Saturday 23 January 2010

Assassins Creed II - Review

Ubisoft screwed up with Assassins Creed in 2007.  Great looks but repetitive, dull, uninspiring gameplay.  It also suffered from a world of over hype prior to release but the sequel was wisely promoted on a smaller scale but the game deserves your attention.

It is essentially Grand Theft Horsey with a twist.  The game is actually set in the present day and you play as Desmond (some what disconcertingly voiced by Nolan North who voiced Nate in Uncharted) who is broken out of a lab and taken to another lab by..... ah well never mind.  Basically (trying to keep this simple) he and his pals use a machine called an Animus that allow him access to his predecessors memories to uncover some kind of conspiracy involving an ancient weapon and its whereabouts.  Yep, pure bunkum, but don't worry about it, it's just a tiny part of the experience.

It's one of those memories that you play out in 15th Century Italy, as Ezio the Assassin.  You play through roughly 10 years of Ezio's life from cad to vengeful Assassin desperate to find out why half the members of his family are executed on a trumped up charge.

The game begins in Florence and the first thing your struck with is how large the environments are and that you have access to pretty much everywhere.  The free running element over the roof tops is well done if at times almost to easy to pull off.  Hold R1 and X and Ezio will run, leap, tumble climb and scale anything that is in front of him.  When a particularly long sequence is pulled off it's a joy but at times Ezio won't do as he's told.  The combat is satisfying enough with a nice gentle learning curve with a range of weapons to choose from.  Soon you're dancing around opponents, slicing their necks open with your sword or jumping down from a rooftop to pull off a double assassination using the blades hidden up your sleeves.

There is so much to do in Assassins Creed II, everywhere you go there's an assassination mission to pick up or a piece of treasure to unearth.  There's even a sort of town management option, that I played through, although to be honest it feels like a bit of an unnecessary bolt on as earning cash is ridiculously easy.  Seriously I must have been the richest undercover assassin ever by the end of the game.

You move beyond Florence to Tuscany and then finish the game in Venice, another huge, beautifully realised city.  I climbed every view point to take it all in and although the game suffers from pop up and some draw distance issues (apparently less of a problem on the 360 version) balancing Ezio on top of a precarious looking crucifix high above a town looked stunning.  Every time.

The cities and towns that you visit are full of citizens and guards and although this isn't pulled off as well as GTA it does do a good job of making the environments feel alive with people.  You will hear phrases repeated on a regular basis, some of them quite amusing but it never hits the heights of Rockstar's classic for the truly jaw dropping.  (I was still hearing pedestrians saying things I'd not heard 50 hours into GTA.)

Gameplay is nicely varied and although the actual story is probably about 12 hours or so the myriad of distractions led to me spending about 30 hours with the title.

The story is ok, if a bit all over the place at times, often I'd spend a few hours completing side quests and by the time I'd gotten back to the main tale I'd forgotten what was actually going on.  However NPC's (non playable characters) are nicely brought to life and you have some sympathy with Ezio's need for revenge.  Ezio even has Leonardo Da Vinci to call on for help and this leads to the games best, if all to brief sequence, as you fly over Venice in his (never really built) flying machine.

One small note.  Games developers take heed.  If you want gamers to watch your end credits do what Ubisoft did here, make them playable.  Genius.

This is a great game, lovingly created and hats off to Ubisoft for pulling it out of the bag after the huge disappointment of the first title.  Not as polished as Uncharted or as life consuming as GTA but very much worth playing if you enjoyed either of those games.  I look forward to part three.

★ ★ ★ ★ 

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