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by Ethos

Assassin’s Creed II Review: Everything is Permitted

Friday, November 27th, 2009

ac2boxartLIKED:

-The major improvements to mission structure and variety

-The gripping narrative in two different timelines

-Free running. It’s still a ton of fun

DISLIKED:

-The occasionally choppy framerate

-Occasionally draggy swordfights

-The fact that I won’t see Assassin’s Creed III for two years

Assassin’s Creed II is the most improved videogame sequel I’ve ever played. Building upon the mechanics of its predecessor in spectacular ways, Assassin’s Creed II practically renders the original game useless, and stands on its own as one of the best action-adventure titles of 2009.

The game starts off with a bang. Desmond Miles is exactly where we left him in the first Assassin’s Creed: a prisoner of the evil Abstergo Corporation. And, with the help of the beautiful Miss Lucy Stillman, he’s finally busting out. Once free, Lucy takes Desmond back to a current-day base of the Assassins. By his own will this time, Desmond steps back into the Animus, in hope of acquiring skills, and finding some answers hidden in the past.

And so we are introduced to Ezio Auditore da Firenze, merely a boy when we meet him, and a member of a very influential family in Florence. You’ll soon realize that both Ezio, and the events he gets caught up in, are quite a bit more interesting than Altair and his endeavors ever were. Ezio is quite the likeable protagonist, actually, and the murder of his father and brother provide a strong motive for his actions throughout the game. Assassin’s Creed II tells a much better story than its predecessor, and maintains the same impressive attention to historical detail. Wanna take a crash-course in Renaissance-era Italy? Give Assassin’s Creed II a spin.

Like the first game, you will switch back to present-day at certain points, and take control of Desmond. Unlike the first game, these instances are painfully rare, which is unfortunate because they’re far more interesting this time around. Ezio’s historical drama is intriguing for sure, but the present-day events remain the most gripping aspect of the narrative. I’ll refrain from any spoilers, but let it be said that the ending of Assassin’s Creed II is mind-blowing, and leaves me on pins and needles for the inevitable third game.

Assassin’s Creed II is built on the same groundwork as the original, but the entire package has been given some serious renovations. From the most radical additions right down to the smallest of adjustments, every tweak and every change integrated in Assassin’s Creed II makes it a better game than its predecessor.

The largest addition to the game is the Currency system – there is money in Assassin’s Creed II, and you’ll use it to buy weapons, mercenaries, prostitutes, and much more. While it’s not a terribly prominent aspect of the gameplay, it does have its uses that make it a solid addition overall. It’s also worth mentioning that one of Assassin’s Creed II’s main sidequests involves restoring an entire Villa – which acts as Ezio’s home base. Restoring the Villa is as simple as pumping money into it, and over the course of the game it’s quite rewarding to see it shift from a run-down ghost town to a thriving little city. Oh, and as an added bonus, the town makes you money.

ac2screen2Another welcome change is a different approach to the stealth elements of the game. In the original Assassin’s Creed, the player had one way to blend in with a crowd, and that was to follow one of those creepy monk processions around. Pretty stupid, eh? Well worry not, because Ubisoft has taken a much more versatile approach to the stealth elements in Assassin’s Creed II. Ezio can blend in with any crowd at all, so long as he doesn’t disturb them. It’s as easy as slipping in and out of different groups of people. Also, you can now hire prostitutes and mercenaries, for the purpose of distracting guards or simply cloaking you in the crowd. Aggression from city guards is directly correlated to your Notoriety – aka, how much trouble you’ve been causing lately. Your notoriety level tends to go up rather quickly, with Ezio being an assassin and whatnot, but there are a variety of ways to lower it. Ripping down wanted posters, bribing town heralds, and offing certain politicians will do the trick. All said, unlike the first game, you won’t find yourself in many unwanted confrontations with armed guards. Quite the relief, really.

