Will Preston

No time for sneaking in today’s stealth games

by on Feb.23, 2011, under Review, Video Games

Patience is not something that we all have. Waiting is another hard thing to do in today’s fast paced, instant download and web shopping orgy. It just doesn’t happen. If you want something now you get it. This made me wonder about the fate of the stealth game, a genre comprising mostly of patience. It’s been about four years since the last Hitman game and the Splinter Cell series now as about as stealthy as Jack Black with tourettes, so I’m forced to give the new saga a go.

The, ahem, 'double hander'

Instead of starting from the beginning of the Assassin’s Creed series, I took the lazy option of reading the story for the first game and getting the second one for a tenner. Hearing nothing but how improved the second game is, I would have been saving time. The story seems pretty straightforward once you get past the fact that it’s comprised of utter spasticated conspiracy theory horse shit. You are Desmond Miles. Well you are for a bit before you play as his distant Ancestor Ezio Auditore de Firenze who travels about his day across rooftops whilst the rest of the squares walk around at ground level like the safety conscious pricks they are. Oh, and why are we playing as his ancestor?

Well Desmond was captured by a large company (Abstergo) and hooked up to a machine that lets them receive his ancestor’s memories through his, ahem, ‘genetic memories’ in order to stop the end of the world, or something. Not a biology major amongst the team at Ubisoft. Not that you’d even need to be one to point out that the concept is just silly. Even time travel or quantum leaping would have made more sense. Luckily the gameplay is enough to distract you from this scientific black hole. You play through a series of memories (missions) throughout Ezio’s life with occasional commentary on historical figures and architecture from the historical expert from the other end of the Animus (that’s the machine that makes all this happen. It’s most likely powered on sunshine and hope for all I know).

No, you aren't see things...

The period that Ezio resides in is renaissance Italy, a time when civilization was changing and De Vinci creates a load of projects that no one understands fully. Another odd point was Leonardo himself popping up in the game to help in what is a more ridiculous moment then JFK talking at you in Call of Duty Black Ops. Traversing the cityscape is more than just running to a flashing symbol on your radar. Ezio is skilled in the way of free running. Free running involves using buildings and street decoration to climb. See that slightly bumpy wall with various window ledges and a gutter? That’s a ladder for Ezio. It’s the games main feature and what astounds me when I climb buildings is the amount of detail that has gone into making it as real as possible. Hands go into cracks (stead on!), beams can be run across and Ezio always finds a way to make even the smallest jut of a wall climbable. It’s especially handy when faced with a crowd of angry guards, which happens quite a bit.

Now for what is technically a stealth game, there is little sneakery involved. Only half a dozen missions in the game require you to find a sneaky path, while the rest gives you enough freedom to boisterously run into the targets lair, attracting infinite guard attention, kill the target and run away from the pursuing crowd like The Beatles. This made the game a little too easy in some places. No longer would I have to plan ahead where I need to move to cover, I would now simply wing it. And that’s a great element lost. The planning ahead in a stealth game puts the right amount of pressure to do make the right choices and leads up to a more satisfying experience when the target drops dead. Very early on in the game, the amount of tutorial missions starts to make you wonder if the game will ever start.

It's an architectures wet dream

However, once the story started rolling along, and I was given my first assassin contract, I started to have fun. Early on in the game, you are forced to flee your hometown of Florence and you run away with your family to a villa with a surrounding town. In move similar to Fable, you can get an income off of the town’s economy. This income can be raised by a short list of renovations. Thing is, once I finished off improving the town I was getting more money than I knew what to do with. This lead me to buying all the weapons and armour in the game, despite me not needing them. Ezio now no longer had a concept of economy as he simply got what he wanted when he wanted it. As soon as I had everything, the game became a smooth sail, right until the end where the plot gets far weirder than previously thought.

Whilst it’s a bit too simple and action orientated for a stealth game (you’re forced to swordfight on several occasions), there were still times when I was doing what I can to not get spotted out by guards, despite the fact that I could take on about a dozen of them single handed. Assassin’s Creed 2 is a very pretty game with a focus on fancy finesse, rather than using your noggin, that will last over a week of casual play. Is that fast paced enough for you?!

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