Sunday, May 19, 2013

Assassin's Creed 2 (Playstation 3, 2009)


And now we arrive at what has to be the best game in the entirety of this Three Decade Project. Yeah, that's right. I can say with a lot of confidence that out of a list that includes Mario 64, Metal Gear Solid, and other great games of their eras, this is the highest point. It isn't for everyone, and it isn't perfect, but it is incredibly well-done and short enough that it ends before any of the flaws have time to show themselves. This is probably why people didn't start noticing the flaws until the two (very, very similar) sequels. Well played, Ubisoft.


When you start the game, you have the option to change the language of the dialogue. This is awesome, and I wish more games let you do this. You can change the dialogue to Italian to have a more "authentic experience" (since the game takes place in Renaissance Italy), which is probably the most common selection aside from English. I played the game in Spanish for the practice, since I understand a fair bit of Spanish and it was fun to see how much of the dialogue I could match up to the subtitles.

This game picks up a little bit after the first game in the series, which ended with Desmond seeing a bunch of invisible writing. If you're unfamiliar with Assassin's Creed, the premise is this: a guy named Desmond is being trained in assassination techniques by a shadowy organization. They do this by putting him inside a virtual world called "The Animus", which re-constructs memories of long-dead people. This Holodeck-esque device lets Desmond literally step into the shoes of legendary assassins from various eras. By living through their memories, he learns all of their techniques. What is this for? We don't know. Why Desmond? He doesn't know either.

He does know that he's the seventeenth person to be trained in this way, with no sign of his sixteen predecessors. The sixteenth left behind a bunch of invisible writing, and after discovering this Desmond finds himself questioning the whole experiment. I'd be questioning an "experiment" too if I were being trained in assassination techniques by a shadowy organization with advanced technology that couldn't tell me what happened to the previous sixteen subjects. The creepiness is off the scale with this series.

In any case, you play as Desmond for short bits in this game. He doesn't have much to do except talk to people in the lab and have a weird-looking neck. Seriously, the necks in this game are weird-looking. Ubisoft might want to hire a better neck designer for future games.

While in the first game he was Altair, scourge of ancient Jerusalem, in this game Desmond leaps into the body of Ezio Auditore. Who is Ezio?

...a wee baby! This is great. I can't think of any other game that begins with your character being born.

The wee baby Ezio serves as a quick tutorial for the game, as it teaches you how to attack with your "armed hand". This is the greatest game tutorial I have ever seen.

Back in the present, here's the laboratory. What I'm wondering is, after a game with Altair, three games with Ezio, a game with Connor, and a game with whoever the hero of Assassin's Creed 4 is... will Assassin's Creed 5 take place in the present-day, with Desmond finally carrying out whatever mission he's programmed for? That'd be interesting... and politically dangerous territory for a high-profile game to be treading.

Back into the Animus he goes. This serves as the loading screen of the game. Speaking of Assassin's Creed 4, after playing this game I can safely say that AC4 is the one guaranteed "pick up at launch" Playstation 4 game for me. Which means I'll need to play the three AC games that come before it by the time the holiday season rolls around. My only worry is that AC4 will also be out on PS3 at the same time... hopefully the next-gen port doesn't suffer in the graphics department as a result.

The world of Renaissance Italy is "constructed" from Ezio's memories. What are Ezio's memories doing in a computer? And does the fact that these games transpire in a big Holodeck take something away from them? I don't know, but I'll roll with it.

Here's Ezio, all grown-up. He's basically the gaming equivalent of a young Duncan Macleod (of Highlander: The Series fame). He runs around getting into swordfights and romancing numerous women. He's a real cad, as the kids say.

The first thing you do as adult Ezio is get into a drunken brawl. His brother Frederico finds him afterwards and tries to get him to see a doctor. Ezio is brash and fun-loving, while Frederico is mature and settled-down in comparison.

The intro of the game ends with the two of them scaling a church and looking out over Florence.

Bam. Right out of the gate, the game lets you know that you're playing something high-quality.