The fantastic free-running mechanics have been given a minor facelift. Running and jumping across rooftops is just as thrilling as it was in the original game, and you’ll likely find yourself platforming around without any objectives in mind, just for the fun of it. Ezio is much faster at scaling walls than Altair, which not only saves time but makes the climbing that much more enjoyable. Like the original, the game’s gigantic city environments not only provide fantastic platforming opportunities, but they maintain a consistent level of realism, which is quite impressive indeed; especially since they’re much larger this time around.

Combat is slightly improved as well, though it’s not as different as some might hope. Some new weapon types spice things up a little, if only for their unique counter-kill animations. A disarm tactic has been integrated, which helps make short work of weaker enemies. However, attempting an old-fashioned down-and-dirty swordfight remains a very slow, clangy affair. Your enemies block a lot, and you’ll find yourself relying mostly on counterattacks. Actually, if you’re like me, you’ll discover that you can actually engage in physical combat with your Hidden Blades, which makes extremely short work of any enemy. Counterattacks with the Hidden Blades are, as you can imagine, instant kills. Pretty neat, and definitely a timesaver, but unquestionably broken. Oh well. Combat really isn’t bad at all in Assassin’s Creed II, but it’s far from perfect.

ac2screen3If you were to simply watch someone else play Assassin’s Creed II, you might think it looks like largely more of the same. When you play it, you’ll think otherwise. The greatest improvement Ubisoft has made with this game is its mission structure and flow. The original Assassin’s Creed featured essentially the same four missions over and over again. Walk into a town, get some information on where your target will be at what time, go there, and stab him. The assassinations themselves were always fun, but everything around them became rather dull after the first few hours. In Assassin’s Creed II, there is far, far greater variety – and the missions themselves display much better mission design. Let’s take the assassinations themselves, for example: in the original game, they were merely stabbings bookended by lengthy cutscenes. In Assassin’s Creed II, you might assault a noble’s castle with an army in tow for the sake of routing out one man. One impressive segment of the game requires Ezio to assassinate six different men in order to learn the location of one target. Others might require you stealthily follow a target for an extended period of time. One of them might even require to you fly. And the inevitable moment of truth? Even sweeter than it was before.

Side missions are still aplenty, and they’ve been improved as well. They offer actual rewards this time around, such as added health squares and equipment. The Assassin’s Tombs sidquest deserves special mention: scattered throughout the world are six different tombs to be found and navigated. These tombs require Prince of Persia-esqe platforming and puzzle-solving to traverse, which is especially thrilling to a Prince of Persia fan such as myself. And the reward for completing all six tombs is so sweet that I refuse to spoil it here. Smaller side missions include “beat ups,” in which you literally hunt down an unfaithful husband and slap him around just for the hell of it. On the less ridiculous side are Assassination Contracts and Mail Deliveries, which are occasionally fun, and offer monetary rewards if nothing else.

AC2screenNeedless to say, Assassin’s Creed II is quite the looker. Not quite on the level of, say, Uncharted 2, but regardless, it’s one of this generation’s better looking games. Environments are absolutely gigantic, featuring not just cites this time around, but the accompanying countrysides as well. The game’s depiction of 14th Century Italy is absolutely gorgeous to behold; the art direction is absolutely top-notch, and the sense of realism is impressive. Playing on the PS3, the only problems I’ve experienced are an occasionally choppy framerate, as well as a few glitches such as audio cut-outs. None of these are game-breaking issues, but they’re present and worthy of mention nonetheless.

Assassin’s Creed II sounds quite good as well, featuring a better, more noticeable soundtrack than the original, and a solid voice cast across the board. Ezio, thankfully, is voiced far more competently than Altair was, which makes everything that much better.

Frankly, there isn’t much bad to say about Assassin’s Creed II. My main complaints border on nitpicking. This is a prime contender for Game of the Year, and one of the best open-world adventure titles I’ve played in some time. Oh, and it’ll keep you entertained for quite a while – even if you stick strictly to the main storyline, it’ll probably take you 15-20 hours to complete. I played for 25 or so, and I’m far from 100 percent. If you have the means, do not hesitate to give this game a try, even if you didn’t enjoy its predecessor. Given how the game ends, I’m quite interested in seeing where Ubisoft takes the series from here. Don’t be too surprised if goes somewhere completely unexpected – with Assassin’s Creed II, this franchise has shown that it can evolve, and better itself in the process.

