Assassin's Creed 2 – In Venice?

Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed was one of my favorite games of 2007. It mixed Prince of Persia (one of my favorite series) with end of the world conspiracy theories in a real-world setting. I might even say I liked it better than PoP; while there’s something great to be said of leaping through PoP’s obstacle course-like levels, the idea of pulling out the perfect assassination and then parkour-ing away from guards before they can trap you in is just a little more thrilling.

And that’s why I’m so excitedly following the rumor mill for Assassin’s Creed 2. Today, we hear a rumor about the storyline and setting.

Reader James tells us that the focus testing he saw places the next Assassin’s Creed in Venice, Italy, and that “disguises were also said to play a part in this game.” The Carnival of Venice sure sounds like a good fit to us—plenty of undercover opportunities to stab portly bad guys in the neck and a visual style that’s far removed from the previous game’s setting.

Read on for more details. [link: Kotaku.com]

Disguises? Ooh! I’m intrigued. Sounds like they could be borrowing from Hitman – and that’s definitely a good thing. As for the setting, I don’t have an opinion on it one way or the other. I had originally thought that the game would either take place in South America or China – based on clues in the original game (CVG has a brilliant write-up on working through the complexities of Assasins Creed’s story – [link: CVG.com]) – but I wondered how that would work with the parkour movement. Venice, on the other hand, that makes a bit more sense.

I just hope water isn’t instantly fatal as it was in the original.

My First Impressions on Assassin's Creed

Last night I checked the mail and spotted my recently-ordered copy of Assassin’s Creed. Woo hoo! So when I woke up today, I spent a few moments debating whether to go for a third day with GTA IV or to give the new game a try. Since GTA IV wasn’t compelling me to play, I popped in Assassin’s Creed.

Wow. Just… wow. The only thing I can say is that if I knew Assassin’s Creed was this good, I would have bought it new the day it came out instead of waiting this long for a discount copy. Trust me, I will finish Assassin’s Creed before GTA IV gets a third day of play.

First thought? Whoa! It’s like Prince of Persia (and I believe the two games share the same developer), but times ten! It’s next-gen! It’s got all the fun of acrobatics and fighting that Prince of Persia has (especially the Sands of Time), but so much else in there to make it feel like a real technological evolution.

Before playing, I heard the game featured a simplistic formula: climb a tower, look around, jump down, kill somebody, run away, and repeat. That’s a huge over-simplification, but in a sense it’s kind of fitting. Like I said, the fun of Prince of Persia came from the acrobatics and the fighting. You leap from ledge-to-ledge, solving the puzzle of the map – and in-between you get to fight some baddies. At the end of a level, you fight a boss – and then you repeat the process. The game is made great by giving you plenty of opportunity to show how well you can manage these two mechanics.

Well, first, going back a step, let me explain what the game is outside of the play mechanics themselves.

It’s the area around Jerusalem and Damascus (and another city I can’t remember off-hand) around the time of the crusades, and your a member of a group intent on bringing about peace by (the rather extreme measure of) assassinating those who lead the largest disruptions to it.

You’ve been told that you have targets to kill – but you only know where they are (i.e. the major cities, or, more specifically, for example, the poor district of Damascus). It’s your job to eavesdrop on conversations, intimidate suspects, and pick-pocket people in the region for clues to find out who the target is.

You don’t spend all of your time in the cities. Sometimes you’re traveling from one to another, and sometimes you’re just stopping in-between to explore. The spaces in-between feature some fairly open world to run around in with little establishments scattered about. The establishments give you the opportunity to fight some guards, climb a tower to map out the region, and also pick up some of the hidden, optional flags or take out some of the Knight Templars (tougher, one-on-one fights) – all to keep you in shape and having fun until your next city adventure. As a side note, even though it’s more fun than a side note would imply, you get to use a horse for quicker travel (and you can even fight from horseback) in these open areas.

Back to the cities and advancing the story, once you have an idea as to who to go after, you report your findings to the Assassin’s Bureau for approval. When you have approval, your job is pretty straight-forward: take out your target and escape to safety.

However, there’s more to it than just that. The first city I hit was blocked off by guards, so the first puzzle was to figure out how to get into the city. Once inside, I had to get the clues but there were other things going on within. And kind of like GTA, finding those other things stems from exploration.

It starts with climbing. There are various towers around the city to climb. The first district I hit had nine towers, I think. Scaling the towers and mapping the region helps you figure out where other mini-missions are, gives you a sense of the area, helps you plan out your assassination, and is also a fun endeavor on its own. Climbing is, essentially, guiding your character from handhold-to-handhold, but in typical Prince of Persia fashion the thrill comes from doing something simple with the controller and watching your character do something amazing – and realize you’re controlling it.

And it’s not just climbing up towers that gives you this sense of acrobatic mastery. It’s also exploring the city horizontally, primarily from the rooftops. It’s pretty cool to watch your character leap from window ledge-to-roof, balance across a beam, and then land on another roof where you have to hurdle obstacles – and realize you’re controlling it. It’s also cool to occasionally hear citizens commenting on your acrobatics if they happen to spot you – wondering if they actually saw someone, or telling themselves that they’ve seen everything now.

As you explore, you’ll come across the other towers and the aforementioned evidence gathering routines, but you’ll also get a chance to take part in the other major game mechanic, combat – which, as far as the cities go, generally takes place because you drew too much attention to yourself, went somewhere you should not have, or because you decided to make a daring attempt to rescue a citizen from persecution.

A rescue usually requires a fight with five or six guards at once. And let me just say that combat is amazing. Again, much like Prince of Persia, there’s just something awesome about pulling off a crazy array of moves and feeling like everything went down exactly the way you wanted – even though you just hit a few buttons. See? Game control doesn’t have to be complicated to be fun (I’m looking at you, God of War)! Assassin’s Creed lets you use one button to block, another button to attack, and the analog stick to tell your character in which direction to block or attack. That’s all you need.

And, just like Prince of Persia, the game grows with you, letting you add to your arsenal of attacks in both power and flair – but maintaining control simplicity. That is, you learn, for example, that you can hold down the attack button to do a more powerful attack, that you can tap the attack button just as your character hits his target to get a second (or more, if you continue to time your hits right) quick strike, or hit the defense and attack buttons at the same time just before an opponent swings at you to do a counter-strike. These attacks, and the others that you discover, definitely add to the growth. I’m guessing that by the end, I’m going to look like a ballerina-style death machine.

After you’ve won your fight against the guards and saved the citizen, it’s time to clear out of the area while guards flood in to investigate the aftermath and look for suspects. You can use nearby friendlies to help you hide or disguise yourself, or just to get you back to the rooftops for a quick escape.

It’s only my first day with Assassin’s Creed and I feel like I’m completing gushing, but I absolutely hated turning it off and can’t wait to get back to it. I know the reviews suggested it gets old for some (I’ll save those comments until I finish the game), but right now it’s so new, so fun, and I’m so excited to play more. I really hate to bash on GTA IV because I’m sure I’ll eventually get into it and love it, but I wish I was feeling about GTA IV from the start half as much as I’m feeling toward Assassin’s Creed, or GTA III, Vice City, or San Andreas. :