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Monday, March 08, 2010

Game Play: Assassin's Creed II

The first Assassin's Creed was one of those games that I heard plenty about, played a little, and saw the appeal - but didn't really feel the need to run out, buy a copy, and finish right away. It was only under several glowing reviews that Assassin's Creed II got put on the buy list, and even then I waited a few months to do that.

Now I feel a little guilty about that. I can't accurately compare the games, but standing on its own - the sequel is simply a great game. The Girl and I jokingly referred to it as Grand Templar Auto over the weekend (I can't be the first to come up with that, right?) - but there is a lot of truth to the concept. Assassin's Creed II essentially hands over a few city-states to you and lets you run around, take missions, assassinate people and generally have fun.

I recently commented that more games need to acknowledge the distinction between open world design (where you aren't restricted to a linear path spatially) and sandbox gameplay (where you aren't limited to specific gameplay solutions). AC2 cashes in on the first, but also manages a decent amount of the latter. At one point yesterday the game had strongly suggested I use thieves to lure away specific guards (prostitutes and mercenaries also an option) ... but it was simpler just to scale the building and drop in behind them. Combat in particular is pretty free form - the player is allowed a lot of different options for engagement and rarely does the action feel like just a button masher (in fact, simply button mashing will often get you hurt).

In other places, though, AC2 goes for straight out platforming. Find point A and trace enough jumping points to point Z, claim your prize. Many times this works out well, though I have very little love for jumping puzzles and even less love for timed jumping puzzles. When the controls are fluid, Assassin's Creed II is a dream - but when Ezio mysteriously launches in a random direction or grabs a random ladder, the effect is a bit jarring.

That's the bottom line though ... AC2 has few flaws which aren't core to the genre in general. There's some control collision (do not forget to hold up when Ezio tries a leap grab, or face a long plunge...) and some odd mechanical problems (I can run into the person I'm trying to tackle in some situations ... but not actually tack them) - but the large play world, excellent use of free running and highly entertaining combat does far more than simply compensate, it really nails it in places.

The story is quite decent as well, and the player can see some real growth in Ezio as a character. There are a few RPG style options when it comes to inventory control (though it mostly boils down to buying a better X), as well as some control over a town to gain income. Add in some brain teaser puzzles you unlock while frolicking about Italy, and the game is a very complete package. Highly recommended.

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