Assassin’s Creed II Review
The original Assassin’s Creed had the makings of a decent title. Though while well received, Ubisoft’s first venture was plagued by repetitive and often frustrating gameplay. A refined follow up was needed.
In contrast to the original game, Assassin’s Creed 2 provides a more personal narrative. It follows Ezio Auditore da Firenze, a young Italian nobleman, who after witnessing his father, brother and nephew die at the hands of corrupt officials is driven to the life of an assassin. As a focal point for the events that develop, Ezio’s quest for revenge evokes an improved attachment to the main character. An additional supporting cast (including Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci) provide depth and interest to both the unravelling plot and Ezio’s general development as a character, making him more empathic despite his macabre life style choice.
Assassin’s Creed 2 continues the unusual storyline setup through the exploits of the ‘other’ protagonist Desmond and the Animus machine. To those unfamiliar with the story, the Animus machine unlocks the past lives of anyone hooked up to it. Desmond past lives contain clues to something called ‘Pieces of Eden’, the truth behind the origin of the human species. After escaping from the company that had been forcing him to search for these clues, a rouge group ask Desmond to help them in their own search.
Ubisoft should be commended for attempting something different, but while the past/present storyline and side missions taps into people’s fascination of conspiracy theories, it distracts attention from an otherwise well-structured, even gratifying escapade through 15th Century Italy. It’s fortunate therefore that Desmond’s role has been reduced somewhat from the first outing, so the two storylines don’t clash often.
Financial responsibilities play a large part in the sequel. Cash can be obtained through either completing missions, pick-pocketing the locals, or finding it in treasure chests scattered around the cities. The Villa in Monteriggioni provides a nice, albeit superficial, distraction from the main campaign. It acts as base camp, where Ezio’s progress through the main and side missions can be tracked. It also acts as somewhere to spend hard earned/stolen cash, as the town’s value can be increased via structural development, art and armour purchases, all bringing new settlers and in turn new income to Monteriggioni. Of course it all has a benefit, as the town’s income transfers over into Ezio’s pocket.
With his newfound entrepreneurial skills, the player has far more options to customise their assassin, from armour and clothing colours, to a whole range of new weapons. Perhaps a thin dagger with high speed and low power is the ideal companion, or maybe a slow but powerful butcher’s knife? The same applies for the main sword, with rapiers, long swords, maces and war hammers all available in the name of choice. Indecisive? With nominal button presses, an adversary’s weapon can be seized and used against them.
On the second attempt, Ezio has also been better equipped when it comes to moves. Ezio must also have been training at his local swimming pool, because he can now take to the waters to navigate the lush environment of Venice, or use the water as a perfect hiding place.
Missions have also seen a much-needed upgrade. No longer is the assassin required to sit on a bench eavesdropping on people, or interrogating people in tedious manners. Now Ezio can take part in missions featuring chases, stealth assassinations, combat missions, and trips in a flying machine, as well as traditional platforming sections across cityscape, reminiscent of the Prince of Persia series. However, the game comes to the same pitfalls that plagued the first. Missions can become repetitive, resorting to carrying an object from A to B, following someone, or in a surprise twist, assassinating him or her. A little variation is all that’s required Ubisoft.
On a similar note, the cities in Assassin’s Creed 2 provide the game with one of its strongest aspects. 15th Century recreations of Florence, Forli, Tuscany and Venice have all been created in immaculate detail. The buildings that players will spend time climbing have been further enhanced, giving them more personality and rewarding players with a stunning cityscape when synchronising views from the tallest of structures, culminating in a better flowing and more believable environment.
Crowd animations have also seen improvements. Character animations fit seamlessly into their environments, particularly with Ezio gliding up and down buildings with little effort, due to the improved free running system. Mercenaries, thieves and courtesans can be hired and used to distract those obnoxious guards that lurk around the waiting to foil Ezio’s assassination plan. Although it seems murder in broad daylight is acceptable, as pedestrians seem to accept or ignore the gruesome killing that has occurred in front of them.
Assassin’s Creed 2 is a good game, but Game of the Year material it is not. While it does a fantastic job of portraying renaissance Italy and its cohabitants, constructing breath-taking cityscapes, and superb yet subtle character animation, the game falls short at the gameplay hurdle. Missions are repetitive and lack imagination, and though the storyline has improved on the previous instalment, it’s lacking consistency when compared to the likes of Uncharted 2 and Batman: Arkam Asylum.
So while it is a vast improvement from its predecessor, there is still room for development.