GSY PREVIEW | X360, PS3, PC Sunday, November 8, 2009 | 12:10 PM

Gamersyde Preview: Assassin's Creed 2

Gamersyde Preview: Assassin's Creed 2

Assassin's Creed 2 will be released very soon now and this week, we were invited to play the preview code of the game for four full hours. Well aware that the first game did not offer enough variety, the guys at Ubisoft Montreal knew they would have to deliver a good-looking game packed with a lot more content this time around. To find out if they have a good chance of succeeding, follow me inside.



For the past few weeks, people have had some concerns about Assassin's Creed 2, fearing that the game might turn out to be somehow downgraded, graphics-wise. It is true that some of the trailers shown did not help as they were not particularly well-encoded. As a result, I must confess that, even though I had seen the E3 demo in Cologne, I was a bit tensed when I sat down in front of the 58-inch plasma TV with a PS3 controller in my hands.

A bit of his story

The game starts exactly where Assassin's Creed ends, with Desmond Miles discovering strange symbols everywhere on the walls and the floor. The very first minutes will have you try to escape the Abstergo building in a playable introductory scene. This sequence is merely just about going through a bunch of corridors and computer rooms but it is at least a lot more dynamic than the sequences involving Desmond from the previous game. By the way, it is important to mention that it is the only present-related sequence I played in the first four hours, which tends to prove that the leaps between the past and the present will be fewer.

The adventure truly begins with the introduction of Desmond's new ancestor, Ezio Auditore Da Firenze, a young and irresponsible young noble who would clearly benefit from a few slaps in the face if you ask me. Contrary to Assassin's Creed where the player was thrown into the story in medias res, here things are a bit smoother since the main character is presented to us through a series of different sequences - playable or not. All this obviously aims at introducing the player with the main protagonist's personal background as well as the historical context of the story. As I'm not the spoiler kind of guy, I will not get into details but suffice to say that the way Ubisoft handled this long introductory scene is a lot more efficient and cinematic than before. Some work still needs to be done as I find the dramatization of the main event that will affect Ezio's life a bit awkward. It is however much easier to feel involved in what is going on, which is a major improvement to me anyway.



It belongs in a museum

Now is the right time for relief folks, Assassin's Creed 2 is definitely a very good-looking game. As soon as I saw Florence, the last remaining pieces of concerns I had just vanished. Some will probably bitch about the fact that some of the backgrounds - or NPCs - lack details but it would be unfair not to praise the amount of work that has been done with the rendering of all the beauty and delicacy of Italian architecture. Whether you are walking in the street among the crowd or jumping from one rooftop to another, it really feels like being back in the fifteenth century. As you discover all the marvels of the Italian Renaissance, you can learn more about the places you visit. Say you pass near a beautiful church or a famous palace for example, the game's data base is updated and gives you some information about the nearby monument. Would Assassin's Creed 2 be the first game to reconcile a true gaming experience with the content of an encyclopedia? Well, maybe not entirely but it is as close to it as it can get I guess. It makes wandering around even more interesting and is, to me, a very nice feature.

Another nice addition is the fact that there is now a full day and night cycle. Some may think it is not much but, not only does it bring a lot in terms of atmosphere, but it also ads much variety to the game. On the down side tough, sometimes, after completing a mission at night, you can find yourself in the daytime even though Ezio has not moved a finger. It is not that big a deal but with such attention to details, you would expect everything to be perfect, wouldn't you? It is all the more true as time flows in a totally normal way in other instances. Maybe it will be different in the retail version or maybe the Animus is to blame, who knows?



If there is one area where there have been real improvements, it is in the way the emotions of the different characters are conveyed through their eyes. True, there are certainly many games out there in which the facial modelisation is a lot more impressive and sophisticated and some might find that in Assassin's Creed 2, it is a bit too... simplistic. The fact remains though, that the characters look a lot more human than in many other games. In some way, it reminds me of Valve's impressive work on the characters of the Half Life² series, the proof that you do not always need the highest number of polygons to render emotion.

