Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Assassin's Creed 2

Post-Launch Reviews #6
Assassin's Creed 2
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Released: November 17 2009 (console) / March 4 2010 (PC)
The Assassin's Creed franchise follows the story of Desmond Miles, a kidnapped descendant of a great brotherhood of assassins. Using a device called the Animus to force Desmond to relive the memories of his assassin ancestors, his abductors seek a lost treasure with great power. The second game focuses on Desmond's escape and training using the memories of Ezio Auditore, an Italian assassin who lived during the Renaissance, thrust into the brotherhood when his family is falsely executed.

At Launch
Critics praised the game almost universally. There was a bit of controversy from a German magazine called Computer Bild Spiele, which reported that Ubisoft offered a pre-release copy of the game in exchange for a “very good” review score. The PC version received criticism for its draconian DRM, requiring the player to be connected to the Internet at all times, and forcing the game back to the previous checkpoint if the connection was lost.

Post Launch
After an outcry over server trouble on Ubisoft's end, the DRM scheme was revamped twice: first the game would resume from exactly where the player left off if the connection was interrupted; and now the game now checks for an internet connection only at launch.
Three DLC packs were released. Two of them, the Battle of Forli and the Bonfire of the Vanities, are sequences that were originally intended to be part of the game but were cut due to time constraints; as a result, they both fit perfectly into the game's story. A third pack contained three Templar lairs to explore.

The Good
Assassin's Creed 2 starts out a lot stronger and more fun than the first. We're thrown into some drama with Desmond right away, escaping from the Templar facility to meet up with some assassins, who have their own, more advanced Animus. Ezio, the new assassin ancestor, is also a lot more likable than Altair: he's a fun-loving womanizer who gets in fights and runs around the city with his irresponsible brother.
Improved Game Mechanics
There are a lot of additions and improvements to things that I didn't think were a problem in AC1. For example, climbing is much quicker and a bit more fluid in the sequel, which helps reduce travel times and makes running around more fun. Side quests are now mostly optional and much less “but if I don't I'll be at a disadvantage”, giving you a financial reward. Thirdly, EZIO CAN SWIM. Finally I get to play as a master assassin who doesn't drown as soon as he gets his feet wet.
Among the additions, we get a whole financial system, where you can buy and customize clothes, weapons, and other gear. You also get to manage the Auditore's villa, adding some tactics to where and how you spend your money. There are hidden chests containing cash as exploration rewards.
Most noticeable is the difference in combat. Some critics of AC1 felt that combat simply involved blocking until you could counterattack, and doing that over and over until you won the fight. I didn't use that strategy, but regardless, there's a bit more depth in AC2. Combos will break an enemy's guard, you can beat on a guy multiple different ways after grabbing him, and there are multiple different types of weapons to play around with, including ones that can only be picked up from guards.

Historical Database
When you discover a new landmark or character, an indicator will come up telling you that the database now contains information relevant to your discovery. If you so choose, you can open the database entry and read up on what you just discovered. For example, when you meet Leonardo da Vinci, you can read up a bit on his life and historical context. Since the database is in-universe and entries are written by one of the characters, they often contain snide remarks or jabs, adding some reason to read them other than just a history lesson.

The opening is very lighthearted and funny. Ezio and his brother crack jokes and trade insults with a rival family. We get some rather amusing lines, most notably during a conversation between Ezio and his mother. She tells him that he needs more creative outlets; he protests that he has plenty. She retorts, “I meant something other than vaginas”.

Facial Animation
Characters' faces seem a bit less realistic, but a bit more expressive. It's a nice change, since we get to see more emotion and depth instead of just mouths moving. Characters raise their eyebrows, smirk, and appear nervous.

I don't know what it was about AC1, but it didn't run amazingly on my PC, which is surprising given that it's four years old now. I ran it on medium-high settings, but not maximum, and I was still getting some framerate dips. On the other hand, AC2's autodetect cranked everything to maximum except antialiasing, and it's running quite nicely.

Introducing a new Animus gave the developers an excuse to completely revamp the game's UI. The map and compass are improved, it's easier to tell when guards are suspicious, and you can actually tell how much health the enemies have. The one downside is that your social status indicator is split into two parts: your level of notoriety is displayed in the top left with your health bar, but your alert level is displayed as a ring around the minimap on the bottom right.
Stuff to Do
AC1 had a lot of stuff to find and collect, but AC2 is far more intensive. Every hidden item and collectible has a purpose, whether it be rewarding you with a small sum of money or unlocking the vault containing the armour of Altair. Side quests still count for completion, but this time around they always reward you with money, so it's purely up to you whether to do a few for cash, go for all of them, or ignore them completely.

Ubisoft's online platform is actually pretty awesome. The launcher gives you an overview of any news, actions to complete, rewards, and links to support and other information. There's a list of four actions to complete in the game that earn you points; those points can be redeemed for rewards like a desktop background, an increase to your maximum number of throwing knives, Altair's costume for Ezio, and an extra assassin tomb to explore.
Notably, though, the points are not game-specific: if you don't like the rewards for AC2 you can spend them on rewards for other games, which is a nice touch.

The Ending
You get a couple of neat revelations towards the end of the game. One of them has to do with characters you met through the game, which was an unexpected and pleasant surprise. But the final revelation is pretty crazy. The only hint I'll give is that it reveals some extra potential of the graphics engine, showing you some things completely unlike anything else in the game — but the plot point is way cooler.

The Bad
Slight Control Issues
Not sure if AC1 had the same issues and I didn't notice them, but I'm feeling more frustrated with the directions of my jumps in AC2. In tight spaces the camera sometimes automatically adjusts itself to show you where to go next, but that screws up my jump chain when I am suddenly heading in the wrong direction. Occasionally I've jumped off buildings, intending to land in a haystack, only to splatter all over the cobblestone.

The Verdict
Recommendation: play it.
Assassin's Creed 2 is fantastic. The first game was hailed as a groundbreaking and innovative new franchise, but the sequel blows it out of the water and the franchise really starts to come into its own, building on the open world and go-anywhere acrobatics with extra options, customization, and all around betterness. If you're going to play Assassin's Creed 2 I'd recommend playing the first one, but even then, it's not totally mandatory — you'll miss out on some backstory and wonder who one of the characters is, but you get a brief summary at the beginning to bring you up to speed.

1 comment:

  1. I agree entirely! The first game was groundbreaking, but only in the same way that Star trek: The Motion Picture was. It heralded a style of game, and of gameplay, but wasn't that great on its own. Assassin's Creed 2 had a better story, better characters, a more comfortable moving system, and really, saved the franchise. Why else would the rest of the games be about Ezio, and not about Altair? Good reviews so far, always looking forward to Wednesdays and to reading more!