A Flick of the Wrist

I got Assassin’s Creed 2 for a Christmas present, so naturally I’ve been burning my way through it at high speed. It’s a big improvement on the first game, but there’s a slight niggle that I just can’t shake. Something they’ve omitted from the first game that was one of the things I really enjoyed about it. It’s to do with the loading screens, and how they now make no sense.

The fiction of Assassin’s Creed isn’t something I have an issue with, persay. I think it was handled poorly in the first game to the extent where it actually worked against the game, ruining pacing and any sort of immersion. However, they’ve solved this for the most part in the second by giving you extended time in the ‘memory’ world of Renaissance Italy, and I think you only get taken out twice in the entire game. It works, though, as it provides you with so many reasons why it works as a game, because you’re essentially playing a game in the Animus; it’s the world’s most powerful games console. Well, so long as you actually had interesting ancestors.

On top of that, it explained away troublesome elements like the HUD, loading screens, game over screens, and so on, to the extent where everything made some degree of sense. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually seen one, but comparisons with the Matrix are all too easy to make. Strap yourself into the chair and you’re in another world, where impossible things become that much easier to manage. But there’s another comparison with the Matrix that almost borders on plaguer ism, in the idea of the loading screens.

In Assassin’s Creed, the loading screen was a nebulous white plane that was inhabited only by Altiar, that was basically you waiting for the Animus to load wherever you were going to play next. Right down the whiteness of it, it’s an almost exact replica of the loadout space of the Matrix, where they’d get their guns and clothes. It’s still present in the second game, but with one small change.

In Assassin’s Creed, you could take out your weapons. Pull out your sword, unsheathe your knife, throw unlimited amounts of throwing knives; it was something to do while you waited for the game to load. The real pleasure I found, however, was in slowly, methodically, snapping out my hidden blade over and over. There was something in the way he snapped his wrist, fingers splayed, to have the blade come out, then relax his arm to retract it, that did more for me to flesh out the character of Altair than the hours and hours of terrible voice acting ever could. It spoke of a brutal efficiency, and the rhythmic way I snapped that blade out while waiting for the levels to be conjured up made him seem as though he was just itching to get some killing done.

But that’s gone, Ezio has no such leanings, preferring to just stand passive while he waits. Of course, he seems the more rounded character out of the two, but beyond just running wildly around that white space, there is nothing to do while Venice compiles itself into readable data. It makes the whole idea of that loading screen redundant. I’d rather have a random fact about 15th Century Italy spewed at me, because at least then that would flesh out the story a  little more.

Perhaps I’m just entertained my small things, but when I heard that Ezio would have two wrist blades, my first thought was wondering what they looked like when he snapped them out, whether Ubisoft had doubled the satisfaction of that simple animation. Truth is, they have, but you rarely see it, because the only times you pull one out is when you’re in the canned animation of assassinating someone. And really, that’s a shame.

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About Phill Cameron

I've graduated, had a look at the world, and spat. Now I'm devoting my time to moving from 3/4 of a games journalist to 9/10ths. I figure I can get away with 9/10ths.
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