Odds are you’re a good person. You go to work, pay your bills, assist the elderly across the street, and get to bed at a reasonable time. So why would you want to be an amazing Renaissance-era assassin, leaping from a nearby rooftop to quickly dispatch your target with concealed wrist blades (or any other weapon), quickly looting the body and escaping without a trace?
Because it would be about the most fun you could have on your Mac.
In Assassin’s Creed II, recently ported to the Mac via Valve’s Steam digital storefront, you play Desmond Miles, an escapee from Abstergo Industries who must relive the genetic memories of a Renaissance-era nobleman through a computer called the Animus 2.0, all the while discovering the truth about a centuries-long conflict between two groups, the Assassins and the Templars.
And the compelling story is just the tip of the iceberg in a game filled with murder, betrayal, and an incredible open world — think Grand Theft Auto within the Renaissance. When this game took off on the Xbox 360, it was easy to see why; the realistic graphics, beautiful music, outstanding voice acting, and nifty combat and physics engines make it fun to play in both short bursts as well as hours-long gaming sessions.
If you can think of a cool thing to do in the game, odds are you can do it. Almost any ledge can be used to climb to the rooftops as a means of avoiding the guards while mercenaries, courtesans, and thieves can be hired to fight for you, or distract or seduce anyone in your way. Need to create a quick distraction or escape outright? Simply throw money into a crowd or hurl a smoke bomb at your feet and use the cover to escape.
Role-playing elements make any game that much better, and Assassin’s Creed II is no exception. While your character begins as a novice with some fighting ability and uncanny climbing skills, the weapons, armor, and fighting abilities you pick up later in the game make you a nigh-unstoppable killing machine. You can learn how to block and dodge blows, the best ways to disarm an opponent, and even how to hide in a hay cart and stab anyone who comes to close.
A game’s controls make all the difference, and this is where Assassin’s Creed II simultaneously shines and flops on the Mac. While the controls themselves are quick and responsive, the interface for them feels like a hasty port from the Xbox 360 controls; the buttons are even color-coded for the 360’s controls in the game. The end result is a system that works but takes about 90 minutes to acclimate to — we kept flipping over to the control settings to see what an icon represents.
Plus, this game has a few bugs to work out. While the AI controlling enemy movements is good, and you genuinely get the feeling that your character has to keep his distance from the guards or blend into a crowd of civilians to get by, at times a guard will get stuck on a piece of the game’s environment. Plus, we encountered an incredible series of installation bugs over Steam: the game ran correctly at first, but then lost contact with the keyboard and later stated that our Mac Pro couldn’t run it. After some hemming and hawing, we flipped over to a clean Mac OS 10.6.6 partition on another hard drive and ran the game, albeit at a sometimes-clipped frame rate.
The bottom line. In spite of some fairly considerable blemishes, Assassin’s Creed II brings a lot to the Mac OS X gaming table. While there’s room for improvement and bug fixes, the story and gameplay remain terrific. Yes, a bug hunt is needed, as is a steadier frame rate, but until we get to the point that emerging around a corner only to stab two guards in the neck stops being incredibly fun, $29.99 doesn’t seem like a bad price to pay for this.