Foggy barriers block off areas of cities and provide a warning that this memory cannot be accessed when you get too close. Interludes between memory blocks (you might better know them as "levels") are marked with text about "fast-forwarding" through memories and a shot of Altair standing in a glowing high-tech limbo. The interface hud is futuristic and includes such modern amenities as a GPS system. You can switch the interface off for more realistic city-stalking, but this requires a lot of patience when navigating the huge cities and is best reserved for a second run-through of the game. All in all, you're constantly reminded that you're viewing the action via a high-tech trance, which breaks the sense of disbelief and just about ruins the gee-whiz factor of being an assassin in a remarkably well-realized Crusader kingdom in the Middle East.
Repetitive gameplay in Assassin's Creed adds even more problems. A template is established early on and the game then rarely varies from it. Your nine kills always play out the same way. A mission starts by being given a mystery to solve, largely by taking on the same mini-quests over and over again. You climb identical towers to gain viewpoints over cities and reveal more of the map. You pick pockets and eavesdrop on conversations. You dodge guards by doing a monk-walk in the midst of wandering scholars. You kill guards who are bullying citizens. You "interrogate" weaselly informants by beating them up. After going through these motions, you then determine a victim who needs assassinating, meet with the local assassin bureau chief to get a feather signifying acceptance of the contract, and finally run down your target and dispatch him in a fashion that the plot pretty much shoehorns you into accepting.
At first, this is all rather awesome. It's different, thanks to the Middle Eastern architecture and the varied crowds of people you bump into on the streets. Scaling walls like Spider-Man and running up walls like the dudes from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a lot of fun. And the mouse-and-keyboard controls provide an extraordinarily fine ability to guide Altair through his acrobatics, balancing hands-on control with automated leaping about. Kills can be made with a blade tucked up your sleeve or in wild scimitar-flashing melees loaded with combos. Getting spotted by guards leads to pell-mell scrambles down streets and across rooftops where you try to escape just long enough to hide in a haystack or a roof garden. The feel here is a lot like being chased by the cops in a GTA game, with the hay and gardens standing in for Pay-and-Sprays. So the action sequences can be an absolute blast.
But there is just too much routine. It's like the developers at Ubisoft Montreal finished off the great atmosphere and attitude, then broke for the day and never got back to finishing the gameplay. Instead of designing interesting scenarios and throwing Altair into the middle of them to sink or swim, they crafted a fairly generic ninja-like assassin with a handful of canned trick moves to perform ad nauseum. There also isn't really any stealth here, despite press hype to the contrary. Blending into crowds and performing sneaky kills is often a waste of time, as you can easily slaughter your way through packs of alerted guards once you get a feel for the combat controls. Again, everything is too straightforward and formulaic--especially for a game about an assassin prowling city streets.
At least those city streets look amazing. Assassin's Creed is spectacularly gorgeous. Great lighting effects and city architecture evocative of the medieval Holy Land do such a great job of immersing you in Altair's world that it's intensely frustrating every time that you're yanked into Miles' spookily sterile laboratory. Audio effects are quite varied, as well, and the voice-acting more than respectable despite the use of a lot of accents. The only presentation problems involve high system requirements (although I personally didn't have any gripes over how the game ran on my 8800 GTX system) and a lot of audio glitches like over-the-top echo effects on voices that render conversations in rooms almost incomprehensible.