04
Feb
10

Design By The Creed, Part 2

Non trovo alcuna gioia in questo, ma non c’e altro modo.

Assassin’s Creed 2 is, undoubtedly, a much better game than its predecessor. That’s not to say it doesn’t have problems of its own. Essentially I’m nitpicking here, holding the game accountable for things that, truth be told, are part and parcel of its genre. The difference is that AC2 was so much the game I’d hoped for, and not the game I’d expected, that the few things that didn’t quite work bothered me far more than the collective mess of problems that usually plague open world games (hi Mercenaries 2). These, then, are those.

Tutorials

As someone who almost never RTFMs I have no desire to criticise tutorials in general. A quick overview of the controls and basic mechanics during the first mission is pretty much essential as games become increasingly convoluted. AC2 gives you a quick run down of the controls and basic mechanics during its first mission. It then continues to do so for what seems like the first half of the fucking game. Every single thing you can do in the game, from collecting feathers to beating up cheating husbands to using prostitutes (not in that way), has a main story mission attached to introduce it. The ceaseless parade of engineered scenarios explaining the use of these mechanics soon becomes tiring as you long to be let free to cause havoc your own way.

Late in the game you’re given a pistol-like attachment to your hidden blade and the subsequent mission, an actual main target assassination, is set up in such a way as to force you to use it. When you’re wasting a proper story-based assassination, the whole point of the game let’s not forget, to introduce (and perhaps justify) a weapon you’ll probably never use again then you’ve got a problem.

The truly egregious aspect of all this is how simple the solution is:

  1. Display a text box showing what button activates your new weapon or move, or give a brief description of the mechanic. The game does this already.
  2. Create an Animus based tutorial that the player can access to practice outside of the main game-world. Given that the game’s plot is centred around a man experiencing his ancestor’s life through a computer simulation there is a ready-made logical excuse for this. Even the first game did it in its opening tutorial.
  3. Make it fucking optional.

The 'How to chase things' level. I'm not kidding.

Combat

Last post I praised the improved assassinating. This post I’m going to criticise the general combat. I’m even going to overlook how ridiculous it is that a game made in this day and age still feels the need to surround the character with enemies and only have them attack one at a time. The real problem with the combat is, ironically given the plot, how artificial it feels.

Of course the same can be said for the freerunning mechanic in which you just press the run button and let the magic happen. The difference is that when freerunning you’re constantly course correcting, looking for viable paths over rooftops, jumping, grabbing and stabbing the occasional archer, all at speed. Your own actions may only basically respond to what’s happening on screen, and there are definitely moments when it all breaks down and Ezio’s left stuck at a ledge, but the rate at which you process and enact on the visual information gives a feeling of fluidity that, mostly, matches what happens on screen.

The problem with the combat is not that its frustrating, it’s actually so easy as to be laughable, but that it’s just sterile. Every attack has a one button counter. Most enemies are taken down with a simple press of the counter-attack button at the right moment (and the margin of error for the counter-attack timing seems a lot more forgiving than the first game). For a while the heavily armoured enemies look like a problem until you realise you can just switch to unarmed combat and counter them to take their weapon and, usually, kill them in one move. The attacks from each enemy are so spaced out within a fight that there’s no sense of panic or frantic tactical assessment, just pressing the right button at the right time until, eventually, everyone’s dead. It’s not a battle, it’s fucking Parappa the Rapper with fancy visuals.

You gotta believe!

Also, it’s fucking ridiculous that a game made in this day and age still feels the need to surround the character with enemies and only have them attack one at a time.

Collectible Execution

To be fair most of the collectibles, the glyphs for example, are no problem and, as I said previously, there’s actually a fairly compelling reason to go after them. The feathers, though… Those stupid bloody feathers. You know what, the feathers are actually worse than the collectibles in most games because of the fact there’s a story related reason to find them. It means you might actually be tempted to go looking for the blasted things. Every other group of collectibles has a system attached that tells you where they are. Buildings that contain glyphs, for instance, are marked on your database which means your search of each one is limited to one small area. Not so with the feathers, which could be anywhere in the game world. You’re told how many are in each district but the districts are pretty large and the feathers, unsurprisingly, are quite small.

I’m going to do something I never thought I’d do and lift a suggested improvement from the last Prince of Persia game and its light seeds. Instead of making the player comb the game world for hidden objects, make them blindingly obvious but hard to get to. The developers of AC2 clearly think the game would work as a platformer, as proven by the surprisingly enjoyable tomb missions. If they had made the feathers into mini platforming puzzles, asking the player to figure the route and series of moves required to reach them, then the whole affair would have been a lot less laborious.

There are 100 feathers in the game. What the fuck are Italians doing to the birds?

The Present Day

Yeah… Those sections in the present day (or near future, I can’t really remember) still don’t work for me.

You get to do more this time and I loved the fact that the platforming, and even fighting, in these segments happens completely without any on-screen display (completely logical outside of the Animus yet so many games would have chickened out) but the story is complete shit. This time it all goes a bit Mayan, which isn’t at all an overused plot device in the run up to 2012. Worse still, the ending actually detracts from any closure to Ezio’s storyline who, you may remember, was the character I was actually fucking invested in.

Desmond can't quite get past Lucy's uncanny valley.

Hmm, all that was far more of a tirade then I’d expected to make. Still, with expectations dutifully lowered hopefully you’ll enjoy the game a whole lot more. As I draw this somewhat unplanned Ubisoft mini-season to a close I leave with one final thought on Assassin’s Creed 2: The fact that the game shows the passage of time by giving Ezio a beard in later levels is hilarious.

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