It’s been awhile since I’ve done a review, and, to commemorate the occasion, I’m going to change the format again! I found the positives vs. negatives approach rather stifling, but didn’t want to stick myself to a particular template. So, I’m just going to write about whatever I feel deserves mentioning.
Yes, that’s correct. My new format is no format. Free the birds, whisper to the trees, and run naked down the beach. Down with the restrictions of video game review formats.
Once you’ve gotten your clothes back on, come on back and read my review for Assassin’s Creed II.
In this sequel to one of my favorite games of 2007, Desmond explores the life of another of his assassin ancestors – an Italian named Ezio who lived during the Renaissance. My first impressions of the assassins of this game were that they seemed far less epic than they did in the previous game. Altaïr’s assassins appeared to be in training for the majority of their lives, whereas Ezio becomes an assassin as a young adult and immediately becomes accustomed to the skills an assassin requires. There are other assassins, from Ezio’s pudgy old uncle to the angsty, pissy historian, who detracted from the mystery and skill apparent in the Altaïr’s brethren.
Desmond’s story isn’t very prevalent in Assassin’s Creed 2, much to my dismay. The back-and-forth of revelations was an interesting narrative approach in the first game, and there is far less of it here. I like where it is headed, though; they are exploring the effects of the Animus, as well as pushing Desmond toward becoming a member of the modern-day assassins.
Ezio’s story, luckily, is fully fleshed out and just as interesting. Ezio is a much more developed character than Altaïr, making it easy to relate to him; though, admittedly, it leaves much less mystery around him. The interaction between Ezio and the supporting cast is excellent, with Leonardo da Vinci as my favorite NPC to visit.
The missions are greatly varied and each has a unique purpose, unlike the repetitious tasks of the previous entry. An unfortunate side effect of this is that the concept of performing in-depth research on a target before striking is mostly lost, making Ezio’s skills seem far from Altaïr’s methodical approach.
As I started to relearn the controls, I remembered that the puppetry metaphor they use (assigning face buttons to specific parts of the body) can make things a little confusing. The button for interacting with an object depends on the interaction itself, unlike the dedicated interaction button used in most games. Movement is also complicated; you must hold down three buttons simultaneously to run and climb, which is what you are doing about 80% of the time. All of the face buttons are context-sensitive, making it hard to pick up at first. How many other games have you seen that have the controls as part of the HUD?
After I was reacclimated to the controls, the game started to feel familiar. Remaining hidden and eluding enemies is much easier with the ability to hide in any group and hire people to distract the guards. Assassinations are easier to execute without being discovered, but you are still always forced to run after the fact. The combat is still very counter-based, forcing you to be more strategic and precise. It is greatly improved by the ability to strip an enemy of his weapon and use it against him; however, if you didn’t enjoy the combat from the last game, there will be little here to change your opinion.
Exploration is a blast, as you can explore the culture and architecture of the Renaissance. You can research painters and landmarks from the time, which satisfies the history nut in me. There are also story-related unlockables strewn about the city, motivating you to explore the world more completely.
One of the story-related unlockables is a series of puzzles revealing a video that unravels more about the origin of the Pieces of Eden. The challenge of solving the puzzles ranges from mentally stimulating to mind-numbingly difficult, as some make little sense. They often have you translating symbols to numbers, but the symbols often don’t translate in a logical way. As an example, one in particular (spoiler for the rest of the paragraph) had the symbols depicting a base 3 number system using dots and lines (∙,∙∙, |, |∙, |∙∙, etc.). This much I got on my own; though I doubt someone who hadn’t studied number systems would pick up on it very easily. What I didn’t get was why the number system started at an arbitrary point – that is, instead of starting with a single dot (∙), the series starts in the middle and wraps around. That makes the series, from 0-9, (||, ||∙, ||∙∙, |||, |||∙, ∙, ∙∙, |, |∙, |∙∙). There are clues in a series of several pictures – that is to say, in one picture, there’s a two, and in another, the symbol “||∙∙”. But these pictures are small and hard to see, with the symbols cryptically hidden within.
Lastly, I have to mention that the game comes with some serious technical problems. Ezio would occasionally lose his ability to grip some objects or would become permanently affixed to something he was climbing. The direction at which he would jump would not always feel consistent with the direction I was pushing towards, causing Ezio to fall to his death. Strange graphical glitches would occur as well, contorting Ezio’s body in strange directions. It was playable most of the time, but there were areas that were consistently problematic that I had to avoid.
Assassin’s Creed II left me very satisfied, but ready for more. The fact that we’ve explored two unique landscapes within the same story has been amazing, making me disappointed to hear that Assassin’s Creed III will continue exploring the Renaissance period with Ezio. I remain excited about the series, however, and can’t wait to see it conclude.
Have you played Assassin’s Creed II? What are your thoughts?