Assassin’s Creed features one of the most unique gameworlds ever created: beautiful, memorable, and alive. Every crack and crevasse is filled with gorgeous, subtle details, from astounding visual flourishes to overheard cries for help. But it’s more than just a world–it’s a fun and exciting action game with a ton of stuff to do and places to explore, rounded out with a complex story that will slowly grab you the more you play. The PC version has a few more issues than its console counterparts, and the keyboard-and-mouse controls strip away some of the smooth magic of exploration. Nevertheless, if you don’t mind plugging in a gamepad and have a system that exceeds the system requirements, you’ll find the same free-form travels and atmospheric game world that console owners enjoyed last year.
Not enough can be said about the living, breathing universe that you’ll inhabit in Assassin’s Creed. As assassin extraordinaire Altair, you’ll explore three major cities of the Holy Land in the 12th century: Jerusalem, Damascus, and Acre. Each city is beautifully rendered from top to bottom and features meticulously crafted towers that reach for the sky, bustling market squares, and quiet corners where citizens converse and drunks lie in wait to accost you. As you wander the streets (and rooftops), you’ll push your way through crowds of women carrying jars on their heads, hear orators shout political and religious wisdom, and watch town guards harass innocent victims. Altair has a profound effect on this world, but the cities are entities all their own, with their own flows and personalities.
The visual design has a lot to do with how believably organic everything feels. The cities are absolutely huge, and though you don’t get full exploration privileges in the first few chapters, they eventually open up to let you travel seamlessly from one side to another. Everything is beautifully lit with just the right amount of bloom effect, and almost everything casts a shadow, from tall pillars to Altair’s cloak. In fact, sometimes the shadows get to be a bit much and may make you think for a moment that there is artifacting on your screen, when in fact it’s a character’s head casting a shadow on his or her own neck. Every object, from scaffolds to pottery, is textured so finely that you’ll feel as if you could reach out and touch it. Animations are almost as equally well done. Altair scales walls, leaps majestically from towers, and engages in swashbuckling swordfights that would make Errol Flynn proud. And he does it all with fluid ease, generally moving from one pose to another without a hitch. Minor characters move with less aplomb, but that’s easy to forgive, considering that the cities are populated with thousands and thousands of individuals.