This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Assassin's Creed 2.
Being European, there's an old saying I'm quite fond of: in heaven the food is Italian, the police are British, the platformers are French, the shooters are Croatian, and it's all run by two international software giants and an electronics corporation. In hell the food is British, the shooters are Canadian, and I forget the rest, but basically the gist of the saying is that Italians are all tossers. About the only important things Italy ever did were the Renaissance and murdering Jesus--deicide and a whole bunch of painters running around being gay. But it's in that gay-painty period of history that we find the setting of Assassin's Creed 2. Or to use its other name, Ubisoft's 20 Hour Assassin's Creed 1 Repentance.
If you're just joining us, Assassin's Creed 1 was a game with a solid concept let down by a bit of repetition syndrome and a faffing-about fetish. There were no big dealbreakers; it wasn't the kind of game that beats you about the face and neck with a steel truncheon for six hours, more the sort that stands behind you, gently prodding the back of your head every ten seconds. It recounted the adventures of Desmond the future-y man--and favourite candidate for the Blandest Sentient Life Form in the Universe competition--as he uncovered a global conspiracy by delving into the racial memories of Altaïr the medieval past-y man, an assassin with the ability to turn completely invisible when sitting on benches looking serious, hampered since birth with a unique genetic deformity that makes him water-soluble.
The game was well presented, but earned a bit of stick for its repeated grinding of the same side quests that meant you could cut out 55 minutes of every hour of playtime and miss fuck all. But I hope you didn't do that because Assassin's Creed 2's plot doesn't even have a decent recap before bland-y future Desmond hooks up with a fish woman, who takes him to her secret society consisting of two people who look like they were hired from the community youth group. Now Desmond must relive the memories of Italian renaissance man Ezio Auditore De-dum-de-dum-de-de-dum in order to learn assassin's skills. I guess all the stuff he did with Altaïr in the first game was just for warm-ups, or they wanted him to learn the skills from someone with more emotion than a spoonful of rice pudding and who doesn't react to water like a fucking Berocca and who can walk briskly down the road without a 12th century S.W.A.T. team descending on his hooded arse like a platoon of winged monkeys.
Yes, someone at Ubisoft thankfully started taking practicality pills, and Ezio can actually run at full pelt down the street without guards getting suspicious, because this is Renaissance Italy, where it's more suspicious to not dress and act like a complete bell-end. Also, thank fuck there's a fast travel system now and you don't have to take lengthy horse journeys between every fucking mission, unless you want to. Like if you've got a lady friend over and you want to hypnotize her with the sight of a horse's arse bobbing up and down for half an hour. Before you start relaxing though, Ubisoft were apparently determined to keep at least one thing that annoyed the shit out of me, so those fucking beggars who nipped at your turnips like casteless terriers return in the shape of wandering minstrels, and I swear those motherfuckers have started hunting in packs.
Overall, though, Ass Creed 2 is an improvement on Ass Creed 1. The progression is much less rigidly structured, and Ezio has more opportunities to actually be an assassin, rather than some kind of courier / chimney sweep, and it seems the creative freedom the Renaissance brought to the world also extended to the art of murder. Would it be the classic retracto-blade death cuddle? The efficiency of the Florentine double-ear piercing? Or the Bohemian freshness of the surprise roll in the hay? Swordfighting's still a bit obnoxious, especially since it's mostly spent waiting to counterattack, but when an enemy's beaten down you can generally grab them and cut their throat in a technique I like to call the "Oh Fuck This". Ezio has so many weapons, some of them get a bit redundant. The poison blade, for example, makes the subject acquire ants in their pantaloons for a few seconds before dropping dead, and it seems virtually anything else would be more efficient, if less funny.
Ezio can also collect cash as part of Screed 2's most prize winning-ly vestigial feature. You use it to buy medicine, ammo, armour, usual stuff, but none of it costs that much; the best armour in the game you get for free anyway, if you collect enough cereal box tokens. No, most of the money you sink into the management of your home villa in a sort of Sim City for Retards minigame, renovating shops and buildings to increase the villa's worth. To what end, you ask? To increase the amount of money the villa pays you every now and again, and the game constantly nags you to keep traipsing back to the villa to pick up the money, and the only reason to do half the side quests is to acquire even more money. Then presumably you pile it into a pond and swim around in it like a swarthy European Scrooge McDuck, because there's fuck-all else use for it.
It seems after the complaints about Screed 1's dullness, Ubisoft overcompensated and stuffed Screed 2 with ideas so hard a whole lot of dead weight started oozing out of its nose and mouth. There was a bit of hype going on about being able to get around with da Vinci's flying machine, but there was so little room left in the game's well stuffed orifices that you only do that for one brief mission. Considering all the tower climbing we have to do, I'm surprised the game would miss out on another opportunity to hike up its skirt and shove its soft, warm environment engine in my face. I guess I can't really complain about a game having too much stuff, so I'll complain about something else.
The story gets very hard to follow around the middle, not helped at all by several arbitrary jumps forward in time. After one mission, for example, it suddenly jumps to Ezio sitting on a bench two years later, when some lady comes up and hands him some evidence she took from the scene of his mission two years ago. What the fuck was she waiting for, and why was Ezio's first reaction not to slap her across the tits? The other thing is, while Screed 2 is definitely better than its predecessor, it's just too easy. While guard pursuits in Screed 1 could be almost harrowing, the guards in Screed 2 are willing to dismiss you if you so much as turn your collar up the other way. One of the later weapons you unlock is--no joke--a fucking gun! Now, in the 15th century, that's just not giving anyone else a chance, is it? And without wishing to spoil anything, the final final boss fight is a punch-up with a fat bloke. Beating the game felt like winning gold in the Olympic nosepicking event, and all my opponents were earthworms.
Shot a man to watch him die: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
Yahtzee wishes it to be known that of course he doesn't really think all Italians are tossers, and in fact he himself never missed an episode of Columbo
And he's also quite keen on gnocchi