Corpse Party

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Assassin's Creed 1&2 Dual Review


Finally, I got this massive review done.
Over 5400 words, maybe too many to read, but certainly not enough to fully touch every aspect of the games.
As already stated, I'm combining the first two Assasssin's Creed titles, so you'll find two paragraphs on almost every section as well as two scores at the end.
Please keep in mind that I played the PC version, which will have a bearing in the technical aspects of the review.

It took me ages to write all this down - although I admit I took too many breaks and got distracted far too often. I hope you'll forgive me for postponing this post so many times, but I couldn't help it. Now, without wasting further words, go ahead and read my impressions - and ratings - of the first two Assassin's Creed games.
I hope you'll enjoy it!

Overall Plot

This section is supposed to contain as few spoilers as possible and outlines the overall plot.

Assassin's Creed:

Barkeeper Desmond Miles gets kidnapped by Abstergo Industries so that they can experiment on "genetical memories" while pursuing an unknown goal.
Using Abstergo's "Animus", a machine to decode and visualize the memories in Desmond's DNA, he travels back in time to relive the life of his ancestor, Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad - an Assassin.
Fighting the Templar Order by assassinating several targets throughout the Holy Land, both Altair and Desmond learn that "Nothing is True" and "Everything is Permitted".
Desmond learns about the Assassin's Order still existing in present times, while Abstergo is a Templar organization.
He's being supported by Lucy Stillman, who works on the Animus project and turns out to be an Assassin infiltrating Abstergo.

Assassin's Creed 2:

With Lucy's help, Desmond flees the Abstergo facility and both meet up with other Assassin's in secret. Again, Desmond has to use an Animus to relive an ancestor's memories -
Ezio Auditore da Firenze.

He learns about the Templars' goals, their intentions and that the history of mankind and the earth is based on lies. Throughout the next sessions, Desmond relives Ezio's course for revenge against the Templars who killed his family.
In the end Ezio is being fully introduced into the Brotherhood and battles Pope Rodrigo Borgia for the mysterious "Pieces of Eden".
The game ends with Ezio learning about himself only being used for communication with Desmond by "those who came before" and the Assassin's hideout being attacked by Abstergo while the credits roll.

Desmond talking to Lucy in the HideoutThe young Ezio Auditore

Setting & Atmosphere

Assassin's Creed:

Altair watching the marching Crusaders
The first AC title plays in a sterile Abstergo facility. White and shades of grey make up most of the surroundings. Even the ancient cities Altair visits (Jerusalem, Acre, Damascus and Masyaf) seem rather dull and colorless.
The 3 big cities themselves are all split in about 3 districts you have to work through during the course of the game, and while the individual cities all have their different styles in architecture and layout, you can't help but feel like it's all just the same.
The preachers on the streets are saying the same things in all the cities, the civilians you rescue all share the same few lines, and the guards all act and say the same. These are all just minor visual differences.
However, the cities themselves have been created in their historical images, and you can't help but feel impressed with the amount of detail put into that task... until you reach the next city/district and notice that the same details have been recycled everywhere.

Assassin's Creed 2:

AC2 is lightyears ahead in terms of setting. The cities are much bigger and less repetitive than in AC1. Also, instead of travelling back and forth between Masyaf and the 3 big cities like in AC1, just to visit the next district, the areas unlock more naturally.
The missions bring you through the whole district, rather than telling you to go to some points to do mindless missions and call it a day.
Out of the 5 major regions (Florence, Tuscany, Monteriggionni, Romagna and Venice), you'll spend the most time in Venice, which I thought was the most impressive city.
All the regions have their own style of architechture, which might still be pretty similar, but there's much more variation.

The districts are actually full of life, much more than in AC1. People come and go, carry their wares through the streets, complain and chat rather naturally, or insult you when you tackle them.
There's a lot more natural feeling around things. Even the doctors and storekeepers will call out for attention, or tell you goodbye depending on what you bought, if anything.
I liked that there's a lot of water in Venice - seeing ships on the docks, or gondolas moving over the water surface made me enjoy the scenery even more.
One major flaw in my eyes is that there's no life between the streets and rooftops (where only guards and thieves reside).
Even in Venice, where you find balconies everywhere, nobody will populate these.