Next thing we know, Ezio hides out in bales of hay en route to see...

...this sexy lady, who he promptly takes for a roll in the hay (not literally, the hay is outside).

See that church in the background? There's a flat-topped tower next to it, and one of the trophies for the game is to dive off the top of that tower and land in a pile of hay. This game has some fun trophies. I only go for trophies when they're fun, and this is a shining example of trophies done right.

Here's Giovanni, Ezio's father. He bears a striking resemblance to Deanna Troi, of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Yeah. Really squint, you'll see it.

Desmond has a power called Eagle Vision that changes the landscape into a Moonside-esque colorscape. (Earthbound shoutout!) It basically lets the player see everything of consequence a bit easier, at the cost of not being able to see the landscape very well. Aggro NPCs glow red, important NPCs glow gold, collectible objects stand out against the terrain, etc.

This game has some massive environments. And I mean MASSIVE. It takes place over five or six cities, and each one could well be the setting for its own game. Best part is, you can travel between them virtually at will, and exploring them to find everything is fun rather than a chore.

One quest that I like is Ezio's sister asking him to investigate her wayward husband, who she suspects of cheating. Ezio finds the guy romancing a random lady, and IT'S ON.

The husband says that Ezio's sister is stingy with her virtue, and then Ezio beats him up. It's hilarious. I find it interesting that Ezio is such a philanderer while his sister is so virtuous and pure.

This game has more direct-light-in-the-camera than a JJ Abrams movie. It's pretty cool.

Of course, before long the shit absolutely hits the fan for our hero, as the city turns against his family for no apparent reason. The city guard apprehends his father and two brothers, throwing them in prison. Ezio sends his sister - yeah, she's cute - and his mother to a safe location, and heads out to try and save the rest of the family.

At this point the game starts feeling like the ninth episode of season one of Game of Thrones. There is little sound besides church bells chiming as Ezio tries to figure out a way to save his father and brothers, while at the same time get to the bottom of why his family has been set up.

He dons his father Giovanni's assassin getup for the first time, ready for whatever he needs to do. Yes, his father was an assassin. Basically the whole family (on the male side) consists of assassins, and Ezio is the irresponsible underachiever of the bunch.

Ezio goes to Giovanni's lawyer, Uberto Alberti, for help. Said lawyer seems very helpful, and even offers Ezio a safe place to stay for the night. Ezio declines, but gives Uberto some papers that prove the innocence of Giovanni.

The next day, Giovanni and his sons stand trial... and Uberto denies having recieved any papers from Ezio. Yeah, he's in on it. Good thing Ezio didn't accept his offer of a sleepover.

It's a travesty of justice as Giovanni and Sons are sentenced to death for... something. Something they had nothing to do with. This part is a bit hazy for me.

A very Game of Thrones-y scene follows as all three of them get hung. Even Ezio's younger brother. It's unsettling.

A horrified Ezio tries to rush the stage, but he's too late. Uberto sics the city guard on him, and he has to run for his life.

The guards are well-armed, and Ezio isn't. Time to run for it. Everything that just happened? That was just the first chapter of the game, out of twelve. This game doesn't waste time getting down to the story.

Next thing we know, Ezio hides in a place he is no doubt already acquainted with: The Brothel.

The madam here is Inara Serra, who is interestingly inaccessible. While every other woman Ezio meets quickly succumb to his charm, she knows how to keep him at bay.

Ezio teams up with Leonardo Da Vinci, who invents some of the tools and weapons you utilize throughout the game. He's Ezio's best friend, essentially. In return, Ezio gives Leonardo the idea to put milk and sugar into coffee to make it more palatable.

Behold, the Bro Team-Up of the ages.

The first major objective of the game is to kill Uberto Alberti, and it's quickly accomplished. Despite how Uberto wronged him, Ezio still treats him with respect and says a prayer for him. Now Ezio needs to investigate the larger conspiracy that doomed his family, and this investigation will transpire over the rest of the game. I'll be summing up from here on.

