November 24, 2009

Assassin's Creed 2: PS3/360 Review

Chris Nitz Says I enjoyed the first Assassin's Creed. Even with all of its flaws, I had fun running around and seeing what the game had to offer. I have been following Assassin's Creed 2 since it was first announced, and after playing the game, I can say that I am not disappointed.

The game is packed with a great story. There are the usual plot twists and turns. There are times when the story is extremely engaging and you want to see what happens next; but there are also times when the story drags on and on. Outside of the plot twists, Ezio trusts just about anyone he meets, so long as that person has the same goals as Ezio. While this is nice and all, it does take away a bit from the character development.

One major improvement over the original, is that the game almost never shifts out of the Animus. This is great as it keeps the game flowing and the action moving. The downside is that there is little interaction with third-party people. Interaction with these third parties is all done as if they were some sort of godly voice talking to Desmond. However, the pros of not coming out of the Animus definitely outweigh the cons.

One of the heaviest touted upgrades is the fighting system. Ubisoft promised a lot more ways to take out the bad guys: and they delivered! Ezio now has the ability to disarm his assailants. There are double assassinations, throwing knives, and even a pistol. Disarming a guard and using his own pike to impale him is just as entertaining as it sounds. Ezio can pull axes, swords, and pikes away from the attacking guard and use it in a counter kill. When this counter attack occurs in one smooth action, it leads to a highly enjoyable fight. Even with all the disarming fun, I found that I stuck to my hidden blades most of the time though. They were fast in countering, and are the only way to kill some of the guards. I often found myself looking for a high point to take out two guards at once with the double assassination technique. It just goes to show you, there is a killing technique for every fan!

There are now groups of people that can be hired to help Ezio as well. Prostitutes, thieves, and fighters are all at Ezio's disposal...for a price. Prostitutes will dance, thieves will steal gold, and fighters will start a fight with the guards. These groups are very useful in accessing a guarded codex page or a blocked-off treasure chest. The hired help keep the notoriety at bay, more on this in a bit, and allow Ezio to sneak on by with no problems. I actually found this addition to be useful in the game.

One of the biggest disappointments is how the guards fight. Some of the fights can include up to 15 - 20 guards at a time. The problem is that they all stand around taking turns trying to kill Ezio. This makes it easy to disarm, or counter kill, a guard. It would have been nice to have some difficulty setting that would have made the guards a bit more of a challenge.

There is a new notoriety system in Assassin's Creed 2. If you kill a guard and remain undetected, this yields no change in how people view you. Kill a guard and someone sees you, then your notoriety will increase. Get into a big scuffle with the guards and that notoriety will increase a lot. Keeping your notoriety low is key to keeping the guards off your back. When Ezio is anonymous, he can stand by a guard without fear of being chased down. If Ezio is notorious with the guards, his mere presence will have the guards chasing him down. The fastest way to become anonymous with the guards is to pay the heralds off. This will take your notoriety down to zero. If paying off heralds is not your thing, you can also rip down wanted posters that are scattered around the town; doing so will reduce your notoriety by 25%.

In Assassin's Creed 1, there were beggars that got horribly irritating. Every corner had one. Assassin's Creed 2 trades the beggars for musicians. They are not at every corner, but are in the larger gathering places. You won't be hounded every five minutes, but they are still annoying. Killing them seems to keep them out of the way.

Along with musicians, there are pick pockets and annoying criers. If a pick pocket gets close enough to Ezio, they will take a chunk of his change and make a mad run off. Chasing them down will lead to one of two options: kill them and get the money back; or chase them down and tackle them to get the stolen money with a bit of interest. It's nice to have options, but I found killing them to be the fastest way to get my money back.

The criers will yell for the guards to arrest Ezio. They will yell out, “Aassassin!,” and then start fleeing. If Ezio is anonymous, this is not really an issue. If that notoriety meter is at 50% or more, prepare for guards to start causing some problems. The same options as the pick pockets apply here. Chase the crier down and kill them, or hit them over the head and teach them a lesson.

Italy is huge. In fact, it is so big a horse just isn't cutting it here. There are now fast travel stations around all the cities. Make use of these, as traveling through the mountains on horseback is a 10-minute ordeal. The only pitfall is that there is no way to fast-travel within a city. To get quickly across Venice, one must travel to a different town, and then travel to where they want in Venice. It may sound like a long way about it, but it is faster than running through town.

There are a bit more mission types this time around. Still, there ends up being a lot of escort here, protect this, and eaves drop there. Some missions are even multi-part missions. For example, Ezio might have to take care of some guards before his new friends will help him with an assassination attempt. It still feels a bit lean on main mission types though. Following a target and eaves dropping is only fun for so long.

