QUOTE (bOnEs @ Nov 17 2009, 03:50 PM)
also, i can't go to the review links... i'm about fucking sick of this DNS blocker here at work... thank god the forums aren't blocked...
Assassin's Creed 2 is set in an era of history famous for the creation of beautiful art and master inventions, a fitting backdrop for a game that leaps beyond the achievements of both its predecessor and some other vaunted works.
Two years ago, the first Assassin's Creed sold millions while evoking grumbles that its free-running, pickpocketing, killing and escaping routine was too, well, routine, repeating a formula with little variation from the first slice of hero Altair's sword to the last. What some saw as a shallow game, I described as a short-session game masquerading as an epic, a game that discouraged lengthy play sessions but rewarded the occasional indulgence of its strong core gameplay loop. It was more of a Pac-Man than a Zelda.
Two years later, Assassin's Creed 2 appears as a marvel, occurring mostly in 15th century Italy, starring the amateur assassin Ezio Auditore — he, like Altair, an ancestor of true series hero Desmond Miles — and embarrassing its predecessor as if it had been little more than a tech demo. What was tested and tamed in the first game is tweaked and topped in a new one that spans a playable cities, countryside and decade of the Italian Renaissance. Killing is done in new and interesting ways. Extraordinary buildings are climbed. Tactics are evolved. Mysteries upon mysteries are introduced and sometimes solved. And, by the end, the series earns as its peers not Pac-Man but Metal Gear, The Da Vinci Code and Lost, as Ubisoft and Ezio alike take their stab at greatness.
The Adventure Evolved: It may be an odd point to start on, before mentioning how this game looks or even how it plays, but the best achievement of Assassin's Creed 2 may be how it flows. This is a game with a specific story to tell about Ezio, the son of Italian nobility. He is a man whose family and life is demolished before the player's eyes as events force him to become an assassin who scours Italy for conspiracy clues and rightful victims of his vengeance. It's an adventure that is told through a weave of exposition and gameplay that defies the usual frayed conventions of story taking turns with interactivity. In Assassin's Creed 2 you are most definitely playing the story, the mechanics of the first game and those introduced in the new, propelling an adventure that is full of changes and surprises. For example: The game's fifth chapter contains nine missions, which introduce Ezio and friend Leonardo Da Vinci to Venice in a walking tour, leading to a mission that involves rushing a wounded new character from corrupt guards, indoctrinating ones' self into the wounded persons' guild of thieves through a series of trials, learning new moves, and then returning to the scene of the wounding to assassinate a corrupt official. It's all story. It's almost all played.
History Made Virtually Real: For those of us who can't recall when the Covenant first invaded, why Ganon keeps getting angry or any of gaming's other major made-up narratives, Assassin's Creed 2 offers the hooks of real historical places and people. I've been to Florence but not climbed the magnificent Duomo until in Assassin's Creed. I've heard of Da Vinci and read about Lorenzo De'Medici but not met them until in Assassin's Creed. The ability to both encounter historical figures and, for those of us who stayed awake in history class, predict who might appear next, adds both intrigue to the series and the excitement of being able to trace and guess where this adventure will wind up. Let World War II no longer being the beginning and end of gaming's exploration of historical fiction.
The Killing And The Climbing: For those who don't care about story flow, yawn at history or think that's all nice but still demand that their game play well, AC2 thankfully satisfies. Ezio is a deadlier assassin than Altair, capable of killing two men at once with the retractable blades hidden in his wrist-guards, able to more nimbly and swiftly scale buildings and descend from them like a bird of prey. Combat on the ground, once the enemy is alerted, typically consists of Ezio surrounded by eight or so angry guards who politely take turns to attack while the player waits for counter-kill moments, or, better yet, opportunities to wrench a weapon away and turn it on its owner. Neither the climbing or killing is all that complex, but both are easily executed, fun and rendered beautifully.
The Structure: Assassin's Creed creative director Patrice Desilets has already admitted that the first game in his series was too conventional, that it introduced a gameplay formula that it never tweaked. He promised to play with it in AC2 and his team of over 200 developers has delivered. The main flow of the game consists of the aforementioned memory chapters, covering different years of Ezio's life and divided into mandatory missions that are activated from within the game's open environments and advance the story. They seldom follow formula, as one rooftop assault on archers feels nothing like the participation required in a carnival or the visiting of a prisoner that are the subjects of other objectives. Off the critical path, there is a bevy of diversions: Optional assassination missions, optional free-running races, hundreds of collectibles to gather, classic art to buy and more. Even those side-challenges that do repeat themselves do so with flair, such as the handful of "beat -up" missions that always wind up having the player punch a cheating husband. And best of all, are the tombs, mostly optional missions heavy on platforming and relevant to the series in a way I can't bring myself to ruin here.
