Review by rubicon14
"Better than the Original in Every Way, and One of the Best Games Ever Made"
Assassin's Creed II Review
Better than the Original in Every Way, and One of the Best Games Ever Made
Score: 10/10 (Near) Perfect
Assassin's Creed II is one of the best video games I have ever played. The gamelay is constantly fun and exciting, the plot is suspenseful and worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster, and the graphics are top notch. This is a game that looks, sounds, and feels like a masterpiece of design and testing, as if each detail was finely tuned so that everything in this game happens the way it was designed to happen by people who know how to make a great video game. This game takes an average game (the first Assassin's Creed was a beautiful but repetitive bore) and elevates it as an introduction to a classic video game franchise. Any gamer should experience Assassin's Creed II.
I have been to Italy. I lived in Florence for several months and visited some of the other Italian cities that are the setting for Assassin's Creed II. And while I went to Italy about 500 years after Assassin's Creed II takes place, I can tell you that the layout of the city (which really hasn't changed that much) is damn near perfect. The epic size of the public buildings and cathedrals, the cramped terra cotta shingled rooftops, the open yet crowded public squares -- Assassin's Creed II captures all of this in painstaking detail. Its tough to imagine how much research was done to accurately depict what the buildings, soldiers, commoners, even pavestones should look like, but there is no doubt that the hard work of the research and development team was worth it.
As for animation, the characters move smoothly, the voice acting is exceptional (Ezio in particular is very well voiced, and continues to be so for the next two games, Brotherhood and Revelations, that tell his story), and towards the end when the plot takes off (more on that later) the visuals are spectacular. The music is also very good, as it creates a light hearted atmospere when strolling the city or exploring an area, suspense when in combat or chasing a target, and a truly epic feel during cutscenes and key plot moments. The soundtrack has a distinctly foreign feel that helps create a sense of adventure.
What Assassin's Creed 2 does best, and where Assassin's Creed 3 later falls short, is that the environment truly feels alive. You really will feel like an assassin sneaking around (and sometimes in!) famous landmarks, but you will also feel like the city around you is a real place, populated with NPCs that behave believeably like real people, and there are enough of them to create a hustle and bustle necessary for any rendering of a city. Grand Theft Auto games can build a city but they always feel empty, as if the buildings and characters are there for show; but in Assassin's Creed you feel more like a part of something that was already there. This is a major accomplishment for the development team and a milestone in video games.
The fundamentals and controls are the same as the original Assassin's Creed, but the freedom and flexibility factors get a massive boost. You have more moves, more weapons, and everything feels fluid and intuitive. Fortunately, enemy AI received an upgrade, and combat is more diverse than the original game. My biggest complaint about Assassin's Creed is that combat was a repetitive exercise in blocking, counter-attacking, and attacking -- every enemy could be taken down with that strategy, even in large groups. Assassin's Creed 2 completely fixes that issue. It also features more opportunities to do things that are unique to the series, like hide in a group of courtesans, or assassinate a guard from a ledge, or use poison to distract and then kill enemies, or blend into your surroundings so quickly that when you turn a corner your pursuers run right by you. The context-sensitive controls make movement fluid without making things too easy.
The focus on being an actual assassin, rather than a swordsman who carries out some assassinations, is noticably better in this game. When playing missions, there is often more than one way to successfully kill your target stealthily, and if you do resort to overt violence, the game has a very nice system of checks and balances that makes most fights winnable but rarely preferable to a stealth approach. As a result, you go from feeling like a fledgling killer to an all-powerful assassin by the end of the game, but you never quite feel invincible, which is a long-winded way of saying that the difficulty level is just right.
And on top of all that, the game is fun, and filled with moments that may make you smile or cause your jaw to drop, such as when you use a new invention for the first time. I never got bored playing Assassin's Creed II, and by the end, I couldn't wait for the next game in the series.
No spoilers. As far as storytelling goes, Assassin's Creed II is the best in the series. The first game had too many unanswered questions and plot points that didn't quite make sense -- AC2 solves many of those issues, and then expands the scope and breadth of the storyline by the end. I can't say much without spoiling it, but I can say that Ezio is a fantastic hero, the Borgias are unforgettable villians, and by the time the game is over you will be blown away by the gripping storyline.
I caught myself thinking "this should be a movie!" several times while playing AC2. And then they did pretty much that -- the Showtime series The Borgias is based on the villians of this game, who are all based on real people. That's part of the magic of this game -- most of the characters are real people who really lived during this time period and the game frequently takes place during an event that really happened in our history. The developers have such a great mix of historical accuracy and creative license that every character is interesting and it's facinating to see how the plot of the game advances with real life historical events. The same attention to detail that brings the cities alive also brings the characters to life. And the game makes its research available to the gamer in the form of an Animus Database, so you can get a backstory on every person and location you encounter (or not, if you just want to play the game). It's a great way to provide depth to the plot without boring the player.
Any video gamer should play Assassin's Creed 2. By the time this review is posted you can probably get it as a Platinum Hit or Game of the Year Edition for $20, so just buy it. If you haven't played an Assassin's Creed game, now is the time to start.
I don't think there is such a thing as a perfect video game. Especially in today's world where games are massive and glitches are often fixed in post-release patches and updates. Assassin's Creed 2 is no exception. But it is as close to perfect as any video game I have ever played. I don't really list any criticisms in this review, simply because I can't remember a single flaw that wasn't grossly overshadowed by something amazing. Simply put, Assassin's Creed 2 is one of the best video games ever made.
10/10 - (Near) Perfect
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 02/06/13
Game Release: Assassin's Creed II (US, 11/17/09)
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