This game consists of a lot of parkour on rooftops, assassinations, swordfights, and... shopping. Now and then you also need to escape from the guards, something that can be very difficult early on. As Ezio gets more powerful, this becomes easier, and after a while it becomes simpler (and more stylish) to just kill all of your pursuers rather than flee from them.

A good way to move around stealthily (and escape pursuers) is to hire a group of prostitutes Courtesans to accompany you as you walk around. That's all they do, walk with you. Grand Theft Auto, this ain't.

This may be a serious game, but it has some very humorous moments. For instance, when Ezio first meets his uncle Mario. It's-a him, indeed. Too bad none of these games could ever exist on a Nintendo system until very recently, and too late for most of them.

This is Villa Monteriggioni, owned by Mario. It essentially becomes Ezio's house at this point. It's a stormy locale. The house itself contains everything you have collected; any unused weapons or armor are actually stored in the showrooms. So for instance, you can walk in and see a wall with every sword you have acquired, mounted and on display. Words cannot describe just how cool this is.

The town around the house is a huge minigame of sorts, as you can spend money to renovate/build/improve the shops and other buildings and increase the value of the town. The more valuable it is, the more money it brings in taxes. Said taxes are your primary income in this game; it's generally a good idea to take the money and put it right back into the town. There are also a number of fun little quests to do inside the town, and they're particularly relaxing because it's the one entirely safe place in the game. This game has a number of RPG-like mechanics, and they are utilized very well.

Of course, I start by renovating the brothel. Littlefinger not included.

There's also a battle arena here, where you can spar with Mario to learn various combat arts. While Ezio acquires most of his moves through the main story, there are a few that can only be learned here. For instance, any special attacks involving axes or spears. Ezio doesn't have or equip either of these weapon types under normal circumstances, but he can disarm them from guards and temporarily use them that way. Stealing a weapon from a guard and then taking out he and his compadres with it is a great move.

Oh yeah, this game also has horses. They're a good way to get around quickly when you're out in the fields.

Ezio strikes a fearsome visage on horseback. If this game were any more fun to look at, it would be AJ Lee.

There are a lot of group versus group battles in this game, where you have a goon squad and battle a big group of foes. These are my favorite kind of battle. I'll let the two sides get locked in combat until they forget Ezio is even there, then sneak around quietly one-shotting each bad guy from behind.

Another fun way to take out enemies is to hang off of a wall, out of their sight. Once you're lined up, you can quickly reach over and take one out before they even know what's happening.

There are six "dungeons" in the game, and each one is an underground obstacle course that you have to figure out a path through. Only one of them is actually necessary to play through during the main story; the other five are entirely optional. You get a trophy (and one piece of Ezio's best armor set) for each of them, however. Thus, it behooves the player to stop and do these dungeons when they find one. You can just as easily ignore them, however, which is nice because they aren't easy to get through.

One of the nicest areas in the game is the shipyard. It doesn't have much significance other than being one way to travel between cities, but it sure is nice to look at.

Just for the heck of it, I climbed to the top of one of the ships to take in the view. Since Assassin's Creed 4 evidently takes place at sea, I'm guessing there will be a lot of this.

Midway through the game, you get a "road map" of sorts to the conspiracy and the people involved. Basically, the entire game revolves around finding and slaying each of these guys, one by one. At the center of it all is Rodrigo Borgia, who has designs on becoming Pope. Will he succeed? ...yes, he will. But not for long.

The closest this gets to being a "regular" game is one point where you have to get through a "rail level". You drive a carriage and enemy goons pursue. You can't exactly fight them off since you're driving, so you have to steer so crazily that they fall off. But not so crazily that the carriage tips, hurtling to your doom. It's a delicate balance.

If you like stormy scenery, this is the game for you. Unfortunately, it never rains. An inexplicable design choice. This game was practically made for pouring rain.

Back in the present, Desmond still has a weird neck. His cohort here is wearing the tightest clothes imaginable.

Back in the Animus... wait, what's this? There's an error, and Desmond leaps into Altair. This is roughly the halfway point of the game.