As far as framerate and animations are concerned, once again, nothing to be picky about. The game's framerate is overall very smooth when simply walking around the city. Of course, when things get a little hectic and a bunch of guards are after you, it tends to slow down a bit but nothing too serious - at least nothing worse than in the previous game. In the smaller town of Monteriggioni, it is even 100% smooth whether you run at full speed or jump around everywhere. We will have to wait and see to find out if the review code and the retail version will show some improvements in that area but it should as I have been told the game has been optimized since the preview build. Ezio's animations are very close to Altaïr's but you will soon notice that they are a bit faster, another way of adding more pace to the game.



Crime never pays, or does it?

Truth be told, Assassin's Creed revealed about everything about its gameplay in the first couple of hours but this time, I can assure you that, after four hours, you will only have scratched the surface of the game's possibilities. Obviously, all that has to do with the free running aspect of the game has not changed much since the first episode. The character can climb about anything and if you can see something to grab, you can be certain you can do it. So, provided you find the right "path" it is pretty natural to climb on top of a tower, though not always as easy as you might think.

So as to satisfy the frustrated players who felt they did not have enough control over what was going on in the first game, it is now impossible to hide in a group of monks by the simple press of a button. In Assassin's Creed 2, you really have to stick with the passers-by and follow them as they walk. Given that their moves are not scripted anymore, it also means that they will not necessarily go exactly where you intend to go. Hence the necessity to use different groups of people to move past the guards and be a lot more cautious if you do not want to be spotted. It is however possible to make things a little easier by taking the heat off you: to lower your wanted level, you can rip down the wanted posters on the walls of the city you are in or you can also kill certain optional targets.



Hopefully, it is also possible to pay a group of prostitutes so they divert the guards' attention for a little while or you can choose to throw some coins in the street to create a bit of turmoil. That's why finding and making money has become an important part of gameplay. Some safes are actually hidden all around the different cities and, contrary to the flags of the first game, they really are worth looking for. Talking about collectibles, there are also 20 symbols to discover, each of them unlocking a short video. Once you have found them all, the full video should give you hints as to where the storyline is headed. With each symbol also comes an audio log as well as a small puzzle, like, for example, finding the common element between several paintings. In Monteriggioni, you can also collect statues which will have to be put back where they belong in order to get some interesting reward, or so I have been told. As a matter of fact, all this is purely optional but there is a lot more incentive to find all the collectibles - and there are many others - when you know it's not just for a trophy/achievement.

The addition of a money system is then a very important feature of Assassin's Creed 2. It will allow the player to buy weapons or upgrades, clothes and even a whole village (!) but money will also be required to get some medical care or buy health potions from the local doctor. Which brings me to another great departure from the first Assassin's Creed: in the sequel, the player's health does not simply regenerate with time anymore, so you can't just rush into things without thinking it through first. Since I'm mentioning the things that have been removed from the previous game, I should also tell you that there are no more necessary investigations before killing a target, which comes as a great relief as these sequences were both boring and pointless. The missions will also be more unpredictable and varied with more ways to complete them and it really seemed so during my first hours of play. If Assassin's creed 2 can live up to its promises, it will not only make fans happy, it might also convince the disappointed ones, and hopefully, it will. There are still so many things I could tell you about - most of which I have not even had time to see for myself - like for example the platforming sequences ala Prince of Persia, the weapon schematics you have to find in order for Leonardo Da Vinci to build them for you, or the new moves that you can learn to have access to new areas etc. A whole bunch of stuff we will be glad to come back on if we get the game in time for a full review.



OVERALL IMPRESSIONS:


After four hours with Ezio, one thing is sure, I could have kept playing all day long. Assassin's Creed 2 seems to make up for all its big brother's mistake two years ago, while keeping all the original game's strength. The preview code ran very well, with very little aliasing considering the size of the screen, which is a good omen for the retail version. And well, even if the small pop-up and framerate issues I saw made it to the final game, I would not be any less excited about it. Not a bad sign, is it?

All comments

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Commented on 2009-11-08 12:30:01
great preview, interesting and meaningful. Thanks!
Commented on 2009-11-08 12:30:58
those screenshots look great. this game is gonna be very awesome and atmospheric.
Commented on 2009-11-08 12:45:01
Georgeous stuff! Can' wait.
Commented on 2009-11-08 13:03:10
Thanks for the preview.
Maybe you could add a comment on the combat system.
Is it still broken and piss easy so that the player can take out 200 guards at the same time with the overpowered counterattack?

