First and foremost, this is a jaw-droppingly beautiful game. Having watched the evolution of video games first hand from Atari and Intellivision on up, this has to be the most gorgeous game I have ever seen. Every texture is a work of art. Simple things, like the drape of cloth are amazing. I am spending serious amounts of time looking at rugs in the marketplace instead of playing the game. Climbing a viewpoint and surveying the countryside/city is a rush. I have never seen a game convey architectural grandeur quite like AC. The wealth of opportunities to simply view the cities is impressive. The animations are smooth and realistic, and the characters seem to have real weight in this artificial world.
Gameplay is a mixed-bag, but the frustrations of other reviewers seem to be too magnified. In comparison, I never once have had the feeling of being really let down by the AI or the "boredom" of repeatedly having to gather information for my targets. Yeah, it sure sucks that assuming the role of an assassin would entail *gasp* tracking down information on your target. Overall, I appreciate having to eavesdrop and interrogate people to gather this information. It may not be the best part of the game, but it ups the immersion factor. Hopping around through the "memories" can be jarring and confusing in terms of story, so it is nice to ground the player with a bit of slow-paced investigation about the background of the various marks. As you can gather, I did not expect this title to be all action, and because of that, I think that I may be enjoying the title more than some reviewers. The slow pace of some segments actually balances well with the assassination/escape phase. I find myself thinking back to the assassinations over and over to try different approaches. For the first time in a long time, I am feeling real freedom in a virtual world.
The freedom afforded in the level design is the real star of the show here. The fact that any and all access routes are open to the player is the real revolution in gameplay. The controls play a big part in immersing myself in this character's experiences. The inertia of running during an escape is where this freedom is displayed at maximum. As the player, one responds by willing the avatar in certain directions. I am not spending time trying to place well-timed jumps, nor am I looking for the one route out of danger. This sense of freedom in both level design and control makes most other games feel like one of those railed Disney rides. Feeling the intense rush of being chased and scrambling to get vertical is one of those "aha" moments in gaming history. It really does compare to the great moments in modern gaming, like the battle with Pyscho Mantis in Metal Gear Solid. That moment was about transcending the limitations of immersion and technology. Assassin's Creed is similar in scope and execution. Sitting at the edge of the couch, and mentally/physically willing your avatar up a serviceable wall to the roofs after that first assassination, one feels the desperation and stress of what that must have been like. This feeling; coupled with the strangely intuitive controls, is as close as gaming has ever come to simulating true danger.
This realism extends to the combat. I have seen other reviewers taking the combat to task as too easy. There have also been criticisms of the AI in regard to guards not attacking en masse. Well, would they have done that historically? Err, solo combat was pretty much the norm back then. Let me put it another way, maybe one of the guards could have thrown in a sucker stab here and again, but if you and your buddy were those guards, would you go in swinging wildly while he was engaged in combat? Can you see the logic in not wanting to kill you friend accidentally? To be fair, when faced with multiple enemies, the guards will attack as a group, switching off the aggressors in a fight. Hmm, the AI makes a little more sense now, I can almost see why the devs made these choices. This is not to say that there are no problems. The ladder AI is severely goofy, but not a deal breaker. Ditto for the way that you can assassinate a guard (quietly) and his cohort right next to him does not notice. Overall, the combat system seems very akin to real sword fighting. Don't swing wildly, cover yourself, look for an opening after a parry, and block-block-block.
After all this praise, let's face it, there are some negatives. First off, if I saw someone on a galloping horse, my first thought would not be "hey, kill him!" Secondly, I am supposed to be a highly trained assassin... who never learned how to swim. Most importantly, the whole future story is not impressive. When I fired up the game, I expected to go through the typical training humdrum. I had to go through that AND sit through this immersion breaking techno-babble-future junk? Even if you buy into that idea that frames the story, they let it slip out way too early. In essence, they just told their audience that Rosebud is the sled right after the opening shot of the gates to Xanadu. Still, it's not a deal breaker.
So, you've made it this far in a very long review. Assassin's Creed is a brilliant step in the right direction. It has obvious flaws. It has amazing strengths. I would love to see more game devs being ambitious - and delivering like this, instead of fiascos like Two Worlds. Ambition + ineptitude + hype= garbage. Ambition + talent + risk-taking + hype = Assassin's Creed. Overall, it is such a beautiful and compelling experience, that one has to at least see to believe it. It is a great first-step into the next chapter of gaming. Now, I would love to see what would happen if AC and Oblivion mated...