Review by horror_spooky
"A hidden blade in the crowd"
It's no secret that I loathed the original Assassin's Creed. Yeah, I slapped an average review score on it because in essence, the game was a good idea with some fun stuff hampered down by a ridiculously repetitive gameplay structure. The amount of hype the game received was just astonishing though especially when the game didn't turn out to be all that great. For that reason, the original Assassin's Creed is one of my most hated games of all time. The sequel, however, takes everything that was cool about the original, amplifies it, and then makes one of the most entertaining stealth experiences the seventh generation has offered. I said it in my Gears of War 2 review about sequels, and hell, I'll repeat myself a third time: This is how you make a sequel.
Altair's adventures in the AC were suffocated by unbearably repetitive gameplay sections, and that was the main issue I had with the title. Ubisoft has definitely stepped up their game and there wasn't really a repetitive moment throughout any part of Ezio's adventures in 1400's Italy. Some missions will have you free-running all over the place while other missions will throw you in a dungeon-like area and make you complete very well done Prince of Persia-like platforming. Other times you'll be partaking in assassinations of important historical figures in a sneaky fashion and other times still you'll be in large battles with multiple participants.
Another issue I had with the original game was the combat engine. The fighting wasn't nearly as fun or solid as it could have been, but the sequel has improved on this area as well. You can run around killing people from behind, obviously, but when you are in the heat of battle and direct confrontations are necessary, the combat system won't let you down. Ezio adapts to the battles brilliantly, and there are a variety of weapons for you to use this time instead of hardly any. You can pick up the weapons of your enemies if you so wish, and the weapon types range from long swords to daggers to throwing knives to other weapons I'm not going to go over as it will stifle a bit of the game's surprise factor for you.
The combat system is smart as hell, too. You lock on to an enemy and you have a variety of options available to you to combat your enemies. You can hold the right trigger to counter the attacks of your enemies with the swift press of a button. You can grab your enemies and slit their throats right in front of their compatriots (grabbing opponents opens up even more options), or you can just swing wildly and hope for the best. Battles are often epic and have a similar feel to Prince of Persia.
However, the Assassin's Creed games are primarily stealth games in the vein similar popular games like Splinter Cell or Metal Gear. A large portion of the game can be optionally stealth, but other sections are almost unavoidably stealth portions, and the more linear stealth segments are actually some of the more tighter and entertaining portions of the game. I definitely hope to see a larger focus on stealth in the sequel, but there will be plenty of Awesome! moments when you are shimmying along a ledge only to pop up, stab a guard in the chest with your hidden blade, and then dump him to his death in a river or something.
Assassin's Creed II is a significant departure from the first game when it comes to storyline progression. While the original was a very nonlinear adventure and you could choose who to assassinate in any order you wished, the sequel plays out more like a Grand Theft Auto game; you have to complete missions for people and work your way to the assassinations. This approach allows the developers to actually create a less repetitive experience that will enthrall gamers a lot more.
There's a lot of other things you can do besides just completing the main missions. Assassin's Creed II is very impressive in the amount of fun little things you can partake in if you so wish. There are races to complete, extra assassination contracts to complete, view points to synchronize (which isn't nearly as mind-numbing as it was in the original AC), feathers to collect, and a town to renovate.
Yes, Assassin's Creed II delves into the realm of RPGs to replicate the highly praised nonlinearity of the first game. Not far into the game, you will be given the opportunity to start renovating a small town by investing money into the businesses. This will give you various discounts at the stores, and it also changes the way the town looks, which is a very impressive mechanic. You can also improve your house in this town by buying paintings and such for it to increase its value.
Other RPG elements persist. While Altair's arsenal was rather limited, I've already wrote about the many different weapons and choices available to his descendant Ezio. You can purchase armor upgrades and other upgrades to Ezio's inventory. You can buy weapons that can be reequipped at your home, and you can make enhancements to Ezio's attire. This level of customizability wasn't found in the original game and opens the doors for a far more engrossing gameplay experience.