The Auditore-Villa in Monteriggionni is a place I personally enjoyed to visit and see grow, but sadly it was far too easy to completely upgrade the city (read below) and thus didn't offer anything new in the later game.
Still, having a base of operation to fund you, rather than make you watch a cutscene before being able to progress, was a plus.

Throughout Italy you can find both tombs of Assassins and lairs of Templars with hidden treasures. While the Tombs will grant you seals to unlock Altair's armor in Monteriggionni, the Templar tombs only offer treasures and challenges.
These challenges are well designed and atmospheric, from underground passages to huge churches.
These were probably the places that impressed me the most.


Assassin's Creed:

The visual aspect of Assassin's Creed heavily suffers from said dull scenery.
While the whole game looks alright, it cannot live up to your expectations.
There are highlights, yes, but these are so few, they just cannot come to bare.
Facial expressions hardly ever come to bear, with only mouths moving.
However, Altair's face is hidden anyway, and you'll have a hard time finding a camera angle that really shows the face of the persons he's talking to.
Character models have been recycled on all ends, same goes for architecture. While I understand that they had to resort to recycling, I cannot comprehend that they still wanted to do three massive cities.
How impressive are huge sceneries when you don't feel like it's unique or at least memorable? In Assassin's Creed, you can't help but feel like you've been there before.

Assassin's Creed 2:

Even though the cities recycle a lot of parts, due to the higher complexity of models, textures and overall ambience, it doesn't bug you that much anymore.
Florence and Venice look much more interesting than the whole Holy Land, with their artistical roofs, balconies, bridges, stores and historical buildings.
AC2 shows a grade of architectural finesse I did not expect to see after AC1.

Again, AC2 is years ahead of its prequel. Ezio's attire is much better defined, changes with his equipment, even dyeing his assassin robes is possible.
The historical clothes of the people are all much better defined than the ones of AC's civilians, and the important characters all got their faces modeled after real actors we've seen in the short movie "Assassin's Creed: Lineage".
The killings look more varied, smoother, the variety of weapons and equipment make sure that you won't have to look at the exactly same character model for the duration of a whole game.
Doctors and storekeepers all got variations in appearance and there are a hell lot more npc models.
Facial expressions now dominate cutscenes. The camera angles are fixed now, which makes the scenes much more enjoyable to watch, as they are better directed than ever. While in AC1 the people stood next to each other, talking, in AC2, they actually interact.

However, Assassin's Creed 2 has horrible, major visual flaws I simply cannot overlook.
Even on maxed settings (and, as I've heard, its the same on the PS3 version), the Draw Distances are a horrible mess.
Textures and scenery pop suddenly into view, even the grass around you will need to spread out before it becomes visible.
It's not unusual that a NPC suddenly grows new facial hair, or a hat appearing on his head - if not even worse, the whole NPC appears out of nowhere!
Shadows look highly pixelated, have sharp edges or simply are cut off. Even Strategy games have better shadows for their hundreds of units.

This could be handled much better, and makes me question why it took Ubisoft 4 months to port the game to the PC.
If you bring a game like this over, that had to be a bit tamed for the consoles (namingly the X360), then at least consider the PC Hardware when porting.
Having lower settings available is fine, but give people the options to max out everything, let the GPUs work hard!



Both games have a really fitting soundtrack, Jesper Kyd did well. Most of the time you won't even really notice it's there, so well does it accompany the gameplay.
However, during sequences that test your speed, you'll get to listen to great tracks full of tension - just about right to get your heart beating faster.
I prefered the overall Soundtrack of AC2 over the first game's, but that's mainly due to the setting. The music in Florence and Venice really was something else!


The sound effects and the overall environment sounds were nice, supporting the atmosphere, not annoying and mostly well picked.
Some sounds were used a bit too often, but that's not a deal breaker.
Assassin's Creed 2 again has more variety, which is a plus, but overall they share the same sound traits and use the same basic soundeffects.

