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Assassin's Creed 2.5
on February 21, 2011
I've got mixed feelings about this game. Having played both of the main previous iterations (I passed over the handheld side games, however) I wasn't sure what to think of this one before I played it, especially considering that AC 2 only came out about a year or so ago. In the end, it does a pretty good job of what it set out to do, but it'd be a stretch to say it did a great job.
One of the biggest improvements over AC2 is that, like in the first game, you can replay *every* mission, not just the side missions. Of course, this makes it all the more curious why Ubisoft STILL hasn't updated the second game to allow for replays. A great innovation in the mission structure is the "full sync" feature. This time, to get the maximum out of a mission, a certain sub-objective must be met, which can vary from taking no damage to remaining undetected to using a certain weapon to kill the target. This is definitely a great innovation, although the fact that failing this means restarting the ENTIRE mission is an automatic docking of one star. Even if the sub-objective is failed after the last checkpoint and you reload, it's still failed. I didn't let that slide with Grand Theft Auto 4 or Mirror's Edge, so it'd be hypocritical to ignore that flaw with this game. With one glaring exception, I did enjoy trying to get full sync with the Leonardo's weapons missions (anyone who's played the game most likely knows which mission I did not enjoy; rhymes with "the bank mission.") There is no reason why we should have to keep on retrying the same mission from scratch and having to completely redo everything that we have already successfully accomplished just to get to the one part that tests our ability to do the full sync requirement. The aforementioned mission is a prime example of this. Also, replaying a mission doesn't allow you to keep a treasure chest if you exit the replay. For some reason, you can keep a feather or a flag you collected, but not a treasure chest.
Some other minor gripes include the fact that courtesans still automatically break off to distract guards, even when you need them around to distract another set of guards. Why Ubi couldn't be bothered to fix this problem is beyond me. And what I like to call the "What the H are you DOING, Ezio?" problem still plagues this game in full force. This usually manifests itself when you're trying to escape the guard, and instead of running through a doorway, Ezio instead runs up the side of the doorway, even though no path exists. Three games running, and this problem still crops up! Sometimes music will play for a mission, then restarting it means the music is gone.
The story doesn't feel as inspired, either; it feels similar to an expansion pack's storyline as compared to the main game. This is at least partly due to the fact that early on in the game, a key ally is killed off, rather needlessly at that. A lot less dialogue this time around, too. It's almost as if Ubisoft decided that the minimalist approach to character development used in almost the entire middle and end game of AC2 was the best way to go with this game. Obviously, the whole concept that assassins are truly this noble, enlightened group of saviors meant to protect us from the evil Templars is just as ridiculous as the Da Vinci Code (search History Versus Da Vinci Code) and the hidden blade isn't based on any real weapon, but the story world is still interesting. It's just that the story itself in this game felt a little bland.
But there's plenty to love about this installment. For one, the crossbow is a nice addition. As it makes killing unaware guards far easier, and because that was one major obstacle both games had to complete a mission undetected, I only have good things to say about this weapon. And if you don't like the crossbow, then don't use it. The game's not putting a gun to your head and forcing you to use this weapon, and there are plenty of other guard-killing items at your disposal. In fact, don't even buy it. You don't get it from the start of the game; you buy it at a weapon's shop. Poison can now be used as a projectile as well, so it's actually useful this time around. And while not necessary a must-have, Leonardo's final innovation does come in handy for missions where falling a great distance is a part of the mission, but to get full sync you must take no damage. And those who remember the end of the first game likely remember thinking "Well, okay, so what happens now?" The ending for this game will also instill that feeling, along with a healthy dose of "What the hell did I just do?" It's one of those things that you won't likely see coming until 10 seconds AFTER it's too late to do anything about it. Kind of the same feeling you get when playing Jade Empire and the major plot twist is about to happen, and all you can do is sit back and watch. Also, do Subject 16's puzzles; it's worth the time spent. Speaking of time spent, this is definitely a completionist's dream, as there is more than plenty to do in Rome, from renovating the city to hiring new assassin recruits, to helping out the friendly courtesans, to assassinating minor targets to collecting stuff; there's no reason to just stick with the main storyline. Although, another major disappointment in this area is that two unlockable capes, both of which are very difficult to come by, both do the exact same thing; lower notoriety to 0%. Why one couldn't be full notoriety and the other 0 notoriety is beyond me. I enjoyed having the Auditore cape in AC2 and retrying the side missions to see how much more of a challenge it'd be to have every guard notice me almost immediately.
So this game is definitely for the fans of the series, although people who didn't like the second game for whatever the reason probably won't find much to like this time around either, as it does for the most part feel like an extension of the second game, whether that's a good or bad thing. It seems like that's largely what the developers were going for; to give us another dose of the series while the next iteration is being made, and to that end they do succeed. It's not perfect, but it does an admirable job of what it set out to do. The one and only thing that I do miss from the original game is that when a target was killed from the first Assassin's Creed, each kill had a true purpose. Like in the second game, this is more about just finding and killing the person. You don't take the time to learn more about the target before going in to make the kill, you simply find them and kill them. While I don't miss the STRUCTURE of how you gained information on your target in the first game, it wouldn't be a bad thing to have the concept put in. It should just be a lot less repetitive.
In any case, the good outweighs the bad, hence the 3 stars. The full sync requirement loses one by itself, and the other complaints combine into another negative star, so 5 stars minus 2 equals 3.
Addendum: Just finished the DLC package "The Da Vinci Disappearance," and I can see why it got so many mediocre reviews. It's not that it's bad, it's just not very good. The gameplay is standard fare for the Assassin's Creed games, which in itself isn't a bad thing, but it doesn't tread new ground or have any big reveals save for the end, which history buffs will smack themselves in the head upon viewing. I get the whole higher powers leaving clues for man to find thing, but there is the slight logical problem that standardized longitude wouldn't be invented for almost another 400 years. Notice I used the word "invented." Latitude of course was always standardized, given that the equator is always the same, but the same cannot be said for longitude. It wasn't until 1884 that the Prime Meridian was established, and that was subjective in itself - Greenwich was picked as the point of reference for 0 degrees longitude because it was the largest seaport yet used in its time. (And like many other things, it was determined by rich fat cats.) So if the course of historical events were different and the PM would have been instead established in, say, Rome, or if Spain never lost its major naval influence and the PM would have been selected for its port, for example, then the same coordinates would be in a whole different area.
But the main problem I had with spending $10 on this DLC is the simple fact that the story was very threadbare. Also, the fact that the final mission's full sync requirement is to take no damage - unquestionably the single most frustrating requirement, and especially for this mission - didn't help. It bothers me all the more because I've seen just how engaging the story can be when the writers strive to make a good story, so this lackluster effort is all the more disappointing. Mediocrity is mediocrity whether the game is great or otherwise. But, Revelations is right around the corner, so I am cautiously optimistic that this will be the game that outshines the others.