Sunday, February 28, 2010

In Service Of The Creed

I finished Assassin's Creed 2 last week, and while it's certainly a very good game, I don't think I enjoyed it as much as I did the first game. I don't think this was because the first game was necessarily better, but rather due to the nature of the game itself.

I really enjoyed Assassin's Creed 1, I will happily admit that it was flawed, but I appreciated that it tried to break the mould, to do something ambitious and different. The things which stayed with me were the stunning visuals and the air of mystery to the game, the view of a new city as you rounded the a corner and first saw the city walls, the panoramic vistas from atop the viewpoints in the cities, the use of colour, the realistic way Altair moved amongst the crowds, clambered up almost any surface, and the brutality and weight of the strikes in combat.

Altair looks over Jerusalem in Assassin's Creed

It was more of an experience than a game, in fact in terms of gameplay it actually came up short in many respects. The free running essentially just involved steering your character as the jumping and climbing were automatically handled, and the combat, while viscerally satisfying in a way that videogame combat rarely is, was incredibly simple and unchallenging. There was also the inescapable fact that the game was essentially just about walking around in between the assassination missions, which probably made up around an hour of the game's length.

For the sequel, Ubisoft seem to have layered on more game-like elements onto the same template, and I don't think it worked as well as most reviewers have indicated, as these were never the strengths of the game. You received several new abilities, many of which you had no need to use (did anyone actually use poison during the game?), you could upgrade your armour (but with combat being so easy, you never needed the extra health it provided) and buy a range of different weapons with different statistics (none of which made any difference, as you just counter-killed 95% of the opponents you had to fight). You had a whole range of side-missions to complete, and a wider variety of core missions, but many of the additions sat uncomfortably within the game engine, like how trying to chase people down was unnecessarily awkward due to the way the game's lock-on system worked, and for the few times that stealth was required, the engine's unsuitability for the purpose could be frustratingly evident. However, being able to swim, even in metal armour, was a welcome addition to anyone who fell into the water and watched the unarmoured Altair sink like stone in the first game.

Ezio looks over Monteriggioni in Assassin's Creed 2

For the first game, I was prepared to work with the game, to overlook its shortcomings in pursuit of the experience it offered. By the second, the sheer volume of things to do made progress seem like a chore some times, and the need to leverage game mechanics to expedite progress rather than act in a more realistic manner broke the atmosphere slightly for me. For example, in the first game, I would try and stick with crowds to get close enough to targets to strike, where in the second I completed a lot of assassination missions by just charging up to the target, stabbing him and then running away. I would also just murder a group of guards rather than finding a way around them, safe in the knowledge that I could just rip a few wanted posters from the wall afterwards and there would be no repercussion. This may be because I was more time-constrained playing the sequel than I was when I played the first game, which would make it an unfair criticism, but one I have to level at it regardless.

I also didn't like Ezio as much as Altair, for some reason. True, Altair was an unrepentant, arrogant ass with an inexplicable American accent, but I thought he suited the role of an angel of death, and I didn't really warm to the smirking Italian playboy in the second game as much as I did to the supposedly more one-sided character in the first.

I seem to have been quite negative on Assassin's Creed 2 in this post, which is perhaps a little unfair, as I did enjoy playing it, but for me it lacked some of the magic of its predecessor.

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