Reviewbutton

Standby!

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Another slow weekend for Riddlethos, but this time we’re actually working behind the scenes for the first time in a while! We appreciate your input on the review score post, and we’ve been formulating our first draft of the Riddlethos structure. Below is an actual picture of Riddles and I working our asses off.
hardatwork

Review Scores

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Apparently I actually do have an effect on good ol’ stubborn Riddles! He and I are in the process of coming up with a unified review structure that will, in fact, include some sort of score. Now that I’m not the only one who will be scoring, I might save my Etho-erectile-meter for some other function since Riddles has the desire for some semblance of professionalism. But you know me, I’m King Loophole. And for kicks, I’m going to ask that you pronounce that as “King Loo-fole-lay”. In either case, what are all your preferences for scoring and formats in reviews? Let us know. We are interested in your input although we will very likely ignore all of it. My hope is that our reviews will look something like the below picture.
sesamestreet_coloring_04_oscar

Hey! Look! Listen!

Friday, November 20th, 2009

HLLfinal

What ho, loyal followers, and welcome to the Thursday edition of Hey! Look! Listen!

As always, I am your host Oliver Motok, and I’m really tired for some reason. Sounds like we have a super-sleepy edition on our hands. I doubt it will make a whole lot of difference, honestly, since I’m skilled at writing in a variety of mental states, but we’ll see how it goes.

Onward and forward!

zeldaNintendo Hopes to “Surprise” Zelda Fans at E3 2010

I want another console Zelda. As I’ve stated on numerous occasions, The Legend of Zelda is my favorite videogame series of all time, and these three long years since Twilight Princess have been painful indeed. Yes, I know Spirit Tracks is forthcoming, but it will likely just whet my appetite further for a true console release.

But there is hope! Speaking to UK’s Official Nintendo Magazine, producer Eiji Aonuma had this to say:

“I hope that we can show you something at the E3 show next year, and it is something we are hopeful will be surprising.”

Nice. I’m hopeful as well. I mean, that’s pretty vague, but I’m willing to latch onto anything at this point. He went on to say this:

“…we have been trying something new in terms of the structure of the Wii version of the new Zelda game this time. I am really hopeful that people will be surprised with the changes we have implemented for this Wii version.”

Yeah, me too. Man, I really AM tired. That wasn’t even a real news story, was it… sigh.

no-more-heroesNo More Heroes Coming to PS3, 360

Nice. VERY nice. I’ve yet to play No More Heroes on the Wii, and I might as well wait for the sure-to-be-prettier version now. According to some Famitsu screens that surfaced on Wii@Everyday, Suda 51’s critically acclaimed action game will soon be released on the Xbox 360 and PS3. No real details have been announced, but it’s definitely happening. Woo!

Sony Launches the PlayStation 2 In Brazil

No, it’s not a misspell. Poor Brazil, so behind the times. Regardless, I’d be happy for them, but it reportedly costs R$799, which roughly equals USD $465.

Four hundred and sixty-five dollars. To buy a PlayStation 2 in Brazil. Just when you thought you’d heard it all, eh?

I apologize for this disgustingly short HLL, but frankly there isn’t much happening in the gaming world today. And, as I’ve stated before, I’m really damn tired. But don’t fret, I’m sure I’ll be back to form soon. Look for a full review of Assassin’s Creed II soon, and of course, another Hey! Look! Listen! on Tuesday next.

Scatter Storming. Issue #010 “10th Issue Extravaganza!!!”

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

ss010I’ll admit, this cover is pretty terrible even by my standards. Still! Let’s not focus on the bad because today we have reason to celebrate! For some disgusting and twisted reason, I have been able to churn out 10 of these ridiculous nonsense-filled bizarre-fests on a surprisingly timely schedule. So let’s continue into this triumphant issue with our heads high, our brains scattered, and our expectations low!

