TORONTO – An action-adventure game, "Assassin's Creed," which lets players control a Crusades-era hitman stalking and killing his targets, is gearing up to be one of the biggest titles this holiday.
With "Halo 3" now in stores, players and developers alike are keeping a close eye on November, the month during which Ubisoft's (UBI) "Assassin's Creed" and some of its biggest competitors will hit the shelves.
The game, which will be available for the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3 and the PC, is generating lots of buzz.
Video game Web site IGN.com counts it among "our most anticipated games of 2007." A trailer released in May was downloaded more than 1.3 million times in less than a week.
Ubisoft invested in realism for the game, and it shows.
Beautifully rendered visions of cities like Jerusalem and Damascus circa 1191 are no accident.
The company hired an Oxford historian to help with detail and brought in a consultant who worked on the film "Kingdom of Heaven," which was set during the same historical period.
The game takes place as the Third Crusade rolls across the Holy Land. The player takes on the role of Altair, an assassin tasked with taking out targets on both sides of the conflict with a mixture of acrobatics and swashbuckling skill.
"But there's also kind of this hidden sci-fi aspect to it which they (Ubisoft) have been playing very, very close to the vest," says Jeff Haynes, PlayStation editor at IGN.com.
Ubisoft has kept quiet about the futuristic touches, like the symbols that envelop some characters.
The developers also spent a lot of time making the crowds in the game interactive and often crucial to success.
"We wanted to create a crowd that not only was believable, — living and breathing and did things that were interesting — but also created gameplay," Jade Raymond, the producer on "Assassin's Creed," said in an interview.
This has the potential to lead to unique and unpredictable scenarios and that, combined with the promise of a deep plot, has anticipation running high.
Raymond admits trying to live up to the hype can be intimidating.
"I was pretty worried for a while, to tell you the truth, just because you never know," she said.
However, after presenting a near-final version of the game to testers and game media, she said the response had been universally positive.
"So that's reassured me a little bit," she said.
IGN.com's Haynes said there were some concerns earlier this year about the controls but these have improved since then.
"I think it's still one of the bigger titles," he said of the game. "I have a feeling that it's going to be one those games that will probably wind up surprising people, especially when they get their hands on it."