, all of the content from the console version of the game seems to be making it to the PC intact, including the in-game cinematic sequences that help tell the story. Likewise, all of Altair's various abilities seem to be included, such as fighting openly with his sword (and instantly executing his enemies with combo-kill abilities that can be triggered by left-clicking your mouse again immediately after making contact with your sword), as well as assassinating enemies with his wrist blades while sneaking up on them. You can pick the pockets of specific marks, and you maintain your level of stealth around hostile guards by managing their alertness levels, ducking out of sight into a booth or a haystack, onto an occupied bench, or into a crowd of pilgrims to hide. From what we've seen, the PC version of Assassin's Creed looks primed and ready to offer all of the action and intrigue of the original console game when it ships in April.

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