Puzzle elements have also found their way into Assassin's Creed II. This adds another layer of gameplay that simply could not be found in the original. The exploration elements are also far tighter and more enjoyable; falling into water does not equal death, actually. There vehicular segments as well, but I won't spoil those for you. As you can tell, AC2 is a blend of many gaming genres and they all work together in harmony to bring us a sequel that improves on the original in nearly every way conceivable.
As you can tell by the score I've bestowed upon Assassin's Creed II though, the game is still not perfect. Controls are definitely an issue here, and with a game built around climbing large monuments with ultra twitchy platforming segments, this can become a headache at times. You'll find yourself randomly leaping off buildings for no apparent reason and falling to your death, and you'll find yourself climbing up and down the same ledge repeatedly like a broken record. Battles also feel the brunt of the somewhat clustered control scheme as it takes quite a while of investment with the game until you will have even a sliver of mastery over the combat.
One of the main reasons why I didn't completely lambaste this game's predecessor was the brilliant plot that was filled with twists, turns, and struck emotional chords with the player. While the sequel delivers a storyline that's equally as impressive, there does seem to be an influx of characters and things will definitely get a little mixed up by the time the credits roll. The game follows Desmond Miles once again as he tries to uncover hidden pieces of the past living as an ancestor of his named Ezio who lives in Italy. You'll find yourself intrigued, but unless you're a history buff, some of the game's plot elements will fall a tad short. Regardless of your educational background when it comes to world history, the storyline is still very enjoyable and will make you think, and you'll be dying for the sequel.
Another reason that the original wasn't a complete and total failure was that it was pretty as hell. The lighting effects in particular were astonishing, and while Assassin's Creed II is a very pretty game, it doesn't seem to push the graphics any further than the original did. Yeah, there is a lot more life to the city and there's more details in the environment, but there are annoying animation issues and weird transitions during cut-scenes. A few glitches rear their ugly head a few times, and while none of them are necessarily game-breaking, they are still a pain in the neck. The amount of combat animations there are in this game are pretty sweet though, and I have to give Ubisoft props for that, and the fact that the game hardly loads at all, making your experience in Italy as an assassin a very accessible one.
The musical score in AC2 is nicely done, but the voice work could have been better. A lot of the characters are actually voiced brilliantly and there's some great dialogue here, but the main character Ezio can sound kind of dorky at times. Also, I can understand having Italian characters speak in English for the sake of simplicity and to tell a story, but it was weird how they sometimes switched between English and Italian. I don't know why Ubisoft chose to do this, but it doesn't make much sense, and it's annoying.
Assassin's Creed II has a plotline that you probably won't want to play through twice due to the crazy amount of cut-scenes involved. That being said though, once you complete the game (a game that lasts about 13 hours), there's still a lot left to do. There are achievements to strive for (some pretty good ones at that), and a lot of exploring and mysteries to uncover as well as unlockable items to collect. Side-quests and other little events will absorb a lot of your time long after your initial adventure with Ezio is over, and there's some extra content like a trailer for Avatar the Video Game, also developed by Ubisoft. It'd be interesting to see a multiplayer component where two players raced parkour style or some co-op missions like in the older Splinter Cell games, but there's always time for that to be added in the sequel!
Assassin's Creed II is a shining example of what makes gaming so awesome. There is so many things that this game does right, but there are also some flaws that should be cleaned up for the potential sequel. The controls need to be tighter, the graphics need to be pushed more, the storyline needs to be more focused, and the soundtrack could also use more attention from the development team. A multiplayer mode would be nice assuming it would be complete (i.e. an online mode, a split-screen mode, and a LAN mode), and all the features that Ubisoft introduced to the series with this installment need to be expanded on. I'll say it a fourth time: This is how you make a sequel.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 02/05/10
Game Release: Assassin's Creed II (US, 11/17/09)
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