I wanna play more Mario Bros -
It’s the truth! I gotta say, that game is massively addicting. Even Nate Liles agrees. Take our text conversation from earlier today for example:

Nate Liles: NSMB is freaking amazing.
Ethos: Told ya! Non-stop awesomeness!
Nate Liles: AC2 is good too.
Ethos: So I hear. I don’t doubt it’s great, I’m just not interested.
Nate Liles: Wow. That’s rude. Go edit Kim Kardashian’s butt into my bedroom
Ethos: I’m on it.
Nate Liles: God, I hope so! She is a cutie with a booty

Perhaps that whole thing wasn’t relevant, but then again everything is relevant when Nate Liles is involved.

It’s now a day later! -
This is also true! I wrote that intro and first story yesterday. Since then, I’ve actually “beat” New Super Mario Bros Wii, but there are many levels I haven’t even played yet, and lots of star coins to collect. Hell, I might even write my first Riddlethos review for the mother fucker.

Review Controversy -
Continuing in that stream of thought, how would you guys like to see my reviews formatted? Riddlethos currently has a policy against numerical scores on reviews, but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to necessarily not have a score of some sort. Riddles has suggested a Ethometer of sorts. Thoughts?

Apparently Magna Carta 2 doesn’t suck -
I was skimmin’ ye olde RPGamer today and saw the review for Magna Carta 2. I just needed a reason to give this a try, and now I have it. I need to beat Dragon Age so I can move on. I’ll take a hack at it tonight!

I got some art assets I never showed you kids -
When I did that Zelda preview last week, I was later given access to some artwork. Most of it is floating around somewhere, but is it floating around WITH PATENTED ETHOS MS PAINT COMMENTARY?! I didn’t think so! So in honour of this, the 10th Issue Extravaganza, I bring you:

A Bunch Of Art Screens With Stupid Writing On It, And By A Bunch, I Mean Just Four.

Spirit Tracks01
Argh, I’m thrilled and all that Zelda gets to join in the fun, I’m just prepping myself for a lot of cringe worthy stereotypes.

Spirit Tracks02
Seriously, I just need to leave this one alone.

Spirit Tracks03
ZOH MY GOD, SPOILERZ.

Spirit Tracks04
Yup, no words.

That’s it! I had a few more screens, but I need to get to work, and this issue is already late enough. Look forward to many, many more beautiful Scatter Stormings!

Un Momento

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

I started the 10th Issue Extravaganza for Scatter Storming earlier today. Then Mario Bros happened. But Riddles has offered his meaty Assassin’s Creed 2 impressions, so there’s more than enough to tide you over while you wait. G’night, cretins.

Assassin’s Creed II: The First 12 Hours

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

ac2screen1Yesterday, I re-bought the original Assassin’s Creed to give myself a refresher course.

I soon realized that the game’s repetitive mission structure does not lend itself well to a replay. While I’m not about to renounce the love I have for the game, I’ll admit that I was fairly bored with the first few hours of Assassin’s Creed. The magic was gone, and in its place was a middling action game with aspirations of greatness, but not a whole lot more. And I found myself thinking, “man, I really hope Assassin’s Creed II lives up to its promises.”

Twelve hours in, I can assure you that it does. Assassin’s Creed II takes the bare-boned frame of a game that was Assassin’s Creed and transforms it into a fully realized open-world action experience.

ALL THAT IS GOOD:

-Improved Plot Development:

While playing the original Assassin’s Creed, did you ever really give a shit about the tough-as-nails protagonist, Altair? Because I sure didn’t. Altair was never characterized as anything more than a loose-cannon assassin on the edge who, apparently, hated everyone. The fact that he had the game’s weakest voice actor didn’t help either.

Well never fear, because Assassin’s Creed II’s protagonist Ezio is a major improvement.  Early parts of the game show us Ezio before he dons the Assassin’s robes, interacting with his family and friends. Because of this, you’ll find that you actually care about him, and the tragedies that soon befall his family.

