The assassin’s feet and hands are burn as he climbs a cathedral, closer to the hawk circling above. The creature’s call is an encouragement only he hears. So, the assassin pushes himself, his lithe agility caressed by the wingspan shadow. Finally, he arrives to the top, and beholds Florence. The Duomo sits fat and proud like a well fed noble. The rooftops shimmer with a fresh coating of rain, and ashen clouds overhead have not yet cleared. The world echoes up here, faint sounds of civilization pierced by the hawk’s cry. The assassin spreads his arms, springs off through the tips of his feet. His white robes rattle in combat with the air, and a mound of straw breaks his fall. He rolls to his feet, dry gold flaking from his shoulders as he blends into the crowd, never to be seen, and only later to be heard in the alarm bells announcing his target’s death.
Just another moment for Ezio, the hero of Ubisoft’s anticipated sequel: Assassin’s Creed II.
The game has shifted, changed a few things around this time. There is more emphasis on the dramatic as opposed to the systematic. The missions, the characters, the dialogue is engaging considering the last game was: listen to these dudes, pickpocket that guy, beat him up for his info, now go kill your target, and this just repeated over and over again. Connecting you to your target this time are a series of events and plot points that eventually lead you to their bloody end. Although there are familiar ways to complete missions that range from distractions to combat, the missions themselves are never the same.
Ubisoft delivers on all levels with this game. They bring new mechanics, straighten out some older ones, and present a hypnotic game to the audience. One of the big changes is this ancestor knows how to swim, so now when he crashes into water from seventeen stories up he does not start flailing around like a semi-retarded cat only to inevitably sink. The first thing I actually did in the game to lose an enemy, was dive off a bridge, and held my breath beneath a bunch of reeds until the coast was clear. There are many other new surprises, but I don’t want to spoil them all. Suffice it to say that many of the new moves are served to the player in a way resembling a five course meal. You don’t just get a pile of new tricks, rather you receive them in segments.
Honestly, to go over every single new dynamic of this game would spoil most of the fun in playing it. Think back to when you played the first game, you Assassin’s Creed fans out there! Jumping rooftop to rooftop, pouncing your targets with that hidden blade, taking your first leap of faith, the first kill, the mystery surrounding Abstergo – if you were like me and were totally into investigating the ever loving shit out of that – and everything in between. It was fun, it was exhilarating, and unlike Tenchu, it was a stealth assassin game that actually worked! The game did have some problems, but Ubisoft is hardly afraid of confronting these. They go back, they revisit what works, what doesn’t work, and go from there. What’s awesome about Assassin’s Creed II is that not only have they taken some of their smaller problems and improved upon them, but they have even brought some improvements to the table that I wasn’t even aware were problems in the first game. For example, this game has WAY more prostitutes than its predecessor.
And not only will they give you cover, but they can also lure guards away, granting you smooth sailing to whatever it was they were guarding in the first place. Usually, they are guarding glimmering chests containing “codex” pages, which you can bring to probably the coolest supporting character since this guy.
Leonardo DaVinci is your BFFF, the wind beneath your wings, the whiskers on kittens and raindrops on roses, and therefore one of your favorite things. MVP of this game goes to him, hands down. He modifies your weapons, he supports your endeavors, and he does it all with a big, happy smile on his face.
He is not the only Italian Renaissance celebrity to make an appearance. You go head-to-head with the Pazzi family and you come to the aid of the Medicis, and all of this on the canvases of Florence, Venice, Tuscany, and eventually Rome. The environments are stunning, and you see them in varying atmospheres. Sometimes, Ezio will be traveling across a rooftop’s tiles, ruby red on a perfect sunny day. Other circumstances will have him sprinting through puddles, escaping down an alley beneath dark rain clouds over head. Your shadow is longer at sunset, and at night you are a near shadow as you pull yourself out of moonlit Venice waters. The effect and scope of the game is breathtaking at times, from small moments like Ezio shrugging his cloak back into place as he walks, to larger moments standing under a firework lit sky at a Carnevale party. Which brings me to a difficult realm.
There is a pressing argument out there that video games cannot be considered art, be that cinematic or otherwise. Considering some of our games are in landfills, at the bottom of Gamestop wire frame bins, and even labeled notorious, this is not too surprising. A major argument against video games involve the interruptions of save points, and because the player is manipulating the game itself there is no total immersion such as when one is looking at a painting, or regarding a film. The other side of the argument is that video games can be seen as a new artistic medium.
That they provide a sense of escapism, which is often compared to art. That they can elicit an emotional response and connection from a player. I can see an example of this just looking back at my last post regarding my relationships in Dragon Age Origins. Both sides have their valid points, and I know where I stand (it should be obvious), but if this does generate any discussion I’d be more interested to see where others are on this. I know for a fact that some people I work with would take personal offense to someone saying what they do 40+ hours a week is not art, but I know others that would look at a video game – seriously? Pac-Man? – and wonder why we’d even waste our time with this debate.
To me, Assassin’s Creed II hits a sweet spot between these two arguments, with a heavier inclination to “art”. But, all of that tomfoolery aside, the game is worth checking out. If not for its beauty, then for the game-play, and if not for the game-play, you’ll still have a decent story to walk away with. The characters are interesting, the actual game play is smooth as silk, and the view is incredible. This one is not to be missed.
Score: 7 out of 10
Gameplay & Mechanics 2
Walking away with the first perfect score, Assassin’s Creed II is worth every penny. The improvements and the newest additions work well together, the environments are detailed and impossible to ignore. Gameplay is intuitive, easy to pick up, and functional. Story is engaging, and even if plot isn’t your thing, you’ll have a grand ole time on Ezio’s path of vengeance.
Stay tune for the dish inspired by the game!
Florentine Pasta Roses!