The mission gathering part in AC was not entirely pointless. The point was to lead the player logical to an opportunity for assassination and to give him a reason to kill the target.
It felt short to this presumption due to the possibility of changing the order in which you accomplish them, that took out the logic.
And that’s exactly what I would like to know about the new mission design.
You say we don’t need to gather any information before killing a target. So we just walk into the palace and kill the king and the mission is a success or how should I put this?
I really can’t image how that keeps one occupied for very long. Maybe you could add something to this e.g. is it more linear and how about the logic: Does it make sense how the overall assassination of a target is presented compared to predecessor?
Commented on 2009-11-08 13:07:19
Framerate issues AGAIN ? OH COME ON UBISOFT!
Commented on 2009-11-08 13:10:12 In reply to Ishigami
As surprising as it may sound, I did not get to fight that much in four hours. Plus it is not really difficult in the beginning as you can counter pretty easily.

I could aslo try the TGS demo, which is set a little later in the game and where it's tougher to survive a fight. I actually did not last long. It seems pretty similar to the first game but there are a lot of weapons, each having different stats so I think it's more fun to play in the end.

The missions will be often updated with new objectives and it will be more about how to get to the target than how to find where the target is hidden. To me the investigations of the first game were just a loss of time. We can tell you more when we get the review code. :)

Alimokrane: maybe you should read the whole thing instead of moaning again.
Commented on 2009-11-08 13:17:57 In reply to Driftwood
Posted by Driftwood
Alimokrane: maybe you should read the whole thing instead of moaning again.
That's surprising comin from you :S of course I read the WHOLE thing!! It sounds good but Framerate really screws up the games for me!!! It's the reason I couldnt stand Mass Effect
Commented on 2009-11-08 13:35:26 In reply to alimokrane
Well I said that:

1. The framerate can now be smooth in many instances, which never was the case in the first game.
2. I played the preview code and things probably changed since then (someone from Ubisoft I know is currently playing the 360 retail version and he claims the games is smooth in every situation).

So I figured you only read the ending comment.

Second of all, games like GTA IV have never raised as many complains framerate-wise although it is to me, one of the worst one out there. Also, I have to say (and it's not your fault), that I tend to get annoyed when I read "No Ubisoft you screwed up again" (not your words exactly I know ;P). I understand not everyone can enjoy their games now or the efforts they put into making them, but sometimes the old Ubisoft doesn't know how to make games anymore comment gets a bit old (along with the you say it's good because Ubisoft bribed you accusation by the way ^^). I know that you haven't been bashing them and that you actually enjoyed some of their recent games but I just can't help it, it just makes me edgy. I have been very disappointed with Far Cry 2 for example but not because there was some pop up or even framerate issues, because the game was very repetitive. It feels that when it comes to Ubisoft, people either say their games are boring but beautiful or, like today, something like "maybe AC2 is more interesting but it does not even run at 60fps". You guys are just never satisfied. :D

AC is an open world game, you can't expect everything to run smoothly all the time, like in, say, Uncharted for example. It does not mean we can't ask for more, but in the end the problem was the first AC was not with the framerate. Now I'm just saying, wait until the game is released and see for yourself, but I think it got a lot better overall and I haven't even seen the final version.
Commented on 2009-11-08 14:13:54
Thanks for the additinal information.

Honestly I never had a real issue with framerates in the first one. There was a lot of tearing bit over all it was running oay. Played it on my 360.
Commented on 2009-11-08 14:41:34
Driftwood, I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.
Commented on 2009-11-08 15:09:38
GReat stuff thanks drift :)
Commented on 2009-11-08 15:18:50
nice impressions...sounds like it may realize the originals potential...
Commented on 2009-11-08 15:28:43 In reply to Driftwood
Posted by Driftwood
Well I said that:

1. The framerate can now be smooth in many instances, which never was the case in the first game.
2. I played the preview code and things probably changed since then (someone from Ubisoft I know is currently playing the 360 retail version and he claims the games is smooth in every situation).

