Assassin s Creed 2 Glyph Guide

Assassin s Creed 2 Glyph Guide:

The orgy of holiday game releases is starting to take its toll, dear readers. This week alone saw the release of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Left 4 Dead 2, Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles, LittleBigPlanet PSP, and God of War Collection (the last two of which I’ll cover in posts early next week).

But there was one game released in the last few days that packs almost as much play time as the rest combined. I’m talking, of course, about Ubisoft Montreal’s Assassin’s Creed II (UbiSoft/Xbox 360/PlayStation 3/Windows), and while I’m still some way from finishing this enormous adventure I think I’m ready to provide some solid impressions.

Much like its predecessor, the game plays out in the mind of Desmond Miles, a modern day man who, through a gene-reading device known as the Animus, recalls the events of an ancestral assassin. Whereas in the first game he remembered the life of Altaïr, a Middle Eastern killer-for-hire who lived in the 12th century, this time he summons up a man named Ezio and his doings in the towns of Florence, Venice, and the Tuscan countryside in 15th century Italy.

I remember Assassin’s Creed as being a massive, sprawling open-world adventure, but its scope still seems to pale in comparison to that of its successor. I’m not sure that Assassin’s Creed II’s gorgeous and meticulously detailed world is larger, but it is certainly more alive and authentic.

Whenever we run across genuine landmarks and notable people we have the option of calling up an encyclopedia-like entry that provides the historical details and significance of that particular place or person. Indeed, it’s about as educational as a game not specifically designed for pedagogy can be—though don’t take everything you read at face value; the writers have cleverly mingled in plenty of fictional entries for the sake of the tale, making it vaguely akin to a Dan Brown book.

What's more, our range of objectives is far broader in the sequel. For the first dozen hours or so you’ll be provided countless new objectives, not only in the form of individual “memories” (Assassin’s Creed lingo for missions) but also serial objectives, such as: looking for codex pages that our hero’s bright friend Leonardo da Vinci will analyze and decode to provide insight on weapons, armour, and tactics; hunting down more than 300 hundred hidded treasure chests and 100 eagle feathers; and—my favourite of the side missions—finding and analyzing dozens of glyphs on the sides of buildings that lead to random puzzles, which, when completed, unlock video files left behind by another Animus subject.

And that’s to say nothing of our ability to pull down wanted posters, murder city officials, and bribe town-criers in an attempt to lower our notoriety, the new vendors that sell us weapons, armour, healing aids, and other items, our quest to find the artifacts that will unlock Altaïr’s armour, which has been locked away for centuries in a clever vault on Ezio’s uncle’s estate, or our charge to invest in and rebuild said uncle’s countryside village in hopes of restoring it to its former glory.

Put simply this is the sort of game a player could lose him or herself in for weeks—especially given the game’s tremendous writing and voice work.

Without giving away too much, Ezio is out for revenge after several people close to him are unjustly executed. He’s unfamiliar with his family’s history and the war between Templars and Assassins—the franchise’s overarching plot—which sets the stage for other characters to explain to him what’s at stake, which is helpful, since players who haven’t played the first game will likely be highly confused by the first few moments of the second, which see Desmond escaping a high-tech prison run by modern-day Templars and talking with 21st centurry Assassins about the conflict he and his ancestors have been fighting for a millennium.

Themes of honour, trust, and religion (or lack of it) run deeply throughout the narrative. Our protagonists have complex motives, not all of which might rightly be described as moral. And our enemies—specifically those whom Ezio assassinates—aren’t always the purely evil creatures we believe them to be when we first put blade to throat. Returning players won’t be shocked by any of this, as the original’s story was equally multifaceted and engaging, but new players might be surprised at just how sympathetic and tragic many of Assassin’s Creed II’s characters are.

A couple of other things that haven’t changed a whole lot between games are the way in which we move around the environment and fight.

Assasin’s Creed II ports its predecessor’s extraordinarily accessible parkour-like city navigation, and to good effect. Just hold down the trigger and guide Ezio’s direction with a thumbstick and he will perform amazing gymnastic feats, from running up the sides of buildings and tiptoeing across narrow street-spanning beams to leaping between rooftops and scaling walls with catlike grace. Veterans of the first game will feel at home in minutes and appreciate new elements, such as areas designed to let Ezio put together amazing strings of maneuvers. Newbies won’t take much longer.

Combat, meanwhile, still offers the same thrillingly vicious assassinations and strategic blade-based battles. Ezio has a healthy selection of sharp-edged killing implements, including retractable blades attached to his arms, a dagger, a sword, and even throwing knives. When in battle he can quickly and instantly kill almost anyone who isn’t facing him. Enemies focused on him, however, require a cunning mix of guard, strafe, and counter movements, which involve holding down a trigger and tapping a button at just the right moment.

Fighting might sound tricky, but it’s actually pretty easy to get the hang of. More challenging is trying to escape a brawl. Ezio is, after all, an assassin, which means stealth is one of his primary assets. We can throw coins to attract swarms of civilians, hire courtesans to distract guards, or simply blend in with the crowd to go unnoticed. It’s difficult at first, but expert stealth play makes the game feel much more fluid and believable than simply attacking every group of guards we run across.

Long story short, Assassin’s Creed II is better than the original and one of the very best games I’ve played this year. That such a fine game was crafted in Canada is yet further proof that the Great White North is at the forefront of top notch, cutting edge interactive entertainment. We should all be proud of Ubisoft's Québécois gamesmiths.


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