Assassin’s Creed II: Discovery Review
I’m sorry that I did not get this review out sooner. It’s going to be a short review because I’ve got a lot of other things I have to do today.
Assassin’s Creed II: Discovery is a handheld spinoff of the highly successful Assassin’s Creed II console game. Ezio Auditore, the hero of ACII and a high-flying assassin, returns as the hero. The game’s story takes place in the late fifteenth-century, just before the end of the console game. Ezio is recruited by his Thieves’ Guild ally Antonio to settle some scores with the megalomaniacal Rodrigo Borgia and his Templars in Spain, who are masquerading as the Inquisition and oppressing Assassin clans there. It’s up to Ezio to do what he can to put a dent in the Templars’ plans and protect his distant kin.
Unlike the free-roaming style of the console series, Discovery is a 2D side-scrolling adventure. The closest thing I can compare it to is, oddly enough, Sonic the Hedgehog. Ezio sprints through the level at high speeds, although instead of jumping on bad guys you assassinate them much like in the original cons0le games: sneak up to them and attack from behind, dealing death with a sword or your hidden blade. The game physics are handled very well. Ezio is easy to control, although running at high speeds for extended periods makes stopping at the last second to avoid being seen by enemies off-screen very difficult.
There are also stealth missions in which your goal is to avoid detection, but these are honestly some of the weakest activities in this game. The guards are very difficult to fool because hiding places are at a premium. Instead, you’re forced to walk slowly, watch your radar, and ensure that guards coming in your direction cannot see you. If you get caught more than three times, the game is over. This is rather difficult in a 2D game, as you might imagine. It’s even worse when the guard AI is very sharp and particular guards (archers and captains) can see you from as many as two screen-widths away. The resulting game of trial-and-error, where you are forced to memorize where the guards are and how their patrol patterns work, is pretty frustrating after you’ve failed about ten times.
The gameplay shines most during “Chase” sequences, where Ezio has to run as fast as he can from incoming guards while arrows sail over his head and the game’s sinister “Exposed!” music is playing. These sequences aren’t necessarily challenging as long as you remember the cardinal rule (don’t stop for anything!), but they allow the game to show what it does best: running with Ezio really, really fast.
Graphically, I can’t complain. This game looks good for a DS title: Ezio’s character model is detailed, and the guards are distinctive enough that they’ll become instantly recognizable after half an hour of gameplay. The backdrops of Renaissance Spain are done with great detail: the architecture is distinctly Spanish, just as the beauty of Renaissance Italy was captured to near-flawless fidelity in Assassin’s Creed II on consoles. The sound is also very good. Ezio sounds like Ezio, the sound effects are lifted straight from the console iterations, and the music contains all the airy atmospheric hallmarks of the series’ scores. However, if you put headphones on, you will note that the voices sound rather tinny, like the voices in a Game Boy Advance game. It sounds fine coming out of the system speakers, but if you’re like me and prefer headphones you may not be able to stand a flashback to the halcyon days of 2002.
The game is pretty short. It won’t take you more than 8-10 hours to beat this game the first time around, but it’s also very difficult to play it for more than half an hour at a time. It’s fun in short bursts, but the novelty of the game soon fades into monotony (especially during stealth sequences) and there isn’t much to hold your interest. The story and mission objectives are pretty cut and dry most of the time, with none of the atmospheric quality that made Assassin’s Creed a smash hit three years ago. There’s a little bit of replay value to be had with the “Animus Hacks” that upgrade Ezio and make him faster and more resistant to damage. These are bought with “sync points” claimed by tearing down wanted posters and finishing missions as quickly and healthily as possible.
Assassin’s Creed II: Discovery is definitely good for a rental or a gift to a diehard fan of the console series. Jennifer and I had a quick bit of fun with the game. It was the frustrating stealth missions that clash with the game’s overall design that drove her nuts. For me, it was that the game suffered from “eggnog effect”. It’s good for a while, but it’s not immersive or innovative. After about twenty minutes of formulaic “run here, do this, come back” gameplay it got really stale, much like the taste of eggnog after it’s been sitting in your fridge for the entire holiday season. Check it out if you’re really desperate to see Ezio’s Spanish vacation, but otherwise I can’t call this a worthwhile purchase for $35.
In a nutshell…