>Assassin’s Creed 2: the first few hours

>If memory serves, and my blog posts (from almost exactly 2 years ago!) are accurate (1), (2), I enjoyed the first 70% of the first Assassin’s Creed.

Gabe at Penny Arcade made a pretty insightful newspost about this the other day; I’m paraphrasing, but he essentially says that his impressions of most of the negative reviews implied that the reviewer didn’t really take his/her time, and just kinda sped through the game in order to see everything and make their deadline; if you actually take your time and play the game at its own speed, it’s infinitely more rewarding…

…I kinda rushed through the last section of Creed, and suddenly all the 7.0 – 7.5 review scores made sense. You really do need to play Creed at a slow, thoughtful, deliberate pace – it helps you “get into character”, so to speak, because when you’re in that mode the game absolutely shines.

In my defense, I was rushing through the end of AC1 because I was desperate to start Mass Effect, but that’s neither here nor there. The truth is that for everything it did right, AC1 was fundamentally flawed. Setting up assassinations became tedious because you were just doing the same things over and over again, and in doing so the incredibly detailed game world suddenly became very artificial. More to the point, it started to feel like a game, with a set of clearly defined rules and guidelines, which ruined the illusion of being an assassin who was free to do whatever he chose. And if you started to get impatient with the game’s incredibly slow and methodical pacing and decided to run around and just try to get it over with, everything just fell apart. Animations and crowd dialogue were endlessly repeated; the much-touted “crowd physics” just felt clumsy; the combat became a nuisance. And then the story just… ended; it was intended to be a cliffhanger but felt more like a sudden crash into a brick wall.

According to the reviews I’ve read, the team at Ubisoft heard all this and decided to fix everything that was wrong. And judging from the reviews, they’ve been largely successful. I can’t necessarily speak to that just yet, though.

One of the main complaints is that for all its open-world-ness, there was not very much to actually do in the first game. To counter that, there is almost too much to do, now – I’m only 2-3 hours in and I’ve unlocked a ton of side missions that are almost entirely optional. It’s a little overwhelming, actually, because I’m generally compelled to do as much as I can in a game like this and I feel like I don’t know where to start; and so I’ve mostly just been sticking to the main story missions.

The thing about Assassin’s Creed is that it very much has a very specific feel to it, and that can take a bit of getting used to. The trailers make it seem like it’s this fast-paced free-running action-packed adventure, but if you actually play it like that you get your ass kicked. You have to be slow and stealthy; you have to pick your battles carefully. It certainly took me a little while to adjust to it, but once I got it, I got it.

The game also has this weird meta-level to it that can be a little disorienting – this was true in the first game and it’s doubly true in this one. The game features an incredibly detailed recreation of 16th century Italy, from the architecture right down to the shoes on the feet of the crowds. And yet for all of this, the game is constantly reminding you that you – the player – are from the future, and everything you’re seeing is really just a memory of someone long dead; there’s lots of weird futuristic visual glitches and every once in a while you’ll get a voiceover from someone in that futuristic room with you.

Not only that, but the game’s first real tutorial takes place at least an hour into the game, where you learn how to blend with crowds, how to pickpocket, and how to really do combat. And everything you do is just so plainly artificial and unnatural – the crowd blending in particular is just weird. (It reminds me a little bit, both in concept and in execution, of the motorcycle gang-riding thing in GTA4’s Lost and Damned storyline.) Add to this the random side missions, which include races and courier missions and finding hidden feathers and other non-sequitors – basically, it feels very much like you’re playing a game, instead of living and breathing as this character.

Also, Nolan North is the voice of your futuristic self, and as much as I like that guy and his performances, he’s becoming a bit overused. He is the Prince of Persia; he is Nathan Drake; he is the dude in Shadow Complex; he is everywhere; he is everyone.

And for a game called Assassin’s Creed, you actually kill a lot of people, not just the one dude you’re aiming for. It’s a weird sort of disconnect, similar to Condemned, where you’re hunting down this one serial killer and in the process you yourself end up killing hundreds of people.

It really sounds like I’m shitting all over it, right? And yet I’m really, really into it this time around, just as I was at the outset of the last game. The story is engaging, in spite (or because) of being convoluted and maddeningly vague; and when you’re actually doing it – when you’ve spotted your mark and you’ve figured out your entrance strategy and you’re moving in for the kill, slowly, methodically, silently – it’s breathtaking.



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  1. >You and I had pretty similar feelings about the first game. Haven't had a chance to pick this one up yet, but I enjoyed reading about your early experiences with it.

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