Review by Dylan1122
More than just a sequel
First, a little bit of back-story - technical and other story aspects of the first game:
Assassin's Creed, developed by Ubisoft Montreal - the same studio that gave you the Prince Of Persia games, the Far Cry games, the Splinter Cell games and the Rainbow Six games (an impressive repertoire isn't it?) - was easily of one the most anticipated games on the 3rd Generation consoles. The game was released in 2007 - when people were still looking for how far the XBox 360 and PS3 could be stretched in terms of frame rates and graphical capabilities - we marvelled at the previews of Assassin's Creed.
A real living breathing city? No way! You can climb ANYTHING? No way!! A complete city with NO draw distance? Outta this world!
When the game finally did roll out in November 07, the reaction was bitter-sweet. People loved the graphics, the scope of the game, the premise, the plot - but the gameplay structure was criticised - people couldn't get over the sheer repetitive-ness of the actions you have to do.
The game also tricked everyone into thinking it would be the story of Altair, an Assassin, in the Holy Land in 1191, during the time of The Third Crusade who takes part in a battle against the Knights Templar. But it wasn't to be - the game is actually set in 2012, where a man named Desmond Miles, is kidnapped by a shady organisation named Abstergo. They possess this machine called the Animus, that helps them read into the memories of an ancestor. So they strap Desmond to this machine and tell him he's about to watch the memories of his ancestor, Altair Ibn La-Ahad, play out.
Now I don't want to go too much into detail of AC1. This is a AC2 review, after all.
Now, Ubisoft had their work cut-out for them: The ending of AC1 made sure that a sequel was sure to be on it's way. Fortunately for gamers, games are possibly the only art medium where sequels are routinely better than the originals:
Assassin's Creed II
Story & Characters:
Another criticism hurled at Ubisoft was the poor depiction of Altair. He spoke in a monotonous voice and had an oddly American accent while everyone else spoke in a proper Middle-Eastern accent.
Ezio Auditore da Firenze (an intimidating name at first - but you get used to it. The name is Ezio Auditore. 'da Firenze' means 'Of Florence' - his birthplace) is the protagonist of Assassin's Creed 2. This time, Desmond has to view the memories of Ezio, an Italian ancestor from the 15th Century - during the time of the historic Renaissance.
Desmond is freed from his capture in Abstergo by one their employee's: an undercover Assassin named Lucy Stillman, voiced by Kristen Bell (I forgot to mention, Desmond is also a modern day Assassin) - after weeks of planning, she breaks him out of the building, fights a dozen thugs, drops about 3 F-bombs and shoves Desmond in the trunk of her car. He's taken to an an old warehouse, where, with the help of two more allies - Rebecca Crane and Shaun Hastings (played by British comedian Danny Wallace - who wrote the book Yes Man based on his real life experiences)
To avoid the faceless wooden shadow of a character that was Altair, we're given a more personal approach to Ezio - the game starts off with his birth, acting as a tutorial for the face buttons. Needless to say, we're introduced to his mother, Maria - engaged in the difficult job giving birth - and his father, Giovanni (also an Assassin) arriving a tad bit late to witness the birth of his second son.
Fast forward 17 years. Ezio is living the life - rich Italian ladies man. Needless to say, it doesn't continue this way. Ezio's dad is caught in a conspiracy, betrayed and well, something bad happens to him and Ezio's brothers.
The rest is a tale of how Ezio gets revenge on the conspirators.
This is where my gripes start - the story starts off well and ends excellently - the middle is where it gets hazy. It almost feels like the story is there just as an excuse to assassinate people. It boils down to -
*go to kill guy*
*spot said guy with another guy - or original guy references second guy while talking*
*search and go to kill second guy*
*spot second guy with third guy - or second guy references third guy while talking*
This happens through most of the story. Another gripe is that some assassinations don't feel of much value - unlike AC1, not much information is extracted from the people you've killed. It's like it's there just for the heck of it.
Ezio's events in AC2 are set over a period of 23 years - yes, you start off with a 17 year old punk and end up with a 40 year old bearded guy. The bad thing is, it doesn't feel that way. Except for maybe, Ezio's beard and his deepened voice - there are no other signs of ageing. Not only for Ezio - the other characters remain exactly the same for 22 years. And it's not just about physical appearance either - except for Ezio - none of the characters personalities, or their relationship with Ezio actually develop in those 23 years. If you don't pay attention to the year showed before every memory sequence - it would just feel like the game takes place over a couple of months.
However, if I had to rate the story - I'd give it a 7.5 on 10 - mostly because of the strong opening 1 hr as well as the ending 30 minutes or so. The game explores Ezio origin very well - the deception he faced and the trauma he had to go through.
I've always loved Ubisoft how intertwined the story of Assassin's Creed 1 with real life events - most of the 'targets' that you eliminate in that game are based on real life figures - most of whom died mysterious deaths. The Assassin's were a real sect and so were The Knights Templar. Altair's mentor, Al Mualim is based off a real person.
Ubisoft does the same thing with AC2 - to an even greater extent. Lorenzo de Medici was a real person - and so were the Pazzi's as well as the whole 'overthrow Lorenzo' plot - known as the Pazzi Conspiracy. In fact - I'd say most of the people you kill are based on real people.