So I figured you only read the ending comment.

Second of all, games like GTA IV have never raised as many complains framerate-wise although it is to me, one of the worst one out there. Also, I have to say (and it's not your fault), that I tend to get annoyed when I read "No Ubisoft you screwed up again" (not your words exactly I know ;P). I understand not everyone can enjoy their games now or the efforts they put into making them, but sometimes the old Ubisoft doesn't know how to make games anymore comment gets a bit old (along with the you say it's good because Ubisoft bribed you accusation by the way ^^). I know that you haven't been bashing them and that you actually enjoyed some of their recent games but I just can't help it, it just makes me edgy. I have been very disappointed with Far Cry 2 for example but not because there was some pop up or even framerate issues, because the game was very repetitive. It feels that when it comes to Ubisoft, people either say their games are boring but beautiful or, like today, something like "maybe AC2 is more interesting but it does not even run at 60fps". You guys are just never satisfied. :D

AC is an open world game, you can't expect everything to run smoothly all the time, like in, say, Uncharted for example. It does not mean we can't ask for more, but in the end the problem was the first AC was not with the framerate. Now I'm just saying, wait until the game is released and see for yourself, but I think it got a lot better overall and I haven't even seen the final version.
OH I get that completely :)

Ubisoft has been my favourite publisher for a LONG time. Last gen, I pretty much bought all their games from Prince of Persia to Far Cry to Beyond good and Evil to Splinter Cell to Ghost Recon. This gen though, they have disappointed me in a few occasions (Farcry, AC). The only game I loved is Prince of Persia and that one had a few issues too.

I was and still am expecting A LOT from AC2 and that probably comes off in my statements as some sort of bashing. I just want them to fix every issue they had with AC. Framerate happens to be the one thing that pisses me off in pretty much all games. If that's not done right, I simply go into rage mode ;)

In any case, I am not buying the game at launch, that I have made clear. I am going to wait for a couple of reviews first.
Commented on 2009-11-08 17:30:33 In reply to alimokrane
Posted by alimokrane
Framerate issues AGAIN ? OH COME ON UBISOFT!
yeah + awfull tearing and scripted animation make it even worse. To bad those issues ruins whole experience for me ill pass.
Commented on 2009-11-08 18:53:40 In reply to alimokrane
This message is in "Boulet Time" (TM), If you still *really* want to see it, click here

Commented on 2009-11-08 20:04:34
nice
Commented on 2009-11-09 01:45:31
Sorry, 1st game was so terrible that there is no way I'll touch these games. Left such a bad taste, but I can still laugh it up with my friends about how badly designed that game was.
Commented on 2009-11-09 01:51:14
According to Drift's comment, the 360 code is running sweet, so either:

1) The PS3 version just needs the last bit of polish to bring it up to scratch

or

2) The PS3 gets another sub-par port.

Let's hope for the former, because I can't stand the bitching that goes on when the PS3 get another shitty port... :o|
Commented on 2009-11-09 02:36:46
Amziing, Can´t Wait for this game
Commented on 2009-11-09 07:14:59 In reply to 2PintsOfInsulin
According to someone I know at Ubisoft. I have only seen the PS3 version so I wouldn't know. :)
Commented on 2009-11-09 08:23:05
Yesterday i watched live stream of this game for about 2-3 hours... don,t know.
It's the same repetative crap + some minor new elements, which didn't make the game any better. :/

Rental at best for me.
Commented on 2009-11-09 10:10:46
There will always be people, who will never be happy. pretty sad.
great preview btw Driftwood.
Commented on 2009-11-09 10:44:34 In reply to Driftwood
Indeed, I did note that!

Nice preview Drift, lots of detail, plenty to chew on. Thanks!
Commented on 2009-11-09 15:47:29
Nice preview but I am not convinced by the game yet as I never played the first one and of course have heard the wildly differing opinions on that one, some labeled it the worst piece of crap while others praised it.

Probably just a rental for me unless there is a demo to convince me otherwise.
Commented on 2009-11-09 20:20:17
Looks great! =D
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