Get your Stab on
Last year’s Assassin’s Creed: Altair’s Chronicles and the newly released Assassin’s Creed II: Discovery couldn’t possibly be more different from one another. Both handheld titles offer separate plots and side-adventures featuring the main character assassins from their respective console counterparts. However, that’s about where the main comparisons end. If you were among the many players who were painfully disappointed by the shoddiness and gimmicky gameplay in Altair’s Chronicles, take some comfort in the fact Discovery is a much better example of how a proper portable Assassin’s Creed title on the DS should be done.
Under the wing of a completely different developer, Discovery substantially changes up the formula. Instead of delivering of a plodding, stealth-focused 3D adventure, Griptonite Games stripped out all of the touch-screen mini-game tackiness and went for a 2.5D perspective that delivers tighter, faster gameplay. Nimbly slashing the throats of Inquisition soldiers is a lot more fun when you fly at them from full speed out of nowhere, and dispatching those who are unworthy of breathing with the camera zoomed in on the carnage is incredibly satisfying. While not all of the changes are entirely great ones, being a deadly assassin definitely feels a lot more exciting this time.
Discovery is a standalone title that follows the same protagonist from Assassin’s Creed II in a complementary side story that takes places somewhere smack in the middle of the events that unfold in the console game. As the adept assassin Ezio Auditore da Firenze, you’ll travel through different historical cities in 15th century Spain to save your assassin brethren from torture and imprisonment by the Spanish Inquisition, while unraveling a grander scheme set in motion by the Knights Templar. Since it takes place well after the plot of the console game already gets underway, the story leaves out any mention of the futuristic aspects of the Assassin’s Creed series. These aspects are still visually incorporated into the mechanics, menus, and HUD elements, but the focus is heavily placed on the adventure in the distant past.
Due in part to the locked side-view perspective, the gameplay is a lot heavier on platforming and brawling than exploration and pilfering. Missions still involve a certain measure of stealth in a few instances, yet Ezio’s heightened speed and agility lend themselves well to running and jumping across the rooftops and leaping at foes on the fly. Objectives often alternate between killing certain guards, locating and rescuing key individuals, escaping hails of deadly arrows, and other straightforward tasks. Your competence in each level is scored based on meeting or exceeding specific quotas. Sometimes you’ll want to kill as many guards as possible. Other times, you’ll want to make it to the end of the stage without being detected. Regardless of your ulterior objectives, speed is of great importance, since part of your score is determined by beating the stage within a set time limit.
Ezio moves quickly, and responsive D-pad and button controls give you a lot of flexibility in how you deliver his slick acrobatic and sword-swinging moves. It’s actually surprising how many cool maneuvers are jammed into the flexible control scheme. Most of the actions are context sensitive and only require minor variations on player input to yield impressive results. Tapping a button and the proper D-pad direction in certain circumstances lets you quickly scramble up a wall you’re charging toward, dive and roll under a tight space, hang from a ledge, and grab onto a pole to swing off from. New moves are introduced at regular intervals during the game, and you’re given a chance to practice and master them in a virtual setting before having to pull them off in the thick of the action.
With such ease of movement, it’s tempting to just zip through levels at breakneck speed and enjoy the thrill of the risk. This isn’t always the best course of action. The lack of a map and a limited field of view really puts a damper on any attempts to be overly reckless. Spoil sport. Jumping from platform-to-platform at high speed tends to be a leap of faith, since you may land safely on the other side or fall to your death. Either way, you can’t really see what’s coming up, which is problematic to say the least. What the bottom screen does display is an arrow to indicate where enemies are in relation to your location and the direction they’re facing. This is somewhat helpful but nowhere nearly as handy as a full terrain map would be.
It should go without saying that Discovery is a game about being an assassin. As such, there are lots of ways to kill your enemies, and all of them involve deliciously gratuitous violence. Even without blood splatter, taking out enemies using a myriad of stealth kills is a huge draw. Sneaking up on your victim lets you enact some truly horrendous ways of eviscerating them, and the camera zooms-in to give you a front row seat of the nefarious acts. Some of the more impressive assassinations involve pulling an arrow out of an archer’s bow and jabbing it into his neck, using your sword to forklift a soldier into the air by jabbing him upward through his gut, and jumping up on to a guy’s shoulders to thrust your blade down into his head. Needless to say, these and the many other fun instant kills are tremendously effective. Though Ezio also has some decent blocking abilities, counter-attacks, and straightforward swordsmanship skills, they’re pretty useless against more than one foe at a time.
In many ways Assassin’s Creed II: Discovery is big step up from its predecessor, and Griptonite’s high energy, action-heavy approach is one that will sit well with many fans of the series. The downside is the overabundance of platforming stabby-stabbery tends to grow repetitive before long, and the trial-and-error nature of the level design is enough to make some players grow tired of the experience prematurely. Even so, Discovery is a tight game that dishes up a few solid hours of intense 15th century cutthroat adventure.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
The 2.5D perspective is more limiting than the last game, but everything still looks quite impressive in action. 4.3 Control
There’s no touch-screen garbage to mess with. The tight D-pad and buttons setup works great. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Lots of quality voice work. 3.9
It’s fast, furious, and fun; a little repetitive but full of action.
4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.