Assassin’s Creed 2 // PS3
December 3, 2009
A tip for anyone interested in the plot for Assassin’s Creed 2: keep notes. Ubisoft’s sequel will confuse the hell out of you, entwining Ezio’s central story within the modern-day tale of Desmond, whilst simultaneously muddying things further with cryptic puzzles ranging from identifying shared characteristics from a series of history’s paintings to spotting a satellite in a photograph of the moon. Chuck in a few webs of political intrigue, betrayal, a whole litany of Italian history and a series of allies more mysterious than the last, and you’d be forgiven for losing track of what is transpiring. But despite all that, it somehow manages to be epic.
Once the awkward introductory sequence (mentioned in my First Impressions post) is dispensed with, and the fiddly controls are memorised, the game settles down into an accomplished, assured groove. Two bustling, enormous cities – Florence and Venice – gradually unfold as you navigate your way through the game’s many main missions, which will keep you busy for the best part of two dozen hours. Cutscenes, whilst suffering slightly from sub-standard facial animation, are warm and well-written – corny dialogue and cringe-worthy moments are fortunately rare; a commendable achievement given the somewhat dicey subject matter of faith and religion. Missions are short and punchy, and the checkpoints are generous – Ubisoft has clearly learned from Rockstar’s mistakes, even if it has borrowed Grand Theft Auto’s structure wholesale.
The greatest achievement the developer has pulled here is the breadth of things to do. I often found myself heading towards the next mission marker only to be sidetracked by a few glowing chests, or the excitement of scanning a new glyph for a new logic puzzle, or the entrance to one of the Assassin’s Tombs – elaborate platform challenges ensconced in crypts or massive monuments, each one providing a Seal which unlocks a gate within your villa.
Ah yes, the villa. A home base of operations, you’ll find yourself renovating its surrounding ‘burbs in order to increase your income. Major purchases add a lot of value, and every 20 minutes of game time will deposit a chunk of florins into your glowing chest. The game even makes a point of coercing you back to the villa to retrieve your income; Ubisoft is striving for realism here, after all.
This spectrum of collectibles flesh out a beautiful gameworld, a playground of cities bustling with life and sound. Some of it’s side quests will appeal to some and not to others. I barely scratched the surface of the Beat Up, Race and Courier quests; just enough to get the associated Trophies and little more. Their corresponding icon markers contribute to an already cluttered map; a rare misstep in an astonishingly beautiful, but bewildering UI. The graphic design of these menus, a subject close indeed to my heart, is a stunning accompaniment to the aesthetics of the game.
Frustrations inevitably creep in, however, especially when contrasted against the overall polish of the package. For me, the control system is overly complicated, often proving to be a barrier to the intended free-flowing parkour through the city’s cobbled streets and glinting rooftops. Such fussy controls extend to those used in combat, as a skirmish with a group of encircling guards quickly devolves into a tedious war of attrition, especially when expected instant counter kills are blocked without any apparent reason. The assassination mechanics balance out these quibbles however; nothing satisfies more than to leap down from a rooftop and slip a hidden blade into the throat of an unsuspecting victim.
Assassin’s Creed 2 is a confident, assured showing, the product of a developer finally getting to grips with its unique IP. In an industry saturated with me-too cash-ins and copycat themes, Assassin’s Creed stands apart as an original franchise. If Ubisoft were to jettison the overly fussy control mechanics for the inevitable third instalment, the series will come to a perfect conclusion.