Creed is Good

An Assassin, yesterday.

You know what? I’m beginning to feel rather spoilt. Assassin’s Creed 2 is yet another high scoring game that’s appeared this side of 2010, and, having played it, it’s not too hard to see why. The first game was a bit of a disappointment, which was a shame because it was so nearly perfect. The world Ubisoft created simply ached with beauty, life and soul. Jerusalem, for example, bustled with a level of life that even the much admired Grand Theft Auto IV failed to inject into Liberty City. The control system too – although ostensibly complex – was pretty fluid and flexible, especially when you’re free to climb around the massive, sprawling cities. In fact, there are very few games out there that offer the same level of enjoyment from just being able to run and jump – except perhaps Mario. Where it fell down was with the plot and game structure, which was dull, repetitive and badly explained. It was so bad that I doubt very many buyers ever really completed the game.

It makes sense then, that AC2 is able to address these faults.

Thankfully, rather than starting from scratch, developer Ubisoft has kept much of what did work intact. The graphics remain very pretty indeed and both the combat and exploration models have only been tweaked slightly. The combat in particular has been given a lick of paint and its now gives you much more feedback – the crunch and smack of a blade is significantly better – and you’ve also got access to better weapons earlier in the game, which was a key failing in the first outing.

The premise remains largely the same too, with you playing as Desmond, a bartender who is able to access the memories of his ancestors via a fancy piece of kit called an ‘Animus’ (I’ve got one of these, but unlike Desmond’s ancestors who are all assassins, mine are all pig farmers). Using this machine, Desmond is able to explore the past in order to uncover the truth about a shady organisation called “Abstergo” – the company that kidnapped him in the first game. It’s ridiculously contrived, but it gives the developer a bit of freedom to control your actions in the game (if you kill an innocent for example, your actions are considered ‘incompatible’ with the memories of your ancestor). Unlike the first game, however, where you played an established assassin called Altair, you’re transported to 15th Century Italy to fill the boots of Ezio Auditore da Firenze (roughly translated to Eric Audio of Florence) – the ultimate Renaissance rude boy. Naturally, Ezio is therefore a completely different character to Altair, and Ubisoft is keen to make this point from the offset when you’re thrown into a street battle with a rival Italian ‘gang’. He’s posh, rude and arrogant – oh, and great. But, rather quickly, Ezio’s life gets turned upside down when his family are wrongly accused of a crime-they-didn’t-commit and is forced to become an assassin in order to uncover a conspiracy that could tear Italian society apart. It sounds stupid, but it’s told with humour and compassion rather than the drab, overwritten pointlessness of the first game which even now I don’t fully understand. Ubisoft has also rethought the way the player interacts with the world, and there’s now a fairly convincing economic system which allows you to upgrade your own personal town in order to attract visitors and get better deals in all the shops. It’s very Fable 2. You can also upgrade and buy weapons, health kits and loot dead people for money, just like in real life.

These may be minor changes, but they transformed the way I played the game and made a fairly convincing world that bit more interactive without impacting on the actual game play. The monetary system, for example, is far less intrusive than it is in GTA or Fable and allows you to do pretty much as you please.

The mission structure, too, has been given a dramatic make over – another influence Fable and GTA have had on Ubisoft no doubt. With the first game, the nine or so missions saw you identify, track down and assassinate a target over and over again. It was fun to start with and then quickly lost its appeal. This time around, assassinations still feature heavily (obviously) but the missions are more interesting and varied, giving you much more freedom to do as you please. The mini-missions are also better implemented and the rewards are greater, giving you greater incentive to actually see it through to the end – and brilliantly, there are also some linear platforming subsections which hark back to the glory days of Prince of Persia.

Inevitably though, it’s not all brilliant. The mini-map is awful; at best ugly, at worst completely useless, which can make navigation of this huge world far more frustrating than it needs to be. Combat also has a tendency to be fiddly and annoying when you’re attacked by more than three or four people, and on more than one occasion the game seemed to assume that I deliberately decided to jump to my death. Mostly though, the issues are very minor – the game is surprisingly bug free given its relatively short development lifecycle. But despite that, I can’t help but feel that Ubisoft has painted itself into a narrative black hole. The Desmond/assassin twin plots are at times a bit farfetched and worse; create a sense of detachment from Ezio. It’s a bit like playing Dragon Age through until the end where at which point the game zooms out to show that you’re actually playing as Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard plugged into his own personal Animus. Classic ‘it was all a dream’ scenario. In fact, I wondered throughout the game whether or not Ubisoft had begun to realise this and tried to downplay the whole Animus/Desmond plot. I was wrong, sadly.

So then, my verdict then. Assassin’s Creed 2 is very good, great even, and despite some piddling flaws, this is every bit the game the first should have been. That’s great news, and what makes it better is that the only reason this game is so good is because Ubisoft, those brave, brave Frenchmen, actually listened to the criticism of the first game. Well done Ubisoft, I love you.

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7 Comments on “Creed is Good”

  1. Nightjuju Says:

    Argh, and us PC gmers don’t get to play it until 2010! Curses! I wasn’t even contemplating buying this game, but after reading this I am off to pre-order!

  2. Paul S Says:

    It certainly sounds like it has a lot more going for it than the first one. Gilbo is bang on – the joy of movement was the sparkling high point in AC1, and I spent ages just running and leaping and diving. Great fun. Shame everything else was a bit lacklustre. AC2 sounds much more like a complete game. Topper!

  3. Scruffy Says:

    It’s at times like these when I think about dusting off the 360. I am one of the many people who didn’t bother finishing the first one, but quite enjoyed running about and getting it to fights with half the guards in a city in one go. Like many games at the moment I am worried that I will loose intrest after the first few hours, so I might just stick with DragonAge when I have lots of free time and MW2 when everyone else is playing it.

  4. Sho'rock Says:

    As a massive history nut I thoroughly enjoyed the first Assassins Creed despite its flaws of which there were several. The accurate representation of Damascus, Jerusalem and Acre during the third crusade was simply breathtaking and the inclusion of real historical characters to whack made it more engrossing, plus leaping off buildings to stick some poor bastard with a hidden blade never gets old. The sequel takes everything I loved about the original and knocks it out of the ball park and into another century.

  5. Paul S Says:

    The hidden blade. I couldn’t get past the silliness of that. How the Dickens is a wrist blade that sticks out from where your finger should be remotely practical? You’d slash your other fingers to ribbons every time you formed a fist. I bet it would break off all the time too.

    • Scruffy Says:

      I always thought that the larger section of the blade was rounded (no sharp edge) and that the weapon was driven by the arm, thus the hand whould do hardly anything. Used as a stabbing weapon and being driven straight in to a body (or even through a weak spot in armour) should be quite easy and would have very little chance of breaking a blade.
      However using it in open combat would be a very bad idea, a jointed blade (going from memory of the game here) would not fare well if used as a slashing weapon. If the blade was ever used to attempt a parry it would likely break and when used for a block if the blade didn’t break the user’s arm probably would.


  6. You know what, I never gave Assassin’s Creed’s (weird grammar alert!) weapon systems that much thought.


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