Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Identity Crisis | Assassin's Creed II

[*Note* This is a repost of a Game Informer blog I made earlier today. The original post can be seen by clicking here.]


Assassin’s Creed II is just over a month away and despite the slew of other titles that are currently releasing for the holidays, it’s the only one I’m even remotely interested in (as far as an ‘immediate purchase’ anyway). I still haven’t decided whether or not to just hold off and let the fifteen minutes of limelight pass before I jump in for myself.

I was one of the adamant defenders of the first game (I also think I was one of the only jackasses that wasted a month looking for every one of those flags as well). I was never able to let go of my stance that the repetitive nature of investigation tactics garnered way more criticism than was necessary at the time. It was a consistent complaint throughout every impression I read or heard; after a while, the commentary simply became hollow to me. People granted a simple flaw far too much power and let it overcome their entire experience with the game, most notably being those that were (and still are) only concerned with title-hopping during the holidays (i.e. moving from title to title as fast as possible to make sure they ‘play’ everything). I won’t certainly begrudge those whose jobs orbit around that pace, just the average consumer with ‘more privileges’ (we're more lucky than we realize).

So Assassin’s Creed II looks to address such issues that were raised by the first game, while most likely creating any number of new ones for itself as well. Since everyone simply refused to shut up about the investigation missions, I don’t think those will be as much of a problem this time around (in fact, I’ll be shocked if they still are). I’ve certainly not played any builds from the various conventions throughout the past few years, but it looks as if Ubisoft has simply opted for tossing more into the pot (as opposed to stripping out the system entirely). Assassin’s Creed is classified as a ‘third-person adventure’ for the sole reason that it encompasses far too many mechanics from various other genres to be specified any more. One of its integral muscles however, is stealth. The entire notion attached to the concept of an assassin is that of a crafty killer; someone meant to survey and methodically neutralize his/her opposition.

That stealth muscle has grown a fair bit when held in comparison to the first game, now featuring a notoriety system, the ability to manipulate certain situations, and just the overall options the player will have in terms of killing targets. Also taking the weight off the formulaic structure from before will be the narrative itself, which looks more directed as a conventional plot than that of the first game (in other words, since the animus and various characters have context now, the game won't have to waste any time explaining the fundamental premises). Things like the day-to-night cycle are going to help immensely in not only carrying the game’s story, but the visual experience people will take from it as well.

When one moves away from the game's stealth muscles however, its nature becomes a bit troublesome for me. In all of the promotional material (e.g. trailers, screenshots, etc.), a great deal of focus has been placed on Ezio (the ancestral protagonist) using various weapons and abilities to combat his foes. This leads me to my title, which I ask because Assassin’s Creed in general seems to inherently be a paradoxical concept; a stealth game trapped by its own ambitious (though adventurous) idea. Just what is Assassin’s Creed II? Is the concept of the game simply nonlinear to a fault?


My interest in the series is plain and simple; it’s a much more appealing (and ambitious) Hitman that lives up to the majority of what it sets out to do. My slight disillusion with it however, is fairly complex, as it consists of a lot of loose ends presented by the various directions that the sequel is specifically targeting. For example, the narrative dances with the mechanical concept, but steps on its foot at the same time by crudely tying the notion of elaborate combat to a game where it should be a minimal focus. In fact, I'd assert that the player should only be granted more sophisticated systems in terms of running away (look at the irony of complaints people cited last year with Mirror's Edge). This game is providing Ezio with everything from pikes to scimitars, yet against the presence of such tools as the hidden blade --- the game’s package and appeal begins to loosen drastically. It may just be me, but I see this as fighting against what its own concept places forth rather proficiently in itself. One could argue with me here by expressing that the freedom to fight is just as important as the ability to avoid it. I can't counter that at the moment because a lot of this is based off things I don’t know for certain yet (like how the story unfolds for instance), and those variables will determine a lot of whatever I decide to take away from the game. A few considerations to take here --- and to close.

  • Will the sequel's more developed Prince of Persia style exploration fit in this game or is it just a novel presence to pander to the gamers who detested not having enough to do the first time? For example, the parkour is definitely a defining and integral point for the franchise, but how large do the cities themselves need to be in order to accommodate that?

  • I see that the animus will now provide background information on the settings for the time period (15th century Italy).  Will these layouts factor into studying targets and the environment? Is the database of the animus a simple ‘cool thing to have’ or is it an actual weapon the player will be able to wield in terms of information?

  • How will Da Vinci’s shop play into providing mission-relevant items? It’s been shown that he creates Ezio's dual hidden blades and flying machine, but will his worth in the game equate to more than a hosting a simple shop of items or will he turn out to be vendor of highly invaluable tools? There’s a big difference --- trust me.

  • The options of things such as throwing money on the ground, using poison arrows, and removing wanted posters/witnesses seems like a very attractive thing for the game to use. However, I’ll have to see how cohesive it is in the game before making any further comments. This also plays into the main idea behind this post, as they're just more mechanics that tie in at a more stealth arena. Will things like this be lost amidst the title’s own ambition?

    I don’t know what Thief 4 has up its sleeve, but Garrett and Desmond could learn quite a bit from each other. It’s not like focusing more directly on stealth aspects will kill AC's flexible concept. Why is it wearing the nonlinear adventure badge so proudly on its sleeve? It just seems like a ball and chain to me.

    Oh well, at least Mr. Ezio can swim now…







    ~sLs~