Waxing Lyrical: Assassin’s Creed II

A thing of beauty

Once upon a time I played Assassin’s Creed.  It was good.  It was very good, but there were many things wrong with it.  Don’t misinterpret me here, there are always many things wrong with games but Assassin’s Creed had some absolute killers going on.  In fact, the controls were so bad in some aspects, as was the fighting, that I never finished the game.  Yep, that’s correct, I never finished it so I have no idea what happens at the end (and never will because the game was loaned to me).  The furthest I got was fighting a load of Templars in a circle right near the end of the game.  The fighting dynamics and controls for it were so hammy that I had to quit because of the pain in my hands.  The tasks were repetitive (anyone else remember the constant pickpocketing and saving of citizens who seemed to have a vocabulary solely limited to “Please, won’t someone help me?”)  The assassinations themselves didn’t always work properly, and the cut scenes?  Hell, the cut scenes were so boring I would make Altair spin in circles on the spot just to pass the time.  Also, don’t get me wrong over another element: Assassin’s Creed was a thing of beauty.  It was the first game I had seen which worked in quite the same way – you climb high buildings simply to look around at the stunning scenery.  It was a thing of beauty.

But Assassin’s Creed II?  It is a thing of epic beauty.

Epic beauty guaranteed

You play Ezio Auditore who finds out, almost by accident, that he’s part of this elite group of Assassins.  That’s what I call a good day at the office.  As per the original Assassin’s Creed he has to assassinate a number of other people before he gets to his big prize at the end.  I won’t spoil it for you, but the person he takes out at the end is pretty important.  There are all sorts of other things he can do, he doesn’t just have to mercilessly kill.

I’m going to get the bad things about it out of the way first.

1) Sometimes the controls for climbing suck.  You can be merrily climbing up a wall at great speed and suddenly Ezio will stop.  If you’re lucky then it’s not at an important moment and you won’t be brought back down to earth with a thump because guards are throwing rocks at you.  Or you can be going up a building but you’ve moved the controller stick half a millimeter in one direction and he throws himself off the building to certain death.  Yeah, all that sucks a bit.

2) Most of the missions are optional, but those that aren’t really can suck.  There’s a part in Venice during the Carnivale when you have to complete four games.  One of those is a capture the flag.  The comments above about the controls and climbing are relevant here.

3) Glyphs.  They are optional, like a lot things in this game but worth doing if you want the gamerscore points.  They are puzzles.  I don’t really do puzzles.  They’re okay if you like that kind of thing which I think a lot of gamers do, but they can be rather frustrating.

4) While the Assassin’s Tombs are also optional, they’re worth doing if you want gamerscore points and the armour of Altair.  They are also the biggest bitch in the game.  They are puzzles.  You end up in a building, you’re shown a cut scene which gives you, in effect, directions for how to get there.  You’re only shown this once so you have to remember.  It requires a lot of climbing and a lot of accurate jumping.  There’s one particular tomb that made me want to cry.  It involved a lot of water and a strict time limit, oh yes it’s the tomb in Santa Maria Delle Visitazione.  If you’re having trouble with any of the tombs then take a gander at the videos by the YouTube user zwoooooosh – they are especially helpful if you can’t remember where to go or keep failing at certain points.

And now the good.

1) Geez, this thing is so pretty.  It kind of helped that we got an HD TV (a proper one) shortly after we got the game.  The towns are huge and I mean huge, especially Venice.

Venetian Guard's "WTF face?!"

2) Killing works properly.  You can accurately execute an airborne assassination – just get above your intended victim, lock on to them and press X while Ezio does the rest for you.  You can even do double assassinations which are helpful if you have a pair of guards.  It also seems to happen if you’re in a group of enemies.  You can properly assassinate people while hanging below them which is most helpful over water or if you don’t wish to be detected.

Hydrophobia no more!

3) Water does not kill you.  Yes, you read that right: you can now jump into water and you will not die.  Remember those times when you accidentally (because of the sucky-sucky control system) fell in to the rivers in the middle east in Assassin’s Creed I?  When you were just out to get all of those flags, some of which were on posts in the rivers, and you fell off into the water?  Death was instantaneous, and infuriating.  No longer!  You can swim, hell you can even gracefully dive into the rivers.

I score him a perfect 10

4) You can hire prostitutes.  Yep, you see in this game you get money so that you can buy weapons, armour, upgrades to weapons and armour.  You can also hire prostitutes, mercenaries and thieves to allow you to get on with your dirty deeds without being caught by guards that are hanging around.  The mercenaries will fight with guards, the thieves will run all over the place being chased (they’ll even climb buildings if you need them to) and the hos will wiggle their arses at the guards.

5) The cut scenes are so much better.  They aren’t just one old guy in a cassock talking to you while you spin around on the spot.  Instead they are proper cinematic scenes done with the in-game engine (as you’ll tell by the fact that Ezio is always wearing the right clothing with the correct weapons when you watch them).  They add a much better element to the game than the cut scenes in the original.

6) You’ve got a little gay friend.  His name is Leonardo Da Vinci, and there’s a bit of gay innuendo in some of the things that he says, but sometimes he’s pretty entertaining.  The rest of the time he’s pretty annoying.  He does however have the flying machine for you to use.  Whatever you do, do not copy me when you get your first go.  I faceplanted his flying machine into the roof of the next building along after take off.  It was spectacular, in the same way that my xbox gaming is spectacularly bad.  How ever I got to a gamerscore of almost 10,000 is beyond me.

7) There are no mentals and drunks!  Well, actually, I’m not entirely sure.  I’ve seen a few people sat around with bottles so I think that there might be a few drunks but they don’t behave like the drunks or mentals in the original game.  The mentals, even if you were keeping a low profile, you come along and thump you.  This gave you away to guards and could completely ruin what you were doing.  You could kill them and it wouldn’t really have any consequences unless you were seen.  In Ass Creed II you can’t kill civilians (well you can, but if you kill three then you desynchronise), but you don’t need to worry about that as there are no lunatics taking over the asylum.

8 ) For a short bit of gameplay you become Altair again.  Yep, I believe you’re taken back to Acre (maybe, my memory is hazy) for a short, but rather odd, bit where Desmond is hallucinating.  Climb to the top of a tower, things go down, and shortly there after you’re back in the room.  I think Desmond says WTF? at this point, and I don’t blame him.  For all of the things that were wrong with Ass Creed I, it’s nice to drop back into it with the scenery and music.

9) It’s just waiting to be made into an epic movie.  I say that because this game is so polished and cinematic.  I know that other game to movie converts have sucked (ever seen Doom?  Oh geez, I still want those two hours of my life back.) but I think this one could win.  Keanu Reeves would make a perfect Altair, Ezio and whomever else comes along.  They never say much, so it’s perfect for Reeves.  Hell, they could probably do it in game and no-one would realise it wasn’t real.  The physics and graphics engines for this game work so well together.  It all looks so good, dare I say so real?

10) The music.  If you thought that the music in Ass Creed I was good (as I did) then the music in this is better.  This time it’s done with a proper orchestra instead of entirely synthesised.  It’s still done by Jesper Kyd, but it’s still damn good.  I recommend you download it from Amazon.  I hope for big things for Mr. Kyd.

I can’t wait for the third (and probably final) installation of The Creed.  I hope it’s just as good as the second.  This thing is so beautiful it deserves to go down in history.

Come Josephine in my flying machine