Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Assassin's Creed 2 - The Shit is About to Hit the Fan

No, not here. I'll just be doing a nice normal post responding to Rachel's last set of questions. But we did play some Assassin's Creed 2 last night. Stuff happened. A face was made by Rachel. Words were shouted at the heavens. So yeah, let's just say if you're a fan of the occasional outburst, you might want to be monitoring Rachel's site for the next couple days. A storm is BREWING...

Here's Rachel's last post, with questions for me at the end. If you've already read it, skip down to JEFF RESPONDS to get my angle.

Title: Assassin's Creed II
Publisher: Ubisoft (2010)

Scientists' Stats -
Time Played: 16hrs 8min
Last Achievement Earned: Podesta of Monteriggioni

Last Significant Event: Collected last of the 6 Assassin's Seals

In Jeff's last post he commented on some specific game features and one of the side quests. He left off with: "And back to Rachel. It seems like the story is still too nebulous for you (I don't disagree). Maybe it's missing a character to give it some cohesion. What character would help? A sidekick? Love interest? A better defined villain?

Also, let's say Ubisoft greenlights Assassin's Creed 3 (pretty much a lock). They come to you and say, "Rachel, you're our biggest fan. It's your pick - where and when is AC3 set?" What's your choice. Bear in mind that the general parameters of the game (running around a few cities, climbing buildings, assassinating targets) will be the same. A place or time that works well with conspiracy theories would also be a plus."

Oooh, excellent questions! I think you've hit the nail on the head with the nebulous thing and I think it's the villain that's dropping the ball here. Or villains in this case since it's the Knights Templar and it is a group. Anyway, it would be better if the group was better defined. As it is you just hop around from place to place being told whom to kill and that they are Knights Templar. But they don't have much to do with each other and it's mostly about oppressing local merchants. Now, I'm all for relieving oppression but we're supposed to be going after a super powerful weapon and I would enjoy it a bit more if the villains acted like they were trying to cover up a conspiracy rather than just control all trade in the region. Ok, sure, boo monopolies but, really, something that could be discussed in a Senate committee does not always make for fascinating video game fodder. And I know I've already said it but I sure would like to see other Assassins. As far as I can tell Ezio has three contacts and not one of them is an Assassin. Where the fuck are my compatriots? What if I need advice or tips on how to be stealthy (and holy shitballs does Ezio ever need advice on how to be stealthy!)?

I think a sidekick would be a bad idea but I would venture to say there's already a love interest. Our Ezio he likes his women and he's got this irrepressible boyish charm. Yes, that's right, the phrase "irrepressible boyish charm" does in fact describe our ruthless assassin. I'm glad he hasn't let his job change him. Anyway, the love interest. While I feel Ezio is more than happy to share his love far and wide he does have some good chemistry going with Rosa. She doesn't show up a lot but, really, he's busy with all the stabby so I can see how she's not around a lot. But when she is I definitely think there's something there and I like their chemistry. I don't think this decreases the nebulous factor (sticking with the villains on that one) but it is a fun part of the game.

I thought a lot about the locale for ACIII and, at first, I thought it'd be cool if it was set in France when the Knights Templar were hunted. I figured it'd be really easy to incorporate an Assassins story there but it turns out ACII is set after the dissolution of the Knights Templar (poss why the group seems so scattered and aimless??? or, more likely, the AC series is maybe not the place to go for accurate history:). So instead I'm going with Istanbul (Constantinople). The political backdrop would be the Ottoman Empire. So much can be done with that and there's even a lot more city possibilities so it would not only have to be Istanbul. It makes sense to me that the Assassins group would remain more to the East since they originate in the Middle East and the architecture possibilities (as we saw in ACI) are fantastic and endless for the free running. I'd also like Ubisoft to take another crack at getting the hero right. It's nice that Desmond Miles isn't all WASPy looking and it's great that Ezio appears to be from his time period. Altair, on the other hand, was a major visual/audio fail in ACI. Of course, he had the awesome outfit but he didn't look and sound as he should have to be from where he was from (Prince of Persia fail anyone????).

So we're at the point that comes in almost every game that bores me. It's the part between the set-up and the finale when you get to go round doing quests, collecting crap and every once in a while performing a mission. As that is the case I'm going to leave comments regarding that stuff more to Jeff since it's his area of expertise. For my part, I'm going to focus on the lighter side of the game. Our villa kicks all kinds of ass! We've done all the improvements and it's making florins like we've got money trees stashed in the corner. I love the routine: arrive home, check the books that Sis is keeping and collect money, go talk to your architect and look at the villa model and pick improvements. Huzzah! But you know what's the icing on the cake? The art gallery! We've got a fantabulous gallery! All the regions that Ezio explores (kills in) are full of art merchants and you can buy all the paintings and they hang in the gallery at his villa. It's super sweet and they're real paintings. I've actually seen some of them in person when traveling so it's really cool to see them appear in the gallery.