Altair's segment doesn't last long, and pretty much just consists of him climbing a tower.

Once he gets to the top of the tower, he finds...

...this lady named Maria, and they proceed to go for a roll in the hay (literally, this time). Who is this woman, and what does her wild fornicating with Altair have to do with anything?

Just like that, Desmond leaps back into Ezio, over a thousand years later. Gotta say, I much prefer the AC2 look to the AC1 look that we just got for a few minutes. AC1 is very bland and repetitive, so much so that when I played it a year and a half ago I had no desire to continue on to this game. Which is a shame because this one is a huge improvement, and almost without a doubt the best the series has to offer.

Test Leonardo's flying machine? I'm in.

This thing is AWESOME. It's basically a hang glider... nothing fancy. Still, being able to soar over a city you were previously restricted to by gravity is something else.

After testing the flying machine, there's a mission to undertake. It's a tricky one. You have to utilize bonfires to stay aloft until you reach your destination. Unfortunately, this is the only mission that you get to use the flying machine for. Unless you buy the DLC that lets you use it whenever. I didn't.

Ezio is a regular Firebrand with these wings.

The rooftop guards go ballistic as he flies by, sniping at him with arrows. They're little threat, and it's more comical than anything else.

Enjoy this mission while it lasts. Good stuff here, just when I thought the game had shown me all of its tricks.

The graphics of this game are often near-photorealistic, especially during cutscenes. This is the power of 1080p. Looking forward to seeing what the PS4 can do that is even better.

Ezio does more romancin', as this lady gives him a ticket for a boat that doesn't leave until tomorrow morning. He is truly Duncan Macleod.

Leonardo interrupts the proceedings, as he tends to do. Comedy gold!

Ezio is all "this better be good!"

The characterization in this game is good, but there could have been more of it.

After chapter 11, the game "skips over" chapters 12 and 13 to get to the final chapter, 14. The two missing chapters are summed up via a bunch of text. What is this, Xenogears Disc 2? Well, the two missing chapters are actually to give them something to make DLC of... and incidentally, the two DLC packs for the game are those two chapters. I wish Xenogears had later gotten DLC for some of the summed-up late-game stuff.

Missaglias armor is the best armor you can buy in this game, second only to Altair's armor...which is locked away, and you need to do five difficult side-dungeons to get it. Given how short and not-difficult the game is, there is very little reason to go for Altair's armor unless you're going for 100% completion.

As chapter 14 begins, you have to find any remaining Codex Pages that you haven't found in regular gameplay. There are 30 in total, and I only had 14 at this point. At first I was dreading what was sure to be yet another late-game quagmire along the lines of Wind Waker's Triforce hunt or Grand Theft Auto: Vice City's asset missions. Luckily, this isn't anywhere near as bad as those. I think it took me about an hour to get the remaining 16 Codex Pages. Since the game marks their locations on your map at this point, it's a simple matter of running to each one and fighting/assassinating/distracting the guardians.

This also gave me the opportunity to play around in the game some more without being ushered along by the story. Here we see the aftermath of Ezio battling some enemy soldiers on a rooftop. It looks like the aftermath of the battle of Wolf 359. And if you get that reference, kudos.

The best sword in the game is actually bought in a store. It isn't cheap, though. I made sure to get this before the final battle.

The final mission of the game is to assassinate the Pope. The Pope in question is Rodrigo Borgia, a false prophet who uses religion to manipulate people. He's also the mastermind behind the conspiracy to eliminate the assassins, and now his chickens will come home to roost.

The final area is Rome, and it's pretty much a nonstop battle sequence with Rodrigo's hired goons.

Eventually you reach The Vatican, and as you can't do any fighting therein, it becomes a stealth mission.

Pope Rodrigo is a bit of a badass, and has some supernatural powers.

Ezio offers some choice words in response, and the final battle is on. It's a good final battle, but slightly anticlimactic.

Afterwards, Ezio wanders through rune-filled tunnels under The Vatican that almost seem to be extraterrestrial in origin.