Tactical Variety: One of the game's best attributes is its redundancy of options. Many games offer little more tactical choice than to kill with an axe, a fist or a fire spell. Assassin's Creed 2 builds upon its predecessor by presenting a more interesting choice of approaches: Will you pursue your goal by free-running across rooftops and risking the attention of archers? Why not barrel through the pedestrian-clogged streets instead? Or walk through them, blending in with the crowd (and pickpocketing the crowd at the same time)? How about breaking off from the flow of the crowd and hiring a group of prostitutes to lure some guards away? Or maybe poison those guards? Or swim past everyone? Etc.
Mysteries And More Mysteries: Assassin's Creed 2 appears to have been made by people who share The Da Vinci Code novelist Dan Brown's fascination with secret societies and centuries-spanning conspiracies that involve dozens of historical figures. They also are probably fans of Lost, given how effectively they pepper their game with mysteries that, when solved, typically reveal even more tantalizing mysteries. Through an unexpected puzzle-gameplay twist that I won't spoil here, a player of Assassin's Creed 2 can begin to discover some of the secrets of the series' lore, injecting a nice amount of mystery and sleuthing to a game that already was doing action and adventuring so well.
The Teases: The finale of the first Assassin's Creed has nothing on the entirety of Assassin's Creed 2 in terms of hinting at possible subject matter for sequels and spin-offs. You may finish this game, like me, eager for Ubisoft to consider pulling an Activision and exploiting every possible future release. Because, given what's discovered in various parts of the new game, it's hard not to want the developers to bring to video game systems the adventures they hint at involving everyone from Marco Polo or Cleopatra to, well, some people from way back in the day.
Desmond Miles: Like the first game, this sequel takes place in the interactive, buried memories of Desmond Miles, a man living just a couple of years ahead of us and whose ancestors were the assassins Altair and Ezio. The first game interrupted Altair's adventures several times to subject the player to locked-room barely-interactive Desmond sequences. First-game Desmond could do little but walk and talk. New-game Desmond is capable of more but is also playable less frequently. Perhaps he too could be an assassin, the game suggests. And perhaps Ubisoft could pull a Kojima Productions, as it seems set to turn its Raiden — its unpopular alternative to the action stars of its series — into a protagonist gamers want to be. Not quite there, but getting closer.
Touchy: There is little to complain about with Assassin's Creed 2 other than the touchiness of its controls. The game often requests that the player climb and leap from windowsill to ledge to brick outcropping to wooden post with grace and speed. That happens best when players treat the free-running flow of the game as if it is a racing game, but all the steering and speeding up sometimes, strangely, sends Ezio leaping in the opposite direction you pushed, ruining everything. It's hard to tell if the controls are too sensitive, too smart or if the player is in error, but the sophistication of so much of the rest of the game is sometimes undone when the great assassin clambers not to the roof but falls from a facade to plunk into the water below.
Assassin's Creed 2 looks great, plays great and avoids all of the pitfalls of its predecessor, which might be enough praise for some. But its finest achievement is to present one of gaming's most mature adventures, a game that can be played and tell a story at the same time, a game that assumes its players are educated and curious, and willing to be teased and willing to test its limits.
The level of craft and care evident in the creation of Assassin's Creed 2 — to say nothing of the level of obsession with conspiracy — is on par with those of the creators of the Metal Gear Solid series. This is big budget with polish. This is technology put in the service of artistry. Climbing and killing might wear thin by the end of the next game if the current formula of Assassin's Creed is maintained, but given the willingness of the series' creators to think and execute boldly that is evident in this sequel, complacency and obviousness are two things for which Assassin's Creed is little at risk.
Assassin's Creed II is the follow-up to Ubisoft's 2007 hit that attracted a mass audience if not unanimous critical acclaim. The sequel is an expansive and bloody romp through Renaissance Italy that plays up every popular aspect of the first installment while righting many of its flaws. Assassin's Creed II has evolved from an ill-defined action game into a fully featured open world experience. Everything from the new monetary system to the ability to buy armor and weapons makes it a richer, and ultimately more satisfying game than its predecessor.
The plot of Assassin's Creed pulls together a bit of The Matrix, a lot of historical fiction, and throws in elements of the madcap conspiracy theories found in a Dan Brown novel. The series also has the benefit of being crafted by some of the most talented hands in game development. With only a handful of exceptions, the environments, animations, and art are beautifully portrayed. In addition to its good looks, the sequel's gameplay builds so much upon the foundations of the first game, that in retrospect, the first Assassin's Creed looks like little more than a technical demonstration.
Both fans and detractors of Assassin's Creed will be pleased to know that the sequel fully addresses and ties up many of the loose ends from the last game. It picks up exactly where we left off, with the kidnapped bartender Desmond locked in his cell at Abstergo. This corporation is the modern-day face of the Templars and they're after Desmond's valuable genetic memories. The magic of modern technology allows Desmond to relive the exploits of his Assassin ancestors. His genealogy puts him at the center of a war between the Templars and Assassins.
The game starts off with a bang, springing Desmond from jail and introducing him to the Assassins at their secret hideout. Here they have access to the same technology that allows Desmond to relive the past. In the last game, his brain was forcibly used to reveal powerful artifacts hidden in 12th century Jerusalem. This time Desmond temporally relocates to 15th century Italy by choice to learn the ways of the Assassins through the life of Ezio Audituerre de Firenze.
