Review by AK_the_Twilight

"Fighting For Vengeance, Fighting For the Creed"

Thanks to a huge amount of hype and a presentation that floored its viewers instantly, Assassin's Creed grew into one of the most technically achieving games of 2007. Still, while it had the gorgeous visuals and grandiose vistas, Assassin's Creed felt unfulfilled in its gameplay. Repetitive missions really took the soul out of an otherwise fantastic achievement. With a nasty cliffhanger of an ending, the series left gamers clamoring for a new installment in the series. Fortunately, their cries were answered with a new protagonist and a newer setting. Assassin's Creed II returns to the Animus with another trip back in time, this time to Renaissance Europe. Is this game honed like a hidden blade?

The first Assassin's Creed had a strict surreality to it. Following a present-day everyman named Desmond Miles, the story took place in a memory-based world called the Animus. The Animus's construction of this alternate reality through memories deep within Desmond's mind was an interesting concept, but once the worlds started coming together, Desmond's ancestor Altair didn't have the personality to follow up this sci-fi oddity of a tale. For better or for worse, Assassin's Creed II picks up right after the cryptic cliffhanger of the first game. Desmond is torn from the Animus and forced to escape the lab with the lab monitor, Lucy. Apparently the battle between the Assassins and the Templars is still going on, and it's up to Desmond to revisit his history and find more secrets pertaining to his ancestry's checkered past.

Enter Ezio, a troublemaker who lives in Renaissance Italy and Desmond's ancestor in Assassin's Creed II. Ezio's rambunctious gang encounters in the city are only the beginning, as his father and brothers are falsely accused of treason and hanged before his eyes. In protection of his sister and shock-induced mother, Ezio discovers a dangerous secret of his family. The order of the Assassins runs in his blood and while the story begins as a quest for revenge on his father's killer, the journey grows deeper and Ezio is ultimately enlisted by his uncle Mario to take up his father's legacy of the Assassins. The storyline in Assassin's Creed II stands tall amongst its predecessor thanks to great character development and a much more realized sense of purpose. While Altair killed because he was told to, Ezio kills for both honor and vengeance. This makes the world of Assassin's Creed II a much more engaging world and well-worth exploring.

Controlling Ezio is essentially the same as controlling Altair was in the original Assassin's Creed. As in the original, each of the basic abilities is mapped to a specific limb in-game, and to a specific face button on the controller. Ezio gathers more attention depending on how he interacts with the world, with too much attention normally leading to a brutal chase. The stealth is the same as before, but the guards aren't afraid to dig a little deeper to find you. The notoriety system keeps the game challenging; the higher the notoriety, the easier it is to gather unwanted attention from guards. Still, the ability to lower notoriety is simple, as Ezio can bribe heralds or tear down wanted posters. Ezio can also hire his own set of warriors to battle guards or distract them with some rather flirty women. The assassination techniques take center stage, though. The hidden blade kills remain some of the most satisfying abilities around, and being able to assassinate from hiding places and the air makes for some superb moments. The controls don't differ much from the original, but these minor improvements do make some changes for the better.

The exploration element of Assassin's Creed was fantastic. The world was one big playground. It was easy to jump from rooftop to rooftop, scale tremendous buildings, and make the incredible Leap of Faith into a bale of hay below. Assassin's Creed II remains the same and it still feels tight. There will be some moments where you miss a jump or accidentally fall from a ledge, but these are minor issues. The combat has also been slightly updated, though using counterattacks over and over again will usually get the job done. To be fair, stronger enemies will plow through overused guarding techniques, but taking out a slew of guards still is too simplistic. Disarms, strafes, and using new weapons is appreciated, but you'll still find the combat encounters more a chore than a fun diversion.

While Assassin's Creed II doesn't change the formula up too much from its predecessor, the open-world gameplay does have a few new tricks worth mentioning. The mission variety is (thankfully) much more diverse. You get the typical viewpoint ascents, finding secret items, and tackling combat situations, but the game goes much further when it comes to keeping things interesting. Race and assassination missions are great new additions, along with the ability to earn money by finding treasure chests or looting fallen enemies. Money can be used to buy new armor, items, and even renovating your uncle's outpost of a village. While these ideas don't particularly feel cohesive, they do keep the gameplay fresh and exciting, something that the original Assassin's Creed simply did not accomplish.

What made the first Assassin's Creed so remarkable was that it felt real. The world was hustling and bustling, people spoke in casual tones, and almost every piece felt natural. The Renaissance setting of Assassin's Creed II makes the liveliness of the game even better. Taking place in a number of vast locations, the game has many a wondrous moment; seeing that first vista of a viewpoint is undeniably memorable. There are also unique contrasts in each location, thanks to diverse architecture and striking design. The cutscenes are great to watch thanks to some solid animations and bloody good scenes, but the excellent voice acting really steals the show. Ezio's accented tone is much more authentic than the apathy of Altair, and seeing Ezio move up from a Renaissance street-brawler to a full-fledged assassin is very well-accomplished. Other characters like Ezio's uncle, Mario, and even famed Renaissance man Leonardo Da Vinci are remarkably well-presented, thanks in part to a special authenticity and character. The whole world of Assassin's Creed II is a vast and inviting one. Thanks to a solid presentation and brand new setting, the game feels revitalized and stronger than its predecessor.

Pros
+ Engaging storyline has personality and well-represented characters
+ Plenty of new mission types and challenges
+ New gameplay mechanics make assassinations diverse
+ Presentation remains a superb highlight

Cons
- Storyline depends too much on events from the first Assassin's Creed
- Combat still feels like an afterthought
- Some minor control issues
- Doesn't feel too different than its predecessor

Assassin's Creed II doesn't change the basic formula of the series' standards, but the subtle additions add diversity and dimension to the already great gameplay. A collection of new and varied side-quests give the game depth and longevity, even if the missions themselves lack cohesion. The satisfaction of completing an intricate assassination mission remains exhilarating. The new weapons and skills make the missions fun and worth revisiting. The gorgeous presentation hasn't changed; this is still a breathtakingly beautiful game. The combat is still simple, the controls are still imperfect, and the story doesn't do much for those unfamiliar with the Assassin's Creed mythology, but the improvements that Ubisoft Montreal has made to the gameplay, design, and narrative presentation make Assassin's Creed II an overall better game. Assassin's Creed II is a great sequel that vastly improves upon the framework of its predecessor while adding enough worthwhile nuances to keep gamers interested. It doesn't go in for the kill, but Assassin's Creed II remains sharp enough to make a lasting impression.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 02/16/10

Game Release: Assassin's Creed II (US, 11/17/09)


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