It wasn't hard to find the right place. The doors were guarded by two cloaked men bearing torches, and projected onto the building's walls were a life-size silhouette of Altair doing his signature swagger and a soaring bird of prey. Inside, a city landscape was projected onto white screens surrounding the party. The screens were later used to show live footage as Creative Director Patrice Desilets demoed the game for us.
Good company, miniburgers and line-jumping shenanigans aside, the highlight of the giftbags (aside from the game itself) were the Official Launch Party artbooks. It was an unexpected addition. When I opened the book for the first time, a huge white feather popped out and flew into my face. That thing scared the heck out of me. I thought it was an "Altair was here" kind of gag but apparently this didn't happen with anyone else's book.
When I flipped through the pages, I became disappointed that there wasn't much of anything inside of the book besides the pictures. Even the cover and box it came in only had the A-shaped logo. Also, half of the book was empty pages with a faded image of the blade and bloodied feather. I guess the real feather was a sign that we should be writing in those pages.
It doesn't take much inspection to tell that the artists involved spent a lot of time getting the details just right. They must have looked at hundreds of photos and objects for reference. The game has a medieval setting, yet we easily accept that it's a realistic story. It doesn't just nod the historical references but stays close to them.
Still, there is something too grandiose for reality about the atmosphere. It's because certain location sizes were exaggerated in order to stand out. That way, things wouldn't look too homogenous to our eyes. But despite all the work on creating hundreds of character models, all the people still seemed similar to me. What I saw were adults of similar builds moving in similar fashions, I couldn't help it.
You've probably wondered why there's a definite modern appeal to the way the game looks. According to Art Director Raphael Lacoste, all of that was on purpose. Movies that had a darker setting and modernly raw portrayal of characters, like The Name of the Rose and Kingdom of Heaven inspired the game's art team.
That modern feel is most noticed in Altair's design and movements, which have a metaphorical resemblance to an eagle. Even his name, Altaïr, originated from the Arabic phrase for "the Flying Eagle". When he swoops down to kill his prey, his robe splits out to the sides like wings and the front of his hood dips in the middle, like a beak.
Due to the lack of verbage, this shouldn't be considered a review of any kind. It's just that I'm sure somebody out there would love to see Altair's nosehairs.
I have to admit, it was weird to go through a whole game-related artbook and realize that nothing was sexualized. Statler and Waldorf were shouting "Bravo! Bravo!" from the balcony box inside my hateration head. The Paula Abdul meter now reads "two steps forward and one step back for gaming".
Images courtesy Ubisoft Montreal.
Event photos by Kris Abel