“I loved Ezio… who wouldn’t want to play as a beautiful, tortured Italian fuck-boy, who is mates (and maybe more?) with Leonardo Da Vinci?”
Having been a Nintendo boy for the past few decades there are whole franchises I’ve been interested in playing that I’ve not been able to until now. Last year, I caved and got myself a PS4 and I’m catching up on all these games, most of them at very reasonable prices!
First up: Assassin’s Creed 2 (2009), as part of the remastered Ezio Collection which was released in 2016.
I love open world games and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is my favourite game of all time. I love wandering about and discovering things, this freedom is what I’ve always wanted from video games. There’s a lot of appeal to the idea of open worlds in places I have visited and I’ve always wanted to play the Assassin’s Creed game which features Florence, so I fired up Assassin’s Creed 2 (2009).
I had NO context for what Assassin’s Creed games were like, apart from watching a few reviews and I was a little confused to be playing a character within the present in a hoodie and jeans for the first ten minutes before laying on a strange VR-bed and sent back into my own DNA memories of Renaissance Italy (as far as I could tell?) This seemed wildly improbable to me but, why not? I was up for it. It was quite a clever conceit for the game, and gave the designers the excuse to have things “glitch out” when changing from different memories, and explained the digital HUD and menus as part of the system.The overall style of the game is VERY 2000s, graphic design like a slightly fussy men’s grooming salon. The Assassin’s Creed emblem which is everywhere resembles an A, sure, but it does also seem very vaginal. Whether this becomes a plot point later on, a la The Da Vinci Code who knows?!
I immediately loved the voice acting. People who were not at ALL Italian just going for it with their accents. At one point, I assume as a joke, one character shouts: “IT’S-A ME, MARIO” to our protagonist, Ezio.
I loved Ezio. Who wouldn’t want to play as a beautiful, tortured Italian fuck-boy who is mates (and maybe more?) with Leonardo Da Vinci? The thrill of having Leonardo turn up was wonderful and I couldn’t stop myself from shipping them, what a gorgeous couple they’d make? Ezio, why not just give it all up and embrace the love that dare not speak its name?
Meandering around Florence with its gaggles of prostitutes and thieves for hire was a real joy, as was climbing the famous Duomo and it’s bell tower and looking at the wide landscape around me. It was moments like this that make me love video games, having this sort of freedom and taking in an entire landscape, especially one that was so familiar to me. I spent some of my honeymoon in Florence and we had an Airbnb right by the Ponte Vecchio. We spent a lot of time walking the medieval streets and in the game I recognised, not just the main tourist attractions, but certain alleyways, piazza, and bridges too. It felt like a real, loving portrait of Florence and it was lovely to inhabit the environment with its bustling piazza and narrow streets. Character’s costumes especially in cut scenes looked authentic enough (I’m no expert) if a little painted on to a flat but stretchy sort of surface (it’s an old game with a fresh coat of paint!) the plot within the flashback world of the game seemed plausible. The added historical details given at each new important building and with each important character were a great optional extra that helped cement the world and the huge amount of research which went into the game.
An early mission of climbing to the top of the Palazzo Vecchio to visit my imprisoned and soon to be executed father, was a highlight, though the dated and dodgy controls did make some of the precise climbs and jumps difficult to complete. This would be a common thing during my play-through sadly, where jumping controls of the game felt very dated, clunky, and imprecise when the game is asking you for precision. One mission later on when you go inside of the Duomo, which is still under construction and is totally empty was quite frustrating for it’s precise jumping and falling from a great height, mostly by accident, if things went wrong. The thrill of making it very high up inside this huge building was exciting though. These more platformy indoor sections were of variable quality and sometimes I’d just not know where I was supposed to be going. Combat was another issue that reminded me that this was an older game with a fresh new look, it felt mostly that I was hammering Square just to get it done and there was no real skill to fighting. The camera would also sometimes just fully obscure my view during fights, which sometimes didn’t even hamper my progress too much. The assassinations, sneaking up to nameless guards on rooftops and those during missions were often very satisfying, especially when using the small retractable wrist knife Ezio carries. I am not really into violent games generally, but there was a deep satisfaction from swooping down from a rooftop on top of a corrupt official to stab him in the neck. I hope writing this doesn’t put me on some special list.
Moving to locations outside of Florence, the game suddenly felt quite dated, a sort of half open world half pen area which was in between Florence and San Gimignano seemed strange and empty. But there was something nice about riding a horse through the fields with cypress trees dotted about the place though. The missions in San Gimignano were enjoyable as well, climbing those towers and wire walking between them in the bright Italian afternoon sun when under fire from archers was pretty enjoyable, once I knew what I was supposed to be doing. One thing I found with most missions was there was not always a clear view of what I was supposed to do and I often found myself trying to read the landscape as a clue as to where the designers wanted me to go.
When I got to Venice, I couldn’t believe it. The game was mirroring my honeymoon! We had spent a week in Florence and then travelled to Venice for a few days. Venice is an incredible place that feels unreal when you are there in real life due to it’s iconic canals, buildings, and gondolas, coming here in the game was such a treat. The game was suddenly much more colourful and exciting. I loved being able to swim in the canals, steal gondolas and climb up the Campanile in Saint Mark’s Square. Venice truly bests the already great experience of exploring Florence. It was amazing. The level of details in the architecture and cityscape was another level of impressive, especially for a game that came out in 2009. The detail was so enjoyable and brilliant, that I sort of felt like the game designers were close to just throwing out the whole Assassin’s Creed thing all together and to just make a game of wandering around historically accurate renaissance cityscapes. I’d play that!
The game sings when you’re exploring a city, especially on the rooftops of Florence and Venice. I imagine maybe the streets are made too cluttered with NPC monks, prostitutes and noble men to force you up that ladder to skip from rooftop to rooftop instead. Sometimes when you’ve reached a combo of moves you glide through the air wonderfully and it’s brilliant, especially with the beautiful shining Duomo ahead of you, or the incredible Saint Mark’s Square. Overall that’s what I wanted from this game, which I still have not finished (this game is HUGE!), that freedom to sail across the terracotta tiled rooftops of Italy in the beautiful sunshine, occasionally murdering a guard who is asking too many questions.
My score is FOUR out of FIVE gay Leonardo Da Vincis