Who’d have thought I’d be pleased to be back at work? Well today, I am. That’s mostly because I’ve spent the majority of the time since Saturday lying down on either the sofa or bed, within dashing distance of the bathroom, thanks to a particularly horrible gastric thing. Today I managed to eat and keep down some breakfast, and despite feeling weak as a kitten got my backside dressed and into work. I had to come in on Monday morning to help set up a new starter, but that was a really bad idea which I soon regretted. It’s nice to be vertical again, and the thought that there’s only three days until a weeks leave is a good one.
My time reclined hasn’t been wasted though, oh no siree, I’ve been wisely investing it in some quality time with the Xbox as it’s not had much love from me recently and I thought it was long overdue some. I managed to pick up a very cheap copy of Assassins Creed 2 and got around to sitting down and playing it, and I’m really glad I did. I haven’t had this much fun with a game since the very excellent (side note: whenever I write ‘very excellent’ I hear Bill & Ted saying it, just like in the film when they introduce the very excellent barbarian, mister Genghis Khan!) Batman: Arkham Asylum.
Most of the game is set in 17th century Italy in areas like Florence, Venice and Tuscany, and it’s all beautifully rendered with a real sense of attention to detail. Ok, there’s some artistic license, but it’s all very believable. I love the sound of the tiles slipping underfoot as you run over the roofs. Without wanting to ruin the story (which is great), for the most part you play a character named Ezio, who inadvertently finds himself learning the assassin trade in order to avenge his family. Ezio’s a nimble chap, and apparently free-running was all the rage 350 years ago in Europe, so you find yourself clambering, climbing, swinging, running and jumping through the ancient architecture. The sense of freedom works really well and it never feels like the acrobatics are shoehorned into what’s actually a very linear platform game, a la Prince of Persia. The main story is a great draw, but what’s really been eating into my time is all of the side missions and distractions.
There are ‘viewpoints’ to discover and scale, and making it to one of them and hitting Y reveals more of the fogged map. Then you get the fun of swan-diving from ridiculous heights into bales of hay or carts of leaves – entirely unrealistic but spectacular. At the same time as working your way through the story there’s loads of other things happening, like finding ‘glyphs’ painted on certain buildings. Scanning one of the glyphs opens an abstract puzzle, and solving it unlocks a couple of seconds of video. I imagine once I get them all I get to re-sequence them and see what the ‘truth’ is. You also spend your time distracting guards to liberate ‘codex pages’ which again, reveal something once complete.
There’s a real high to be had when you know the city guards are all out to get you, and you’re using your blending skills to hide among the crowds of people, or desperately trying to find a hiding hole as they chase you over rooftops. The assassin tomb side-missions are also great and really test your platforming skill; it’s satisfying to find yourself in the top of a massive cathedral and look back down at the route you’ve taken to get there.
You can pick it up for less than fifteen quid brand new now, and less than a tenner second-hand, and for that money I’d really recommend it. It’s a bit slow for the first hour, but get past that and the game world opens up and sucks you in like a Dyson. If you’re looking for something to play and don’t want to spend forty pounds on something brand new, pick it up. I was more than pleasantly surprised.
Now all I have to do is get some food in me, get some strength back and get back to training. Watching sucks, doing rocks.