written by Blain Newport on Saturday, 19 May, 2012
I'd heard that Assassin's Creed 2 fixed many of the initial game's problems, so I gave it a whirl this week. For me the game was an improvement, but still felt very repetitive.
Maybe I'm just burned out, but the traversal and combat felt even duller than I remember them. I would let out a groan every time my next mission objective was halfway across the map because that meant another few minutes of my life wasted. Supposedly you need to stay on your toes so the guards don't attack you and so you can spot hidden treasure, but the guards are never a serious problem and I had over a quarter million excess florins by the end of the game.
The charms of the story were similarly lost on me. The characters felt lifeless enough that I didn't care what they were going through or want to piece together any of the silly sci-fi conspiracy surrounding them.
For me the star of the game was the setting. I was fortunate enough to get to visit some of the game's locations some years ago. Here are a couple comparison shots.
This is the Duomo of Florence, the city's largest cathedral. There's a tower next to the cathedral, which is where this picture was taken from.
Here's a similar picture from higher up inside the game's version of the tower. They didn't model the interior all the way down. The cathedral looks similar enough to give the right impression, I think.
Here's the game's ground level view of the tower and the cathedral. The bench the player is sitting on isn't actually there in real life. In fact, I think he'd be sitting in the middle of the street in real life.
As you can see, if the player is sitting basically in front of the tower, where he's sitting should be empty space. There are a lot of reasons you can't have that in a video game. For one thing, that much open space is uninteresting from a gameplay perspective. If the guards are chasing you, there's not much to do with a big open space except run. Also, big open spaces mean drawing a lot of buildings at once, which can be a performance problem.
That said, I missed the Baptistery, the smaller building that sits in front of the cathedral in real life. It predates the cathedral by two hundred years and has amazing bronze doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti that Michelangelo said were suitable to be the gates of paradise. I was told that Michelangelo wept when he saw them for the first time. I suppose the developers had their reasons for not including the Baptistery. But I remembered those doors from my trip and was looking forward to seeing them. I mean, they're pretty awesome.