It's a convoluted setup, but it's also a great excuse to skip around in time, taking control of a character for only the most interesting moments of his life. Players are introduced to Ezio at the moment of his birth as part of a clever lesson on movement. It then jumps to his formative years as a womanizer, a street fighter, and the son of a wealthy banker. He isn't a wholly likable character, but the game steers us towards a revenge plot that provides the player plenty of motivation to stick with the story. The Renaissance setting also adds a much needed dose of color and humor to the series.
As we learn more about Ezio and become acquainted with his hometown of Florence, the game presents bite-sized bits of information on how to play Assassin's Creed II. This interweaving of plot and tutorial establishes an intriguing tale of revenge and slowly explains a varied and complicated control scheme.
In the early missions, we're introduced to the excellent free running system that allows players to climb over almost any surface. Movement speed in Assassin's Creed II has been significantly increased from the first game, enabling players to fluidly zip around the city. The animations are still excellent, and Ezio's body realistically adjusts to his environment as he climbs and vaults past obstacles. The only downside of free running is that there are moments when the camera doesn't present the best view of what's over the next rooftop. Overzealous free runners will take more damage from falling off buildings than they'll ever take from a sword.
For better or for worse "stealth" games are defined by the Metal Gear series. Hideo Kojima's vision of tactical espionage has extremely rigid rules about when a player is hidden and when they are plainly visible. Assassin's Creed II breaks this convention, adhering more to the rules of a Jason Bourne movie, where quick actions and a dense crowd are the tools of escape. I find this version of stealth refreshing, more realistic, and ultimately a success due to the numerous options players have when navigating the city streets.
There are still hiding places like bales of hay and roof gardens in Assassin's Creed II. They act as sort of "safe zones" that break a pursuers line of site. Ezio can even dive underwater for a limited time to hide from his enemies. But a more satisfying approach to dealing with foes is to divert them with hired help. Thieves, mercenaries and whores can be hired for a fee and directed at targets as living tools of distraction. Players can also toss money into a crowd to cause a small riot amongst the peasantry. This sandbox approach to stealth requires a bit of practice and it won't always result in success, but when it does come together, it's very rewarding.
If you choose to fight instead of hide, another plethora of options opens up. On the weapon selection wheel, there are swords, daggers, smoke bombs, throwing knives the dual assassin blades, and a surprise weapon I won't spoil. Each weapon has its benefits in terms of strength and speed along with its own slick set of animations. New
weapons can be permanently purchased through shops, or temporarily stolen from an adversary in the heat of battle. Weapon variation has done a lot to improve the variety of combat; late in Assassin's Creed II you'll be looking for a fight instead of turning tail.
Even without sword, the way you engage an enemy has depth. A notoriety meter and enemy awareness indicators being clearly marked on the screen give players fair warning over what sets off the guards. Once engaged, there are sidesteps, special combat moves (like throwing sand in someone's face), and grapples. Novice players will fall back on slamming a single attack button, which quickly becomes repetitive, but experts can turn combat into an art.
The addition of a monetary system also drastically changes Assassin's Creed II. Ezio receives money as he completes quests, finds treasures, or pickpockets victims. Health will not regenerate completely over time, so medicine and upgradeable armor must be purchased to keep Ezio alive. Besides applying funds to armor, weaponry, and remedies, you also have the ability to upgrade your home base -- a Villa in the country-side. The Villa is something of a glorified display case for all of the collectibles and secret items, but players can also dedicate money to upgrading its appearance and facilities. Rebuild the church and find a treasure; rebuild the blacksmith and get a discount. It's an addictive and optional diversion that completionists will drool over.
The Villa also gives the game a geographic center and a safe zone to tally your progress. Annoyingly, it's also the only place Ezio can swap weapons and armor, but the addition of travel kiosks mean that players can now be transported to surrounding cities instantly.
Through the mission structure, Assassin's Creed II guides and nudges players towards the meat of the game. At the start of each mission the player must "accept" the task, or put it off until later. The missions that advance the story are always marked on the map with an exclamation point, meaning that a game with plenty of diversions also keeps the main goal visible at all times. It's a good design and a nod to critics of the last game who bemoaned side missions that stood in the way of the good stuff.
It's difficult to nail down parts of Assassin's Creed II that aren't satisfying. Sections that border on frustrating are either fleeting or optional and some of this "extra" content is downright excellent. For example, Prince of Persia fans will revel in the hidden tombs that require dexterity, patience, and expert timing.
Even if you ignore the extras in Assassin's Creed II, the game is still a lengthy experience. The story alone lasts upwards of 18 hours and includes enough variety to be interesting throughout. Not every mission is equally as exciting. The assassinations are far more exhilarating than tailing a target or following an ally through a city. However, there are some one-off missions that are both exciting and wildly different from the core gameplay. With more variety and a tighter focus, Assassin's Creed II gets the pacing just right.