Voice Acting

The Voice Acting was great. Mostly.
In Assassin's Creed, where the cutscenes weren't polished yet, and facial expressions were rarely well used, and the overall character interaction was unsatisfying, the Voice Acting was what kept you interested in video sequences. Of course the team sounded a bit rough, sometimes unnatural, but overall it was a pleasing performance.
In Assassin's Creed 2, the dialogues became much more natural and intimate. You really felt that there is tension between the characters rather than having one character read his lines one after another. Not only the characters' expressions became more emotional, but also their acting skills.
It really was enjoyable to watch the cutscenes, and the visible emotions of characters really got to you.

A giant plus was the use of the italian language, accents and curses. Hearing the doctors shout "come amici" and the likes made you feel right at home in Firenze and the other locations.
Having the civilians chatter or curse you in italian made the setting feel more natural, less disturbing and believable.

One of the biggest flaws in Assassin's Creed was the repetitiveness of the game as a whole, and that does not exclude the monologues of civilians you rescue.
All civilians had a few lines of text, and although they got different actors to read them, you'd hear the same few lines over and over again, no matter who the saved victim might be.
If they've taken their time to record lines of multiple people, then why didn't they at least give them a bigger pool of lines rather than letting them all say the same?
Gladly, while the pool of lines can still be noticed in Assassin's Creed 2, due to the increased variety, this whole feeling of repetitiveness is far less annoying.


Both titles share the same basic gameplay. There are four action-keys/buttons relating to your head, feet and arms.
While the Head usually gets used for talking, examining and synchronizing, the Weapon Hand for fighting (aka using your active gear) the Feet and Empty Hand are a bit more interesting to use, albeit more passively.
There's a modifier for these basic controls, which lets you switch from the "Low Profile" to the "High Profile".
The High Profile allows you to run rather than walking normally, or tackle people rather than shoving them away. You'll also need the High Profile to jump and travel over rooftops. When falling down a wall, the Empty Hand comes in handy, as it might hold on to something, saving you even from certain death situations.

The basic movements and actions are nicely done that way, as you won't accidentally perform actions that would attract guards (although Low Profile isn't foolproof). The profiles give you a good sense of control I personally miss in other games.

"Speak sense Templar, or not at all!"
Fighting has the same basics as well. You have to focus onto enemies to engage them, block attacks and, of course, attack directly.
However, fighting on your own is often a rather wasteful thing to do, as enemies will block your attacks as well.
Rather than that, it is more effective to simply wait til an enemy strikes and counter his attack - often killing him in an instant.
When engaged, you cannot switch between High and Low profile anymore. Instead, the key/button becomes your block button. In most cases, blocking will keep you safe. Only when you are surrounded by a lot of enemies at once, or fighting tougher enemies, your blocking skills will fail.
Blocking is essential for countering. There are two Counter-skills in the games.
The first one is simply performed by countering an attack by well-timed attacking while holding block. You'll do this a lot!
The second one is only used to get rid of foes trying to grab or push you (which you can do as well, using the Empty Hand in combat). Doing so will often throw the enemy to the ground, which you can use to your advantage.

Combat in Assassin's Creed is repetitive as hell. All enemies in the first installment act almost the same, which gets annoying fairly quickly.
Sitting in front of the screen, waiting for the surrounding enemies to attack just so you can counter-kill them is a boring thing, really.
You'll probably want to switch weapons mid-battle, just to see some different counter-kill scenes.

Next thing to talk about are the weapons.
In Assassin's Creed, all you had were 4 weapons: The Hidden Blade, your Sword, a Short Blade which will trigger Throwing Knives if the target is distant enough, and your Fists.
All these weapons will be necessary throughout the game, altough you'll mostly use the Short Blade for its Throwing Knives and switch to your Sword in actual combat.
The hidden blade is nice, but if you don't catch your target before it gets aware of you, your assassination will fail. Counter-kills are hard to perform with the Hidden Blade, so you'd better change your weapon in combat.
Slamming your Fists into mission targets' faces to gain information is a tedious thing that you'll only do when you really have to.

In Assassin's Creed 2, the weapon system got a massive upgrade.
Aside from the 22 weapons you can buy and pick up throughout the game, which all have different stats and ways to be wielded (you can wield hammers, axes, even lances), you get quite a few new weapons and "tools" to use.

