Monday, 21 December 2009

Review - Assassin's Creed II

  • Game: Assassin's Creed 2
  • Format: Xbox 360
  • Other Formats: PC, PS3
  • Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
  • Publisher: Ubisoft
  • Genre: Third Person Adventure

The first Assassin's Creed was a game with great potential - the Prince of Persia-style free running allowed you to climb any building then leap into a conveniently placed haystack at the bottom. Then there was the crowd-based stealth system that when used properly could let you walk right up to your target, stab him, and walk away before the guards even noticed he was dead. All this was tied up with a plot that could best be described as "The Da Vinci Code if Dan Brown wasn't a talentless hack" and the truly revolutionary concept of using a historical setting that was neither World War II nor ancient Rome.

Note the lack of Nazi gladiators.

Despite this potential, there were a number of major flaws that prevented it from being a truly great game. But now two years on, the sequel is here and provides one of the best examples in years of how to address the flaws of a game and bring the concept forwards.

The story kicks off right where the first game ended. Desmond is rescued from Abstergo by the modern Assassins and put into an upgraded version of the Animus. Once there he begins to relive the life of his ancestor Ezio Auditore da Firenze, a 15th century Italian nobleman who, much like Altaïr, is also a behooded Batman wannabe fighting to stop the Knights Templar from stealing the powers of Space Jesus. It makes sense in context. This change of character brings with it a new setting in the form of five cities in Renaissance Italy.

The dialogue è ormai casualmente switch between English e Italiano. Accendere i sottotitoli. Requiescat in pace.

The most obvious flaw in the original game was the dull mission structure, with constantly repeated missions involving such thrilling jobs as pickpocketing or sitting on a bench. The sequel does its best to address this problem, with much more variety in the missions and more cinematic set-pieces. There are also a number of underground tombs that allow you to make the most of Ezio's parkour skills. Having said all this, there are still too many "very slowly walk after this guy" missions (i.e. more than zero).

And the improvements extend further than the mission structure, to the point where it is hard to think of a single criticism of the first game that hasn't been addressed to some extent. Lack of reward for finding things? Collection increases the value of your villa and hence your income, plus there are proper unlockables for finding enough hidden feathers. Instant death water? You can now not only swim, but make sneaky takedowns from the water's edge. Not enough answers regarding the metaplot? Two sidequests give plenty of information about both the Assassins and Templars, and the ending is essentially a chain of massive revelations.

Non-instakill water. Really useful when you're in Venice.

There are still a few problems though. Having to keep returning to the villa to pick up money is a pain, especially as it involves a loading screen and usually a fairly long walk. In addition, despite improvements the combat still pales in comparison to something like Batman: Arkham Asylum. There are a number of new moves, but the all-powerful counter attack is still enough to defeat just about any enemy. This combined with enemies that politely attack one at a time means that battles often degenerate into holding the block button and waiting for an opportunity to counter.

All in all, this is the game we should have got two years ago, and means the series now actually deserves the level of success it has received. There are a few things left to be ironed out, but if the inevitable Assassin's Creed III has the same dedication to addressing its failings then it could be a true classic.

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