Assassin’s Creed II: Discovery
Gameloft’s 2007 DS title Assassins Creed: Altair’s Chronicles was seen by many as a missed opportunity. A promising, ambitious 2D/3D hybrid, the mobile developers delivered a sloppy, short-lived experience which now sits much more comfortably in the iPhone App Store for a princely sum of £2.99. To coincide with the console sequel’s spectacular return to form, publishers Ubisoft have called in the expertise of prolific handheld specialists Griptonite Games (Spiderman: Web of Shadows) to re-write history, much like our new Renaissance protagonist Ezio Auditore da Firenze. Within the industry’s lowered expectations, can Griptonite now keep the originals flaws out of plain sight and execute a perfect handheld sequel?
The most startling difference between Discovery and Altair’s Chronicles stares right back at you within moments of booting up the title – the viewpoint. Discovery is a purely 2D side-scrolling adventure, and this decision to reel in the more ambitious aspects of its predecessor is not to its detriment. Stylus implementation is also kept to a bare minimum. After a brief tutorial players will find themselves scarpering the rooftops of Venice at full pelt, dodging or taking out the various patrolling guards that impede your progress to the finish line. And make no mistake – it is a finish line. Not since Sonic the Hedgehog has there been such a speed-orientated 2D adventure.
Clearly taking advantage of this selling point, Griptonite grade the player after every level depending on their stealth kills, detection and more importantly, completion time. Speed runner enthusiasts will most likely be in heaven here, as Ezio’s flow is dishearteningly broken by one misjudged leap or extended rooftop climb. With relatively short levels throughout, there’s no harm whatsoever in attempting perfect play throughs without losing a single stride – in fact it’s exhilarating. Within the first few missions accomplished it’s hard to see any initial faults in the newly-honed design of Discovery.
Thus Griptonite cleverly decided to focus on one main aspect of its console big brother’s assassination set-up rather than attempting to please everyone, indicative of a decision to only play to the consoles strengths. With free-running now the basis of each mission, assassinations happen quickly and frequently through bite-sized levels, with bonus points rewarded for removing “Wanted” posters of yourself hidden throughout the streets. And yet sadly, that’s all there is to it. Removing any free-roaming element from an Assassins Creed title is a brave move, and sadly doesn’t fully translate.
As fun as it is to rush through levels and clamber across rooftops, it can quickly become stale and at times, is unnecessarily frustrating. The lower DS screen is an Animus-like quasi-sensor, which shows yellow or red arrows for the direction a guard is currently patrolling; yellow if undetected and red if spotted. However since gameplay often takes places across a various of tiers between each level, the absence of a genuinely useful map feature to collaborate your quick movements leads to a lot of trial and error and “leaps of faith”. Success in most missions (and hitting top times) is then mostly reliant on firstly failing and memorising each guard location, which isn’t hugely taxing considering the short mission lengths but is nonetheless a design fault when you consider how useful that map would be.
As is a prerequisite for all console-to-handheld iterations these days, Discovery tells a “side-story” of Ezio’s rescuing Assassins in 15th Century Spain that takes place during the “corrupted memory blocks” of its console brethren. If you’re unaware of what I mean by “corrupted memory blocks” it’s my pleasure to announce that Animus-related, time-travelling bartender interludes are thankfully absent for this title and in truth, I’d have no idea where to start in any case. In fact, if you’re new to the series and probably be wondering why Ezio keeps vanishing at the end of each mission or why there is a sci-fi element to the in-game tutorials – just go with it. As you can expect, disappointingly none of the events of the handheld version interfere or impacts those of the console Assassins Creed, it’s simply a case of keeping Ezio alive so he can get back into your living room.
To be fair though, Assassins Creed II: Discovery is a polished title, with full voice acting and fantastic graphics throughout, befitting of a premier franchise. If its main strength is acknowledging its weaknesses and discarding them, it can yet also be said it is still guilty for instead becoming one-dimensional in not trying to bring something else instead to the table. As it stands, Griptonite offer fun, but disposable thrills which amount to a title tough to recommend outside of series completists. On the other hand, if Ezio the Hedgehog speed-running and stealth are what you need, this might yet become a worthwhile discovery.
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