Review by bluej33

"I'm bragging that I'm always in love"

Oh boy do I love the Italian Renaissance (not that I don't have some sort of appreciation for the English Renaissance as well, and also while we're at it the German/Scottish Enlightenments, and come to think of it I think the Transcendentalists were on to something too, and hell I've got no beef with realism, although just for your information the Russian realists (Tolstoy, Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, and the like) really beat the snot out of the English/American realists like Twain and Dickens, respectively – I mean compare issues like “I'm pretty sure slavery is bad” or “Boy it sure sucks to have all these little kids getting arms cut off in these factories” to questions of free will, self-determination faith vs. science/reason, nature of faith (self-fulfilling, perhaps?), guilt, conscience, ideology vs. the individual with particular attention paid to issues like socialism and nihilism, which were all the rage back in mid 19th century Russia, society vs. the individual and which one informs which – the list goes on pretty indefinitely, and all of which topics were apparently a sort of walk in the park for these Eastern authors).

But yeah. Anyway. I don't mean to be an elitist beotch about this, but I consider myself pretty smart regarding the Italian Renaissance, which either produces or is the product of my passion for this period. Personal motivations for love of this period aside (Italian heritage, maybe?), the Renaissance is a superb setting for Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed II. It's not as if this time period is particularly well-suited to assassins running around and stabbing each other, but the Renaissance was so freaking rife with political intrigue/corruption (Julius II the Warrior Pope, Alexander VI/Cesare Borgia nepotism, Pazzi Conspiracy, etc.) that the whole imagining of a secret group of assassins fits in quite nicely.

It doesn't hurt that the development team behind Assassin's Creed II has done a superb job of bringing the quatrocento cities of Italy to vivid life. The whole crowd interaction from Assassin's Creed is back, but Italy here feels like such a real place compared to the cities of the original. No longer are you confined to three cities with short stretches of road in between – there are tons more locations to visit this time around, and they're all spread around quite nicely, which lends the player the feeling of some sort of semi-historically accurate world to check out.

Also contributing to this sense of realism in Assassin's Creed II is the way the developers have incorporated historical events into the game and story. Pope Alexander VI, for example, wasn't that great of a guy, especially for a pope – 9 illegitimate children by almost as many mistresses, all of whom (the children, not the mistresses) he later placed in positions of power – and he's the main bad guy in Assassin's Creed II. I thought that was pretty cool. Other little historical allusions include the aforementioned Pazzi Conspiracy, which you'll help thwart, Leonardo da Vinci, who builds you assassin tools (this one was pretty stupid, actually…), and Niccolo Macchiavelli of The Prince fame, who turns out to be an assassin himself. Pretty badass stuff.

Aside fro the fact that the setting works so well this time around, Assassin's Creed II is also such a great game because of the massive gameplay improvements made upon the original. Completely overhauled is the old play structure (pickpocket a guy, sit on a bench and listen to some people talk about breaking somebody's knees, then stab a guy, listen to him blab for eight minutes, then really kill him), replaced by fantastically varied mission structure. Stalking a bad guy from the roofs is more fun than interrogating a guy by punching him in the nose a few times, for example. Even the assassinations themselves have been spiced up a bit, which is nice. The result is a game that's much more linear but much more fun – yes, you have to go from mission to mission like the game wants you, but the plot really comes into the game in ways it didn't in the original.

While the mission structure in Assassin's Creed II has been changed for the better, it doesn't screw around with things the first game did right. Namely, the combat and that whole running around the city throwing guards off buildings and randomly stabbing civilians, if you want to. Seriously – hopping from roof to roof and escaping (shockingly stupid) guards is super duper easy thanks to a pretty-intuitive-once-you-get-the-hang-of-it control scheme. And the fighting is much like the originals, where a few simple button presses elicits from your character some pretty visceral stabbings, slicings, bashings-in-heads-with-a-hammer, etc.

And there's not much more to say about Assassin's Creed. As sequels go, it's top-notch: retains the good things about its predecessor and makes substantive positive changes where necessary. The whole Desmond Miles bit is coming along nicely, and Ezio is a great protagonist. There's a lot to love in this game, from finely tuned missions to fun historical allusions to the expected badass assassinations. And there are also guns. Just saying.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 06/11/10

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

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