There is a lot to use for customizing how Ezio survives in this cruel world. Ezio has the ability to buy new weapons, armor, and miscellaneous tricks. Some of the armor looks fantastic in its detail. There are new swords and knives to buy for your arsenal as well. The game employs a sweet new device to help get out of sticky situations...smoke-bombs. There are doctors that sell health potions along with poisons. All this helps in keeping the game going and giving the player something to do. It was a nice touch.

Those of you who played the first Assassin's Creed will remember the imprecise controls. While running and jumping from rooftop-to-rooftop is highly enjoyable, the controls still lack in precision this time as well. There are times when precision is key to finishing a timed section, only to find the precision took a break. I fought long and hard with the controls in assassin tombs and rooftop races. It got frustrating at times. The controls are solid for open running, but when a jump calls for landing on the top of a log, it fails.

One of the most annoying parts of the CG scenes are the impromptu quicktime sequences. Having to press a button just to do a hug and nothing else feels really tacked on. Not catching these quicktime events does not have an adverse effect on the game, but their mere presence is just tacky. I don't really know what or why they exist in this game.

This game looks amazing. People are wandering around town doing business, the moon shimmers off the water, you can get vertigo at the highest points in the game, and the building details are amazing. I played this game while my wife watched. I heard a lot of "I've been there," and, "Oh wow, they have that being built." And, "I want to go back to..." The detail is that amazing. Scaling to the top of a tower still has an awe-inspiring view of the whole city.

The clothing is also very detailed. Ezio's robes will show all the embroidery on them, while metal armor will have detail work that is just stunning. I stopped a few times just to admire the outfits. When Ezio gets out of water, his clothes glisten and water droplets fall from the dangling bits of material. Jumping into a cart full of straw will have Ezio running around with hay flying off. This detail carries onto the weapons as well. I will say this is a huge improvement over the first Assassin's Creed.

With all the cool water dripping and hay flying touches that were put onto this game, color was somehow missed. The whole game has a brown color to it. I realize the first one was the same way, but there was hope that the sequel would have changed that. Italy is beautiful, and the renaissance should have been full of colors. Somehow the game misses that point.

For all the great things the game does with scenery and costumes, the close-ups are just poor. Most characters look plain, flat, or just ugly when up close in a CG scene. It is a bit baffling how the game can show so much detail in the open world, yet a small CG scene can look so poor. I hope by the third game, if there is one, Ubisoft puts some attention to this aspect.

The animations are also top notch. The climbing looks good, the fighting is smooth, and the normal walking around looks fantastic. It is a shame with all the animations the game gets right, sprinting is not one of them. I dunno if Ezio is carrying a load in his pants or what, but this is the one animation that could have used some work.

Ezio is a pimp with a Villa. The Villa starts out as a run-down town, but after some upgrades, it becomes a bustling center of free money for Ezio. Again, Ubisoft included nice small touches here as well. As the Villa grows and brings in money, more of the buildings look repaired, and flowers and trees start to grow throughout the Villa. It is just another small detail that helps to make the world feel as though it is growing and living as the game progresses.

The ability to upgrade the Villa helps it to grow. Investing all your money into the Villa at the start will get more money than necessary down the road. There are discounts to be had from the tailor, blacksmith, and doctor with each upgrade. Upgrading the Villa will rear the unbalanced economy though. Once the Villa is fully upgraded, money rolls in every hour. This does away with the need to loot guards or find treasure chests. Many times, I spent all of my money buying every weapon available at the blacksmith. Then, to get more money, I ran around for an hour getting glyphs and feathers; all I had to do next was visit my money chest to find 40,000 gold in it.

The game packs in a lot to do. Gathering quests did make a return. Feathers are the object of desire this time around. Assassination contracts also make their way back to the game. Ezio can play mailman by running courier missions. Rooftop racing is also here. Add in treasure chests to hunt down and glyphs to find and there is fun for everyone. These are all secondary to the main plot, but completion addicts will find a ton to do here.

With all the feather and chest hunting to do, there is yet another piece to collect. This collection comes in the form of secret glyphs hidden throughout the cities. Using eagle vision on these glyphs will bring on some puzzle solving goodness. Puzzles include deciphering a numerical code, putting a circular puzzle together, and finding small pictures within a bigger picture. There are 20 glyphs in all, and the puzzles accompanying them vary in complexity. Solving these glyphs will bring on a secondary story line.

There are assassin tombs scattered throughout the major cities in the game. These tombs are a series of challenges that test your jumping and navigation skills. Some tombs will have you chasing down a guard that ends with a small fight. All of them contain some sort of navigation test. It is well worth your time to do these tombs, as the end result is pretty awesome.

Assassin's Creed 2 was enjoyable despite its downfalls. The story was engaging, the side stories were worth the effort to get them, and the surprises added to an enjoyable play through. Those of you who did not enjoy the first game, just step away. There is nothing here that is going to change your opinion. Fans of the first game have no excuse not to play this game. There is a lot more to do this time around. Now, I have some feathers to go hunt down.