Assassin's Creed II: Best Multiplat Of The Year
While I believe Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and Killzone 2 are firmly in the #1 and #2 positions respectively, I'm also now convinced that Assassin's Creed II is the single best multiplatform title of 2009.
Exclusives once again are ruling this year - with a few exceptions, of course - and therefore, I believe it means something to say that Ubisoft's tremendous sequel is on par with the best exclusive titles currently available. In my review, I went into a great deal of detail, as I tend to do with all high-profile reviews, but this is where I want to talk about the smaller, yet equally impressive facets of this excellent production. You know, certain games rely more heavily on immersion and convincing the player he's in the given setting; in such cases, the developers have a tough job ahead of them: even the tiniest elements must ring true (with only some leeway allowed for technical limitations). You'd be surprised what we notice when simply walking down the sidewalk in real life. In ACII, we have to believe we're in 15th-century Italy.
Now, I wasn't around back then and no matter how many history books you read or how many experts you talk to, none of us will ever know what it really felt like walking the streets of Florence and Venice in the late 1400s. Even so, we've got a great example of what designers are capable of if they put their minds to producing an authentic, fully believable world based on historic fact. Just walk around and check things out. And don't just watch the many animations and listen to the various cries of heralds and hawkers; also pay close attention to how people react. It's such a good indicator of an advanced product. Citizens will see you and take notice if you do something out of whack, and if you knock into someone and force them to drop what they're carrying, the guards will react. They won't draw blades, but they'll push you about and yell.
In short, it's almost exactly what I would expect to see if I could be transported back in time. Granted, nothing's perfect and there are plenty of improvements Ubisoft could made with a third installment: for example, how's about making throwing knives "incognito?" Since when can everyone in the vicinity see a tiny knife traveling at high speed? Also, the AI could be ramped up again; if an archer sees me and tells me to get down, all I have to do is hang off the ledge and he's happy. There's also some erratic behavior going on, but other than that, the entire atmosphere is just very, very impressive. And the upgrade given to combat and how you go about your day-to-day activities gives us the depth we were missing in the original. Having a Villa of your own that needs to be upgraded, buying new weapons, armor and items, and having almost complete freedom...it's all great.
Every time I play, I keep thinking I'll spot something that should've been remedied. But I just can't find much wrong with this game. Like I said, it's in the realism and reactions of those around you. For instance, using Thieves or Courtesans to distract guards will allow you to get in and out of certain rooms without being noticed. You could also use a smoke bomb and slip in, but by the time you come out, the guards will have recovered and quickly attack. Plus, because the three different types of enemies have altered how you approach battles (Brutes and Seekers force you to adopt new fighting styles), you always feel as if every mission could be very different from the previous one. Use poison? The throwing knives? The pistol? Sneak around and ignore them entirely? This is where that aforementioned freedom comes into play; there are any number of ways to approach an objective, and that's always part of the fun. And oh yes, being able to swim now is a definite bonus. Kinda need that in Venice.
Anyway, for the more straightforward reasons why I would call ACII the best multiplatform game of the year, click the link above and read the review. But I must say, I've been really drawn in by three games in a row over the past few months (Uncharted 2, Dragon Age, and this one) and that almost never happens. Of course, it'll probably happen again in March, and I look forward to that.
12/4/2009 Ben Dutka