The Best Game of This Generation
Why do we play video games? Certain pseudo-intellectuals looking for their next grant would have us believe we play because we cannot cope with the real world, but you and I know differently, dear reader. We who would call ourselves gamers are the modern romantics. We are the men and women who long for adventure in all aspects of our life, but are beaten down by the mundane responsibilities of contemporary society. We wear bills, jobs, taxes, and politics like shackles bestowed upon us by our seemingly benevolent masters whilst they bankroll our efforts. We long to be free; to compose the opus of our life in movements befitting the kings and queens of legend.
Alas, dreams of such grandeur are frowned upon and cast aside as childish. The ruling elite would have us bathe in our fears and cure our anxieties with the money we waste our lives pursuing. What are we to do then? Where are we to go?
We go to a virtual playground; a veritable smorgasbord of idealistic human creativity and utopian dreams. We venture forth into the unknown, unafraid of what we may find, Gods of our own creation. We discover the adventure we so long for in this life.
There are many an adventure to be found in this generation of gaming: The Elder Scrolls series, the Mass Effect series, the Halo series, the Uncharted series, the Bioshock series, and many, many more. We lived a glorious eight years, my gamer brethren, but that time is coming to a close. The next generation sits upon a tantalizing horizon, fully prepared to open our minds to the next level of adventure.
Within these last few gasps of the current generation, before the next gen invades my life, I have been wading through my favorite experiences. I’ve gone back to the very beginning (Resistance: Fall of Man) and played through the ages (The Last of Us). Throughout all of this, one game always stood out to me as being the best: Assassin’s Creed II. I am currently on my fourth playthrough of Assassin's Creed II and am convinced (once again) that it is the best game to grace our thumbs this generation. The pure sense of adventure and mystery combined with the talent of one of the greatest dev studios in the world (Ubisoft Montreal...and friends) has kept me coming back to the AC games throughout this gen.
Every AC game has an excellent story, with vibrant characters that drag you into their world (even you, Connor), but no character did this like Ezio Auditore da Firenze.
We meet Ezio at the very beginning of his life (literally) and discover the Assassins through both his tragedies and his triumphs. We watch as a brash young man embraces a creed handed down to him by his father. We watch as he thrusts himself into a centuries old war in the name of vengeance, and then fully falls into the role of leader in said war.
Throughout all of this, we are also caught up in the Templar vs. Assassin war as Desmond Miles. Through Desmond we are made aware of the Templar movements and conspiracies over the many centuries dividing Ezio and him. For the conspiracy buff, these small glimpses at a “truth” itch our inherent paranoia in just the right way.
Wrapped around all these details is the romantic sense of adventure that every hardcore gamer desires. You cannot help but love Ezio, just like you cannot help but be curious as to the next adventure that awaits him. In Assassin’s Creed II, you both long for and mourn the progress through the game, as it signals a new adventure but another step closer to the end. This is perfection in storytelling.
Numerous awards for Art Direction should be proof enough of how great the visuals are in ACII, but the experience of said visuals are needed to truly comprehend how glorious it is. To play inside cities like Venice and Florence during the Renaissance is like eating at an endless buffet put on by the world’s greatest culinary geniuses. We are talking about one of the largest eras of structural and artistic creativity the human species has ever known…and you get to climb all over it!
Have you ever wanted to scale the Sistine Chapel? Yeah? Well, you can in ACII. As a matter of fact, you can even jump off of it after you have conquered its great heights. Santa Maria del Fiore? Check. Palazzio Vecchio? Check. St. Mark’s Basilica? Check. The AC team painstakingly researches the architecture of the time periods they recreate so as to give you a world that is both authentic and new.
Even with all the glorious architecture surrounding you, Ezio stands as the most visually engaging object on screen. His clothing and the tools he uses are so period sensitive that they only serve to bring you further down the immersive rabbit hole. Add that to classical Renaissance paintings that you can purchase to adorn your personal villa in Monteriggioni and you will never be left wanting.
The visual feast offered by ACII is brought to life by the vibrant culture that was Renaissance Italy. Ubisoft uses the musical Italian language to effectively bring an organic feeling to the cities you visit on your journey. The streets are full of vendors hawking their wares, various different factions that will aid you, and many that yearn for your destruction. There is so much to engage your auditory sense that you sometimes miss the most beautiful soundtrack in gaming.
Jesper Kyd created an entirely original score for every location and action in ACII. Every single thing that you do with Ezio is accompanied by a unique piece of music that is period appropriate. Renaissance music was sweeping strings combined with Gregorian-esque, operatic choir compositions, and Kyd captures that feeling perfectly. Layer in some tasty guitar riffs, and you have a period appropriate composition that can appeal to modern masses. Brilliance.
Despite this, the most important part of game audio is how it performs when the soundtrack is silent. ACII never disappoints. From the sound of Ezio’s equipment rustling during movement to the small footstep effects whilst walking on Venetian rooftops, even a silent soundtrack cannot tarnish the auditory beauty of ACII.
I really don’t know where to begin describing how fantastic it is to play as an Assassin, let alone Ezio, who was the greatest of all time. To first understand the scope of playing as Ezio, you must understand how thoroughly enjoyable the game is without even moving. All the aspects we spoke about before are weaving around you, pulling you into the gorgeously grand world.
As soon as you touch that left stick forward, you immediately recognize both the power and grace of Ezio Auditore. There is a swagger to the man that exudes confidence and a catlike amount of potential power. As he is scaling and assassinating, his form is constantly improving, allowing exponential growth in appreciation from the gamer.
The concepts of stealth and force are both in ACII in equal measure. The gamer that takes the time to tactically maneuver through the missions is the gamer that will truly fall in love with ACII, as said tactics are what lead you through the final leg of your journey into full immersion.
The largest signifier of superb gameplay has always been the ability to repeat actions numerous times over the course of a game and never find them stale. Throughout each of my previous playthroughs of ACII (all 100% synch), I have yet to find playing this game anything but fulfilling and enjoyable.
I have never been so immersed in a game. Of all the games I have ever played, ACII stands as one of the greatest virtual experiences I have ever taken part in. I would encourage anyone looking for an adventure that will remind them of how life should feel, to play Assassin’s Creed II.
Thanks for reading.