Against the protests of my family (who were rightly sick of listening to me swearing with the first game) I got hold of AC2. Obviously the first thing I simply had to do was climb up high and see if there was any water. Yes. Now it's time to jump in and see if he still drowns.
WOW - a great shout went up and everyone in the street looked up from their dinner wondering what had happened. Yes, our anti-hero can actually swim! This is a major step forward. After 2 hours of play everything seems very familiar. The setting has shifted from the middle east to Italy, but that's really just a texture tweak, everything looks very familiar. Still, that's fine, he can swim!
The AI has been tweaked too, kill someone and people rush over to form a circle of onlookers that shout and swear. As you walk off they all back away while still holding formation. It's impressive and quite natural looking behaviour.
They've added emotional facial animation and when this works it's quite impressive, however, it fails more often than not. People's eyes seeming to roll back in their head as they pull quite disturbing supernatural expressions I love that AC tries new things and I don't really mind if doesn't work 100% when it isn't game play related.
Which takes us to the first real combat mission. AC lets you spend most of your time running around the rooves like a monkey, but every now and again the story kicks in and you HAVE to kill someone specific and they are hiding away in a hard to reach place with tons of guards. In AC1 the intersection of a hugely complicated open world and a pre-scripted encounter would often produce unanticipated events. Sometimes funny, sometimes game breaking.
Cue the first such encounter in AC2. Have they fixed these problems? No, of course not Luckily this first one failed in a funny way rather than a game stop or infuriating way. My target is sat on a high tower (so I can't just kill him from a distance or get in and out too easily). So after checking out the area, getting my weapons ready and mulling over tactics, I go for it. The IK animation system in charge of climbing tries to predict what you are trying to do and deliver it smoothly, but it doesn't always work. In this case I stagger about on the edge of the tower, 1 pixel away from a handhold and then fall off. It's a long fall, but it doesn't kill me. Sadly the irate target and his guards aren't quite so tough. With the sounds of loud screaming they all tumble off the tower in a mad dash to try and get hold of me. Most are dead on the ground next to me, a couple need their throats slitting to finish them off. The mission is over in 10secs.
Joined: 14 Oct 2002 Posts: 4121 Location: Sheffield, UK
Posted: Fri May 20, 2011 3:00 pm Post subject:
Finished it, quite a long game and definitely an improvement on the first. The biggest key point to AC is the ability free run easily, to feel like a supreme athlete as you fluidly climb, jump, swing, leap and dodge around. Hats off to them, because the AI that's monitoring your movements and the IK that syncs all the animations and attaches you to the scenery is almost spot on. In the first game it would fail a lot, you'd try to do a graceful leap out of danger and just run ineffectually up a wall for a couple of feet and then fall back into the arms of the guards who would butcher you. In AC2 the system only miss-interpreted my actions a handful of times. Very clever.
Combat still doesn't feel quite right to me, I end up using only two techniques:
1. jump on them with the stiletto active, this usually gives an instant kill unless they see you coming a mile off.
2. use the sword and just mash the attack button.
There are all sorts of moves you can pull off and other weapons like throwing knives, different sword types, poison, smoke bombs, etc. I just couldn't get to the point of switching between them and getting reliable results. The first game forced you through lots of training exercises, it still didn't feel right, it still wasn't predictable enough to be comfortable, but I did feel a little more aware of what everything did and how to use it. They've made training optional this time, which is an admission of failure. It's a shame, because the icing on the cake would be the feeling of being a master of many weapons and learning when best to use them and being confident they are going to work. Shame
The cities are bigger and more amazing looking than before. They don't feel that different though, which is something the first game suffered from. I think they are so grand and so expensive to make that it becomes difficult to justify making them too unique. Venice has it's canals which helps, but I couldn't tell you the difference between any of the other locations. A minor gripe though when they look this good.
The npc's general behaviour is improved, I love throwing a body into the street and seeing everyone back off then gather in a circle and shouting and pointing. The rooves are covered in arrow wielding guards, they are everywhere. Each town must pay ~200 of these chaps and every time you climb up the tell you to get down before attacking. I must have slaughtered hundreds of them, there bodies falling to the streets like autumn leaves. And yet, nothing bad happens. You'd think I'd be enemy number 1, yet nobody seems to care. If you go crazy and start slaughtering people in the street then wanted posters start going up and eventually you are flagged as a criminal and attacked on sight. At which point you have to spend 10mins pulling all the wanted posters down. It wasn't a game breaker by any means, it just didn't really hang together and seemed a bit weird.
In each city you'll find an assassins key hidden in the centre of some labyrinthine building. This is a new addition that plays like Prince of Persia, where a very complex series of acrobatic moves is needed to get to some far off ledge and it's against the clock. Without the time rewind of PofP, if you fall off you have to back to the start (or nearest ladder). At first I thought this would make these optional puzzle pieces unusable, but I actually enjoyed them the most. There is always an initial exploration phase where you ignore the timer and practice the route, then you start making proper attempts to get the goal. Not too frustrating, well designed puzzles that I solved in about ~20mins.
The story - oh dear.
