Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Assassin's Creed 2 - Review

Score: 8.75/10
Assassin's Creed 2

Xbox 360/PS3

Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: Nov 17, 2009

Pros: Visually stunning architecture to climb, voice acting is enjoyable, stealth kills are even more satisfying with two hidden blades, Blend system is a vast improvement over the first, slew of weapons and armor to purchase, variety of ways to approach a situation

Cons: Occasional platforming hangups, Combat sometimes too easy, Seemingly tacked on side missions, Slow start

  The first Assassin's Creed dropped back in 2007 and left fans wanting more. With a cliffhanger ending and only symbols to go off of to figure out the rest, a sequel was basically carved in stone. Ubisoft promised a much better experience, including less repetitive gameplay and a more attuned combat system. Now that the game is released, it seems Ubisoft held true in their promise.

  The story picks up right where the cliffhanger ending occurred. You are given a brief synopsis of the plot through a quick flashback, explaining about the war between the Templars and Assassins. You play the role of Desmond Miles, a bartender with a deeper past who has been kidnapped by Abstergo to help them in obtaining a map to "Pieces of Eden". Not fully sure of what powers these hold, all that is known is that they have a power that the Templars wish to acquire. The first game had you running through Desmond's ancestor Altair for the map to these pieces.

  Right from the start Lucy, Animus operator and friend to Desmond, rushes into the room with blood on her shirt and assists Desmond in escaping. She reveals that while she has helped him escape, she hopes to train him to become an assassin using another of his ancestors, Ezio Auditore da Firenze. The bleeding effect the previous Animus had granted him Eagle Vision, and as such you will play through Ezio's first steps in becoming an assassin to gain his abilities in a few days time.

  The two storylines are fantastic and intermingle at times much like the first. There are side missions to accomplish that further the story, and many dialogue options that could be missed that are worth checking out. Needless to say, both Desmond and Ezio's stories are incredibly enjoyable to follow as you invest interest in both stories.

  The music to the game fits the time period for most of the moments. The soft and mellow background music is just one element, as minstrels approach with lutes to sing melodies and the hustle and bustle of crowd conversation help to draw you into feeling like you are in a crowded marketplace. Though the guitar chords come into play once a chase is on, it does fuel the chase as you attempt escape. The highlight of the games' sounds has to be the hidden blade kills, which prove to be satisfying each time.

  Of particular mention, the voice acting is fantastic in this game. Kristen Bell returns to reprise her role as Lucy phenomenally, and is accompanied by a few newcomers. Ezio has a much better voice actor for his role than that of Altair, making the main character much more likable. As for the Italian century, the accents and dialects are spot on, just be sure to turn on subtitles for translations. It can be confusing trying to figure the names out to match them with faces as they are thrown at you left and right, but otherwise the accents aren't too distracting.


  It's easy to see how incredible this games' environments are by simply standing on a high rooftop. Modeled to exact detail for the famous buildings, the recreation of a Renaissance Italy is incredible to behold. Tile roofs litter the town with sparkling waterways weaving through the alleys. The architecture is just so much more satisfying to climb on this time around. Decorative columns, facades, and gleaming domes are something to truly take time to look at before hopping off the find your target. Even the small interior segments of the game capture the art and structure of famous buildings like the Duomo Cathedral. It's seriously like going to Italy......and killing things while you are there.

  The architecture is a high point, but the character models are another considerable note. Particularly Ezio looks much more intimidating than Altair, adorned with more detailed stitching, metallic luster, and a cape that follows his every move. Even the detail of NPCs proves impressive, with a large variety of century appropriate clothing of colorful dresses and royal attire that truly give the feeling of the Italian Renaissance. The enemies also provide a more intimidating look bolstering anything from large axes to bulky metallic armor. As the game has evolved, the look has followed suit and proven to be a high mark for this game.

  A huge array of improvements have been added that fixed many of the issues the first installment possessed.

