Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Assassin's Creed 2 review

The first Assassin’s Creed received mixed responses from critics and gamers alike. Praise for its style and relative grace as well as just how damn pretty it was, whilst loud complaints were directed towards its tedious and repetitive mission structure as well as its general lack of difficulty. While the game’s praises led many to purchase the title, the flaws halted a number from gritting their teeth to complete the damn thing (myself included). Despite the game’s flaws it was clear that Ubisoft had a franchise worthy of a follow up and hence we have Assassin’s Creed 2.

While many elements of the game will be instantly familiar to those who played the original (free running, combat, stealth, etc) there are a few notable changes. Most obvious of which is the change of scenery: Crusade-era near-east is replaced by Renaissance Italy – whose themes of rediscovery of forgotten ways is very fitting for the sequel. Among multiple references to the original’s protagonist/ancestor, Altair, codex pages are inevitably discovered unlocking more Assassin secrets such as blueprints for a primitive gun and even a second hidden blade. Whereas other games may automatically upgrade your abilities upon collection of these collectibles, it is who you take these seemingly empty collectibles to that gives the game, and setting, real soul and believability – Leonardo da-goddamn Vinci. Yes, the Renaissance-era legend has a firm place in this title by being a close friend of our protagonist’s ancestor Ezio. It’s the little things just like da Vinci that give this game its charm and, as the timeline progresses over the years, the cities themselves change – bridges and churches are built, areas become more populated by believable people, etc. Speaking of which a little while into the game you are given access to your own villa-come-village that, as you invest in it, changes from a dreary hole to a bustling town complete with everything from a church and shops to a brothel (apparently a tourist attraction in Renaissance-era Italy), which earns you money relative to how much money you throw at it.

Settings and themes aside AC2 plays very much like its predecessor which is both good and bad. Good in that it is easy to pick up and thoroughly enjoyable whether whisking along rooftops or descending on a target. Bad in that it is at you may blindly find yourself resembling a squished tomato after gleefully jumping the wrong way off a ledge. Also, at times the combat is too easy with the all too reliable strategy being waiting to counter enemies’ strikes. Luckily these are the only remaining flaws from the original’s gameplay that remain, the tedious eavesdrop/steal/etc missions have been mercifully replaced by more varied missions that provide good pacing and actually feel that they are a part of the wider story arc.

Another major aspect of the original AC that makes a return for the good and bad is the visuals. While there is a lot of visual gratification for climbing up a church spire to admire the view there are at times some very jarring shortcomings in the graphics department. For example, characters’ faces still look exactly as they did in the first game, while very good they appear very tired and just plain lazy when compared to the AAA heavy hitters that AC2 is meant to compete with. While it may seem a very small gripe to make this type of shortcoming does prove to be detrimental to the experience which is a bit of a shame.

Outside of the main story arc Ubisoft have implanted a fair bit of side quests and booty collecting in order for gamers to get the most out of their buck. As well as the aforementioned codex pages (which also grant you more health eventually) you can collect feathers, loot for treasure and take part in side quests such as assassinations, races and deliveries. However there are two particularly notable side quests that will keep platform junkies and conspiracy nuts respectively busy. The first is Prince of Persia-inspired plat forming to be found in assassins tombs which eventually rewards you with your predecessor’s armour. The latter requires you to scan certain anomalies on walls etcetera in order to decipher clues that flesh out the game’s conspiracy – hinting at a presence that has long been among civilised man.

While Assassin’s Creed 2 still contains many similar flaws to its predecessor, it is a solid game for those gamers who want to have a change from online-heavy games like Modern Warfare 2 and Uncharted 2. While still holding onto the original’s charm and beauty the team at Ubisoft have (mostly) listened to fans’ and critics’ concerns by injecting a well-paced plot and believable setting thereby crafting a game that is a joy to both play or to simply admire.

8.5 out of 10