Death of a Salesman – Assassin’s Creed 2 Review

March 28, 2010 at 12:02 | Posted in dlc, DRM, games, platformer, review | Leave a comment

The renaissance was a time of marvel. New ideas were born and pursued, famous works of art and architecture were made and people thought that storing money in banks was a neat idea. It’s in this time period that Assassin’s Creed 2 takes place.

Players of the first game will remember that the first game gave us the tale of Desmond Miles, an inconspicuous bartender who suddenly finds himself kidnapped by the clandestine company by the name of Abstergo. With the help of a machine called the animus and a lot of science fiction Desmond gets to experience his ancestors memories first hand, in his case an assassin by the name of Altaïr.

In the second game he reenters the animus, this time to retrace the steps of another assassin forefather, Ezio Auditore. Early in the game Ezio’s family is accused of a crime they did not commit which leads to all male members to be executed except Ezio himself who manages to escape. The rest of the game follows how he tries to exact revenge upon those who framed his family with a few twists and turns along the way.

The story is very linear with only a few minor choices on the way. While the story manages to carry the game and lets you meet some interesting people, it’s not exactly the work of Shakespeare. The dialogue is pretty well written and spoken but expect a lot of Italian accents and lingo thrown in. If you want to understand everything they say and isn’t good at linguistics I’d recommend turning on subtitles, but for most the English dialogue will be enough.

Death from above

In regards of gameplay there are some differences when compared to the first game, but the gist of it is the same. Climbing and running is pretty much the same with only a few minor differences, but Ezio has access to many more tricks and gadgets than his forefather had. The pistol, poison and smoke bombs to name a few leaves you with more options to take out or evade your enemies. The hidden blade is still there and is still the most powerful tool in your arsenal.

Banks and money plays a major part of the game, if somewhat in the background. Ezio can buy ammo or new equipment with the florins he gains or use the money to refurbish the villa you gain access to early on in the game, but he can also put them to good use in the field. Throwing out a handful of coins on to the street causes passerbys to give you a welcome distraction for any guards nearby. If that isn’t enough the streets and rooftops hold certain groups who will follow you around and do your bidding for a bit of coin. Mercenaries will help you in a fight, thieves will follow you on rooftops and take care of guards for you and concubines are a great way to blend into the crowd or mesmerize some guards.

Money is gained through a variety of ways including taxes from your villa, missions and jobs, pickpocketing and treasure chests. Money quickly becomes a trouble of the past as the villa generates a ton of revenue every 20 minutes and the missions are fairly giving as well. But there’s still an urge to pick up treasure chests to get more even when there’s no direct need of the money. It gives you an incentive to take the time and find them when you hear the distinctive sound they give of when they’re near, and they provide great mini challenges. Several of them are guarded by a bunch of guards, and here is when the game shines as it leaves it up to you on how you wish to get past them.

You feel more in control of how aware the guards are of you in this second instalment of Assassin’s Creed. Social UI markers helps pointing out if they suspect or are about to you and the game is good at telling you when you’re in a restricted area. The streets feel more useful now as well as not only do you have groups for hire, but blending works in any crowd on the street, and not just a certain type of monks. I also had the feeling that there were more archers on the roofs and harder to travel on rooftops alone than previously, and for those of you who’d like to assassinate someone in a crowd and then meld away this is good news as it makes the streets more useful.

There are also a few isolated instances with more focus on sneaking around inside or platform puzzles. They’re very reminiscent of the older Prince of Persia games and there’s really a sense of roots in these parts. Unfortunately with them comes the sometimes awkwardly fixed camera angles that has plagued the aforementioned series in the past. They’re rather rare but when they do crop up they usually make it harder to appropriately gauge where to run or jump to next. Most times this will only be a minor irk but when you’re supposed to traverse a set course in a short timespan as part of the puzzle, getting knocked of the path you meant to go because of a quirky camera can be rather frustrating.

Assassin in the machine

Graphics wise it’s not much of a difference from the first game. What looked great back then is, while not bad, mediocre now. The graphics are passable and suits the game, but you will rarely sit in awe of the great vista you just viewed. Popping of textures is also rather frequent, but on the upside the game runs very smooth performance wise. As always with the team behind the Prince of Persia games, the animations are next to spectacular and very fluid, even if most of us are used to them from the first game.

There are a few technical hiccups on the PC though. One thing that you must know before buying this for the PC is that the DRM for this game requires you to be online at all times for the game to work. That means without internet, there’s no game. Ubisoft has taken a lot of flak for this system and it did indeed not work properly on their end the first couple of days resulting in unplayable games and lost progress. The problems seems to have been fixed for now, but it still remains an issue.

I’d love to see some more customization options for the controls, such as having more than one key or mouse button mapped for a certain action, but in all the controls works pretty well. The game is bigger in scope but it also has it’s fair share of glitches. This is usually found when climbing and jumping in ways the developers didn’t have in mind but usually it doesn’t affect the gameplay more than you wondering what just happened. Only once did I find an almost game breaking bug and I was able to circumvent after a bit of fiddling with the controls. When having the scale of the game in mind it is a very smooth experience in many ways.

DLC

I was fortunate enough to get the two DLC packs that recently came out at no extra cost. This included the Battle of Forli and Bonfire of the Vanities. These play out as ordinary memory sequences and are inserted seamlessly into the game if you have them installed when reaching that point. Seeing how they’re optional content for many and a factor of money is involved I feel it’s necessary to mention them separate from the main game.

Both of the sequences takes place rather late in the game beginning with Battle of Forli. An old friend and acquaintance is in need of aid and fortunately you’re there to assist. A lot of it focuses on larger scale battles, which in the case of Assassin’s Creed 2 boils down to a lot of people standing in a heap and fighting each other. It works well enough, but you rarely get a sense of a siege other than in the cutscenes. Overall it’s nothing we haven’t really seen before, but it matches the quality of the rest of the game. The sequence takes about an hour or two to complete with no distinct rewards. As a bonus you get to know how Ezio got his beard near the end of the game, fills a few other gaps in the story and leaves you of with a cliffhanger for the next DLC.

Bonfire of the Vanities takes you back to the starting city of Firenze (Florence) after having been robbed of a precious item. To regain it you must first carry out 9 assassinations around the city before being able to get close to the robber. These are usually just slightly more detailed versions of the optional assassination quests you get to take elsewhere with a bit more voice acting. It is however the most glitchy and frustrating part of the game in my experience. More than once was I unable to evade the guards after having carrying out the assassination that the mission required.

Even after having run halfway across the city without any guards spotting me and used pretty much all the tricks in the arsenal did they manage to find me. In the end I had to kill a certain specific guards (who looked just like the rest) and then run away again before they left me alone. This part also has some of the more frustrating missions where a lot of trial and error was involved to complete successfully. The rewards is unlocking the whole city of Florence as well as a cheesy speech at the end of the sequence.

As for if they’re worth buying or not it will be up to how much you enjoyed the rest of the game before that. Battle of Forli keeps up the good quality of the game, and if you think the price tag is worth the one or two hours extra enjoyment I’d recommend buying it. As for Bonfire of the Vanities I would only recommend for those who truly wishes to experience every detail and aspect of the story to purchase this DLC as the polish and standard is sub par to the rest of the game.

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