Assassin's Creed II

So AC2 came out yesterday and I was able to play 2-3 hours worth.  Enough to get to the villa part and collect all the tiny treasure chests/quests up until that point.  I realize, story-wise, I am not that far along but gameplay-wise, everything appears to be unlocked from the start (see Counters for an example).  That being said, I have never had such an urge to stop playing a game before.  It’s worse than Kingdom Hearts 2.

I’ll reach my point eventually but I need to state this here.  I liked the first AC.  It was innovative, great parkour (street running), combat was fun and the story was neato.  There were problems with repetition (minor), one zone that no one ever ventured into twice on purpose and combat could become monotone near the end.  You would think this would be a simple matter to fix.

Here we are 2 years later and Ubisoft (and reviewers so far) claim that it’s an improvement.  I am here to say that it is not and it’s a horrible example of shoving a ton of crap into a game and expecting the public to buy it (they will).

AC did parkour wonderfully.  You could run around the entire town without looking down.  If you fell and took damage, wait around and fill that bar back up.  The flow within a zone was amazing, almost like running down a river.  AC2 takes that idea and shoves a stick in your eye.  It is impossible to free run here.  Climbing is improved, getting TO the roofs is improved but that seems to be because you’re ALWAYS falling off them.  There is just a sheer amount of stupidly empty space.  Not huge areas mind you but streets that are just a LITTLE too wide for you to keep running, instead you grab a ledge and the whole game slows to a crawl.  Way to ruin the fun of the first game!

Story.  First one was about assassins and intrigue.  This one, about revenge.  Really?  That’s the best you can do?  The only cool part is the 20 part mini-quest within the game.  The major story line is like reading a children’s book.

Art. I will be the first to admit that AC had character design issues but Altair was superb.  It was literally like watching a bird move with very little closeups.  AC2 is closeup city and the art looks like someone took a magnifying lens to PacMan.  Are there more emotional responses? Sure, but for each one of those there are 10 reactions that make you think you’re talking to a handicapped elf.  The mystery and shadow of the first game is lost.  Why?  Oh and the buildings, let’s get on that for a second.  AC had a bunch of different roofs but they were all pale/off-white with black borders.  Easy to spot.  The roofs in AC2 are all brown and look like the damn ground.  You’ll be running around and all of a sudden there’s no roof anymore with no clue as to how you didn’t notice it leave.  Many many times I found what appeared to be a line running from one building to the next was actually a giant hole of ground.  Arghhh!

Quests.  Same repetitive quests but this time they are harder.  Blending comes to mind.  Before you pressed a button, the game auto-played a scripted blending excercise.  Now you have to actively follow a group that is near guaranteed to NOT go down the path you need to move and guards will attack you.  My thought process now is simply, screw blending, screw the roofs I’m just going to run on the ground and kill everything that moves.  It’s just easier.

Gameplay.  First game was simple in its complexity.  Counters, hard attacks, quick weapons, free heals after combat.  This game, manual healing at all times (potions in 2009 – just wow…), continually losing and acquiring weapons and having to repair gear.  Buying maps to find hidden treasure chests (but not feathers which are arguably more important).  66 synchronization towers.  66!  Who in their right mind thinks that doing this 66 times is fun?  You climb, it finds quests, you dive and NEVER RETURN.  And the views are shit because they are so jammed pack of BROWN!  Oh, and money.  Everything costs money.  Gear, upgrades, health, your home town.  Why in the name of fart would you put money into a stealth/action game?  Why put in stealing that takes 5-10 coins per person when everything costs 5,000 or more?  Think about that for a second, you’d have to steal from 500-1000 people to buy even the most basic upgrade.  And this requires you to bump into people which slows down the game even more.

Summary.  It really feels as if there was some original effort put into improving the game and some boss said “hey, make this go in too”.  There are improvements, surely.  Repetive quests are less noticeable.  Combat is improved.  The depth of the story is more fulfilling (if not more straightforward).  The drawbacks are simply too masive to ignore.  Free running is dead.  Blending is broken.  Stealing is useless.  The art direction is from high school. Reducing noteriety is a simple matter of bringing down posters (!?).

Assassin’s Creed 2 reminds me of Prince of Persia 2.  They took everything that worked in the first one, threw the kitchen sink and “social mood” into the game and threw it at the masses.  I expect the exact same return for Ubisoft for having given us this steaming pile.