I've only played Assassin's Creed for 2-3 hours so far. I'll probably write a review at some point. But, for now, I want to focus on just a single element of the game. It's an element that I have not noticed in any other game I've ever played, and I fervently hope other developers will realize its value. That element is body language.
At many points in the game, I feel like a movie director. Cutscenes take over to reveal the story, but I maintain some control of both the camera and movement of my character. Believe it or not, such a simple feature opens up new and exciting roleplay opportunities. Through a little experimentation, I quickly realized that my choices could add significant nuances to the portrayal of Altair and his involvement in these scenes.
In one scene, Altair is being lectured by a superior. I can't control the dialogue or its tone, but I can choose Altair's body language.
One option is to leave Altair standing in front of the authoritative figure who is admonishing him. If I do this, there is an implicit suggestion that Altair is being obedient; humble, even. Altair will speak with defiance regardless of my choices, but he will at least pay full attention while his superior is talking to him.
Another option is make Altair turn his back on the man; a sure sign of disrespect.
Yet another option is make Altair pace, back and forth along the dais, during the lecture. This is what I did, and it created the impression of Altair being in a state of frustration or indecision, like he was mulling something over in his head.
And, of course, such actions can be combined in direct response to the conversation. At one point, I had Altair's back turned to his superior. When the boss surprised Altair with an insulting twist to his orders, Altair spun around (evidently in shock and fury) to face the man. The turn happened to coincide perfectly with Altair's verbal response.
As Altair, I was sitting on a bench and eavesdropping on some nearby NPCs (an actual game mechanic... not just me being imaginative when I could have stood right by them). In this case, I didn't have control of my character, but I did have control of the camera in 1st-person perspective.
I'd occasionally look directly at the men I was eavesdropping on. But, to make it more interesting, I often looked at the characters only out of the corner of my vision or not at all, as one would really act if he or she didn't want to be noticed eavesdropping.
I could also watch other, unimportant NPCs with "my eyes" (the camera) as I continued listening to the quest-involved NPCs. Like in an MMO, peripheral characters wandering by help to flesh out the gameworld. Allowing me to watch them as I was eavesdropping on others made it possible for me to complicate the story setting through my imagination. If you were eavesdropping, perhaps you'd be a little anxious that someone would spot you doing so. With the aid of the game's camera, I was able to manifest this same line of thought in Altair by having him remain wary of passers-by. See what I mean by complicating the story?
Such control of the character's movement (with a little imagination --> body language) and camera encourages me to experiment and enables me to become immersed in these cutscenes like no other. My gripe about cutscenes has always been that they essentially pause gameplay, replacing it with the passive viewing we experience with TV and films. Cutscenes have always suspended the player's interaction with the gameworld, and interaction is what games are fundamentally about. But Ubisoft has found a way to reveal story cinematically while maintaining interaction.
I'd love to hear a member of the Assassin's Creed development team comment on this. While allowing the player to control his or her character during cutscenes was certainly deliberate, I wonder if they realized the depth of impact it would have.