It’s a word Ubisoft is
overly very fond of, prematurely ascribing it, time and again, to elements of their various franchises that — to be quite honest — simply aren’t worthy of being described so. Jacob Frye’s cane-sword, Aiden Pierce’s cap… the list goes on.
If, however, there’s something — someone — they can absolutely, legitimately apply it to, it’s Ezio Auditore da Firenze. Despite there having been five main games in the Assassin's Creed series since Ezio’s final adventure, the Florentine nobleman-turned-Mentor of the Assassin Brotherhood remains, by far, the series' most popular protagonist yet.
And for good reason.
Chances are, though, if you’re reading this, you’ll be familiar with why this is, so I won’t bore you with the details. Instead, I’ll get right down to business.
Assassins Creed II is a decent game; decent, very flawed, but elevated to greatness by excellent characters, a compelling story, and one hell of a soundtrack — the main theme of which, referenced over and over in recent entries, has become every bit as iconic as the protagonist it represents.
Revisiting Ezio’s debut adventure on PlayStation 4 was… well, it was quite an experience — on the one hand, a pleasure, yet, on the other, shockingly disappointing.
Addressing, firstly, the pleasurable side of things: it reminded me of why the Assassin’s Creed series has a dedicated page on The JHN Files (something that, post-Unity, I’d begun to question); it reminded me of why — along with Brotherhood — Assassin’s Creed II helped get me through many, many sleepless nights a few years ago.
Everything else aside, I just find there to be something incredibly satisfying about playing the game methodically — by enabling myself to upgrade Ezio quickly through looting every fallen character (whether friend or foe) I can, by tending to each area’s myriad collectibles as soon as they become available, by investing in Monteriggioni early-on and reaping the resultant financial rewards later, by restoring Ezio’s armour, weapons and ammunition prior to the start of each new mission, because I like to think that’s what he himself would do, if, you know, he weren’t just a well-organised collection of polygons.
The restoration of Monteriggioni remains my favourite of the hideout-upgrading systems Assassin’s Creed II introduced to the series.
Unlike its presence in Brotherhood and Revelations — though, admittedly, those games made collecting income infinitely more straightforward — I vastly prefer having everything concentrated in a single location, taking particular pleasure in watching Monteriggioni’s transformation from a decrepit shadow of its former self to jewel of the Renaissance world.
Returning to the various locations visited throughout the story — warm Firenze, moody Monteriggioni, bleak San Gimignano, gloomy Forlì, cool Venice — and reencountering the various characters met along the way, was a pleasure, too.
Unfortunately, though, that’s where the positives of the thing end: nostalgia, however potent, cannot mask the fact Assassin’s Creed II’s presentation in The Ezio Collection is distinctly underwhelming.
Though the boosted resolution — coupled with the absence of the atrocious screen tearing encountered on PlayStation 3 — is very welcome, the improvements are hamstrung by baffling issues elsewhere.
Embarrassingly, for a game first released in 2009, it continues to run at just 30FPS; textures may be sharper, more detailed, but they look harsh to the point of being unpleasant; draw-distance is greatly increased, but pop-in is, frankly, appalling; the map, ridiculously, continues to send the game’s frame rate through the floor — and various environmental effects have been removed, robbing the game of a certain charm it had on older consoles, where there was a pleasing softness to the environments as opposed to the unpleasant super-clarity found in the Collection. It might sound strange to lament greater clarity, but that aforementioned softness imbued the game with a visual character completely missing here.
I was further disappointed to find the game just as finicky to play as it was on older hardware. Perhaps improvements in this department would be an unrealistic expectation, but I can’t deny that I found myself getting increasingly frustrated as Ezio jumped off in some random direction for what felt like the millionth time, or as he repeatedly assassinated a passing civilian or two instead of my intended target.
It would, however, be remiss of me to pretend that I wasn’t amused by some of the game’s more spectacular hiccups, such as the time Ezio spent half-an-hour with a sword stuck through his hand —
Ezio Auditore, the greatest in the land. He kicked those Templars' arses, with a sword stuck through his hand. pic.twitter.com/rYvX7N2rnx
— John T. (@JHNMCHLTNR) 23 November 2016
— or the occasion on which the game forgot to animate his attacks, making it seem as though a certain gentlemen had a horrific case of haemorrhoids.
— John T. (@JHNMCHLTNR) 24 November 2016
Behind the smiles brought about by these moments, however, lurked a niggling sense of disquiet.
Though I’m still very much looking forward to it, the state in which Ubisoft allowed Assassin’s Creed II to be presented here put something of a dent in my excitement for next year’s attempt to reinvigorate the series.
I hold on to the hope that the remasters of both Brotherhood and Revelations will prove to have fared better than their predecessor, but it'll be a while before I get around to either of those. Shoddy presentation aside, reliving the first chapter of Ezio's tale reinforced my rediscovered enthusiasm for the Creed — and there's something I want to do with that enthusiasm before burning myself out with another two games.
Aspetta e vedrai.