Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Review - Assassin's Creed 2 - Initial Reactions

The following is my review of the game after my first 3 hours of gameplay (noting that with my play style, those three hours barely took me to a point where I had a weapon…which is promising in terms of game duration/depth). While I try to keep them to a minimum, this review will also contain a few small spoilers (most of which you'll already be aware of if you've followed reviews/previews to this point)


OK…so I picked the game up on my way home from work last night. I still had responsibilities that kept me from playing until about 8:30. Before digging into gameplay I ran the "bonus level" codes to make sure they were unlocked from the onset (since it sounds like you can encounter them in standard gameplay through the story). Then it was time to begin.

I'd read the various preview articles about the opening sequences, so there was no big shock/story value there for me. I liked controlling Desmond and being able to run, jump and punch with him. I was sad to see that those controls disappeared once he got into 'animus proximity' again (I really would prefer to run or at least jog around the animus room rather than having to casually stroll). Still, it was nice. I like the character animations and details with the exception of Lucy's mouth which really bugs me for some reason.

Even though I'd read the previews, it was a little strange to literally play as "baby" Ezio. It definitely wasn't what I expected. When the previews said you start as a baby and worked through his youth, I figured the baby would be a cut scene and then I'd wander around as a 5-6 year old throwing rocks or chasing cats or something. The way it played it was strange. Not bad, just different.

It took me a minute to get back into the combat system but it quickly felt natural again. I enjoyed the story presentation of the street brawl followed by banter with his brother. The "romantic mini-game" with Christina was a little out there but it helped characterize Ezio and give a feel for his attitude and mannerisms, so I'll go with it. It made him feel more human…and it wasn't presented in a vulgar or over-the-top way.

My standard method of play is rather completionist so even though I played for ~3 hours, I didn't progress much through the story. Instead, I got a good feel for the controls and the current limitations (starting with no weapons/gear, etc) as well as the general layout of the city and what to look for. I like the ability to pickpocket most NPCs for money as well as to loot various chests around the city.

So far I've progressed far enough to purchase a pair of leather bracers so I'm not sure of the extent of the economic system, but I look forward to using it. There are also "doctors" around town that can heal you up as well as sell you medicine packs you can use for a quick heal on the road. This is a nice new feature that saves you from those annoying "resynchronization" periods where you're forced to reload and replay an entire scene that you were just about to beat.

The initial missions are presented in a straightforward manner but each unlocks a new type of side-mission. I'm sure I'll miss some of them, but so far I've unlocked "courier" missions, "race" missions and "fight" missions. They're fairly similar in style to the missions from AC1 but the presentation value is greatly enhanced and feels much more immersive.

I did jump into the water once and it felt good not to immediately drown. Swimming was a bit odd, especially since I didn't have anywhere to go, but I look forward to feeling out this new feature.

When Ezio's family is arrested, I did miss a "mini-game" button press when walking in the door (I suspect if I'd pressed the button, I would have dodged the 'attack'). I had thought I was going into a cut scene and so had set the controller down to grab a drink. I guess I'll have to make sure to pay attention all the time since they're likely going to try and keep the story as interactive as possible.

Upon retrieving Giovanni's gear, I was fairly certain where the story arc was headed, so the traitor wasn't a big surprise. Although I'm not sure why Ezio wasn't hunted down during the night or prior to the execution…it seemed a little inconsistent.

After the execution, it was intense to race through the city to escape the guards and having them chase me much more intently than in AC1. In AC1, I could usually just make to the rooftops and put some distance between us. Here, I couldn't do that as they were hot on my heels. I also liked the fact that I couldn't just run around the corner to break line of sight and then hide in the hay…the guards have a sort of "proximity monitor" based on your last sited position and they'll poke into any hiding spots within that proximity.

I haven't yet retrieved my hidden blades or other weapons, but swordplay felt fluid and natural. The combat system is nice and, so far, doesn't feel like it's going to get repetitive (especially with the promise of new weapons and of disarming and using weapons from the enemy).

Overall I've really enjoyed the first few hours of gameplay. The story is looking to be very immersive. The world is vibrant, detailed and gorgeous. The side-missions and other tasks are fun enough that this game has a lot of core depth as well as plenty of peripheral tasks to keep me occupied for a while.

My only regret in purchasing the game is that I still have a big fat paper to write for school…and I've suddenly lost a bit of the motivation to finish it. Still, I'll (hopefully) spend some time tonight and finish up the paper so as to free up time for entertaining diversions. ;)

Definitely recommended.

5 out of 5 stars

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