Sunday, February 20, 2011

Assassin's Creed 2

+++ Enormous, beautiful environments to explore
+++ Close to 5 times as many ways to kill people as the previous game
++ Subject 16's sidequest is awesomely voice acted
++ Good Storyline
++ Eliminates gimmicky sidequests from the main plot (though they are still available)
++ Combat system feels more fluid
+ No points where they toss 100 enemies at you
+ Various ways to dispatch major assassination contracts
+ Ezio is better characterized than Altair, if slightly less interesting
+ Able to Swim!
+ Adds a historical database
-- Moderately Easy
- No Al Mualim or equally impressive character
- Silly voice accents
- Irritating Feather sidequest has meager rewards
- Assassination missions are much less detailed
- Some next to impossible puzzles for "The Truth" sidequest

This is the first game I played in the series and perhaps colored my expectations for the original game (which I figured would be dampened by years of anti-hype). I had a great deal of fun playing this and continue to have a great deal of fun playing Brotherhood, both multiplayer and single player. While it is extremely easy to escape guards I still found it fun to figure out ways to dispatch them, air assassinate two at once with dual hidden blades, shoot them in the face, take the brute's 2 hander and smash a few of them in the face with it, impale them with a guard's polearm, the possibilities are nearly endless. While some of these work better than others most every one of them is fun to use and entertaining to watch. Next to Uncharted 2 this is probably the most cinematic game I've played on the PS3.

Ezio, your new identity whom you assume from birth as a baby (which is bizarre I suppose) to a youth (actually a pretty well constructed chapter), to an adult (most of the game). The game takes place over something like 40 years though Ezio doesn't seem to age all that much in the process (more facial hair!) and follows this likable fellow as he seeks revenge for the murder of his family. While Ezio himself is a good character and template for other characters to support the supporting cast is fairly hit or miss in the end. Most of the assassination contracts are much less detailed than the ones in the predecessor, and while the final contract matches some of the best ones in the first game the rest of the enemies you pursue have just a few lines before they fall rather easily to your invincible stature. This sort of makes the game feel completely free flowing as you wander around and collect a whole crapload of viewpoints (some of which are in cities you never even do anything in apart from brief DLC missions).

Running around is remarkably fun even if the people you're killing have vague intentions at best. Since the "real world" portion of the game is mostly eliminated you have almost entirely free reign to go anywhere you like and stab people in the face. The cities are very densely packed so it is quite possible to run completely on roof tops (stopping routinely for a second to kill archers naturally) from place to place, and once you get the hang of it free running is smooth and intuitive. In Venice you can even run along the canals and still make it from place to place rapidly (though gondolas are next to useless as transportation). The strength of this game and subsequently the rest of the series is the variety, kill people in 30 different ways, have several different modes of transportation and the capacity to approach most targets in completely different fashions. For one mission in which you were supposed to climb and air assassinate a guy I wound up using Courtesans to distract the guards and walk right in the front door.

The two Leonardo specific missions where you use a carriage and then a flying machine to get from one place to another are both excellent. A meager complaint (and ultimately not a flaw) which is fixed in Brotherhood is that you can't go back and replay old memories, so once you do that flying mission you can't do it again except to do the DLC flight around Forli. The carriage chase is pretty intense and pretty much beats the hell out of any comparable chase in Red Dead Redemption, though it is completely scripted so I suppose you could argue that it's possible to create a better one in Red Dead. While I don't consider this specifically a Sandbox game it still has that feel to it though it is mostly just a storyline loosely placed around where those 90 viewpoints were located.

While the people you are assigned to assassinate do not have a very intriguing role in the actual game the capacity to reflect upon their historical selves makes it more interesting to kill them. Though it is hardly a recollection of historical events having little miniature British delivered biographies prior to the start of each mission is very entertaining. I believe Cam Clarke did the voice acting for Subject 16, which I think everyone should just listen do regardless of whether they actually play the game as it is completely riveting every time he speaks. Though that is disconnected entirely from the main plot it still has some implications for future games and sort of drove me to complete those sometimes impossible puzzles. Additionally the constructed world is much closer to it's real world Renaissance counterpart and has a large number of extremely detailed historically extant locations which the database will tell you more about. A few of the "Tombs" you explore which are basically purely Prince of Persia style areas with little or no combat are somewhat accurate depictions of the inside of real world areas, particular churches and mansions all shown to vivid detail.

The biggest issue with Assassin's Creed as a series is the triviality of the combat and encounters, though I think ultimately this route will make it more popular and somewhat more enjoyable to play. The game has a great fluidity to it if you're not dying a lot and that adds to the immersion and drives you to continue to play the plot even if there is no chance of you running into trouble along the way. While some of the "race" sub missions are painfully difficult all of them are optional and only some of them are actually entertaining (though you do start to increasingly get better at free running as a result of accomplishing them). While you might not find this game to be challenging in the slightest I still recommend it highly for pure fun purposes, not everything has to murder you repeatedly to be well designed.

Final Score: 9/10

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