Review by SilverMelee
"Arrivederci, Altair... e saluti, Ezio!"
Okay, so the first time wasn't quite the charm when it came to Assassin's Creed - while it came off as a decent game, glaring flaws like repetitive gameplay, unskippable cutscenes, and a god awful ending that was a total "screw you" to the player prevented it from truly being a good game. With all of these flaws, one could only expect the sequel to be, at best, only marginally better... thankfully, I am a man who believes in second chances, and games like Assassin's Creed II make me glad that I am such. Creed II is an ideal example of an improved sequel - almost everything that was wrong with the original game was fixed here, and we get what is overall a rather satisfactory experience.
The games takes place after the events of the first game (and even recaps us on what happened in case you forgot), once again putting us in the shoes of Desmond. The situation appears to be getting serious, as Lucy (now sporting a different, more appealing outfit) tells Desmond they're escaping Abstergo. After a section of gameplay portraying the escape, our duo makes their way to a hideout, where Lucy and her Assassin friends have another Animus prepped up for him (you know, that machine from the first game?). It seems they want Desmond to get into the machine (now dubbed Animus 2.0) in order to help "train" him - to truly make him an Assassin capable of fighting their enemies. On top of this, he'll also have to gather information left over from another former Abstergo captive known only as "Subject 16" - they believe he knew some important information, and left cryptic clues all over a certain time period.
So what time period is this? Renaissance Italy! Indeed, in Creed II, we'll be following the life of Ezio Auditore throughout the late 15th century - unlike the first game, which was stuck in 1191, we'll actually be going through a good deal of Ezio's life; this ranges from his birth, to when he was simply the son of a banker, and his eventual transformation into an Assassin. While it is nice to get all of this exposition and gives us more insight as to who Ezio is, the time it takes to actually become the hooded Assassin we see on the game's boxart is rather long. Yes, we will be playing most of game as "Assassin" Ezio, but it will take at least an hour or two before the game truly kicks in.
On the topic of story, Creed II also fixes a major problem from the first game: Immersion. The first Assassin's Creed game made it extremely difficult for players to truly immerse themselves into the game, what with the frequent jumps back to Desmond, the "glitches" in the cutscenes, and the jarring cutscene transition. That's all fixed in Assassin's Creed II - there are still jumps back to Desmond, but they are far less frequent than in the first game (once in the Animus 2.0, you only cut back to Desmond two or three times total). Also, when cutscenes transition to later memories, it's just a quick and simple white flash (none of that "fast forwarding to a more recent memory" nonsense). The "glitches" from the first game have been removed, although it seems they've now been replaced by quick-time events - don't fret, they only appear in cutscenes and there aren't too many of them. Also, there's no real penalty for failing to do them (although at least one will make you feel like a real jerk if you fail to do it...).
But getting past the story and story-based elements, players will find that the mission setup is considerably different from the first game. Instead, Creed II borrows its mission setup from the Grand Theft Auto games - missions are indicated by symbols on the map, and Ezio is required to step into the glowing marker to start the mission. What this means is no more starting every mission in some ridiculously far away location, no more wasting time having to walk down a mountain and riding a horse through a long path just to leave the town every mission starts in, and (best of all) no more long, boring, and unskippable speeches from your mentor! Unfortunately, the fact that most of the game revolves around Ezio and the more fluid, intuitive, mission setup come at a price: players can no longer replay missions. While you are free to go back to any of the previously visited towns and cities, once a mission is completed, the only way to restart it is to start a new game. Odd, considering how we were allowed to replay missions in the first game... two steps forward, one step back?
Players will find that climbing buildings and hopping over rooftops are still just as satisfying here as it was in the first game; if a structure looks like it can be climbed, then it most certainly can be climbed, and hopping from rooftop to rooftop is still just as simple as running to the edge (the game times your jumps for you, and does its job well). However, Ezio's climbing abilities won't be just to climb rooftops and dodge guards, as Assassin's Creed II also has special dungeon-type levels that rely almost solely on Ezio's climbing abilities - these levels actually have a lot in common with the Prince of Persia games (minus the deadly pits and ability to manipulate time) in terms of platforming and puzzles - while the levels themselves are optional, they're not only fun and rewarding, but they're also an ideal way of showing off the climbing and jumping mechanics. On the note of climbing and jumping, I personally didn't encounter any awkward pauses while climbing like I did in the first game (seriously, what was up with that?), however, I did have minor problems with jumping - while the game was usually cooperative with me about where I want Ezio to jump to, there were several occasions where he would wind up jumping in a completely different direction, often falling to the ground and injuring/killing himself... crawl out of one hole and into another? Granted, it's not a very deep hole, but still...
Unlike the first game, the entire city doesn't go on alert the moment you kill your target. In fact, if you can stealthily kill your target, there's a chance you can walk away without any of the guards noticing you. That's right, actual stealth - something that was sorely missing from the first game. When infiltrating a restricted area or fleeing from guards, Ezio can hide in all the normal places that Altair was able to in the first game, but Ezio can also blend in with crowds (three or more people). No, I don't mean blend as in holding a button and walking into a circle of monks, but rather just walking up to any old group of people (well, excluding guards) and keeping close to them... a welcome addition, if you ask me. On top of that, Ezio can also hire certain people to help him get past any troublesome guards - courtesans can act as a mobile crowd that follow Ezio and distract guards, thieves can lure guards away from their post, and mercenaries can help you in battle. Their locations are marked on the mini-map in the lower corner of the screen, so finding someone to help you isn't too hard... as long as you got the money...
