Review by Nemesissy
"A proper sequel"
Ignoring a dramatic introduction, lets get right to the game. Following on from Ubisoft's pretty well received Assassin's Creed, we have another adventure in time, of sorts, where you take control of a member of an organisation of assassins in olden times fighting against power hungry Templars. Simples.
Taking place where the first game left off, we have Desmond Miles, one of the blandest characters ever to grace the video game industry. Although he's voiced by Nolan North aka Nathan Drake, so we can forgive this. He's busted out of villainous Abstergo thanks to former employee and the-now-feisty Lucy Stillman who whisks him away to a secret hideout for fellow Assassins. Desmond must learn the ways of the Assassins, so he is sent into the Assassin's own Animus, the Animus 2.0. For the uninitiated, the Animus is a device which allows people to view memories of their ancestors which is stored in their DNA. Desmond must relive the life of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, who lives during the Renaissance Italy period. Quite why Desmond wasn't trained up through Altair's memories in the first game we are never told. But needs must.
Ezio Auditore is the main protagonist of the game, and the one whom you will be controlling for 95% of the game. Initially, he comes across as a bit of a playboy, fighting rival families and jumping out of girls' bedrooms to escape the young ladies' enraged father. He then learns of his family's Assassin ways and loses all hints of characterisation. Still, more than Altair ever achieved. Ezio takes to assassinating anyone that looks at him funny quite well considering he was living a normal life beforehand. He fights the evil Templars by assassinating many key men, just like Altair's mission in the first game, albeit much more erratically than Altair's very sequential missions.
The story becomes increasingly stranger up to the point where you no longer know just what the hell is going on. The game itself acknowledges this, as after a big speech made near the end of the game, which I won't go into for spoiler purposes, Desmond simply replies with "What the ****?". My thoughts exactly. The hard to follow story is not helped by random jumps in time through Ezio's life. One minute you'll have just completed an assassination mission in 1484, the next Ezio is sitting on a bench in 1488. No reason is given for these jumps, so we are left to assume Ezio was hibernating or something.
The main area where Assassin's Creed 2 greatly imporves upon its predecessor is in the actual story missions. Normal procedure, guy must die, find out stuff about guy, kill guy. However, incredibly repetitive missions are replaced with a much greater variety of tasks. Even the assassinations themselves have some degree of originality. Instead of completing at least 3 missions of eavsdropping, killing and pickpocketing, Ezio must complete a larger array of tasks, the majority of which are completely unique. For example, in one mission, Ezio must win a Golden Mask required to enter a party hosted by his target, and so he must complete Carnival-style games like capture the flag. Another mission involves him freeing and recruiting fighters to aid his assault upon an enemy stronghold. Such variety greatly helps the game from going stale, and just as well, because the game is quite long, unless you are a complete robot and go straight from mission to mission.
Unfortunately the game is also far too easy. In the first game, simply running to quickly in a street would cause the equivalent of a small army to bear down upon poor Altair. Ezio has no problems whatsoever. Which is actually quite a good improvement. The problem lies in that you never fight a huge number of soldiers anywhere in the game similar to how Altair had in the first outing. After each assassination, you may need to dispose of a large group of guards left over, but you will very rarely take on 10 or more. And when you do, there still isn't much of a challenge.
Combat remains pretty much unchanged aside from a few additions. Sword fighting is practically a copy paste job from the first game, where you just wait to counterkill the poor guard naive enough to take a swipe at Ezio. Additions include being able to fight unarmed aside from fist fights, which Ezio is rather good at. You can disarm enemies who attack you with your bare hands, or throw sand in their faces. Another addition would be the large selection of weapons available, many of which are unnecessary. The hidden blade returns, albeit 2 of them, one on each hand, meaning Ezio can take out 2 guards simultaneously, and there's also the return of small knives, but the double hidden blade means there's no real need for them now. Non-direct weapons are available such as smoke bombs, which are really completely useless, considering you can easily defeat anyone you fight, or outrun them. Different swords are available, each with different stats. The only reason to go for swords other than the best one is to see the different killing animations each generates in combat.
Now, these weapons aren't all unlockables. No, you have to buy these things. Yes, buy. A major addition is the monetary system and the few RPG elements added for some depth. Medicine, Armour, different colours of armour, weapons, etc are all purchasable. Armour,. like weapons, comes with different stats, although this time, there's no reason to use any armour other than the best one once you get it. All of this is now stored in Ezio's villa, which is the main source of this RPG nonsense. Ezio must upgrade the surrounding town to increase the town's value, thus giving him more income. Items such as paintings, armour, and weapons all add to the town's value. So you're essentially spending money to make money. And this system becomes redundant fast. Move quickly enough, and you'll soon end up with much more money than you need. An irritating feature is that the income generated by the town is sent to your villa, and the income is updated every 20 minutes. Unfortunately, the little box in which your annoying cow of a sister holds the income is small. It will only hold a certain amount, and if any more money arrives when it's full, you won't get it. Meaning you must carry your ass over to the villa each time to collect the money. Yeah, very annoying.
Money is collected in many ways, aside from waiting 20 minutes for money to magically appear in your villa. You can steal money from bodies of your poor victims, you can pickpocket it from living victims, you can collect it from treasure chests scattered over each city (and there is a huge amount of treasure chests, further causing you to end up with way too much money), or you can complete side missions. Side missions seem to take the place of whatever you call the missions in the first game. You can take up courier jobs, assassination missions, races or, for some bizarre reason, beat up unfaithful husbands.
You'll be delighted to hear that collectibles return! Because every video game needs collectibles, otherwise it's debatable to list it as a video game nowadays. However, gone are the insane flag quests from the previous game. There is only one major item collection, which is 100 feathers, which unlocks 2 items of no real importance. There are some smaller item quests, one of which is important to the story, but none of which are over 30 items. Each of them however, adds value to your little villa's town, granting you more income. Scrooge Auditore da Firenze indeed.
Ezio is, physically, much better than Altair. His free running is faster, and, thankfully, he can climb much quicker. Cities are now designed with much more room for fluid free running along rooftops, although there's the issue of misjudging a gap or a slight dodgy camera messing things up for you. Thankfully, the ability to grab a ledge while falling is available from the start.
One thing to the game's credit, it is pretty well presented. The cutscenes are nothing amazing, even slightly blocky at times, but during game play, it is a damn fine looking game. Water effects are good, character and building models are alright, and city skylines are great. Sound wise, the voice actors are in good form. The satisfying sounds of a guard getting impaled by your sword/hidden blade returns from the first game, and dramatic music helps the mood of the Renaissance Italy setting.
Overall, the game is a damn good experience. It's very addictive, messing around, so much to collect, see and do, with the story missions available for your own leisure. It has it's few flaws, with the combat system still needing a shake-up, and the RPG elements, despite being a nice touch, too focused on the monetary system which kills itself by throwing too much of the dough at you. But credit to Ubisoft, they could've just tweaked a few things from Assassin's Creed here and there and thrown it out as a sequel, but they've improved upon the majority of the game massively, and created a proper sequel, one that takes good steps forward. Here's hoping the third brings even more progress. I'd give it a 8.5/10, but as decimals aren't allowed, I'll give it the benefit of the doubt and round it upwards, as it doesn't make us sit through ages of tutorials at the beginning like the first game. 9/10
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 01/04/10
Game Release: Assassin's Creed II (EU, 11/20/09)
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