Sunday, 19 June 2011

No I won't see The End: Assassin's Creed II (Review)

So today I did something I've been meaning to do for a while. I got Steam working again. After a nasty bout of disagreement with my sound card, Steam decided to stop locking up my computer and let me play my games. I played Audiosurf for a while, then looked through my backlog to see what I should start next. I went to install F.E.A.R. and saw it was a large install, so I should free up some space. Clicking through my games, I decided what I wanted to keep installed cause I may play soon, and what I could do without.

And then, while F.E.A.R. began to download, I uninstalled Assassin's Creed II just for the hell of it.

Don't worry, I wasted less time with that story than this game would.

At least the title font is... readable.

The first game, I liked. Maybe it was because I was one of those people who waited till it became budget price and picked it up, or maybe it was because I still had far too much free time. (As opposed to just an annoying amount of free time.) And in terms of price point, for the ~20 dollars I paid for the Steam copy of ACII, I'm certainly not disappointed with what I got from it. I played about 15 hours and got through maybe a quarter of the storyline.

However I'm bored. Also the fanboys are annoying me. Let's deal with these one at a time.

First off, there's nothing objectively bad with ACII. The gameplay is very solid, making combat very smooth and somewhat exciting. The finishers are very slick, combining force and finesse quite well. The running is better than the first game, and you can actually jump more accurately between surfaces than in the first game. It's more like playing Prince of Persia than Prince of Persia.

Could I make this at all more clear?

And it's also nice that you can pick up enemy weapons and use them, now. It can be pretty badass to take a spear and impale a guy on it while you're fighting the four hundredth guard in the city.

I think that's one thing that sorta makes me wonder. I swear, 15 hours into this game and I think I've killed more people than in all of the Matrix movies combined. Well, minus that whole robot holocaust thing. So all the deaths onscreen. What's weird is that I can't really remember any of them being different. Or really what happened in any of them. I know what the finishers look like, but I can't really remember specific scenarios. Or those that I can, it's because I did the exact same thing over and over again.

Here's an example. There's guards in front of a bank housing a codex page. Three guards. I'm on a perch over top. I jump down, taking out two with the jump kill. As I get up, the third guy starts getting all worked up like I just did something unusual and alarming, and I promptly gut-stab him too. A job well done.

I think I did this on like ten seperate occasions. At some point you think the guards would put out a memo saying "Look UP occasionally." And it's not like I'm that fast either. I've stood over top groups of guards for several minutes and they never look up.

I dunno if I'm just weird, but I look up a fair amount in my daily life. And I spend most of that in front of a computer. I swear, I'm more aware of what exactly is above me than 95% of the mooks in video games. And it's not just cause I'm afraid of spiders.

I looked up "spider on ceiling" on Google Image and now regret it. Instead, have this picture of one of my coworkers.

Honestly the AI is a lot better than in the previous game, but it all still feels kinda hollow. There's so many guards and they never change their tactics. And they still have this sorta weird obsession of attacking one at a time.

Hollow is actually a good way to describe the whole thing. Like, ACII was worth 20 dollars, but... it's just not as good as a lot of fans say. Frankly nothing in the game is particularily memorable. Even the assassinations have little buildup (at least as early in the game as I was) and are over quickly. And it's still easier to run and tackle-kill the guy than sneak up.

It's sort of a problem of a current trend in game design. There's far too much emphasis in moment-to-moment entertainment. It's often a problem is large AAA games, where they developers put too much of an emphasis on providing a good product, as opposed to a good experience. Which would you rather have: Play through a game with high and low points, that climaxes at amazing plot twists and events but is not afraid to get mellow and almost boring; or play a game that is essentially the exact same slightly entertainment from moment to moment, ad nauseum for 40 hours? Apparently a lot of people choose the latter, but I'm a strong believer of the former.

The problem with designing games in this long way is that the games become easily replaceable. And much more easily fall out of the public mind. If you want to create a lasting experience, that actually-

Oh god damn it, America.

-okay so obviously nobody except me really cares about this whole "experience thing" and just wants some fun. Fine, you can have your fun, and it's certainly worth some brainless fun if that's what you wa-


I guess this is the point where people say "but the story is so interesting, and so deep!" I'm pretty sure at this point you don't need me to facepalm in response because you probably already know I'm pretentious enough to find fault with AC's story.

Look, guys.... It's not that complex. It's incredibly obfuscated and hard to follow, but that's not because it's complex. Here, let me summarize the story from what I've played so far. I'd say "spoiler alert" but you really shouldn't care.

Altair's Story: Oh noes the Assassins turned out to be corrupt! I shall make a new order that isn't corrupt which will still be called the Assassins.

Ezio: The Assassins are good guys and oppose the templars. They are really old and my ancestor was involved! Path of lineage dictates I must stop a templar threat! Oh noes templars attacked and killed the men of my family! I must fight Templars!
Asshole in modern day/future (Desmond): Hurrdurr I never read even the slightest bit of genre fiction or watched indiana jones, so I don't know what templars or assassins are, and I'm utterly shocked that all this shit is going down but at the same time shall never move my face muscles more than a centimeter.

It's funny how Altair is all about making this honourable order after he discovers the corruption, then Ezio pretty much does whatever. Like, you can accept missions that pigeons will give you, to go beat up people who cheat on their wives or whatever. Okay, I'm sorry, but like, are pigeons just a commodity that only good people can use? Do they just sorta shrivel up and die when they smell evil, like the ones they used in mines?

Also come on, this is hardly an amazing plot. Ezio's story is really nothing more than a period soap opera, and about as convincing. It's really hard to feel for any of these characters when their facial animations are frankly just horrid.

Except for Ezio, who I will admit is definitely crush tier.

And most annoying is the fact that they keep treating old news like something revelatory. At the end of the first game it's revealed that the Pieces of Eden have god-given powers and that they're really old and have travelled between powerful hands throughout history, giving generals and leaders power.

In ACII, they pretty much tell us this over and over. Hey guys, oh my god, the Pieces of Eden are magic? What if... they're from god?! Oh wow, look, that saint had a PoE. Oh, so did that general. And that king, he had a PoE. And that emperor. And that captain. Everyone has PoE. And now I feel like I'm talking about Puzzle Pirates.

These are dubloons. I'll let you figure out the pun that involves the other form of currency.

And honestly, there's very little "conspiracy" going on. At least where I'm playing, it's very obvious who is a Templar and who is an Assassin. If they're an asshole, they're a Templar. If they're a playful scamp or honorable, they're an Assassin.

No, if you want to go play a game with a really good Templar vs Assassin story, that keeps you on your toes and actually has intrigue, go check out Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars. It recently got a great director's cut release on Wii and DS. Go get it. Now!

All in all, I just find ACII really lost it's flavour. It's just so boring now. It was fun for a while, but it doesn't leave any really strong memories. I've played 5-hour games that were more memorable. (Cough Portal cough.) And frankly, the series is just getting silly.

Look when I first started playing the series, they said trilogy. Okay. AC, ACII, ACIII, no problem. Now though, ACII is itself a trilogy? Why do we need this many games? I doubt the ending could truly surprise anyone. At this point it's painfully obvious that there's three possible culprits: 1) God did it. 2) Aliens did it. 3) Time travel.

And if it is time travel, I want there to be two more games, with even more weird titling than Brotherhood being a sequel to ACII. Let's call one of them Assassin's Space Creed, and then Assassin's Space Creed II. Why?

Because then any ASCII jokes in a review would seem a lot less forced.



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