At the end of the tunnel, he finds...

...Minerva, a "goddess", in hologram form. She talks as if she's an extraterrestrial who helped create the creatures of Earth, making me wonder if Assassin's Creed has one thing in common with Prometheus.

There's a lot more to this ending, but I'll leave it for people who play it. This series is pretty deep and conspiracy-laden in a way that Metal Gear Solid wishes it were. And given that this game is 98% gameplay (compared to MGS4's roughly 20% gameplay), I enjoyed this a lot more. Like I said at the beginning, this is my favorite out of all the games I have played in this project. The award goes to 2009.

There is one thing about this game that I have an issue with: the DLC. I'm not really a fan of DLC because you can't recoup the money spent on it. I vastly prefer getting the ultimate/GOTY editions of things that have everything included. It's a bummer that I don't have the ultimate edition of AC2 (if one exists) because that's two chapters of the game that I won't be playing. I can't justify spending $9 that I won't get back when I resell the game, which is how much the two DLCs together would cost. This is also why I don't buy stuff on Steam, or download-buy games unless there is no other choice (Journey, etc).

On the other hand, if game companies make quality additions to a game after the game is already out, and want to charge a measily few dollars for it, more power to them. I'm not going to fault them for doing that just because I don't like it. If I had more money to throw around, then yeah, I wouldn't mind this at all. I'm not going to fault the makers of the game for my not being able to afford everything they add. I guess I just wish these additions existed as patches, or better yet, were included in the original game. But this is a whole other debate, one that I can see both sides of.



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4 comments:

  1. I got through a lot of this game (up to a little past the flying machine part) and really liked it. I had no idea about how they handled the DLC and think it is a clever thing if you are a money grubbing game company. But, think of the children, Ubisoft! They just wanna play the whole story not read it!

    If I'm not mistaken, Xenogears used text to cover a lot of story because they ran out of money, right? That's a totally different deal. I'm not sure what I think of DLC exactly. I think it should be really cheap I guess.

    If DLC were cheap or were free and somehow unlocked through the main game that would be cool. Or maybe if there were some other (not involving paying $$$) way to get your DLC it would work.

    I agree with you that I'd rather wait it out for a "Game Of The Year" edition of something rather than buy a game new. Because we all know that when a big game comes out it's gonna have hella DLC. If you wait a year you can (9 times out of 10) get all that DLC for the price you would've paid for the original, non "Game Of The Year" version. That's kind of a racket if you ask me...

    I'm glad the codex section of this game is not as frustrating and soul-crushing as Wind Waker's Tri Force collection part. You know that part of Wind Waker is why I can't bring myself to beat that game.

    I'm not sure what I think of Assasin's Creed's story. I feel like it is dangerously close to "Da Vinchi Code" territory. As much as I love anything that makes the pope evil and has you killing rich, fat old guys who control the world. This game's conspiracies and sci fi elements are a little bland to me. It's not like we haven't seen this game's story before.

    What makes Assasin's Creed games cool to me is their setting and the gameplay. The setting maybe even more so? The feeling of scaling buildings and running around renaissance Italy it pretty damn awesome. And it is a unique game experience for sure.

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  2. This is one of my favorite games. Thanks for the post. Definitely play Brotherhood and Revelations whenever you can to get the whole Ezio story. Nick is right, the story is very similar to Da Vinci Code, but the gameplay is great.

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  3. You play as Duncan? No wonder you love this game.

    All of your old equipment on display? Brilliant.

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  4. They teach you how to fight as a baby?! This has the looks of a classic, all right.
    I like your idea for a future AC to finally feature Desmond.
    Eagle Vision looks incredible..but then so does the normal stuff. Beautiful Florence!
    Weren't you gonna play this in Spanish? Ah well.
    This is my first time seeing Ezio, and he looks great.
    This town mechanic looks great, and it teaches you to be a good leader by using tax money wisely. Going with the brothel first seems..very wise.
    The Renaissance in game form is a big success. Thanks for the post, which was breezy and a great intro.

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