Another freaking awesome cosmetic feature of the game is Carnival. Ezio is in Venice during Carnival (what we from Louisiana call Mardi Gras) and it's a party in the street. Everyone is in costume and there are tons of celebrations and even fire breathers! It's super sweet. Conveniently, Ezio can avoid notoriety by donning a mask. He's still in his uber-awesome, uber-conspicuous outfit (totally tripped out with weapons) but one tiny mask that you can hardly see under his hood makes everyone mistake him for someone else. Mind you, this is the same guy that, in that outfit, spent the first 10 hours of the game shouting, "I am Ezio Auditore!" after every kill. Ah well, most people at Carnival are drunk anyway so maybe that explains it.

And now let's send out some questions for the gamer. Jeff, what do you think about the high-brow puzzles, artwork, artifacts, and that you're best buds with DaVinci? What did you think about the flying machine? Interesting or useless addition to the game mechanics/missions? Also, do you think the missions are too easy? What do you think of my Rosa comments? And finally, what is your favorite cosmetic aspect of the game?


Before I get into my response, I just want to say that (1) Rachel's comments about a stronger villain are spot-on and (2) I'd definitely play a third game if it was set in Turkey.

Regarding the high brow puzzles, allow me to explain how this works. Hidden on historical landmarks throughout the city, you can find glyphs. These glyphs represent gateways to hidden information embedded in the Animus. A prior subject (pre-Desmond Miles) found some secrets and left a trail of breadcrumbs for you to follow, knowing that only an assassin (not a Templar) would be able to unravel the mystery. Then he went insane. Actually, considering the state he's in as he talks to you in these hidden memories, I'd say it was an ongoing process.

Anyway, you find the glyphs, you solve a little "mental challenge", and then you get a piece of video that shows the secret. Is it effective? Well, finding the glyphs means crawling around on famous architecture like a monkey, which is pretty much the best part of AC, so that's good. The mental challenges? They're sort of all over the map. Sometimes they show you a bunch of famous pieces of art and then want you to pick the ones that have a common feature. That's pretty cool. But other times they want you to click on a specific spot, maybe while a little beeping noise is playing "Hot and Cold" with you. That's not so great. Finally, the videos. They're REALLY short, like a second each at the most. The idea is that eventually they'll stitch together into something amazing and provocative, I guess. Since I haven't finished them, I couldn't say yet. Just know that there's 20 of them, which seems like a lot of repetition. I could have done with around six of these or so. Once you hit 20, the payoff better be great to go to that much trouble.

DaVinci is cool, but he's mostly just there. He's the smart science/math guy. Like in one of those ensemble cast caper movies where there's the smooth talker, the guy who's good with disguises, the big strong guy, etc. And there's always a guy who's good with computers and can hack anything in seconds or decode encrypted messages. That's DaVinci. I don't think they go into any strong characterization there.

The flying machine is a nice little set piece, but ultimately it's there and gone pretty quickly. You never see it again. The best I can say is that I thought the controls were going to be annoying to learn, but I completed that sequence on my third try, so that's not too bad.

Too easy? Well, in the first one every mission concluded with a giant clusterfuck...sort of a mosh pit populated by Altair and 20 or so guards that you needed to kill one by one. Which sucked, both because it was dull and it wasn't much like being an assassin. With this one, you can get away a lot easier after performing an assassination. In one mission, I took out an evil-doer on a boat surrounded by a horde of soldiers. Then I just hopped into the canal (this was in Venice) and swam to freedom. Apparently nobody thought to station some of those guards near the water. "Stop him...he's SLOWLY swimming away!" I have more lengthy thoughts on the game's difficulty, but I'll save that for another post.

Rosa is great...they really did a good job of creating some romantic tension there. Best cosmetic aspect? Definitely the villa (including the art) which Rachel already outlined. I also like the armor upgrades, though some of them look a little odd paired with Ezio's robes. And I like the fact that you can get historical information about people and places as you explore the game. It lends a sense of context to the proceedings.

This is where I ask some questions back at Rachel, but I think I'll just decline and cede the floor to my cohort. Then I'll flee the premises as quickly as possible to avoid getting caught in the cross-fire. Rachel, do you have any thoughts you'd like to share about our last play session? ;)

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