Monday, June 23, 2014

Review #123: Assassin's Creed II

 It makes Assassin's Creed 1 look like one ugly beta.
 Assassin's Creed was a good game, it wasn't anything special and had lots of little flaws that took away from it. Assassin's Creed 2 polished every single aspect from Assassin's Creed, resulting in a vastly superior, and more entertaining game.

 The game picks up almost exactly where the last one left off, with Lucy and Vidic leaving the room, and Desmond developing the Eagle Vision. Desmond escapes with the aid of the Assassins from Abstergo, and vows to help the Assassins defeat the Templars, doing what he does best: Strapping to the Animus chair. While in the Animus, this time Desmond goes back to his paternal ascendants, in the form of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, an Italian Assassin living in Florence during the late 1400s. This time around, characters are much more engaging than in Assassin's Creed 1, even though the present-day scenes are but a fraction of the game(A change I most welcome), Desmond and Lucy have received a bit more personality, as well as the rest of the supporting cast. The cast featured in Ezio's time is even more appealing, Ezio himself being everything that Altair wasn't: Funny, charming, emotive and above all, likeable. Story wasn't particularly bad in AC 1, but AC 2's story is much more involved, intriguing and better written, dialogue is more refined, with a couple of jokes that were more funny than they should've!
 Gameplay follows the same print from Assassin's Creed 1, but polished and expanded upon. Parkour was a great idea, but it wasn't as good as it could've been, AC 2 makes parkour flow much smoother, Ezio doesn't stop on his tracks while climbing, and does everything much more swiftly. There's the occasional jump when you didn't want to jump, or dropping to a haystack instead of a ledge, but they are infrequent enough as not to be too annoying. There's a fair amount of new mechanics, like looting dead bodies for money, medicine or knives, or even stealing money from passersby. Among people Ezio may come around Courtesans that can be hired to distract guards, mercenaries or thieves that can fight for Ezio, signaling them to do their works is pretty easy and they rarely get stuck on the environment. When it comes to stealth, Assassin's Creed was never a stealth game, but it did have some elements, and they were expanded upon in this one, blending with crowds is now a matter of walking with them, Ezio will turn grey if done correctly, you can now carry dead bodies and drop them to focus attention on them and using the Hidden Blade is much more fun, now that Ezio can kill while hanging from ledges, while falling, while hiding or even perform dual assassinations when he gets a second Hidden Blade!

 New to the series is the monetary system, instead of earning weapons as he killed enemies, like Altair, Ezio now can buy his weapons or armors from Blacksmiths. You can also buy bigger pouches to carry medicine, knives or poison, or even dye his white robes! The best part about all this is that the changes reflect on Ezio himself. Health doesn't restore over time, so visiting doctors to heal or using medicine is a necessity, even though the game is nice enough to heal you completely whenever you start a new mission. Early in the game, Ezio will enter the Villa, a town that can be upgraded by investing money in it, the more it grows, the more money it makes every 20 minutes. Investing as much as you can early on will end up with Ezio swimming in money later in the game, so it's a good idea to upgrade it as early as possible. AC 1 quickly got very repetitive, once again AC 2 tops it by offering more missions types: Assassination, Races, Courier and Beatings. Main Story missions also vary quite widely, you'll go from tailing people to flying on Leonardo's flying machine, competing in a carnival for a golden mask or protecting a boat from bowmen. There's also a slew of sidequests: Gathering all 100 hidden feathers, finding all 20 glyphs(each one rewards you with a very odd puzzle unlike anything else on the game), finding all 73 viewpoints and the 6 Assassin's tombs, each one possessing a platforming challenge that reward you with items to unlock Altair's armor. AC 2 is a very long game, but repetition won't sink in until much later in the game.
 To offset the removal of the regenerating hit points, combat was made easier. The window for parrying was widened and most counterattacks now outright kill. Continuously attacking blocking enemies will also damage them, so you could potentially win every encounter by just mashing on the attack button. The tools for combat have also increased, with the addition of smoke bombs, a gun on the Hidden Blade, poison on the Hidden Blade and barehanded beatings now actually packing a punch. As easy as combat is, there's a new Notoriety system implemented, killing in public or doing outrageous actions like pushing people in front of wards will raise your notoriety, which translates into how fast will guards realize that you are an enemy on sight, you can lower it by ripping posters off walls, killing certain officials or bribing spokesmen.

 Assassin's Creed 1 had some rather large cities, but they seem so small in front of Assassin's Creed 2's Italy. The player can now swim and ride boats, which comes very useful when traversing the watery city of Venice. Each of the game's town(Tuscany, Romania, Forli and Florence(And I'm sure I probably spelt two of them wrong)) are huge and very different from one another, with broadly different flavors making exploring them a joy.
 Character models definitely look better than in AC 1, but they are still a bit on the ugly side, with a couple of scenes in which they just look off as they talk or move onscreen. Animation is still a looker, even if there are a couple of odd ones(Just look at Desmond's neck when he punches while the game is loading!). Cities are still the high point of the game's presentation, every city portrayed in the game is downright beautiful with a ton unique landmarks. The game does suffer from a ton of pop in and a bit of clipping, frame rate does take a hit every now and then, the close-range draw distance is terrible, with flowers popping out of nowhere, but when it comes to distances you can see, very, very far away, and it looks glorious. While AC 1 wasn't big on the music department, AC 2 has some rather grandiose-sounding pieces, a particular favorite of mine being the one that plays on the race missions. Voice acting is very good when it comes to primary characters, although a few of the NPCs are fairly unconvincing, still a step up from AC 1!

 Assassin's Creed 2 is an awesome game, I'd go as far as to say that it makes AC 1 obsolete. Ubisoft did polish a diamond out of a stone, AC 2 is among my favorite games of the last generation, and while the game could use a bit of touching up, to make the framerate steadier for example, polishing certain glitches(Like freezing, which happened to me once but seems to be a rather frequent occurrence, or how certain cutscenes may desynch leaving characters to stab the ground or what have you), it's a great game.
 9.0 out of 10

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