New name, same assassin. New game, different developer. Better?
I once heard that the iPhone version of Assassin’s Creed 2: Discovery would be released with the launch of the console version. Being a few months short of that mark, is the sequel to the original Altair’s Chronicles worth the wait? Well, speaking of Altair’s Chronicles, it’s currently FREE as of writing his review. So if you want to get an idea of how the original game played, go grab it and try it out. The sequel is not a twin to the original… mostly in a good way.
The original Assassin’s Creed game came to us via Gameloft. While Gameloft certainly has helped push out major titles for the App Store in recent history, I’m happy the new game has been developed by Gameloft’s big daddy: Ubisoft. AC2 just feels and handles more solidly than the original. I should also add that there’s actually decent voice acting… the general sign a game is NOT developed by Gameloft. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
AC2: Discovery is supposed to be a prequel to the console version of the game. You play as the Italian Ezio (pronounced “Et – zio”), who, as far as I can tell, lives to follow other people’s orders – as long as they revolve around killing people. The storyline is pretty hard to follow at first, but eventually clears up a bit. The plot is politically and religiously charged within the Spanish Inquisition. Corrupt religious leaders are trying to continue the war against the Moors, a cocky french lady-rogue likes throwing salt in your game, and Christopher Columbus wants to walk the streets without being attacked all the time. Phew!
All of these characters enter the story at one time or another, which will take you from the dusty streets of Italia to the dark sewers of Italia. Then from the dusty streets of Espana, to the dark underground of Espana. Mixed in are a few samey indoor levels, and a pretty cool nighttime environment. All around, the back drops, while looking decent, aren’t quite as vibrant and lush as the original Gameloft game. However, it’s hard to stop and enjoy the view when you’re constantly running, leaping, swinging, and sneaking your way from point A to point B while trying not to die a horrible death. I would have liked to see a bit more variety in the levels themselves, but one can only hope for so much in a 2-D platforming game.
Ubisoft took a unique chance with controls for AC2 by using a slider for movement rather than a joypad or arrow buttons. You can only move left and right, which certainly simplifies things. Unfortunately, the slider doesn’t work too well when trying to be precise with movement. I found myself accidentally running when I meant to sneak, or leaping over an edge when I only meant to hang off the edge. There is a sneak button that’s meant to assist with these issues, as it forces you to slow down and won’t let you leap to your doom. The problem is, these issues only occurred while running from enemies, in which case sneaking would = death.
This brings up another issue with the game, which is the inability to always grasp onto walls/ledges while falling. It’s easy to jump from building to building with graceful ease. If you jump into a wall, you automatically grasp it and can climb up or down. The problem comes when you’re required to climb down, which happens in several places. There’s a very thin line between “creep down the wall” and “fling yourself from the wall to certain death” in the slider controls. If you do accidentally jump down, Ezio will randomly not grab onto a ledge or wall below you, causing you to pummel to the ground. This happened more times I’m willing to admit.
One final strong complaint must be filed against every stealth mission in the game. In these missions, you must kill enemies without getting “seen” four times or the mission is over. The problem is that enemies can “see” you even if you can’t see them. You are also instantly seen if an enemy has his back to you, but starts the “turning around” animation. Even if I’m a foot away about to stab him in the back, if the game decides he’s going to turn, you’re seen before he even does so. There are several places where you are seemingly encouraged to leap across roof tops, but strategically placed enemies see you during the jumps. I had plenty of moments where during a jump 2-3 people all saw me, meaning it was pretty much an instant mission failure. It’s difficult when you have a very limited view of what’s around you. It’s all very frustrating, and ironically the least fun I had playing this game.
But enough bad! All the other mission types, like racing, escaping, and just everyday killing guards, were a lot of fun. The levels are designed well, giving you the ability to vault from roof top to roof top while avoiding most enemies, or take the low road and hope you don’t get caught by 3 or more at once. Although the action and killing is quite satisfying, with plenty of unique kill moves, if you get surround, you had better jump and run like a pansy or it’s back to the checkpoint for you! It would have been nice to have multi-kill moves to kill enemies on either side of you when being surrounded.
The combat works well for the most part, and features a counter feature that allows you to avert incoming attacks, and to sometimes use them to your advantage. There isn’t a button to finish guards while they are on the ground, which is kinda annoying, but as I mentioned above, when you do finish your enemies with a blade to the neck, back, or face, it’s quite enjoyable. Some of the finishing moves are based on speed of approach, or if you’re jumping onto an opponent. You also receive throwing knives, which are handy for killing guards from a distance.
While there were a few framerate issues on my 3G iPhone, the action is smooth and a lot of fun as you’re running and leaping from incoming arrows and guards. Ezio’s animations are absolutely superb and really help the flow of the action. The sound is also excellent, and makes the kills all that much better. The character models are also very crisp, even when zoomed in for cutscenes. While we’re on the subject, you are required to tap through each bit of dialogue (which has un-removeable subtitles) in each cutscene. This becomes greatly frustrating when certain checkpoints require you to tap through a cutscene every single time you restart the mission. I always wonder how QA folks don’t catch this stuff. Oh well.
AC2:D has quite a bit more to it than just the main campaign. It took me around 6-8 hours to complete the main game. Each mission has challenge scrolls that you must find to unlock (some of them don’t unlock when you find them, and I couldn’t quite figure out why), as well as art stashes that unlock art from the console version of the game. Much like the beginning tutorials, the challenges take place in a digital Animus environment, which is
pretty cool. There are 9 challenges total.
Both the main game and challenges provide you with “Sync” points based on your performance. You can then use these points to buy “Animus Hacks” which unlock things like faster climbing, unlimited throwing knives, or even a hard mode for the main game. There is also a “Ted Mode” to unlock. If anyone knows what the hell this does, post it in the comments! It’s quite expensive, meaning I’m nowhere close to unlocking it. There is even the ability to put your own face/picture on the wanted posters in the game, which Ezio can pull down to upgrade his max health capacity.
While not without flaws, Assassin’s Creed 2: Discovery is an exciting and fast-paced action platformer that will keep you entertained for a good amount of time. Even with the sometimes erratic movement/framerate issues, it really is a joy to parkour your way through the environments from one satisfying kill to the next. Nothing says “assassin” like a well-placed wrist-blade to the face.
Assassin’s Creed 2: Discovery is out now for $9.99