Assassin's Creed II Review
Date of Release: November 17, 2009
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The original Assassin's Creed, which was released in 2007, was a great game that wasn't without its flaws. Repetitive gameplay and missions were just a few of the many minor, niggling complaints that held back an otherwise fantastic game. Question marks were also raised over the unexpected twist in the storyline which saw gamers take control of a man named Desmond in the present day. However, the core aspects of the original were very strong. Freeflowing controls, chases and some memorable assassinations were in place and waiting to be build upon. Assassin's Creed II is the sequel that hopes to take these strong core elements and built something amazing, all the while correcting the errors of the first game. Let's see if Ubisoft were successful in their attempts...
Assassin's Creed II builds upon the great gameplay foundations of the first title. In the first few missions, we're introduced to the fantastic free running system, which allows players to climb over almost any surface without much effort. The way Ezio maneuvers around his environment is very impressive to behold, as Ezio's body realistically adjusts to his environment as he climbs and vaults past obstacles. Also, Ezio's running speed in Assassin's Creed II has been significantly increased from the first game. This allows players to elegantly zip around the city at a serious pace, which allows you the time to admire the beauty of the animations. It's not perfect though, there are moments when the camera seems to have a mind of its own and presents the worse possible view of what's over the next rooftop. In turn, this caused me more deaths from over running a ledge and mistiming my jumps simply because I couldn't see where the hell I was going. This caused me a lot of frustration but thankfully it didn't happen too often.
Don't worry for Ezio, he's able to swim unlike Altair in the first Assassin's Creed.
This comes in handy when you need to lose some unwanted attention.
As in the original, stealth once again plays a pivotal role in Assassin's Creed II. Stealth here is handled very differently compared with other games, and I must say I find Assassin's Creed II's style and execution of stealth to be hugely enjoyable and refreshing I must say that there's something very satisfying about disappearing into dense crowds after completing an assassination. Vintage hiding places such as bales of hay and roof gardens are present once again. Perhaps one of the biggest additions to the game is the ability to swim. Ezio can now dive underwater for a limited time to hide from his enemies. Also, if the feeling strikes you, you're able to hire people to distract enemies for you as you make your escape. Thieves, mercenaries and whores can be hired for a fee and directed at targets as living tools of distraction. All these elements take practice and may not always result in victory, but it's certainly great fun when your plans actually come off.
However, sometimes you'll have no choice but to engage your enemies in combat. On the weapon selection wheel, there are swords, daggers, smoke bombs, throwing knives the dual assassin blades, and something that I think is best discovered by yourself. You can buy new weapons or choose to steal them from enemies whilst fighting. Each weapon has its own pros and cons and all are beautifully animated and realised. Once in combat, you can use sidesteps, special combat moves and grapples. Of course you could just hammer the attack button, but if you become somewhat competent at combat, you'll be killing your foes in an almost artistic manner.
Assassin's Creed fans will be delighted to hear that the sequel ties up many of the (very) loose ends from the end of the last game. We pick up from where we left off, bartender Desmond remains locked in his mysterious cell at Abstergo. In case you haven't played the first game, Abstergo is a corporation which is the modern-day incarnation of a group by the name of the Templars. This coporation are after Desmond for his genes, as they contain extremely valuable genetic memories. These memories are brought to life through the wonders of a machine called the 'Animus', which allows Desmond to relive the adventures of his assassin ancestors. This makes Desmond a very valuable asset and puts him at the centre of a war between the Assassins and Templars.
Assassin's Creed II opens with pulse-pounding action this time around, as Desmond makes his escape from the facility that had been holding him prisioner throughout the original Assassin's Creed. He succeeds in escaping and finds himself holed up with the Assassins at their secret hideout. Handy enough, they have an Animus of their own which they want Desmond to use to relive the past of yet another descendant... Enter Ezio Audituerre de Firenze.
Rooftop chases are commonplace in Assassin's Creed II and contain some of the most
memorable moments of the game.
The setting is 15th century Italy and it's here that you're introduced to our newest protagonist. Our first moments of Ezio's journey are, in all honesty, slightly bizarre. We join him at the moment of his birth which serves as part of a unqiue lesson on movement. After that, It jumps to his latter years as a womaniser (c'est la vie), a street fighter, and the son of a wealthy banker. Ezio is a much more engaging character than Altair ever was, which makes me think that the developers learned a bit from the fantastic characterisation of Uncharted's Nathan Drake and others. The Renaissance setting was an act of sublime genius, as it creates a much more interesting setting. This new setting provides the world with some colourful characters and they inject some much-needed humour into proceedings.
All in all, the singleplayer experience was much better and I found myself actually intrigued as to where the story would take me next. There's a hell of a lot more variation in the missions, which was a major flaw in the original. You'll find yourself exploring hidden tombs, applying funds to armour and weaponry, upgrading and customising your Villa (which acts as a glorified display case for all of the collectibles and secret items) and so much more. Even little things such as being given the choice to rebuild the blacksmith and get a discount all adds to the immersive quality and depth of the game. Even if you choose to avoid or ignore all the extras in Assassin's Creed, it'll still take you some time before you see the end. The story took me around 16 hours to complete. Although, not all the missions are as exciting as the assassination ones, especially the much-hyped flying mission, which I must say I found pretty dull to say the least. Tailing a target or following an ally through a city is also uninspiring and made me want to assassinate everyone in the vicinity. These annoying moments aren't as common here as in the first Assassin's Creed, but there are still a few bland missions to be found and endured.
Assassin's Creed II is an immense technical achievement. The cities you explore; Florence and Venice, among others, are larger and more detailed than the environments of the first game. Each city is amazingly recreated and textures and lighting are of the highest quality. Citizens go about their daily lives, and they look authentic doing so. The cities are living and breathing this time and there's a real sense of hustle and bustle as you watch inhabitants living out their lives. There's also much more variety in how people look, which keeps everything looking more realistic and even more immersive.
Combat in Assassin's Creed II is great and it's very accessible, yet deep.
Character models are great and the facial animations are top-notch. Voice acting is strong as you'd expect and each and every one of the characters in the story arc are given a sense of identity and personality. There's not really any flaws with how the game looks and sounds, apart from minor slowdown issues here and there. I must say that I was impressed.
Very much improved. Camera can be a bit dodgy at times but overall there's a lot to see and do. Freeflow running and combat are all well-excecuted and fluid.
Much better this time around. I thought there was much more variation in the missions and much more to do outside of the main story. The characters and inhabitants of the world have more personality too, although I still feel it's not perfect.
Beautiful animations, great voice-acting, dynamic lighting and some stunning cityscapes and environments. Like the original, Assassin's Creed II is a treat for the eyes and ears.
Assassin's Creed II is a great sequel and improves on the first entry in the series in almost every possible way. If you liked the original game then you're going to love this game. Even if you hated the first game, you may find yourself enjoying this game. In saying that, I'm still not finding myself falling hopelessly in love with the series, even with all the notable improvements staring me in the face. I'm looking forward to seeing where the series goes from here. It may one day coalesce into the all-conquering game that it certainly has the potential for. Until then, this is one massive step in the right direction for the series.