Your Hidden Blade gets three upgrades - Dual Hidden Blades, Poison and a small gun. Killing two guards at once is a plus, and sometimes you'll kill two or three more before they can really engage you.
The poisoned blade makes for a good distraction, as the target will go mad, swinging his weapon around before slowly dying. The gun is vital for some story missions, albeit slow and loud.
You can finally jump onto enemies, killing them in most cases, or pull them off the rooftops. Guards can't swim, so throw them down!

Of course, there's more! Swords, Short Blades, Throwing Knives (which now are a seperate weapon. Using knife-belt upgrades, you can carry up to 25 at once - fantastic!), your Fists and Smoke Bombs.
Additionally, you can now purchase medicine from doctors, which you can use via the weapon wheel as well. A nice addition is that you can now throw money onto the streets - a distraction even low-level guards will fall for! Also, money will keep beggars away - finally!

Including money and a real equipment system, including an inventory, different dyes for your assassin robes, quest items and so on made Assassin's Creed 2 a far more enjoyable experience.
You actually interact with the world, rather than just run from start to target, doing some killings here and there, and then move on.
AC2 feels much better than the first game, and that in all areas.

Another interesting addition to the series was the Looting of dead bodies for money, medicine and throwing knives. While in AC1 you had to pickpocket thugs for new knives, you can now regain knives from targets, keeping your supplies stable for much longer.
Pickpocketting got replaced by general stealing. Now you can grab some coins from almost every npc in the game.

Of course, you won't want to engage every single guard you see patrolling in combat! Often enough, that would mean a failed mission.

In Assassin's Creed, you could "blend", using your Low Profile Feet action. However, walking slowly like that wasn't really that great.
In AC2, however, you naturally blend while walking close to crowds, or simply by standing near them. You're blending with the masses, just like it was supposed to be.
There's also a new Notoriety-system in the second game, which consists of a meter that fills red when performing suspicious actions when seen by guards. Once it is full, all guards are much more likely to attack you.
Gladly, there are ways to lower your Notoriety to get back to an anonymous state. You can either rip off "Wanted"-posters from the walls, which will lower the meter by 25%, bribe heralds (50%) or kill Watchmen (75%).

In both games, once a guard notices you, it will try to attack or pursue you. Breaking the line of sight will give you some space and allow you to hide. Haystacks, wells, benches, everything is permitted.
Luckily, in Assassin's Creed 2, guards won't endlessly follow you like they did in the first, but have an area which you can escape. If you break the line of sight for long enough, even without hiding, the guards will stop following and clear your status.

All in all, the gameplay was a bit rough in the first installment, but much more polished in the second game. While the first AC felt repetitive all around, the additional features and improved old mechanics make AC2 a clearly superior game.

Mission Structure

Assassin's Creed:

There are only 4 types of Side Mission types, of which one comes in different flavors.
Doing sidemissions will eventually raise your Sync-bar (aka your hitpoints), which will drag you to do them.

Unlocking View Points:
These side missions and the cutscenes they trigger might seem impressive at first, but in fact, they will annoy the living hell out of you.
Climbing onto a tower (or other high building) and Synchronizing will not only bring you another step closer to the next Sync-bar upgrade, but also unveil new areas on your map.
There are about a dozen of these points in each city, so there's plenty opportunity to feel less impressed than at the start.

Saving Citizens:
You hear some civilians being mocked by guards, and go out to save him/her. Killing 3 to 5 guards normally does the trick.
Finishing these missions will present you with either a group of Scholars travelling through the city, which you can use to blend perfectly and traverse through city gates unseen, or vigilantes, who will stand around, keeping guards in check so you can flee.

This is the most repetitive and annoying type of side missions in the entire first game, if you ask me (which you seemingly do by still reading on). There are little to no variations, the civilian-monologues are repetitive, the vigilantes and scholars are unnecessary to have.
I only did all of them to clear my map from useless symbols. There's no reason to do them at all aside from early in game to get into each city at least once.

