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Assassin’s Creed 2 Day#1: Buon Giorno, il mio Assassino

Bored with Dragon Age, I’ve decided to put it on hold and try Assassin’s Creed 2. This is my first Assassin’s Creed, and so far it looks interesting even though the beginning game is pretty unforgiving for a title in 2009. The core narrative conceit is original for games but unfortunately kind of stupid, but it disappears from sight early enough that it didn’t bother me. Once past the intro, I found the core gameplay of exploration and fighting full of potential, but potential that is poorly demonstrated by the early play. Spoilers within.

As I mentioned, I did not play Assassin’s Creed 1, so I’m not totally sure what to expect beyond what Yahtzee told me. The first thing I notice is that for a game that seems from the box to be all about Renaissance Italy, all of the menu interface has a weird sci-fi feel. The reason for this is leaved in the backstory, shown to me in a vignette CS with PC voiceover. The short version:  the main character is Desmond Miles;  he’s a pawn in the war between the Templars (bad guys) vs the Assassins (oddly enough, the good guys); there’s a past life machine called an animus that allows Desmond to visit his past life Assassin self; some sci-fi company fronting for the Templar made Desmond do this into to search the past for the Apple, which is a piece of Eden that gives Templars power (I guess that actually makes sense if you played the first game); there’s a good scientist named Lucy who was helping me and disappeared, and some other villain. This is told quickly and only kind of makes sense, but it gets the point across. I appreciate that they are taking an original direction for games here, but it’s all a little extraneous to the gameplay and tacky. Desmond is one ugly character by the way, not that any of the models in the future world are real lookers.

The game starts with a CS where I see a bunch of odd symbols on a wall, and then Lucy shows up in Desmond’s cell with blood on her, and tells Desmond they need to leave. All these lab scenes cut quickly back and forth between CS and play. I get control of Desmond to follow her out of the cell, and Desmond asks what happened. She doesn’t answer, insisting we have to go, but she wants me to go into the animus first. I hit the button to lie down on it, and I see an interface listing subject 17 (me) and subject 16 (who is confidential) and then stating a memory match. At the point, we transition to a CS showing a woman giving birth. She does and her husband comes back, and takes the baby.  I apparently am the baby, and I get control to move my legs (A button), my empty hand (B), my weapon hand (X, although that is a funny way to refer to a baby), and my head (Y). This is pretty cheeseball way to show me the controls, but they have been trying to be original here, so I’ll give them a break. The father names me Ezio, and that’s where I jump back to the future.

We cut back in lab. Lucy takes some storage device out of the animus and repeats that we need to go. I get control back and we run. It’s a bit annoying, because I run faster than she does and have to pause or backtrack a lot. Can’t the system control my speed to match her?  As we run,  she does some hacking to lock a a door on some guards and then beats up some others. We take an elevator to a different floor and then I have control as she leads me through a maze of cubicles containing animuses to avoid guards. That part is kind of neat.  We get to another elevator, but her hacked key card doesn’t work. Desmond CS mysteriously has an ability to see the fingerprints on the key pad and guess the code.  I start this, by the way, by hitting any button as I wait in front of the key pad. I’m not sure what my press of any button added that a continued CS couldn’t have done — why do you make me hit a button there? Anyway, Desmond doesn’t know how he knew the code. As we exit the room, Lucy tells me the Templars are only part of problem.

On the way out of the garage, a bunch of guards jump us and we have to beat them up.  Combat here is a bit awkward because I have no idea what commands do what, but I don’t think I can lose, and we beat them up. We’re back to CS after the fight and Lucy asks Desmond to get into the truck. He does and a transition moment of him in the trunk as the car drives ends with the trunk opening in a garage elsewhere. As we walk into the building,  she explains that Templars are winning, so they are going to make me an Assassin. I protest that it would take years for me to get those skills, but apparently things can bleed between past memories and present, so time in the animus can make me a master killer. As an aside, it’s very weird the way my character’s torso is turned as I face her as  I walk, even if it twists the character close to 90 degrees at the waist.  The gist of Lucy’s pep talk is that it’s worth training me because one man can make a difference. I CS agree to become an assassin, and she’s relieved and surprised as she thought she’d have to convince me to join. Nice narrative touch there.  We enter a room where we meet two more conspirators: Sean (information archiver and dick) and Rebecca (animus tech and geek). They have an animus as well, and they ask me to log in when I’m ready. After running around the room a while to get some more info, I sit down and head back to the past.

