Monday, December 21, 2009

Assassin's Creed 2 first impressions

Having finished the first Assassin's Creed I turned to the sequel, was it going to be as slow and repetitive? Short answer - no. It seems Ubisoft have taken the negative criticisms to heart and produced a game I'm playing not just to find out what happens, but because it's fun to play.

To recap the first game you play Desmond 15 minutes in the future who has been kidnapped and forced to relive memories of an Assassin ancestor based in the the Holy Land during the Crusades of Richard the Lionheart. Having been stripped of your rank by your pride you have to prove yourself to your master in a series of high-profile assassinations. However things aren't all they seem.

In the sequel you're rescued and asked to relive the memories of an Italian noble during the Renaissance. Same premise in that you start with little and gain over time - it's a good explanation for the standard game mechanic.

For the most part the games are the same, you travel between cities, jump around the rooftops and perform tasks for people, but it's so much better than the first.

The first difference of note is the mini-map. Previously this was an amorphous grey blob that gave directions to your next target so you could orientate yourself, but was useless in the fine details. That's changed now the map clearly shows buildings and streets, sounds minor but it makes a big difference in not having to break out the main map every so often just to find out where you are. Next difference is that guards show up on the map too as little red dots. Again a big difference in that for once you can plan your moves ahead. Finally the map understands the vertical direction. guards or objectives on the same plane as yourself are opaque, if not they become semi-transparent. So no more wandering around trying to find where that objective is or dropping from a roof onto a guard.

Next up for a change is guard awareness. Previously an indicator in the top left corner changed from white, flashing yellow, flashing red, red depending on if you're being watched, or chased. Not that good if you're hanging off the side of a tower and it starts flashing red. Which way do you turn, where's the guard?

Likewise for an assassin you're pretty well known, start moving at anything above a light jog and you'll attract the guards' attentions worse yet simply bump into someone or knock their burden to the ground and any guards present will try to kill you - harsh punishment. That's been totally revamped for the sequel.

You now have a notoriety level for each area, if you have zero then you can walk, run or skip past the guards without attracting any attention. Knock someone over and instead of drawing swords the guards will come over to tell you off and push you around a bit. However if you are notorious you have to be more careful. Avoiding the guards is made easier in that any guard that notices you is shown by an arrow over their head, off-screen the arrow moves to the nearest side of the screen. It starts filling up yellow, then fills up red, on full red they give chase. The more notorious you are the quicker it fills and the slower it subsides. It really works well.

Of course you could always blend to hide. Blending in the first game was painful - head down hands clasped you trudged along at a snail's pace; in the sequel you'll learn to blend with crowds. Spot four or more people in a group and stand in their 'aura' and you'll be hidden, do so with a moving group and you can slip past guards. Of course such groups have fixed patterns, what if you want to go somewhere they aren't?

Well for that you can hire courtesans. They'll not only form a group that you direct the motion of but can be sent off to distract guards pulling them from their posts and allowing you to slip past. You can also hire thieves that the guards will chase, or mercenaries that will attack whoever you put to (keeping your hands clean).

Off course that takes money something the previous game didn't bother with. Money is important not only to hire these groups, but you can scatter some in the street to create a diversion. If you don't want to waste it you can buy armour, weapons, knife belts or even medicine. Yep instead of having the ultra-healing gene every game character seems to be born with today you have to rely on old-fashioned doctors and herbs; and possibly leeches; but not all money spent is about you.

At a later point you meet your uncle (and you will laugh at his greeting) and his run down city/fort. Spend money renovating the buildings, buying paintings and the estate will generate an income you can collect. A nice sideline and profitable in that your own stores will give you a discount on goods.

Two more quick changes - you can swim and at times it's necessary for you to do so, and you can visit a quick travel booth to jump between cities instead of riding all the way.

Okay all good, but what about the missions? Well they stay very similar, rather than Interrogation you get to beat-up adulterous husbands, instead of flag chasing Informer missions you get checkpoint races, courier missions and separate assassination tasks. These could have gotten repetitive, but they don't. You have to find your targets, sometimes follow them, sometimes kill them without notice, sometimes just jump them. Sometimes it's just one target, sometimes it's more than one sometimes they're all in the same place. The fun comes in dealing with them - hire courtesans to lure away the guards slip in and stab time? Hire mercanaries to attack them for you while separately giving chase to the fleeing target. It's fun!

And finally I come to collectables. I complained about the 400+ items in the first game, which may seem odd given the 1001 orbs in Prince of Persia, but the point was that you wanted to collect the orbs and needed to collect at least some; the flags in Assassin's Creed did nothing; that's now changed.

Treasure boxes litter the landscape and give you money, can't find them all don't worry you can buy maps from the Art Dealers. Find all 100 feathers, they each give a small reward and plot-wise you want to find them [no spoilers here]. Codex pages are shown on the map and give various rewards as well as one big one if you collect them all, and finally are the Glyphs; ah the Glyphs.

Inserted into the programme by Subject 16 (you being Subject 17) scan these and you're presented with a little puzzle to solve to get to The Truth and a fragment of a video/memory clip. These are really fun - pick the classic paintings that share similarities, scan a photo for the incongruous item, turn a picture wheel to align the image, use a code wheel to solve the puzzle. So far they haven't been hard, but are diverting a nice change of pace. However the Ford code wheel had me tearing my hair out with the hint from outside simply telling me something I'd already worked out (step 2) when I was stuck on step 1. For those in a similar position a better hint would be "There's more than one number on the page".

Oh one last note - damn the trophies are easy! "Be born" a task that involves you pressing each face button when prompted give you a Bronze. Likewise you can pick up a Silver simply for following the plot. I've gone from 488 (2, 15, 64, 407) trophies to 513 (2, 15, 72, 424) just for this game without difficulty or really trying.

Anyway well done to Ubisoft for a great sequel and listening to your customers.


Orphi said...

I just bought this for somebody as a Christmas present. Nice to know it's a good game. ;-)

FlipC said...

Like so many games with a number at the end it's better if you've played the lower numbered versions. However you get a quick recap of events and a tutorial so it's not necessary if they haven't already got it.

I would say though if they didn't have AC1, play AC2 and think they might want to, talk them out of it. The lack of things they would take for granted would lead to large amounts of frustration.