  Gone is the old system of retrieving a missions from the higher up, completing repetitive tasks, assassinating the target, and returning to the higher up. The main quest has now been fixed to become more of a GTA style of gaming, where you can continue the progression of story by simply following the exclamation point on your radar. The missions it sends you on now vary greatly, from intense chase scenes, to platforming segments, to full on target assassinations. You truly do not know what the mission will hold, unlike the first installment which had everything pretty much laid out for you. This leaves to a few nice surprise sequences such as using Leonardo's flying machine to assisting in carrying a wounded ally away from a swarm of guards. This leaves the gameplay fresh and enjoyable, especially in the assassination missions. In the previous game, you found yourself taken out of the animus frequently, which has become less of a problem in this game. Though I do enjoy the social interactions of Desmond and Lucy, they keep the segments without overusing them. As the mission progresses you will visit not just Florence, but many different cities in Italy ensuring that the scenery never gets old.

  The assassination missions prove to be the area where the player determines what steps to take to finish the target off, however numerous variables come into play with these missions. A notoriety gauge exists, where the more notorious you are in the town from public assassinations and showing off by killing guards, the more noticeable you can become if you have not torn down your wanted posters. Health no longer regenerates and requires a doctor/medicine for healing, leaving some less inclined to charge into battle blindly. The save all of the "press A to pray and not be noticed despite the blood on your shirt" has been removed, and you must now move from crowd to crowd to blend in. Groups of individuals can be hired to blend in or distract a group of guards while you slip by. Money can be tossed on the ground as a distraction. Guards now can investigate piles of hay and benches, which you can now assassinate them from while you stay hidden. While these variables sound different, they actually encourage you to play more like an assassin, taking out your target with stealth.

  With new gameplay elements, comes an entirely renovated arsenal to choose how to attack your opponent. The more stealthy approach now has two hidden blades, the most satisfying weapon to get the jump on an opponent from the water, air, or ledge. A poison has become available to provide a distraction with a disoriented guard. Smoke bombs stun huge crowds and allow for an easy escape. The most impressive proves to be the hidden gun, a fun gadget to test on archers and distanced enemies. Of course, if you find yourself in combat you can hold your own as well. You can block, counter, and even steal the weapons of your enemies to use against them. These range from slow axes to swords to sweeping spears. Each kill is utterly satisfying, and when mastered can make you look like a true assassin.

  When you are not progressing through the story, you will find a dozen side quests and collectibles to fill your time. Many of the side missions are much of what you would experience in the main quest: chases, viewpoints, courier missions, etc. The most enjoyable of these happens to be the exploration of past assassins tombs. These are located in famous basilicas or cathedrals like the Duomo, which have you progress through many platforming and combat elements to find their tombs. Each tomb succession gets you closer to unlocked Altair's armor. You can also collect feathers much like flags from the previous game, find all the treasures, and even take assassination contracts. While most side missions feel tacked on, the experience remains enjoyable.

  Among these new collectibles and missions is another new addition to the game, an economy. Cash is received after completing each mission, pickpocketing from townspeople, in chests, etc. This is used to purchase weapons, armor, supplies (poisons and medicine), and even the dye your clothes. You can now customize your character to look even more like your dream assassin. The most interesting economic addition is a villa that you attain. This villa actually produces income if you put enough money into refurbishing and renovating various areas. Maxing this out will ensure you become one rich assassin. Though money is never a truly dire asset you will be grinding to get, its a neat addition to the game. I just wish the villa did not max your money out so quickly, as you can become rich very very fast.

  There are few problems I have with this game. One is the occasional platforming fault. Sometimes I will try to make Ezio jump to the left or right and have him go in the complete opposite direction. This can be especially frustrating when running from the guards, as the camera position determines how the controls react. Another problem is simply how easy this game can be at times. I rarely found myself on a mission that I had to retry over and over and over again. I wish this game would present more of a challenge sometimes in combat, as your health skyrockets when purchasing the more expensive armor. The game is also incredibly slow getting started. It takes almost a good hour and a half of playing to get your robes and assassin's hidden blade, occurring after delivering numerous courier tasks. At a certain point, I wanted to just tell my father that I understand how to blend in now and would like to stop delivering letters.

  The game improves upon the previous installment and adds new features that make it very easy to recommend. Despite the occasional stall in jumping and ease of combat, the game is a blast to play. After the slow beginning, the game takes off and holds your interest. With a slew of side missions and fairly length campaign, its needless to say that it has enough content to hold you over for a while. The best feature remains the ability to approach a situation however you please, and this is a game that opens that option further than the first.

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