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Assassin's Creed II disappoints and my Big Red Potion appearance

Brad Gallaway's picture

Assassin's Creed 2 Screenshot

I sent out a message via Twitter earlier, but in case you missed it, here's a link to my appearance on the most recent Big Red Potion podcast. The topic was Modern Warfare 2 and the connection between games and their portrayal of wartime politics.

Many thanks to Joe DeLia and Sinan Kubba for having me on. Also, props to my co-podcaster Steve Haske from Play. It was certainly an honor, and I hope to do it again sometime.

I've got a few fairly cool features that are being cooked up as we speak, but at the moment I'm spending some time with Assassin's Creed 2. If you caught my review of the first game, then you'll know that I saw it as a huge disappointment. If there was ever a poster child for missed potential, Assassin’s Creed would be it.

In spite of my dismay, I held out hope that Ubisoft would take the copious amounts of player feedback and apply it towards the sequel, finally crafting a title that lived up to the promise. The early word was good, and practically everyone I spoke to said that the developers had seen the error of their ways and had delivered a game that "kept all the good stuff and got rid of all the bad".

I wanted to believe. Oh, how I wanted to believe.

I'm not done with the game, but I've put somewhere in the neighborhood of six or so hours into it so far. Initial impressions were extremely poor… the first four hours or thereabouts were extremely slow and dull, taking entirely too much time to establish a story that's not nearly as interesting as the developers want you to think it is. It also doesn't help that this giant block of time serves as an overly-extended tutorial, dragging out what could have really been condensed into a fraction of what it takes.

Getting through that part was fairly painful, and once I was done with it and got into the game proper, I can't really say that things got much better. Although I'm still reserving final judgment, what I've seen so far amounts to an exact copy of the first game with a lot of stuff I don't care about crammed into it—things like a money system, a notoriety system, managing items, and being caretaker for a property owned by your family. I suppose this is an attempt to emulate Grand Theft Auto, but I just keep asking myself why I'm supposed to care. The game is called Assassin’s Creed, and yet (just like the first installment) I'd have to say that the assassinating is probably the weakest part of the experience.

The controls feel kludgey, the stealth mechanics don't include using shadows (or even ducking), and I'm just not getting any kind of satisfaction with the tasks I'm completing. There may be a bullet-point list of new features that make this game “better” than the last, but from where I'm standing, it seems as though the developers basically left the core experience unchanged—and that's the part that needed the most work.

(Incidentally, Jim Sterling over at Destructoid seems to like it about as much as I do so far… maybe even less. He's written a pretty brutal review which I actually like a lot, if for no other reason than it's rare to see a high-profile reviewer really lay into a "top-tier" game like this one. Jim Sterling, I salute you.)

Read more on the Drinking Coffeecola blog.

Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360   PS3  
Developer(s): Ubisoft Montreal  
Key Creator(s): Jade Raymond  
Series: Assassin's Creed  
Genre(s): Stealth  

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I always felt that the

I always felt that the original game was immensely over-rated and therefore just confirmed my attitude towards the majority of gaming media being complete idiots by not reviewing games properly.

With that in mind I was/am more than skeptical with the response to ACII, and if I'm honest the videos I watched show me that the combat and process of assassination is as clunky and un-stylish as ever. What you've just wrote reinforces those thoughts for me, so I'm more than happy to give this one a miss too.

Hopefully a potential new Thief game can actually highlight how badly these games fail.

already sold my copy.

already sold my copy. Graphics were just ugly on the PS3. And I agree with all the above points. Might as well have added taxi missions.

Weird. I really enjoyed it

Well, you don't seem to have given any credit to the work they did on the setting, for one thing. Exploring Venice and Florence as they were during the Renaissance* is something very special and unique to the medium.

I think it's a shame about the lack of fast-travel short of those very inconvenient stations (entirely unnecessary in the fiction of the game, since these are memories and there's no reason Desmond couldn't skip the slow travel bits), and obviously the fact that Ezio is just as prone as Altair to leap off the wrong way is a major problem. (Particularly when tombs give you timed platforming sections; ugh.)

But I really enjoyed exploring the world. The stealth isn't as stupid as you've suggested in both your AC reviews - it's not Thief, but it's not trying to be. The combat is satisfying. The free running, when it works (which is most of the time), is fun.

I've really enjoyed it. Possibly my game of the year (competing with Arkham Asylum and Uncharted 2, which is weird because they're all third person platformers and I'm really more an FPS or TBS guy.)

What sort of tasks do you imagine they could've included instead of the ones in the game?

*I know they're slightly compressed versions of the real cities, but otherwise they're very well done.

It really seems like this is

It really seems like this is a love it or hate it game. I think the problem is that everybody has their own ideal about what an assassin game should play like, and this game either does it or doesn't do it for them. Shrug.

Hi Jeremy. >>Well, you don't

Hi Jeremy.

>>Well, you don't seem to have given any credit to the work they did on the setting, for one thing. Exploring Venice and Florence as they were during the Renaissance* is something very special and unique to the medium.

To be perfectly honest, I don't think it’s really all that great. Each level is basically the same as the others with only minor differences between them. I mean, I can appreciate that they picked this time period since (like you said) it's rarely ever used for games, but it really doesn't have much impact on the gameplay and doesn't feel very immersive to me.