A Renaissance city is created from a white grid, which is a kind of cool effect. Once it forms, CS some street fight is about to start between two gangs for some reason of honor that’s not properly explained. The characters look much better in the old times, by the way. I get control as Ezio in charge of a gang, and when I chose to accept the mission (by hitting A to accept — there’s no other option) we fight. It’s still awkward, but a little better now that the game introduces me to the block action. It ends with a CS where Ezio’s brother tells him to loot the bodies of the fallen enemies to pay for a wound I got from rock in the initial cutscene. I loot by hitting B over the bodies and watching a pretty thorough looting animation. A window pops up on screen telling me a memory synch occured, which is this game’s terminology for a successful mission. My next mission is to follow my brother to the doctor, and I am forced to accept it. I start to follow him, and accidentally pickpocket some guy by hitting A as I bump into him. It’s cool that I can pickpocket that way, but it would be good to have known this control in advance. It’s a bit of a jump to follow my brother, but I do and the doctor fixes me up.

My brother tells me it’s now time to head home, but he decides to race to the top of a church first. This is the next mission I am forced to accept. My brother runs ahead and starts jumping from box to post to climb up a building. I try to follow, but I have no idea what the commands are and  lose race after a minute. When I lose the race, I desync, the game’s term for failure, and I see a white screen with my character on it as the mission reloads from the beginning. I go  on to fail the race twenty-five fucking times. It starts because I don’t know where I’m going; it’s showing on a map in the lower right, but I don’t have time to look at that. But the real problem is that I have no idea what the controls are, and the game is not explaining it to me. The big confusion is about climbing walls: holding down right trigger and A lets me climb, but tapping A makes me jump, so when I don’t know what the controls are, I am often jumping when I want to climb and vice versa. There is also no way to fucking restart a mission when I know I’ve failed and that really sucks, especially when you’re hearing the same taunts and NPC lines over and over sucks. I finally get the controls and destination down and win.

The race ends with a CS where my brother tells me to follow him again, but he disappears as I look away from the TV for a second. I spend like ten minutes running around in circles trying to find what the X destination on the map corresponds to in the world before I realize there’s no altitude marker on the map, and that the only available spot is higher up.  I figure out the climbing commands and get to the top of the tower, and it’s in this that I’m starting to see how the navigation part of this game could be fun. We get a CS scene where Ezio and his brother bond, with his brother’s foreshadowing quote about how he hopes we’ll never change, then I get title card for the game. It’s a nice touch. CS continues as the brother talks about going home, but Ezio decides to go see his girlfriend instead.

I start by getting a truly beautiful view of the city when I “synchonize” on roof, which appears to open up more of the map for me. Synchronizing also gives me an OSSIM jump off the roof back to the ground. The guys from before are looking for me, so I need to stealth to my destination by hiding in leaf piles and using the enemy indicators on my map to avoid them. I get safely to the checkpoint and call to Christina’s (my girl) window. She allows me to come up with a joke about me needing only a minute, and I get control to climb up. I see her, and as we embrace I’m told to press Y to kiss, and B to hug and fade to new scene as we fall into bed. These micro-controls are weird, Ubisoft, and this abstract control of seduction is either creepy or just silly.

Anyway I CS hear the father come in as morning breaks and jump out the window. Now, I have to run from guards and try to lose them long enough that they stop looking for me. This is sort of fun, but I think it’s fun potential is hurt since I still don’t totally get controls. I gain some ground to get out of sight from the guards and then hide in leaves until they stop chasing me. Once I’m safe, I’m not sure what to do next, but there’s something called a “memory start” on the map, so why not go there?

The memory start checkpoint is a guy named Giovanni Auditore, who an info tab tells me was a real person. There’s a neat little history lesson in the bio. He’s also my dad, and CS he chews me out about fight and girl, although he knows that I’m still a teen and laughs it all off. There’s a kind of nice jump cut to the mission start, where my father asks me to deliver a package for him. I have the choice to accept or decline this one, but I take it. Once it starts, I’m back on the street, but that’s all the time I have for gaming tonight, so I quit out.

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