Flag Collecting:
This you will never finish. You don't have a reason to anyway.
Throughout the game, you'll find 420 flags scatted in cities and the kingdom. These flags have to be found without help.
Pick up the flags you stumble upon, but the only real advantage I thought was nice having was that picking one up triggered a savepoint.

There are several types of investigations - Pickpocketing, Eavesdropping, Interrogations, Time-Attack Flag Collecting and Templar Assassinations.
Sadly, the most interesting type, the Flag Collecting, which is basically a checkpoint-race, has only three occurances, and you can't repeat them once you've beaten the races.
Templar Assassinations are not always easy to beat, as you'll have to use stealth in most of these missions. Throwing knives are a must have for this type of mission, as they will save you from rooftop guards.

Pickpocketing will bring you closer to your eventual target by providing information, and that mission type is the only one next to the Templar Assassinations where you really have to use stealth.
However, pickpocketing is damn easy, making it a more or less redundant task.
Eavesdropping is probably even more boring, as you'll just have to locate your targets talking, sit onto a bench and zoom in to.. evesdrop. Nothing else.
Interrogations mean beating up your target until it starts talking, and the only reason to ever use your empty fists.

All in all, the missions in AC1 are boring, repetitive and unsatisfying. You simply do some of them, but they're mostly implemented to stretch and pad out a pretty straightforward game.

Assassin's Creed 2:

Assassin's Creed 2 is far ahead again. What else did you expect?
Viewpoints are back, but less annoying, as the buildings you're climbing often are historic sights and much more varied all in all.
Kill-missions are back, but most of them you'll get at two or three different spots throughout the city, delivered by pigeons, rather than having the missions cluttering your map all the time.
Checkpoint Races are now a more common sight, and they'll bring you through town in just a few minutes.
Flag Collecting is gone but replaced with Feather collecting, which, indeed, are harder to spot. However, there are "only" 100 feathers in the whole game and you can look up where you're missing some.
Collecting 50 feathers will result in a cutscene and a weapon unlock, completion gives you another short scene.
Minor missions like courier assignments are rare, but fun nonetheless.

A big new point are Assassin Tombs and and Templar Lairs, which are fairly impressive, as stated somewhere else in this review.
These will test your platforming skills, your speed and often how quick your mind can process possible ways.
Beating these secret places is rewarding in itself, but you'll get money and, in case of the Assassin Tombs, 6 seals to eventually unlock Altair's armor, which is the best one in the game and does not require repair.

Aside from that you'll need to upgrade the city Monteriggionni and the Auditore Villa. Investing money early will give you huge payouts periodically through the game.
Additionally, stores will discount their products for you or offer the unique Sword of Altair.
Sadly, this task is easily completed before being halfway through the game, making sure you'll never have money issues again.
However, as each mission in AC2 seems to reward you with huge amounts of cash and the treasures scattered throughout the cities, you probably won't have too much trouble with the mammon anyway.


This is the part where you WILL be spoilered if you haven't played the game yourself (or spoilered yourself before anyway). You got the overall plot outlines up there in this review already, so I'll go through some in-depth stuff.

First off - what keeps these games interesting, refreshing and exciting is not the graphics, sound, mission structure, but the really solid plot.
In Assassin's Creed, you didn't really notice the direction til the very end. Actually, only late in the game will you have dialogues unravelling the actual situation Desmond is in, but most stuff you simply won't understand before playing a good portion of the 2nd installment.
Reading mails makes up a big part of the background in the first game, but it needs actual thinking to bring the information you gather in line and see.

"They drained my soul and made it theirs.
I drain my body to show you where I saw it."

The full blow of the plot won't hit you before the credits rolled, leaving you to study hints and messages left by "Subject 16", the one occupying the Animus prior to Desmond.
These generally speak of the end of the world, 2012, different prophecies throughout time, and give you the picture that 16 has been reliving way too many lives in the Animus.
All messages are more or less ciphered, so you need to take your time, trying to decipher the meanings.

This gets even more interesting in Assassin's Creed 2, where you have to find 20 symbolic messages 16 hid in Italy. The explanations how he could are delivered by the game, so don't worry!
These messages are all using certain cipher types, so you'll have to use your head - albeit differently - to unlock the files. At the end, a short clip waits, which will make you go "wow" for sure.

