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TheKidNixon

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Games of the Year, Part 6: 2009


 Ganking Fools Something Harsh  
 Ganking Fools Something Harsh  
A quick anecdote: near the end of Assassin's Creed II, I was collecting stray  codex pages in Venice. As I approached a goal while leaping across rooftops, I encountered an archer on the roof. Not wanting to alert him, I creeped up behind and shoved a hidden blade into his back before he could cry out for help. His body dropped to the ground, lifeless as I started to look for possible tools to gain entrance to the guarded room containing the codex page. Thankfully, the fact that the city had started raining archers attracted a small crowd, which gathered around the poor corpse, including the guards assigned for that very same location. I sneaked over to the entrance, dropped down and lifted the codex. Unfortunately, by the time I was fleeing, one guard was on his way back to his post, only catch me attempting to exit. Alerted, he called out for help from the crowd of crowds to take care of the intruder. Begin chase sequence, ending in my running up the side of one building and diving into a nearby canal, swimming away to safety. 
  
Keep in mind that was a random encounter. Nothing was specifically scripted to happen, but it occurred within the certain magic that permeates any well made open world game. The actual scripted moments of AC II are that much better. Running through the streets of 15th century Italy is a such a thrilling delight, it is almost a pity that the game's occasionally frantic pace can make soaking in the atmosphere difficult. Of course, there is plenty of time to explore and admire the sprawling cities, learning every nook and cranny of each of the three unique cities. Unlike it predecessor, padded out time to disguise its limited bag of tricks, Assassin's Creed II is constantly bursting with new thrills and experiences. The frustration is that some of the more memorable moments only occur one time before moving on to its next stunning set piece. But that is the best kind of problem to have.
 
Everything has been improved from the original game. The combat offers an often fluid combination of cautious defense, blunt offense and fatal counters. The story is a two-pronged attack of Dan Brownesque political thriller set against the Italian Renaissance and near future sci-fi head trip. (When these two narrative converge is when the game's true brilliance shines.) Ezio's traversal of his environment feels kinetic and physical, especially during the Prince of Persia inspired Assassin's Tomb sequences that make up the most enjoyable challenges of the game. You feel both empowered by the ease that he has with killing fragile human beings, and overwhelmed by the vast conspiracy he's stumbled into. 
 
Ultimately, Assassin's Creed II is that rare gem of an open-world game with a purposeful hand behind it. The sense of discovery and variety provides a constantly entertaining experience, while it gently leads you towards its mind-blowing conclusion. It scratches that addicting "Just one more mission" itch, constantly pushing you forward. As the credits end, the Assassin's Creed franchise has redeemed itself from an unfortunate after thought to a series that I eagerly await the next installment in. It is the realization of all of the failed promise of its well-meaning older brother. Maybe I should blame lowered expectations, but no game left as strong an impression on me this past year as Assassin's Creed II. It was consistently the most intriguing, most exciting and most pure fun gaming experience I've had in the last 12 months. And if that doesn't qualify as a GOTY,  I don't know what does.
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