>>I think it's a shame about the lack of fast-travel short of those very inconvenient stations (entirely unnecessary in the fiction of the game, since these are memories and there's no reason Desmond couldn't skip the slow travel bits), and obviously the fact that Ezio is just as prone as Altair to leap off the wrong way is a major problem. (Particularly when tombs give you timed platforming sections; ugh.)

Agreed on all counts.

>>But I really enjoyed exploring the world. The stealth isn't as stupid as you've suggested in both your AC reviews - it's not Thief, but it's not trying to be. The combat is satisfying. The free running, when it works (which is most of the time), is fun.

When you get right down to it, I think a person’s enjoyment of this game hinges solely on the amount of enjoyment they get out of doing the free running. Basically every activity in the game revolves around it, so if you like it then the game is fun. If it seems pointless and tedious at times, the game suffers for it.
In terms of stealth, I'm going to have to disagree with you. There are a number of games that the stealth or just certain stealth elements *a lot* better and I realize that AC2 isn't trying to be a stealth game per se, but when you have the word “assassin” in the title, the developers should probably expect that people are going to want to explore that aspect of it.

If nothing else, I find it endlessly annoying that most of the big kills in the game are structured to be chases, big fights, or are interrupted by cut scenes. It's like the developers don't even realize that being able to sneak up on someone completely undetected would be a big feather in his game’s cap. I mean, you can do it once in a while, or you can do it pretty often on the side quests and such, but they seem to have a problem with letting players do it in the main story missions.

>>What sort of tasks do you imagine they could've included instead of the ones in the game?

Well, I'm not done yet so I don't know what else is coming, but it would've been great to use costumes once in a while to sneak undetected into places. (I'm just starting the carnival section so that may come into play.) Besides that, I would've appreciated if every main target in the story mode could have been taken out stealthily. I would also like to see the developers implement the ability to use shadows, or duck, or something along those lines to be able to give the player more options. They also really need to straighten out the control system. It's not nearly as crisp and precise as it should be, and in general, it feels very squishy.

I'm still pushing through the game but at this point I'm pretty tired of it. I feel like I've seen all the tricks that the developers had up their sleeves, and I'm just going through repetition for the sake of having the game claim a longer completion time.

After playing Uncharted 2, I

After playing Uncharted 2, I watched my brother-in-law manipulate, what I thought, was a wax figure guided by what seemed to be a series of not-so-tight controls. I sat and watched one wax figure interact with other wax figures--their emotions pasty and fake, the storyline entirely uninviting.

The repetitiveness of open-world action gameplay never enticed me to begin with. Spiderman holds a sour spot in my heart. The second half of inFamous felt more like a journey through a swamp than a city. The GTA series never really captivated me either, but maybe I just didn't give it enough time (go ahead, burn me).

I think the nature of OWA games poses an obstacle for developers to keep one interested, I mean, you can only escort prisoners to jail so many times before you question what you were doing in the first place. How do a series of mundane tasks really relate to the story on the whole? Then again, maybe I'm just a lone ranger looking for some bigger connection in games--a higher purpose--some wow factor that keeps the strings tight.

The element of exploration is a crucial quality in a game that keeps me coming back for more. Developer's who create the world in which one is drawn to continue exploration are masters of their craft. I guess this could explain my love for Metroid and Castlevania. Not that these games ever had the most phenomenal voice-acting(or any, for that matter) that told a story, but the environment drew you in. Every place you visited had its own feel, its own story, if not conveyed by words, then by what you saw, or how you arrived there.

Then there are the environmental puzzle games, harking back to Myst and Riven, leading up to the more recent Machinarium. Similar to the aforementioned, no matter how unreal a place was, you felt like you were in a believable world. While not akin a Hollywood blockbuster, these games presented the player with a texture to feel and a world to know. Some life in the atmosphere called out you in a very real way that said this could only have been made by a human. (What Hollywood blockbuster really does this anyway?) These games are the equivalent to what is produced by Radiohead and Sigur Ros, or Sufjan Stevens and Grizzly Bear of the music world.

Don't get me wrong, I love playing a few rounds of an FPS online, most likely for the competitiveness. OWA games also offer some interesting moments and novelty. As for Assassin's Creed II, I can't say that the game was terrible, because I never played it; but from the few hours I watched my brother-in-law play, nothing in the game compelled me to want to know what would happen next, nor did it wow me enough to go exploring on my own.

Great post, sir.

Great post, sir.

Good comparison point. In

Good comparison point. In Super Metroid, what you could do was where you were going, and if you couldn't go past a certain point, you know you hadn't done something yet. Games like AC2 get it wrong (for me) by never refining the controls to the point where they become second nature. I can't think of anything that reinforces identifying with the character more than KNOWING where your jump will take you, and vice-versa.

Was thinking about getting this one

I haven't read too many reviews on this game, at least ones that seriously take a good hard look at it. It was beginning to look like this game delivered and was tempting me to buy it. The repetition and lack of variety in the first game really wore me down, and not something I want to do again. Sure, killing people is somewhat satisfying, but its not enough to make a game out of.

Your take is enough for me to feel good about not purchasing it. I may rent it just to see what I am missing for myself, but I'm not in a hurry now.

I thought it was quite a bit

I thought it was quite a bit better than the original. Simple but fun. Right up to the time platforming segments in the final Assassin's Tomb with ( as several people have mentioned ) slightly wobbly controls.

This was the worst designed game level I have seen in years.

In short, if I wanted to do mindless repetitive things and be punished for minor mistakes, I'd go to work :D

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