Thoughts on Assassin’s Creed II

I hope that you’ve figured out by now that I don’t do reviews (even if I’m guilty of filing these articles in the ‘review’ category).  In my mind, a decent review takes considerable time: exploring every square inch of the game, playing through on multiple difficulty levels, and analysing both audio and visual quality with pain-staking precision in a lab, somewhere in Switzerland.  Probably.

My method just involves playing the game, really, like any other gamer would.  I play it, and from that I either love it or hate it.  Or somewhere in between.    As simple as that.  You get the gist.

In an interesting twist, the first game was the subject of my very first post on this blog.

An old friend returns

And so, just like that, with a quick recap of what happened in the previous game, Assassin’s Creed II begins straight after.  I don’t know what you thought of the opening, but I felt it was particularly weak: the graphics appeared sub-standard and the whole voice acting/character interaction was more wooden than any boat or vessel you’re likely to encounter in either the Holy Lands or Renaissance Italy.  Maybe Uncharted 2 had spoilt me, as it had definitely raised the bar for what could be achieved in tis regard in a video game.  Nevertheless, it had me worried.  But having said that, such ‘back in the real world moments’ were equally as weak in the first Assassin’s Creed.

Having been whisked away to some secret Assassin lab, you’re presented with a team of characters there to help you out.  I Particularly warmed to the character of Shaun Hastings, a sarcastic historian who provides you with key facts and a comprehensive database to boot.  Sarcastic?  Yes, but in a totally harmless and funny way.  Classic.

In YOUR endo, with Ezio Auditore da Firenze

Honestly, that is the initial impression I got with being in Ezio’s shoes for the first time via the new Animus 2.0.  I was unsure about the first part of the story, especially as you don’t start out as an Assassin.  Yet after spending a bit of time in Renaissance Italy, everything falls into place.  The fast free-running, and the fluid combat that you knew from the first game?  It’s there.  The vibrant crowds and cities bustling with life, the amazing sights and sounds that you experienced in the Holy Land?  It’s all there in spades in Renaissance Italy.

The music in the game is quite special, for me.  It has a kind of haunting melody to it, wrapped up with tones of wonder and exploration, but tinged with sadness and almost foreshadowing death and the end of the civilisation you’re inhabiting.  A totally weird feeling as an outsider, and a person from the future.  When creeping atop the rooftops of Florence in the moonlight listening to this musical score, it makes you stop and think.  Beautiful music.

But what about all of that horrible repetition in the first game (that mostly didn’t really bother me as I was just hooked on the visuals and the setting) that you all knew and (apparently) hated?  Gone!  Well, mostly.  Instead of viewpoint, recon, and assassinate (wash, rinse, and repeat), there are many other things to be getting on with this time, from upgrading your armour, buying medicine salts, to choosing which paintings you’re going to hang up in your villa.  Seriously.

Tomb Raider?

One of my favourite additions to Assassin’s Creed II are the so-called ‘Assassin’s Tombs’ which are very Prince of Persia-like and fun areas to explore, again, breaking up any repetitive gameplay that may arise and keeping things fresh.  Money makes a surprising difference to the game, adding an extra layer of gameplay whilst heightening the sense of realism, of inhabiting a living, breathing world.  To boot, for the collectors out there, there are plenty of treasure boxes and eagle feathers for you to collect throughout the game.  I’m almost a third of the way through the game at eight hours in, so you’re looking at least 24 hours plus to complete everything, feasibly.

New toys to play with are an obvious bonus, as are the new group dynamics, like hiring courtesans to distract the guards, or being able to command NPCs with ease.  Less pleasing are the whole virtual or Matrix-like effects that are applied when in the Animus.  In this regard, the first game had it about right.  Lastly, some graphical oddities can detract from the game slightly such as the return of pop-up (welcome to 2009) and draw distance.  But again, Uncharted 2 perhaps has spoilt me in this area as well.

Making a quick getaway

Well, I think that just about covers it as far as I’m concerned.  Assassin’s Creed II is a very enjoyable game, following in the footsteps of its trail-blazing predecessor.  However for the inevitable next game in the series, the developers will have to really keep pace with the rest of the pack as some aspects mentioned above with regard to graphics and character interaction are beginning to show their age already.

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