Retro roundup: Assassin's Creed 2, Freedom Force vs The Third Reich, The Settlers: Heritage of Kings

Assassin's Creed 2
(Image credit: Ubisoft)

This series originally ran in PC Gamer UK magazine as a column called They're Back, in which Jon Blyth took a sideways look at ageing games and re-releases before meting out judgement.

This week's edition was first published in October 2011, which is why it talks a lot about physical re-releases and bundles and other things that don't exist any more.

Assassin's Creed 2

I can never quite pinpoint the moment when I realised I liked Assassin’s Creed 2. I certainly didn’t take to the first game, and was a bit squinty about the way the public slowly took to it. 

Like everyone else, however, during Ezio’s reign I’ve succumbed to a debilitating fondness for the story’s blend of historical fact and paranoid fiction. It’s even corrupted the pure spite I feel for Danny Wallace, whose snippy researcher Shaun Hastings has, against all logic, grown on me. 

My review for AC2 at the time went so far as to have a box called ‘Wallace And Vomit’, where I outlined my disdain for Wallace’s capacity to portray his life as a series of badly-handled awkward moments and whimsical pub bets. Look, I’m doing it again. It just goes to show what a hate-filled monster I am. Danny, if you’re reading this, it’s not you. It’s me. And you. It’s a combination of me and you. 

Ezio Auditore is a spunky young buck, a lover, a fighter, and a man whose father and brothers have been solidly bollocked to death by the corrupt politicians and powermongers in Italy. Your mum’s gutted, and declines to say another word, until you collect two hundred feathers. (This works for all motherly problems. Try it out!) Your sister busies herself with the household accounts, which form the basis of the land-owning coffer-building side-game that gets you discounts at shops and unlocks weapons and armour.

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Assassin’s Creed 2 hits a sweet spot: a point at which the free-running, fighting, bountiful side missions, Dan Brown soap opera and batshit conspiracy theory all converge to make a game that is both simple and fun to control. It also feels like something big is going on, even if you have to look it up on the internet to work out exactly what the hell it is. The mouse and keyboard implementation is pretty tight too, with Ezio having just enough auto- correction to make free-running simple, but not so forgiving that you’ll never make a mistake.

AC2 will always be the game where I was happy with the way it played, and could still harbour my irrational grudge against Wallace. It wasn’t easy, losing that. When you’re confronted with someone successful doing something you reckon you could do, the only way to escape the sense of failure and self-loathing is to loathe the other person and deride their success. So in many ways, Assassin’s Creed 2 is responsible for my enduring disgust with myself.

Oh, and the obligatory Ubisoft thing: the original move to PC was rendered controversial by Ubisoft’s always-on DRM, but that’s been scaled back to their on-to-launch version. That’s for you to decide if you’re happy with. I’m off to try and write 600 words about how being a man is really hard work.

Jon's score: 88

Freedom Force vs The Third Reich

(Image credit: 2K)

Irrational Games’ 15-minute BioShock Infinite demo at E3 caused the entire gaming world to lift a leg and produce a foaming river of thrilled effluvia. We gushed as one, and dutifully rolled our eyes at Elizabeth’s over-pronounced cleavage. It’s important to be ironic when tits happen. 

So let’s celebrate by lighting a sparkler and revisiting an earlier Irrational great: a comicbook- themed strategy game from a time before Big Daddies and giant bird robots. At the time of writing, it costs a scratch over £2, which must mean that someone at Good Old Game’s pricing strategy room has been banging his face onto the silly table. 

A game that’s like sitting in a Babybel dinghy in a river of fondue, Freedom Force vs The Third Reich borrows much from its prequel, and it isn’t the deepest of games. But the ’50s language and deep love of its subject matter forms a infectious charm offensive that’ll win you over in terms of sheer, simple fun. Provided you don’t find the idea of a character called Alchemiss exclaiming “Peaches And Cream!” every ten seconds nauseating, that is. 

Instead of troops, you control the members of the Freedom Force, a team of superheroes intended as a loving homage to the golden age of comics. (You can choose to take them as a parody instead of a homage, if it makes you feel better.) You can also make your own hero, if you like, but the large collection of pre-made superdudes means you don’t need to be arsed. 

In terms of RTS games with personality, this is up there with the greats.

Jon's score: 85

The Settlers: Heritage of Kings

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Last month saw the re-release of the more recent Settlers medieval town-builder, Paths to a Kingdom. If the return of Heritage of Kings has anything to offer, it’s a chance to suggest, ever so politely, that you might prefer to overlook this game, and buy Paths to a Kingdom instead. It’s the superior game, in terms of pacing, looks and how saturated the fun-sponge is. 

This is cheaper, though. So if you’re the kind of person who hangs around the fridges at the supermarket, waiting for the man with the price gun to mark down a box of manky chicken wings, fill your boots. Just remember, when you’re not having much fun, there are ways to be doing exactly what you’re doing, and have more fun.

Jon's score: 63

Rollercoaster Tycoon: Deluxe Edition

(Image credit: Atari)

Sometimes, as part of a review, you have to describe the game you’re reviewing. Not so with Rollercoaster Tycoon, which is not only a perfectly self-describing title, but a series that’s been repackaged and re-released for a decade. If you didn’t know that this was an anal rollercoaster construction kit and theme park builder, there. 

The deluxe edition of the first game includes the two expansion packs—Corkscrew Follies and Loopy Landscapes—but this recent repackaging on for $6 is strictly for those crippled by nostalgia. The third game’s Deluxe edition, with both expansions, can be easily found for around £3, boxed—which makes the identical £20 Platinum pack on Steam a bit of a rip-off.

Jon's score: 76

Atlantis: The Lost Tales

(Image credit: Cryo Interactive)

Remember when you’d look at a ray- traced image of a ball reflected in a trumpet? That’s what Myst was, for me. Lots of lovely, clickable pictures that gave you hope that one day you might smoothly move through worlds like this. Ten years later and my dream has come true, meaning I never have to use my imagination again.

Atlantis is only a slight Myst-alike: a pre-rendered world, but you can only travel to certain hotspots. All the weird, upsetting faces of old-school 3D, and none of the freedom. It’s an enjoyable adventure though, at least for the first couple of hours, until the puzzles get punishingly oblique in a way that feels like the game is doing the splits to deliver uppercuts to your perineum.

Jon's score: 58