It’s not just the character development that’s been improved, but plot development in general. Rather than being completely out-of-the-loop for 90% of the game, Assassin’s Creed II will instantly draw you in with its convoluted story of political struggle and intrigue between the various factions of renaissance-era Italy. Again, Ubisoft has their historical details down pat, which makes the story that much more credible.

ac2screen2-Repetitive Missions = Dead and Gone

As promised, mission structure in Assassin’s Creed II is far more varied than the original was. And, best of all, none of the side missions are actually required. Sure, you can still run around scaling viewpoints and performing random acts of charity for citizens, but you don’t have to do it in order to progress.

However, if you do choose to dabble in the surplus of side missions, you’ll actually be rewarded for your efforts this time around. Scaling viewpoints allows you to locate items such as codex pages hidden throughout the city. Collecting codex pages allows you to upgrade your health bar and weaponry. Mini-dungeons known as Assassin’s Tombs are scattered throughout the game’s cities. Completing these dungeons not only lets you take part in some awesome Prince of Persia-style platforming, but nets you some cash and an Assassin’s Seal. Collect all six Assassin’s Seals, and you’ll get something awesome, but I won’t spoil it for you now. And that’s just a few examples; there’s plenty of things I’ve yet to even try.

The actual assassinations are still the best parts of the game, and in fact, they’re even better now. Assassinations are actually fully-realized missions now, rather than a stabbing bookended by cutscenes. For example, an assassination might entail a large-scale assault on a noble’s castle.

ac2screen3-Improved Combat

I actually didn’t mind the combat in the original Assassin’s Creed, but for those who did, know that it has indeed been improved. The core mechanics remain the same, but you can now wield many different weapons, which adds a nice bit of variety. Additionally, Ezio has the ability to disarm opponents, as well as grapple and execute them. I’m not positive that it will hold up the entire game, but after 12 hours, I still enjoy the combat system.

-Free Running

It’s even better than it was in the first game. The mechanics are identical, but Ezio is noticeably quicker than Altair was, which is a welcome change. If you’re like me, you’ll often find yourself just free running around the game’s gigantic cities for the hell of it, with no particular goal in mind.

THAT WHICH SUCKS:

-Going to a Doctor to Heal

In the original Assassin’s Creed, your health would regenerate. In Assassin’s Creed II, you have to go pay a doctor to regain health. There are doctors everywhere, and it’s cheap, but it’s also annoying, and entirely senseless.

-Gah, So Many Falls

The ironic thing is that you’ll lose MOST of your health by stupidly falling off buildings. Why? Well, the camera doesn’t always position itself where it should during fast-paced platforming sequences, and it costs you occasionally.

But both of these complaints are minor. Assassin’s Creed II is a big, beautiful game, and a definite candidate for game of the year. I’ve only scratched the surface in this article. Look for a full review soon.


Hey! Look! Listen!

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

HLLfinal

Hello again, and welcome to the Tuesday edition of Hey! Look! Listen!

I know it’s technically Wednesday, but oh well. I’m your host Oliver Motok, and I’ve already pumped ten hours into Assassin’s Creed II. It is just that good. Impressions forthcoming.

For now, you’ll have to settle for a small dose of news.

mw2bannedModern Warfare 2 Banned in Russia… Or Not

A few days ago, reports that Modern Warfare 2 had been banned in Russia surfaced. Apparently, and unsurprisingly, they got pissed over the now-infamous terrorist airport scene, (seeing that it takes place in Russia, and is perpetrated by Russian terrorists) and called for a full-on national ban. All copies of the game were yanked from shelves, and Activision reportedly was told that they had to remove the level from the game before sales could resume.

Anyway. It WAS a juicy story, until Activision stepped forward and claimed that the decision to recall and modify their game was an internal decision. Bah, how anti-climactic. (MTV Multiplayer).

Check Out BioShock 2’s Boxart

That last story was pretty lame, and in my opinion, so is the boxart for BioShock 2:

That is so... not badass.

That is so... not badass.

Seriously? Seriously? Does anyone disagree with me here? It looks like a cartoon. I am not impressed. (Kotaku).

deadspaceDead Space 2 To Have Multiplayer?

