Monday, April 26, 2010

X360 Look - Assassin's Creed 2

Back then there was only one thing to do when playing a game and that was to have fun. If you sat down with a game like Pitfall, Asteroids, or practically anything else from that time period there wasn't much else to do aside from going for the high score. These days it's a lot different because while some games still offer scores they also offer storylines, endings, unlockables, achievements(or trophies), and all kinds of other secrets and extras that were designed to keep gamers playing. One of the trials that I go through constantly is being able to see past all of that and determine if a game is worthwhile solely due to the most important facets like game design and playability.

Assassin's Creed 2 features one of the more ambitious stories I've seen in a videogame. It effectively manages multiple layers that offer bits and pieces of what's actually going on over different time periods. The bulk of the game will be spent in Ezio's memory. Ezio was just another young man living during the Renaissance period until betrayal led him to becoming an Assassin. With the help of some friends many people in power will be murdered. The more important story concerns the present day fate of Desmond and the Assassin group. Desmond is being trained to become an assassin via Ezio's memories as he just might be the one man that'll save the day from the Templars. The thing about the Templars is that they've had their hands in just about every incident in history. They're poised to take control of the entirety of the world. There's also the mysteries surrounding the Assassins, Altair from the first game, and well it's probably best I don't go any further for fear of spoilers.

The storyline is our first major carrot. The player is enticed by this major carrot and they will be rewarded with minor carrots as they progress. Many of the secrets of Assasin's Creed 2 are littered throughout the game world. They're hidden in guarded treasure chests, the walls, and sometimes behind a layer of interpretation. The storyline relies quite a bit on conspiracy theories and "facts" hidden out of the public eye. What the player decides to make of it is their call but it does give them something to think about while playing the game.

The game itself is open-world and broken up into various sections like Florence, Venice, and so on. Ezio has supernatural abilities in climbing and jumping and this will help him traverse roof-tops, climb massive towers, and delicately run across narrow rails and boards. Controls are very intuitive as the player merely needs to hold down a couple of buttons to break into a free-run where as long as they can make their next jump they'll be fine. Thanks to the training of others this Assassin also becomes an adept of Stealth. Rather than hide behind walls Ezio prefers to hide in crowds. Somehow a hooded man dressed in a distinct cloak can blend into any gathering of people. While not entirely sensible it is an effective tool for tailing foes while preparing for that perfect moment to strike.

In this world there are hundreds of very minor carrots. These take the form of pick-ups like treasure-chests filled with money, feathers that unlock a couple items, lookout points at the top of tall structures that open up more of the map, and a handful of other carrots. There's always something to pick up in the player's immediate vicinity and there's also no shortage of filler missions they can involve time trials, delivering messages, or killing. There's always something to do even if it hardly seems necessary.

As with exploration the combat in this game isn't difficult to understand. The most important weapon is the hand-blade. It's a simple device as all the player must do is get close enough to the unaware to quickly end their life. Personally I favor going for the air kill. This is done by jumping to an enemy from a higher ground. Accuracy really isn't a factor since as long as the button prompt comes up and there's no obstacle in my way the victim is killed. Assassination is key to resolving most of the missions in this game but when surrounded or the scenario calls for it there's melee combat. Here a number of foes will surround Ezio and politely strike at him one at a time. This proves to be their downfall as our Assassin is more than enough to take them down. Pressing the attack button leads to repeated strikes but these can be parried and possibly countered so the best bet is to evade and counter. The timing for this is exceptionally gracious so all that matters is waiting for the enemy to strike and then doing something that'll destroy them.

There's an unfortunate lack of carrots for fighting effectively in this game. Aside from an achievement or two there are no rewards for being a great fighter and no bonuses for getting through encounters without a scratch. With all of the missions in this game it would have been great to have some sort of leaderboard to track players with the lowest times or highest ranks. The game is also so generous with health-restoring items that it is left up to the player if they really want to challenge themselves by sticking to the weakest armor so that almost any encounter could be fatal with the slightest mistake. Still it makes for a game anyone can get into and it's hard for me to fault it for that.

The extent of this game is down to exploring and killing, and through a combination of the two the storyline can be furthered. Where it all begins to crumble is in the world itself. There's simply no good reason for it to be so large and so repetitive. Many areas of the game are mere copy-pastes of other areas and quite a few of the missions are nothing more than time-wasters. For example in one part of the game Ezio must get a mask so that he can enter a party held by a target. Rather than simply steal the mask he participates in a series of games for one. Worst part is due to corrupt judges Ezio doesn't win the mask so he has to steal it anyway. The villains also show a lack of creativity as almost all of them can't hold their own in a fight. That's to be expected I guess but they also can't manage to think of some way of defending themselves from Ezio aside from surrounding themselves with easily-dispatched guards.

Simply taking away a number of these filler missions would have certainly made the experience a bit better. At the very least they could have just been made optional and rewarded the player with money or better yet exclusive items and weapons that would have been more than enough incentive to take these quests on. Besides it'd give an out for players who just want to see the story to its end. Instead it seems like before any real mission can be accomplished three or four others must be finished first.

So despite all of the carrots I never got around to completing this game. Thanks to the Internet I can circumvent all of the nonsense and grab that major carrot that is the ending. As a bonus I got to read a very handy guide that interprets and explains a lot of the mysteries in the game. In about fifteen minutes I got everything I wanted out of a thirty to forty hour game. I wouldn't call it cheating because really this is such an easy game that it's almost impossible to lose at. In fact almost all of my deaths were due to a vehicle section(yep one of those again). I simply got bored with the game and since I don't particularly care for achievements and I've collected most of the carrots tied to unlockables and secrets I had enough of a reason to spare myself of more pointless murder just to get that last carrot.

All told Assassin's Creed 2 is a fine game for what it is but it definitely could have been about half its length and possibly a quarter of its actual size. Course then there'd be people complaining that the game is too short. I guess the best solution would have been to create more original content rather than just repeating everything over and over but that kind of ambitious thinking won't land me a job anywhere in videogame development. Undoubtedly a third and possibly final Assassin's Creed is in the works but I think this time I'll pass up on all of the carrots cause I've seen enough.

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