Review: Assassin's Creed 2

From an artistic standpoint, Assassin's Creed 2s architectural structures and the character models that fill them are incredibly well crafted. In my travels to 16th century (virtual) Italy I found the non-organic items were the most eye-catching, and at times they stopped me dead in my tracks so I could admire their beauty. The voice work is performed very naturally by the actors, helping the dialog along to its lofty goal of frequent but tolerable chatter.

The textures and overall graphical fidelity are some of the best this generation of gaming has to offer.

The scope and variation in gameplay is certainly impressive. Like any well made open-world game it allows you to control where you want to go at what pace you desire. AC2, in particular, really encourage you to wander off into its world very early on to collect Feathers in honor of your brother, perform assassinations for additional cash or even find treasure chests that are littered around the cities--it's a lot to take on. In fact, the extra offerings reach almost ludicrous proportions to the point where I would be hard pressed to find a game with more stuff to do (that wasnt developed by Bethesda).

This stuff is all well and good, and there are many reviews out there praising this incredible game from top to bottom. In the end, though, Assassin's Creed 2 has flaws that I feel are worth discussing by the gaming community.

Let’s start with the controls.

I don’t recall the last time I became so boiled over with frustration--and as many times as I did--with a video game's movement mechanic. The running-jumping-climbing automation has become a staple of the Assassin's Creed series and it's a lot of fun--when it works. I love how exhilarating Ubisoft has made the scaling of buildings and the traversing of rooftops—it’s like playing Need For Speed: 16th Century Rooftop Edition! It's fun right? But it's the protagonists (Ezio) inadvertent habit of haphazardly jumping in directions other than the one I point him in. I would usually end up shaking my fist in the air as it lead to my untimely death on the cobblestone streets below (or attracting the attention of unwanted guards who seem to be able to climb as well as I do while dressed in full armor!)

Also, there were more times than I care to remember where Ezio would be climbing up the side of a building and he would suddenly halt--hitting some kind of a virtual wall--when there was clearly a ledge within his grasp. No move, no matter how advanced, would force him to grab these ledges. Eventually I would most likely end up scolding him says "Get your ASS up there"! Yea yea, it's Irrational behavior I know.

Though the game now has an economy I feel that it's, unfortunately, broken. I'm not pretentious enough to consider myself to be any more skilled than your average hardcore gamer, so I don't think I was doing anything unusual here, but I was buying just about everything I wanted and whenever pleased! Whenever I entered a newly discovered city I was able to buy 90% of the items (paintings, weapons, armor) as soon as they became available. Other things were acquired, generally, within an hours time. This is probably due to the massive amounts of side-missions that are available with huge monetary rewards.

But I ask, shouldn’t those rewards have been considerated when items were being priced? I love the fact that all these items are available, but the rewards in particular were too great and too soon (or these powerful items were too cheap--you pick.) It made me realize how much I missed a well paced a game. Pacing that creates a feeling of anticipation for more powerful items. World of Warcraft does the “Carrot-on-a-stick” thing perfectly.

--Slight Spoilers Follow--

I remember when I first discovered I was going to be able to rule over this small town in this game. Oh man, I got very excited jus thinking of all the possibilities. Oh the possibilities people! In the end the ruling consisted of mostly trivial tasks and rewards. Yes there was a small benefit like discounted items in stores, but in the ended it's trivial at best. I really only utilized the perks once or twice because I ended up buying most of my items in other cities since it was more convenient. I felt like the player should be given the option to go even farther with the acquisition of the town.

Imagine if the effects of building and upgrading structures affected the mood of your population. How about funding some kind of annual festival to bring happiness and a sense of community to the town? Perhaps it could have just do something simple like reduce the crime/poverty rates. Though I realize that that's heading down a path of a sim--which is definitely not what AC is about—I think, if implemented casually, could increase the players interest in the town without over complicating things. Keeping it simple, you know? Add a few meters here and there to the already existing city overview UI.

When arriving back in the city after being gone for a few days I initially thought I would have the opportunity to make some important choices in regards politics. Perhaps I would have to determine what to do with someone who was caught stealing from someones home, or even settling a dispute amid two families that cause a new set of missions to open up. Heck, I though for certain I would have to deal with more personal issues like finding a suitable man for the younger sister (I mean, what happened with that story, right?)

--Slight spoilers end--

Despite what I've said here, I want to stress that I really enjoyed Assassin's Creed overall--quite a bit actually! I just don’t seem to adore it like most of the general gaming community and critics.

Yes, "driving" Ezio around the beautiful Italian cities is, at times, as relaxing as my favorite Sunday drive with my lovely wife. Up the California coast we go admiring the gorgeous landscapes, soaking up the sunset in my RX-7...but in this game it's with wobbly tires.

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