Assassin's Creed Reader Review
I made no secret that Assassin's Creed, the original, is a game I love and hate in equal measure. It was a beautiful game, with a plot that blended science fiction with some great historical stabbing. But it was clunky, unrefined, and at times barely playable.
That said, it was the perfect sort of game to get a sequel and, to my delight, AC2 is something of a gem - taking what was great about the original and making it better, whilst ditching everything that was awful about it.
We're still taking the modern-day role of Desmond, a barman and ex-assassin whose bloodlne descends from a raft of very accomplished assassins. Upon a quick exit from the previous Animus, he finds himself strapped into a new Animus - run by a motley collection of people desperate to stop the Templars and their insidious plans. This time, the Animus is forcing him to relive the memories and experiences of a one Ezio Auditore in Renaissance Italy.
The game itself has never been better. There are plenty of distractions and side-missions but they pale into the content of the game proper - a balance that the original found difficult to straddle in the end. Taking Ezio across Italy, the landscapes and buildings are a free-running joy, mind-meltingly brilliant methods of getting from A to B, whether you prefer to mingle into the crowd or hop around the rooftops, or just stay in between both - make no mistake, the platforming in this game is top-notch. It's better, dare I say it, than Prince of Persia ever managed.
The main character of the memories, Ezio, actually feels like a person. He's been betrayed (No change there then...) and takes up his fathers mantle and turns to assassination to exact his vengeance, by killing a list of people and then taking on Bill himself... umm... sorry. It gets confusing when two plots are so similar, but hey, if it ain't broke you don't fix it, right? Ezio is human though, and he's a dirty little bugger at times. He has weaknesses, but it's his determination to see his new task to the end that endears him - for all his faults, he knows he's doing the right thing, even though technically that means he has to do all the wrong things. This isn't the Crusades now, killing people is a little more complicated.
That's where Leonardo da'Vinci comes in. To decode the pages of The Codex and provide Ezio with more fun ways of killing people. From the trusty staple of the hidden blades through to the Hummingbird Cannon (which is perhaps the most fun little gadget I've played with ever!), and to THAT moment over the rooftops of Venice, Leonardo is seen as a willing-to-please sort, whose intellect does sometimes seem to cloud his mind that he's actually assisting in the murder of other people...
The plot is tight. Very tight. There was never a moment where I felt bored, and when things did get challenging (and they do) it's a facepalm moment when you look around and work out what it is you were supposed to do. It's the sign of a great game when you blame yourself for your mistakes and not the game itself, which is so forgiving at times when you really cock it up, it is actually your fault. Whatever rooftops you climb over, whatever streets you stalk, there is a sense that everything is happening for a reason - even when it cuts back to Desmond, you feel like there has been real progress. A real change.
There are so many little things to do as well - it is a shame, perhaps, that the Assassin's Tombs were not more of a challenge, but still, they are a lot of fun. The Truth, a series of encoded files buried deep inside the Animus program by the subect formerly known as Subject 16, are great little distractions. Tiny little puzzles that piece together, like something from a Dan Brown novel - just making a trillion times more sense in the end (You know it's true!).
Indeed, mentioning Dan Brown, at the start it is hard to shake off those influences. They are still there, buried in the game, but they're such a minor and tiny bitching point for the most that really, I'm not one to begrudge the developers a little indulgence of trashy fiction - especially when they've put together a game that feels like this.
The downsides are simply that at times, the game does feel a little simple. It does still feel rather basic, which is probably a fault amplified by the excellent controls and beautiful free-running system. The Bards are basically to AC2 what the Beggar Women were in AC - however, a quick barge into them when no-one is looking will see them running away, meaning you can walk around without being pestered to the point of wanting to stab everyone in your vicinity. And whilst the plot is fun - there are moments towards the end when someone really shouldn't have been reading The Da'Vinci Code. Seriously. I'll indulge you a little, but that crap wasn't on.
There's also the Villa, which can be upgraded, but I felt a little cheated by this because as fun as it is, there's very little depth to the Villa. It essentially acts as the games hub, and brings in money endlessly, meaning that whilst you can enjoy earning it by assassination contracts and races... if you don't want those distractions, you're never left wanting for cash. It's a beautiful area, with a great concept, but it's still lacking. But of course, I said this about the whole of AC1, and they built on it all for AC2... so by token, this should be amazing in AC3, right?!
But it's really nitpicking. I said the original Assassin's Creed was like modern art - it gets you thinking, but sometimes a dirty bog seat is a dirty bog seat, y'know? And that when all was said and done, it was a great concept and story mired in sub-standard gameplay and controls. Assassin's Creed 2 is a fantasic leap beyond that - in comparison, this is art. This is a Leonardo da'Vinci masterpiece, full of life and thought and meaning.
This is how to take what is good about a very average starting point, and make a mind-blowing sequel. Assassin's Creed 2 had me hooked, and it's softened the hate I felt for its origins. A great concept has been made into a great game - and this is where I start to feel excited at what there is still to come from this new franchise.
The only sad thing is that I am now very worried I might actually enjoy a Dan Brown novel... if I ever do, please could someone do an Ezio on me?