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Quick Rant: Assassin’s Creed 2 First Impressions

Yesterday saw the highly anticipated release of Ubisoft’s flagship title, Assassin’s Creed 2. We haven’t completed the game in its entirety yet, but we will touch on the general beats of the game before we complete our Game Rant run-through for the full review.

Assassin’s Creed 2 opens in much the same way as the first game did. The familiar animus device is back to dig into the psyche of Desmond Miles, the series’ protagonist. The story is driven by this device which examines Desmond’s DNA to compile a historical snapshot of his ancestral history. In doing so, two opposing factions attempt to unearth the locations of the Pieces of Eden which are presumably biblical artifacts of power used to control the world.

The animus also plays a role in the game's menu system, which is thematic.  The system is intended to recreate the heads up display within the animus from Desmond’s perspective. Before starting the game, you might want to go through the primary menu option screen and check out the great live action movie, Assassin’s Creed Lineage that is included on the game disc. The movie yields some fun back-story from the game’s primary playable character, Ezio, by focusing on his father’s activities as an assassin in Italy.

The actual game play begins with an impressive looking level that expands upon the laboratory you were held at during the first game. Remember all of those locked off areas of the lab from the original Assassin’s Creed? Well, now they are available for exploration as you escape the Abstergo building with the help Lucy, the lab assistant from the first game.

The game's visuals during the introductory levels are solid, although a little barren at times. However, the opening serves to bridge the first game to this one, rather than effectively drawing the player into the new experience. I also found that characters run and move stiffly or somewhat awkwardly during this introductory level. This was a bit of a disappointment considering the fluid nature of all of the characters in the first game. Ubisoft also went with a different character model for Lucy that some gamers will not find as attractive as the first game. However, she is shown to be intelligent and very capable within the game’s first ten minutes, which is an interesting evolution from her role as lab assistant in the first game.

Eventually you’ll make your way into the game’s new genome explorer, the Animus 2.0. More than a mere plot device, you’ll find that the Animus' upgrades extend from the story into the game’s HUD and menu system as I mentioned earlier. This is where the game turns around a bit graphically, as the Animus system transports you to Italy, occupying the body of your ancestor Ezio. Graphically, the city looks amazing and as vibrant and alive as the Middle Eastern locations from the first game.

There is some game time involved in completing several introductory tasks before you’ll be able to take the mantle of “assassin” and run around in the guild’s traditional outfit. Even though most gamers will be eager to get rolling with all of your abilities, there is some fun to be had early on with rampant pick pocketing, as well as several street fights, and hay piles to stash the bodies of the people you’ve dispatched along the way.

Visually, Assassin’s Creed 2 is a great looking game, although I’m not sure why the character models are so stiff while moving.  The game is also visually more crisp than the first, which looks great in-game; but also takes away a bit of the realistic, soft nature of the graphics that made the first game’s Middle Eastern environments so immersive. Clearly though, this is an early observation and the visual scope of the game will likely be more apparent deeper into the story.

The game is lush with unique characters ranging from Desmond to his ancestors and confidants who are battling Abstergo. The voice acting is great, and players familiar with the first game, Prince of Persia, Uncharted and Uncharted 2 will note that Nolan North is back, bringing the lead character to life with his signature voice (Nolan is going to give Batman’s Kevin Conroy a run for his money for the most recognizable animated character actor!). The controls were immediately familiar to fans of the first game, requiring only a little adaptation for several of the new actions that can be performed in the sequel (for example, picking up dispatched enemies, looting, or disarming foes to acquire their weapons).

After only a brief period with the game, I’m eager to delve deeper into the sophisticated story. Note however, that this game is most obviously not for children. There is casual use of profanity, sexuality, and graphic violence. However, for fans of the series, or people looking for an immersive experience in a country like Italy which has been recreated magnificently on screen, then Assassin’s Creed 2 is for you. We’ll have an in-depth review coming soon, but what are your thoughts on the game thus far?

Images courtesy of Ubisoft

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