In the same way we ignore deathly static lip synced faces, I'd forgotten about the odd story of AC. Every now and again you pop back to a modern time period, the medieval game played inside your dreams as a machine helps you regress back through past lives and relive your ancestral assassin's life. Constantly searching for any reference to some pseudo magic artifact. It's mad. It's silly. I don't see why they bothered. If they'd just woven a period story about a famous family of assassins in the 1700s, that would have been absolutely fine. Anyway, in AC2 things get a lot worse. For most of the game, the modern day sequences are very quick and easily forgettable. In fact there are fewer of them than the first game. However, towards the end of the game we switch up a gear and it goes full on scifi bonkers. Everyone in the room stopped what they were doing when this sequence kicked in. Everyone looked at me and we all said in unison, 'what the ...?'
Connected to the story are some 2d puzzle games, a bit like jigsaws crossed with hidden object stuff. They use real photos of old masters. You have to find these almost invisible wall markings where the computer assisted world is leaking into the dream. You then look at these markings using 'eagle vision' which unlocks a new puzzle. I found these made no sense and again, broke the immersion of what should have been a realistic medieval simulation. They are optional and I did skip them, but why are they there? You just end up with odd looking computer symbols daubed on the side of castles - not good.
Talking of eagle vision <sigh>. When you press a button everything goes black and targets, guards and safe places all highlight in neon. The problem they are trying to solve, is sometimes things get so busy you can't see your target or you can't spot a safe house. Eagle vision is over kill, they think its justified because of the computer simulation scifi elements, but it's not. This could have been implemented as a sixth sense that gives subtle clues as to where things are, hud pointers, better mini map, xray style punch through the scenery highlighting even. Eagle vision seems odd, everything is so dark you can't leave it on anyway, you just trip over everything.
Stand out bug of the game:
About a third of the way through, you have an odd experience where you go back into the life of the first game's assassin. This is an excuse to load one of the old maps. I was intrigued, I thought they were going increase the length of the game by loading in all the old assets, but this time the game wouldn't have all the weaknesses and bugs of the first one. Although weak, I was quite looking forward to it. However, the sequence is very short and only happens once. You have to climb up a tower and they've managed to make it worse than the first game! Part way up the tower is a ledge with a suspended light on it, the only way forward is to climb onto the ledge and jump up the light. My first clue something wasn't right was when the suspended light started swinging all the way round, faster and faster, until eventually it pinged off into space. None of the controls would react properly, there was just no way up. Eventually I had to look online to find a guide. There is a specific combination of buttons, launch from a specific position in just the right way to get past the tower. It's obviously completely broken and I can't believe they didn't either patch it or ditch it (it's not necessary to the plot or the game).
AC is a love hate relationship, they are pushing the envelope and I'm glad of it. Can't wait for the third instalment. Presumably you wake up in the shower and realise none of it ever happened?
Joined: 25 Nov 2004 Posts: 480 Location: Karlsruhe, Germany
Posted: Sat May 28, 2011 6:48 pm Post subject:
FYI: Assassin's Creed II: Deluxe Edition is available on Steam for 10,20 Dollars/Euros the next 24 hours.
But a Ubisoft Account has to be created and an internet connection is required every time you start the game. That is too much DRM for me so I'll pass until these suckers (the 's' may be an 'f') at Ubisoft come to their senses.
Joined: 28 Oct 2006 Posts: 95 Location: Oxford, UK
Posted: Sun May 29, 2011 7:19 pm Post subject:
Remember, of course, that when UBI originally launched AC2, it already used that DRM system. Their servers were reportedly down for more than half of the launch weekend, meaning that the only people who could play the game were those who had unauthorised copies (often, as I understand it, acquired in frustration when they got home and couldn't play the version they'd just paid for). Yet somehow the lesson they've learned is... actually I can't see that they've even learned the wrong lesson; they just don't seem to care that much.
And if they don't care about that kind of problem - if they don't want legitimate purchasers to be able to play their games - then they don't deserve my money or attention.
Given that the evidence on DRM is that, if anything, it actually reduces sales, as well as introducing extra costs and making the lives of legitimate purchasers more difficult, my tolerance for it is now rapidly running out.
Joined: 14 Oct 2002 Posts: 4121 Location: Sheffield, UK
Posted: Mon May 30, 2011 6:20 pm Post subject:
Talking of DRM, just got a bargain bin copy of Stalker2 (stalker is the most wonderful game ever). Now, you'd think after all this time there'd be a patch to stop the DRM, but no It's a nasty one too, part way through install Win7 pops up its infamous 'what the hell are you doing, really??' warning as it installs a driver. Now, every time the computer boots up it, if I leave a CD in, it spins it up and keeps it spun up. You know that weird thing CDs do sometimes where the computer sounds like an aircraft carrier, but it goes back to normal after ~5secs. Well, this driver keeps it spinning at top revs permanently. If I actually play the game it's fine, but if I'm not playing it then it sounds nuts. I pop the disc out and then the driver starts freaking out and I have to kill it with task manager. I mean, really? Really? REALLY???
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