Assassin’s Creed 2 Review
Game: Assassin’s Creed 2
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC (reviewed on Xbox 360)
Story: Assassin’s Creed 2 starts with a quick recap on the events of the first game to remind players of the confusing plot which intertwines events from the past and modern day. Once the recap is done the game puts you back in control of subject 17 also known as Desmond Miles. You take control of Desmond at the exact point that the previous game left off with Desmond standing in his Abstergo cell staring at a bloodied wall of cryptic messages. If you are expecting to jump back into the Animus doing work for Abstergo the Templars of today you may be in for a little shock, Lucy Stillman an Abstergo employee and undercover Assassin breaks you out taking you to a nearby Assassin’s warehouse where the Animus 2.0 is ready and waiting to take Desmond back in time to visit his Italian ancestor Ezio Auditore da Firenze.
You take control of Ezio in late 15th century Italy, the time of the renaissance and a time of corruption amongst the top Italian families. The time spent in Italy starts out light heartedly with Ezio getting into a scuffles with local gangs, racing along roof tops and dropping in on a special lady for a late night rendezvous which includes a sex mini game that had me laughing out loud.
The game soon takes a turn towards the serious side of things with Ezio donning the Assassin robes. Ezio is on a quest for revenge as he goes from city to city seeking new targets to try and unravel the long line of deceit before him. Ezio is not alone on his quest, he gains support from unlikely sources such as prostitutes, thieves, mercenaries, his uncle Mario and strangely enough Leonardo da Vinci. The famous Italian is on hand to unlock codexes and create weapons for Ezio. All of Ezio’s allies have a part to play as they teach him new skills, accompany him on missions or just generally point the young assassin in the right direction. Every character feels believable and carries a sense of belonging.
It is important to note that the story progresses through the late 15th century and into the early 16th century with a transition of time in between each “sector” of the game. The transitions push events forward years at a time allowing surroundings to change slightly which effects the way the city feels and pushes the story forward giving the whole world a sense of scale.
Playing as Ezio it is very easy to get caught up in his world forgetting about the fact that you are really playing as Desmond in the Animus. The previous game dipped in and out of the contraption quite frequently giving Desmond time to rest, this is not the case with the sequel. Scenes in the modern day world are few and far between but do hold a lot more weight as there is a sense of purpose behind them.
The story can be a little confusing at times with two “events” going on at the same time and questions being answered with more questions; fans of Lost will feel right at home here with others tearing their hair out at the” WTF?!” moments. If you have no idea what’s really going on half the time do not worry as in the words of the late Michael Jackson, you are not alone.
Graphics: The graphical look of the game has not changed much from the original however the architecture of the Italian cities is superb with every minor detail down to a tee the cities really look believable. Away from the dusty roads of the middle east the new Italian setting allows for a bit more greenery around some parts of the cities and on the road between locations. The lighting effects that wowed me in the original are back and still looking great casting dynamic shadows that can suffer from pixelation at times, especially when not standing within two feet of them. The character models are looking a little dated when compared to recent games such as Uncharted 2 but it is to be expected with dozens of characters on screen at once in an open world. Swimming is available this time and with it comes water that splashes when Ezio jumps in and ripples to good effect around the young Assassin when he is floating. Overall the visuals are stunning on the Xbox 360 and I would imagine they are even better on a high end PC.
Sound: The sound in Assassin’s Creed 2 is second to none with the patter of footsteps and the ambient sound of conversation literally bringing the Italian cities to life much like they did in the previous game. What the previous game got totally wrong though was Altair’s accent; Altair had Desmond’s American accent, it didn’t work well at all and actually ended up suspending some in-game immersion. Ezio does not suffer such a fate and comes equipped with an Italian accent which sounds really authentic. Ezio frequently comes out with Italian expressions that make his character and the characters around him believable. Music is used well to set the tone with methodical slow tunes in place when Ezio is anonymous just walking through the streets planning his next kill which is a stark contrast to the up beat music that gets your heart pumping when running through the streets with guards on your tail.
Gameplay: Well where do I begin?! The great free running is back and plays just as well as it did in the original. There are occasions where you will perform actions you didn’t mean to do but those moments are very rare. The ability to end a long run with a dive into the waters of Venice is awesome, thrilling even. The combat has been added to rather than revamped, you can do all the same moves you did in the previous game and more. When fighting unarmed Ezio can counter his opponent with a disarm then lay into them with their own weapon which looks and feels great. Thanks to Leonardo da Vinci, Ezio has not one but two hidden blades which come in handy for double stealth assassinations. Ezio definitely has some new tricks up his sleeves but so do his foes For example, “Brutes” will be tough to kill in their heavy armour but they cannot chase you up buildings whereas the agile guards will be easier to attack but they have the ability to climb buildings and free run on roof tops just like Ezio.
The last game suffered from being too repetitive with the same generic side missions being forced down your throat just so you could run the assassination missions, the sequel corrects this issue by taking a more “linear” route. Whilst a wide variety of side missions still exist none are mandatory. Assassinations still need to be set up but every mission towards the kill target is chosen for you wrapped in story to make the process easier to digest.
A welcome new feature to the game is the mini “RPG” element. Ezio unlike his ancestor Altair can collect money in various ways and use it to upgrade armour, weapons and buy supplies such as ammo and medicine. Ezio gains money by completing missions, looting bodies, pickpocketing civilians and renting out his uncles villa. The villa is situated in a small city that has shops and local services which can be upgraded. The more you upgrade the villa and the surrounding shops the more rent you get. The rent you attain goes into a chest, once the chest is full no more money can be made until you return to the villa and empty it. This is an interesting mechanic which encourages you to go back to the villa frequently and reminds you that there is a living breathing world out there. The villa is a great feature but it sort of fell flat when I had maxed it out, more upgrades would have been nice.
Last but not least my favourite new feature, the linear side missions that have you traversing a hidden locations in each city to find some top loot. If you remember the start of the original game there was a section which had Altair going through a linear mission and it was great, this is quite similar but better of course. My only small complaint is that these missions are not mandatory and some people might just overlook them. They are fantastically designed and if you complete them all, they offer a great final reward. Definitely something not to be missed!
Longevity: The main story plus all six of the linear side quests took me around 12 hours to complete, add the side missions and exploring to that and you are looking at a 20+ hour game. Not the longest when compared to marathons such as Dragon Age but not amazingly short either. The confusing story may have you playing through again to get a better understanding but without an online mode you probably won’t play Assassin’s Creed 2 more than once.
Verdict: Assassin’s Creed 2 builds on the foundations of the previous game adding just enough to make the experience involving and engaging. I got the feeling that the cracks from the previous game were patched up rather than properly rebuilt but nevertheless Assassin’s Creed 2 offers a unique gaming experience which no self respecting gamer should miss.