That's right, Assassin's Creed II introduces a money system to help spice things up - money can be used to purchase new weapons and armor for Ezio, among other such goodies (such as changing the color of his outfit). There's plenty of ways to obtain it, from picking pockets (works best when walking through a crowd!) and finding hidden chests, but most of your money will be earned from completing missions, both story-important and otherwise. While players will never need the money to keep the story going, it is important to give Ezio the best weaponry and armor available for obvious reasons. But don't think all of your money will go into shopping - there is also your base of operations; a small, independent town atop a hill. Players can invest money into the shops and your house to raise the overall value of the place, get discounts, and earn even more money from the townspeople. There are plenty of goodies to put your money towards and it certainly makes things more interesting.
A notoriety system has been added; if you fight guards or cause trouble, the meter will rise. If it maxes out, you become notorious and guards will be far more suspicious of your actions they'll even attack if you let them get too close to you. There are a number of ways to drop your notoriety; one of which is to tear down the various wanted posters that appear when you gain notoriety (your mini-map will point them out). But I have to say, these posters are in the most unusual spots you'll find these things posted on second floor balconies, rooftops, and any other spot where virtually nobody would ever see them. I know this was done to add a little challenge, but it kind of strains my suspension of disbelief
Ezio also has a larger arsenal of weapons than Altair did. The most notable is the fact that Ezio will gain not one, but two of those retractable wrist blades the game takes this into consideration, as you'll be able to kill two targets at once now (stealthily or not) and players can now properly fight with the blades themselves (blocking and attacking, as opposed to just countering like the first game did). Aside from the blades, the sword (or not players can replace the sword with a mace or hammer if they wish), and the other stuff Altair had, Ezio will also have goodies such as the smoke bombs for quick getaways, poison for sending targets into sickened frenzies, and can even toss a little bit of money on the ground to attract crowds and distract guards.
There's also a little more flavor to the guards themselves this time around. While the usual swordsmen and archers from the first game are still here (thankfully, the archers are nowhere near as annoying as they were in the first game), there are also a few new guard types. Agile, lightly armored guards can run faster than Ezio and can stop him from running too far from a battle; brutes clad in heavy plate armor carrying two-handed greatswords and battleaxes can dish out and take heavy damage; scouts carry polearms and can poke through hiding spots, forcing a reluctant Ezio back into the fight. That's right, your hiding spots may not always work I guess Ubisoft took note of how blunt the guards from the first game were. Remember the infamous bench escapes and how guards would ponder about your whereabouts while staring right at you? The benches are still here, but don't expect them (or any other hiding place) to always works. It certainly adds more tension to getting away.
Collectibles are still present in this game. This time, it's feathers. Folks who have played the first game likely groaned about fetching the 400+ flags scoured throughout the game. Thankfully, there are only 100 total feathers in Assassin's Creed II, and their locations are nowhere near as vague as they were in the first game the game will inform of which districts still have feathers (as opposed to the first game, which only told you which cities still had collectibles and didn't really get any more specific than that). On top of that, there's also a reward for collecting the feathers (and I'm not talking just achievements), but I won't spoil that for you.
The visuals are just as good as, if not better than, the visuals from the first game everything has a lot of detail to it, from weapons to outfits. However, Creed II is considerably more colorful than they were in the first game. Remember Acre and Damascus? Remember how, as pretty as they were, the cities themselves were a cacophony of grays and browns respectively? Florence and Venice are considerably more colorful (especially the latter, with its bright blue canals) and the guards all wear bright colored uniforms (the color change depending on the city you're in). Even Ezio's appearance is an improvement over Altair his outfit is far more detailed, shows off the armor you have equipped, and (as I said above) players can even change the color of his outfit at any of the tailors. There are also day/night sequences, which are always nice to have.
Jesper Kyd comes back to conduct the music in Assassin's Creed II, and it's considerably better this time around. Calm, ambient melodies play while you're wandering the city streets, but become notorious and you'll get a quiet, but tense, theme. The biggest improvement is with the battle themes unlike the often booming mess that made up most of the battle themes in the first game, the songs in Creed II have a more consistent melody and coherent harmony. These songs are more memorable than the ones from the first game. The voice acting is just as good as it was in the first game; everyone has an appropriate accent here and there are several lines of dialogue spoken in the native language (Italian). In addition, the main character now has an accent himself (as opposed to Altair's American accent from the first, which stood out in a sea of Arabic and British accents).
Sadly, the game is very lacking in the replay value section like I said above, players can't replay missions like they could in the first game, and subsequent playthroughs will grant similar results. Still, the initial ride is plenty of fun. Is it worth $60? Not quite. I personally think $50 would be pushing it a little, but I believe it's well worth around forty or so dollars at most. People who enjoyed the first game will love the sequel, and even folks who felt the first game was just okay should consider taking a look at this game, as well.
Assassin's Creed II is an ideal example of what a sequel should be everything wrong with the relatively average first game, the sequel fixed. The gameplay is more varied, the storyline is more compelling, and the setting is much more interesting than before. Is it perfect? No the combat can still get somewhat repetitive (though it nowhere near as bad as the first game), some of Subject 16's puzzles are ridiculously cryptic, and there's still a sequel hook (although it isn't as insulting as it was in the first game). Despite that, these are minor flaws, and Assassin's Creed II is great game. I tip my hat to you, Ubisoft.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 05/19/10
Game Release: Assassin's Creed II (US, 11/17/09)
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