16's messages, along with what the Assassins tell you and both Altair and Ezio experience, make clear that nothing is true.
The evolution theory we know is faulty, and men were really created in the image of "gods" - Those Who Came Before.
You pursue the trails of the mysterious Pieces of Eden, which Men stole from TWCB and can be used to control human minds, throughout history.
Jesus, Ghandi, Tesla, Hitler, Popes. All of them had access to these artifacts at least for a short time.

"I thought the Templars were some old guys in funny looking hats
who sat around drinking beer planning world domination with lizard people"

Altair and Ezio, as well as Desmond much later, all reach the truth at one point in their lives. They see that the Templar Order is very much alive, and not only a band of swordbrethren, but a group of fanatics trying to subdue humanity and reforge history, the universal truth, and the world itself.
Rodrigo Borgia, better known as Pope Alexander VI., is not even the most prominent example. Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Nicolaus Copernicus, Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill, Oppenheimer, Grigori Rasputin, Roosevelt, Stalin, Margaret Thatcher, all these and many more are said to be high-ranked members of the Order.

But the Assassins also have prominent members, like Marco Polo, Dante Alighieri and a lot of antic figures, although, according to the nature of their order, the Assassins generally act in secret.

It is surprisingly fitting and does not bend history too much at all.
Assassin's Creed cleverly uses gaps to fill them with fictional knowledge, conspiracies and trails of blood.
The stories connect a lot of historical, as well as fictional events and characters, without tripping over their own loose ends.

Altair and Ezio's lives are well positioned within the complexity of the universe, leading the player to look at historic events, some even mostly unknown to most people, but unforgotten in old historic texts, in a completely different context.
I won't elaborate on the lives of these two characters, though, as these are something I'd rather experience on my own than to read them in detail.
All I'm gonna say is that both are very interesting characters. They are no heroes, they question their own actions, they make YOU question their actions, but their stories, especially Ezio's, will keep you going.
While Altair lacked a certain level of character depth in the first game due to meeting him rather late in his life, Ezio grows to become an assassin, and takes you with him. Collecting the Codex written by Altair throughout AC2 gladly expands on Altair's story, beliefs, actions, plans, and even his personal life.
Their stories aren't over yet, as Ezio is the protagonist in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood and the upcoming Revelations as well. I for one am already looking forward to the next chapters of the series.

"Nulla e reale; tutto e lecito. Requiescat in pace..."

Final Words & Verdict

Of course, there are points I really disliked. Playing through the first game was a drag for me, and there were quite a few bugs, both technically as well as graphically, that ruined a lot of fun.
At one point, I lost two hours of eventful playtime due to a guard multiplication bug in AC2.
Especially noticeable was that the games were ports from PS3 and X360, mainly due to the range of settings and the games not utilizing all the potential of your hardware.
The pacing in AC2 was nice, although the last sequence felt a little rushed.
I had a lot of fun with the different weapons in the second game, though, including poisoning random guards (especially brutes) standing on the street, throwing money into his range and watching civilians getting slaughtered by the guards.
If Assassin's Creed 2 is representive of how the developers improved their work in only two years, I'm thrilled to see what Assassin's Creed 3 will be like.
Assassin's Creed 2 builds upon its predecessor, expands and improves things, and comes along as a well-polished and rewarding experience.

Despite their flaws, playing the two games overall was a nice experience, and I'm already on Assassin's Creed Brotherhood.

Now to the scores!

Assassin's Creed
Assassin's Creed 2

At the end of the day, I have played a lot better games than Assassin's Creed 1, and due to its repetitiveness, it gets only these 6 out of 10 points.
Assassin's Creed 2 in contrast improves most points I hated about the first game, but still has its technical flaws and annoyances, but is still worth a solid 8.
I absolutely love the direction this series is taking, and hope to see a lot more down that road.

Even though Al Mualim was seriously screwed up, his words hold truth in them.
Thus, I'll leave you with the following words, and the advice to simply play the games yourselves.

"Information learned is more valuable than information given."

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