Seems that way, if this job listing is to be believed. Here’s the description:

Seeking a highly motivated Senior Online Level Designer for the Dead Space franchise on Xbox360 and PS3. This is a major opportunity to contribute creatively to an exciting new franchise.

Responsibilities:

• Conceptualize, script, direct, and build online levels for the game.
• Own the level design for the online game, be able to work collaboratively with Creative Director and Online Producer to create extremely fun, satisfying and polished multiplayer levels.
• Drive online design by taking the initiative to bring all parties together to execute on the overall vision for the levels.
• Be a collaborative member of the design team, and contribute to reviews, feedback, and playtest sessions.
• Hands on contributor

That makes it clear enough to me, and it certainly comes as no surprise. BioShock did it, Uncharted did it, and now Visceral has decided that Dead Space has to follow the trend and take on a completely superfluous multiplayer mode.

Uncharted didn’t suffer for it. BioShock 2 is yet to be seen. If Dead Space 2 suffers for it, I will seek revenge. (Kotaku).

ps33.10PS3 Firmware 3.10 Coming This Week

That’s right! Soon after its existence was leaked to the internet, Sony has officially confirmed that PS3 firmware 3.10 will be released this WEEK. Why should you care? Because this one integrates Facebook. How AWESOME is that? Well, for all you facebook stalkers at least.

But it’s actually more than just a Facebook app on your PS3. According to network operation director Eric Lempel, players will be able to share trophy updates on Facebook, for all their friends to see and laugh at. Also, future games will feature the ability to update your facebook.

Again, just so everyone who isn’t as nerdy as you are can have a hearty chuckle.

As you can tell, I’m not super-excited for this. Who knows, it could be neat; I just really have no need to use Facebook on anything other than my computer. And I have no desire to broadcast my trophy acquisitions to the world. (1UP).

square_enix_logoSquare Enix Collaborating with Eidos Montreal on New Game

The headline is essentially the news story, but this is interesting enough to bring up. This marks the first time Square Enix has worked together with someone in their own holding group to produce a game. (Remember, Square Enix acquired Eidos some time ago.)

Speaking at the Montreal Games Summit, Square Enix CEO Yoichi Wada said that the project would be the company’s first “truly global game.” Absolutely no other information was released. I’ll be on the lookout for it, though. Interest = piqued. (1UP).

Man, I would really love to play some more Assassin’s Creed II. Sleep? Who needs sleep? Seriously though, it really is a fantastic game. I’d love to say more, but it would ruin my forthcoming impressions!

‘Till then, readers!

Dear Riddles,

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

whattheOh man, it’s been a while since I’ve written you. Maybe it’s my work schedule wearing down on me a bit, maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been a little sick, I don’t know. Either way I’m sorry. But, if it makes you feel any better, this stupid Assassin’s Week is going to be for me what Forza 3 Week was to you: stupid, dumb, and stupid and dumb. In GOOD game news, it feels weird to be excited for Nintendo games again. Excepting Excitebots, Mario Galaxy was the last game I really cared about from those guys. But now, New Mario Bros is kicking all sorts of ass, and Link’s Choo Choo ridiculousness isn’t nearly as disappointing as I expected from the brief hour I spent with it. Man, I wish I got more sleep before that event, I felt like a tool the whole time. That probably would have happened with sleep anyway, I just need to get used to those press gigs. I’m just rambling, I want to be home playing more Dragon Age. I got slightly tired of it when I played it NON-STOP over the weekend, but I’m ready for another dose. Especially because the Wii’s at Pogo’s so I can’t play Mario.

Okay, that’s all I got. Oh yeah, I got some screens from that media event, but I didn’t have them in time for the preview, but I wanted to show you this hilarious dude. Sooo…I attached a picture of a hilarious dude. Bye.

The people, they say the sequel is better.

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

Here is IGN’s gushing review, and if you remember, while they didn’t hate the first game, they definitely didn’t love it either.

More Assassin’s Creed II News & Previews

Guess what? I STILL DON’T CARE.