Even in the area I most expected trouble – the controls – the results are mostly successful. This is a game based fundamentally on stealth, murder, combat, climbing and evasion, and by mapping the face buttons to context-sensitive actions with the aid of a right-trigger defensive/offensive modifier, Ubisoft Montreal has given you a wide range of options without an overly complex set of controls.
I had my doubts about the way the game handles many of the physical aspects of free-running, too, but again I’m pleasantly surprised. Hold the right trigger and press A, and Altair sprints in the direction guided by the left-analogue stick, leaping and clambering over any gaps or obstacles in his way. It sounds like Prince of Persia with all the challenge taken out, but not so. Here the challenge is in analysing the streets and rooftops, carefully plotting Altair’s route to give him optimum chance of getting where he needs to go or away from whoever is pursuing him. It oddly reminds me of Burnout, except instead of spotting chances to move through high-speed traffic, you’re spotting the best places for Altair to run and jump next.
Only two things really let the controls down. First, while the context AI is smart, there are still times when it makes the wrong choice at the wrong moment and sends you hurtling off the rooftops or away from a wall when you want to go up it – usually at the worst possible time. Secondly, combat is a little confusing, with a range of context or timing-sensitive moves using the triggers and A and X buttons that, even after many hours in the game, I still have trouble making sense of. Often it all feels a little unfocussed – I have a vague idea of how to get Altair to repel incoming blows or make a spectacular counter-move, but I never feel 100 per cent in control.
Still, put all this together and you have a dazzling, cutting-edge experience that really does look like the future of gaming – at least for the first few hours. But then, as the game progresses, it becomes clear that while Ubisoft Montreal has lavished attention on the graphics, the world, the history and the wider story – even the minute-by-minute game experience – they have dropped the ball when it comes to the way the game plays out, hour-by-hour.