Thursday, October 14, 2010

Assassin's Creed II: Assassination Complete!

I finished! It was totally awesome! Post done! Back to Minecraft! Just kidding, I'm not done, though I do admit I probably would be if the server was up... ANYWAYS...

I'll be trying a more structured system for this one, like I did with Dragon Age way back in the day, because I said most of what I wanted to say in the last post.

For those of you who don't know, Assassin's Creed II is an action-adventure game (what would you call it?) imbued with platforming. It's developed and published by Ubisoft. They're not one of the huge publishers, but they're one of the bigger ones and they've got quite a few game development studios. This one was made by the Ubisoft Montreal team, and they've got others all over the place. (Check out the Wikipedia page. So many!) The first game was pretty good, receiving solid reviews (81 aggregate on Metacritic.), but was critiqued mainly for its annoying and unrealistic stealth system and incredible repetition.

Does Assassin's Creed II get past these issues and become a much greater game? What do you think? Read on and find out!


I climb up the rear of a building, finding and reaching for handholds in the facade. I reach the top in mere seconds, and begin to slowly make my way towards the other side. A guard on patrol begins to turn around, but falls to the ground as I fling a knife to his gut. I continue on, reach the edge, and look down towards my planned targets. There they are, four knights guarding the entrance to a codex page bearing untold secrets. I leap towards the edge, and fly down like an eagle swooping to the ground to catch its prey, and smoothly kill two of my adversaries with my dual hidden blades. The other two look up and begin to shout in alarm, but their voices gurgle and fail as my blades reach their throats. I enter the building and retrieve the treasure, now mine for the taking!

Yes, you can really do that. No, it's not a setpiece. In fact, you can do that literally dozens of times in the game! The combat in the first game was pretty neat, aided by the innovation of the free-running that is the series' signature. It's even better in this game, with many more choices for weapons, ranging from many simple swords, to short, brutal knives (you can use a cleaver), and massive hammers. There's even a metal cestus you can use. (A cestus is basically a really heavy metal glove you use to hit people with. Not as lame as it sounds...) You can also buy armor, with four different suits for sale and a fifth available to earn. The combat system is also much deeper than the first game, with most of the abilities you gained in the first game available from the start, and more learned as you go through the game. (Ironic, considering how most games have to take away the stuff you learned in the previous games, and in this one you're playing as an entirely different character!)

The biggest difference though, is in the platforming. It's enough better that there is an entire section of the game (6 dungeons, basically.) devoted to platforming. Let me tell you, those were my favorite parts of the game, bar none. It's just so fun, swinging and jumping from beam to beam, rising higher and higher towards your goal. It actually feels like you're doing something other than just holding the stick down, like it does when you're climbing. The interesting thing about this is that it's mostly just polish and level design. I can only think of two new abilities off the top of my head.. wait there's a third... anyways, the first is a high jump when you're wall-climbing, allowing you to climb walls with longer gaps between hand holds. The others are variations of wall jumps, one where you jump straight out from where you're hanging on to a wall, and the other that's more like classic wall-running: run towards the wall and kick off it to the side when you get up there. That last one in particular looks really cool!

Those make a relatively small difference, though. The real kicker is the incredible level design. It appears that Ubisoft Montreal learned a lot from the first game! The roofs are no longer flat, but it doesn't really matter as the simple free-running and climbing is much smoother now. They seem to have done a lot of polishing with those mechanics in this game, as you're more likely to go where you want to go. It's also much easier and faster to get up onto a building without just climbing up the side because of all the crates on the street and beams and lamps and balconies on the sides of the buildings, often forming a path that you can jump up almost as fast as you could run on the street below. The only issue with this that it seems contrived sometimes, but it's not that bad and helps so much it doesn't really matter.

The last addition is an upgrade system. You get a villa early on in the game, and you earn money and discounts at stores by upgrading the town you protect. These improvements range from a brothel and barracks to upgrades to the four kinds of stores in the game: Blacksmith, tailor, doctor, and artist. These improvements, along with items of all kinds, including the tons of collectibles, increase the value of the town, increasing tourism and in turn your income.

Speaking of collectibles, there are a lot. Way more than the first game, with its hundreds of flags. (Those were so annoying...) There's one set that come with puzzles and unlocks this really, really freaky video (glyphs), one set that you get by going through those platforming sections I mentioned that unlocks that armor set I also mentioned (Assassin's seals), one that unlocks a couple of items (including the last weapon you were looking for. Oh and it's the feathers), one that just gives you money (statues), and more that just give you more money.. but they're chests, so they're supposed to. The chests are also the only ones that don't net you achievements.