And how could I forget the biggest name of all - Leonardo da Vinci. The one we meet here is a young Leonardo - cheery and as helpful as ever. Leonardo is Ezio's best friend and closest ally - da Vinci helps him with his 'gadgets' - hidden blades, hidden guns, flying machines and whatnot.
Yes, I said flying machines.
More notable figures include Niccolo Machiavelli and Caterina Sforza. Both allies who help you on your way.
Graphics & Presentation
Oh yeah - now that we have cribbing out of the way - lets talk about the good stuff!
Italy is one of the best things about this game - the sheer detail into every little thing is marvellous. There were parts of AC1 I didn't like - the cities all looked the same except for a different tinge of colour to them. In AC2, it is NOTHING like that.
The locations featured in the game are Florence (Firenze), Venice (Venezia), Forli, the Apennine Mountains, Tuscany and the little bit of The Vatican City - The Sistine Chapel, in particular. Most of the landmarks you would see in the real cities are in the game - so detailed that you'd be hard pressed to find any differences between the two. Running the rooftops of Venice is as satisfying as walking through the streets.
The beggar women of Jerusalem are gone - to be replaced by bards that sing in your face. The streets are full of men hard at work - building, carrying boxes and wood, or just strolling the streets. The women are a sight to look at as well. Citizens travel in groups, mostly. You can infiltrate these groups and walk among them - thereby blending in - to avoid the sights of archers and guards. You'll find shopkeepers sweeping the streets in front of their shop.
At regular intervals you'll find heralds, the media of that day and age. The shout out news and announcements to whoever can hear them - You can bribe them to stop talking about your deeds.
Ezio can swim, unlike his Middle-Eastern counterpart - and, for what might seem an odd compliment - the water looks marvellous. I've never seen water rendered so beautifully in a video game. The land scape is fantastic as well.
However a game of this magnitude can't be without its problems - I did encounter screen tearing and graphical glitches at some stages - especially in the tombs (linear Prince of Persia-like segments). But that's a small price to pay for such an amazing looking game.
Sound is something I have to touch upon. The characters sound excellent - everyone, without a single exception. I especially like the idea of interjecting English with a little Italian - it sounds lovely. I would've preferred it if the background music was more prominent though. Only at times is it really noticeable - but during those times it's beyond excellent.
And so we boil down to the most important part of any video game - the gameplay, something AC1 suffered from.
I'll start with what AC is famous for - platforming. Ezio runs and climbs as excellently as Altair did. I did have a couple of problems with the controls though: Ezio jumping in a direction I didn't want him to jump.
AC1 was criticized for having easy combat - Well, AC2 is even easier, and you have more tools at your disposal - Poison, smoke bombs, throwing knives, swords, daggers and even a small gun.
Ubisoft have added as much variety as they could have - we now have a variety of side missions to attempt - Assassinations, races, courier missions and beat em ups! And sometimes, just to spice things up - Ezio can get pick-pocketed. If that happens, the thief has to chased across the rooftops - which provides for some pretty fun distractions.
Ezio has 3 factions helping him this time around - Thieves, mercenaries and courtesans. They don't really come in much use but its nice to have them as an option.
The biggest change, perhaps is the way the story is structured - it's much more linear this time around, much like GTA. Most of the investigations from the previous game have been thrown out.
Eagle Vision is something that comes in much greater use here - Often, you have to search for your target using Eagle Vision. It changes the screen to darker colours and your target glows yellow.
Your synchronisation bar is no longer a synchronisation bar - it's a normal health bar this time. Road side doctors can be used. They heal you for 50 florins, the in game currency. There's a whole economic system at work here. You can gain money through assassinations or other missions. You can also search treasure chests which are spread all over Italy - or if you're looking for quick money, you can always pickpocket civilians. This money can be spent, not only on doctors, but also on weapons and upgrades.
Ezio takes shelter at his Uncle's villa - which he agrees to help renovate. You pay the architect to renovate the area - this brings more tourists there, which increases the money being spent by them. This money can be collected and spent later. The problem with this system is that by the end of the game you end up with a truckload of money and nothing to spend it on. You can also buy paintings for your villa to spruce it up. The more money spent, the more you get in return.
You can also dye your clothes with various pre-set colour schemes.. this serves no real purpose other than to make your clothes look pretty.
All in all, there's tons of stuff to do here.. which will keep you occupied for a long long time. I haven't even mentioned the collectibles. 100 feathers are spread all over the locations for you to collect. You get two rewards as you progress towards the 100 mark. The Glyph's are another collectible feature. Apparently, the last person who used the Animus to come to Italy left a few puzzles which, when unravelled reveal a bigger, larger plot.
So, except for combat, gameplay has undergone a huge improvement: 9/10
AC2 is a wonderful improvement over the previous game, with only a few flaws that keep it from being a truly perfect game. It has tremendous repeat value - I keep going back to the game just to roam the streets of Italy or redo a few side missions.
Specs: I played AC2 on the XBox 360, without any kind of extra content since I don't have Xbox Live. The first playthrough took 24hrs to complete, and 27hrs along with feathers and glyphs. Second playthrough consisted of only the story missions and viewpoints, which was 11hrs, 30mins.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Assassin's Creed II (EU, 11/20/09)
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