Where do I start? This game pushes me as a gamer, and the 360 as a machine. It's INCREDIBLY engaging and gorgeous, and I have a hard time coming up with much bad to say about it.
Let's start off where most attraction begins.. looks.
The environments, character models, draw distance, textures, etc are as good as ANYTHING I've seen on the 360 so far. Its only challenger to visuals in my mind is Gears of War.
The cool little things like the architecture of the cathedrals, the drab, dirty look of the poor neighborhoods and wartorn parts of some of the cities are really interesting. I'm finding myself doing a lot of exploration, rather than going on some of the plot-based missions, which, I feel, is a testament to the visuals in the game. I get lost int the city and feel like I'm really being talked to our shouted at by some of the people. Which goes hand in hand with the next topic..
This game has the best ambient sound design I've ever heard. Crowd noises go beyond "mumble, mumble" crowd noises and too-recycled one-liners many games resort to. It has merchants shouting at passers-by, crazy sandwich board types spouting end of the world stuff, religious leaders on church steps, talking about the on-going crusades.
The other thing this game does well is (with creative license, of course) set the game into a historically familiar time: The Third Crusade. This is the one you know from Robin Hood, with King Richard coming to take back the Holy Land. However, what this game does that is a little less expected, is hear different perspectives of that time. As you pass between the Jewish, Muslim and Christian neighborhoods of cities like Jerusalem and Damascus, you'll hear Muslims talking about how they're being invaded by the Infidels (Catholic crusaders), others trying to convince people that King Richard knows the way, and will lead the Holy Land from evil. That kind of perspective also helps the illusion that you're in the middle of something bigger you, and THAT is the textbook definition of immersive to me.
There is a LOT going on here. This is where it might get a little spoilerific for some, but if you've played even sixty seconds of the game, you'll have learned what I'm about to talk about. (If you're scared, just skip this section and head to the conclusion section.
First of all, the game isn't truly set during the Crusades. It's set in present day, through the perspective of a bartender who's been kidnapped by a mysterious company. They have a device they say extracts "genetic memory", a scientific hypothesis that's been popular recently. They need some memory from you, or more specifically of an assassin ancestor of yours. You're being held against your will, and run through several memories leading up to the one they specifically want. Most of the game is played hooked to this machine, and played through the perspective of this ancestor, with short vignettes going back to present day between key parts of the past story.
As far as those memories go, this game is sort of a cross between Splinter Cell, Spider-Man, Crackdown and GTA, with a little bit of Bible Adventures thrown in for good measure.
Following in the Metroid vein, you briefly start out SUPER powered up, but quickly lose your powers after a big plot point.
As an assassin climbing the ranks by fulfilling key "jobs", you start to get several different perspectives of what's going on, as you continue to move forward to whatever memory the company's hoping to get from you.
The game's environment is a SUPER playground of things to climb, swing on, destroy, dodge, etc. It has a familiar "Aware" meter, showing whether people are suspicious of you, and if you do too many squirrelly things, or if someone witnesses you doing something bad, they'll call a guard, and then you get faced with a fight-or-flight decision. You can scale buildings, hide on rooftops, jump in hay bales, duck into a crowd of monks, etc to elude them, or dispatch them with some pretty cool swordplay tricks.
Controls on the swordplay is very smooth, however, there's a pretty high learning curve on figuring out the "go anywhere" controls of running, climbing, etc. With about 12 hours in the game, I'm VERY comfortable with it now, and generally feel now that any mistake I make (coming up short jumping buildings, falling off walls, etc) are MY fault, not the game's.
I'm in love with this game. It's a medieval, broad daylight Splinter Cell with a really cool historical backdrop. The sights and sounds will suck you in to wandering the environment, and the story will compel you to complete 'just one more mission before bed'.
I suppose I'll have to develop some kind of scale, but whatever it ends up being, this game will be on the top end of the spectrum. I'm a HUGE fan of stealth oriented gameplay, and this game combines LOTS of wonderful traits into a really fun action game.