So, in short, they incredibly polished the game, added some new features, and upped the ante for the collectibles. These all help make the game the much better game that it is. On to the next section!

Visuals and Sound

The first game was praised for its visuals. It had sweeping cityscapes, and probably the best building design of any game I had seen. (Kind of important, since you were climbing up the sides of them so much!) Everything but the facial animations, plus some bad clipping issues, was incredible. (Clipping is when two objects go through each other when they're not supposed to. For example, when a cape goes through a leg.) The sound wasn't spectacular - it had a pretty good soundtrack, but the ambient sounds weren't the best in the world.

Assassin's Creed II doesn't improve greatly on these. The soundtrack is phenomenal, I admit, and the water is pretty neat -- important in Venice, I would say! Also nice that it doesn't act like quicksand or pools of acid when you even touch it, like it did in the first game. Also there's a ridiculous amount of customization for Ezio, and the character models are much, much more diverse. Actually, pretty much everything everywhere is much more diverse.

The biggest difference in this category, though, is the architecture. The cities are modeled after their real-life counterparts, and since Florence, Venice, and Rome are marvels of Renaissance and Gothic architecture, this is reflected in the game. Some of the buildings are just breath-taking. There isn't one tower that's just massively taller than the rest of the entire city, like there
tended to be in the first, but there are plenty tall enough to see large swathes of the much larger cities, and man does that look cool!


Now we get to the tricky bit. The story was fairly simple in AC1: you're Altair, an assassin in the Third Crusade who breaks the assassin's code, is demoted to an apprentice, and you have to work your way back up to master assassin by doing the tasks assigned you by your master. You do, and gradually an evil templar plot to take over the holy land (Jerusalem and surroundings, basically), with both Christians and Muslims in on it, and eventually you discover the leader of the plot and kill him. It's obviously much more complicated than that, but that was the basics.

Simple, right? Wait, there's something else: you aren't actually Altair, you're Desmond Miles, his descendant by blood who is being kept prisoner by the Abstergo Corporation, the current face of the Templars, who are trying to find an ancient treasure by going through Altair's memory, hidden in Desmond's DNA, by using a machine called an Animus.

At the end, you find the artifact, Abstergo finds out where all of them are, and something very strange happens to Desmond. He gains Eagle Vision, one of Altair's abilities, and ends up seeing some very, very strange stuff.

Yes, I made that in Minecraft!

This stuff is explained... mostly... sort of... in the second game. Which is just as strange. Of course, Desmond end up joining up with the modern assassins and becomes quite awesome himself, but the story line while you're in the Animus 2.0 (assassin version.. looks so much more comfortable!) ends up being very, very strange.

At first, Ezio is just some kid whose male family is wrongfully executed and vows for revenge, learning the assassin arts in order to kill the ones responsible. He does so, killing some very lame, one-dimensional not even interesting characters in the progress (worst backstep from AC1), but one of the side-quests yields an extremely freaky video, and the very final part of Ezio's story is one of the freakiest things I've ever seen... not to mention putting a very interesting light on a lot of things. The problem is, it's so hard to make sense of it I still don't know what happened, and I finished it several days ago.

Basically, the in-Animus storyline is more about Ezio than the bad guys (I am Ezio Auditore da Firenze, and I am an Assassin. On the back cover, and so, so epic.), but the main, overarching storyline is interesting, but confusing and weird as anything you'll ever see. We'll have to wait until ACIII, or maybe the upcoming Brotherhood, to find out what everything meant.


Assassin's Creed II is one of the best action-adventure games I've ever played, miles ahead of its predecessor, and I'd say the second best implementation of platforming out of any modern game, behind Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. That's just a guess, and ACII may even be ahead. Mirror's Edge would be second, or maybe even first, but it didn't quite work as well as advertised... and it was the main focus of the game, which is actually a bad thing in my opinion. Anyways, you really should play this game if you can. It may not be a buy, as the main reason I would play it again is to get a second crack at deciphering the incomprehensible story.

So, have fun! Also, I'm going to make a snazzy new Review pic, so look for that soon.

And my PS Move post will be coming early next week.

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