Ubisoft’s 2007 hit, Assassin’s Creed, garnered a lot a praise and criticism with its romp through the middle-east circa 1191 A.D. While the world was expansive and immersive initially, the rooftop races and assassination missions quickly deteriorated into tedious repetition as you were forced to connect with Altair by completing side missions before you could progress the storyline. I was sucked into the story enough that I found enjoyment throughout, but looking back on it there wasn’t a lot of variety. In fact, the PC version of the game was released with additional content to improve the experience. Be that as it may, the ending was abrupt and anticlimactic, and the points of the game where you control the main character, Desmond, were somewhat lackluster and only hinted at what this was all about.
Fast forward to 2009, and we have the sequel sitting on store shelves waiting for you to buy into the next chapter of the Assassins. Desmond and Lucy have escaped the offices of Abstergo, and are searching for answers to the pieces of Eden as well as helping Desmond train his own skills through the “bleeding effect”. This time we’re hitting the mean streets of the 15th century, during the Renaissance in the heart of Italy. The new subject is Ezio (pronounced et’-see-oh), a young Italian man who is as undisciplined as he is reckless.
Before I go any further in this review, I want to warn you that while I don’t ruin any plots that aren’t introduced within the first hour of the game, I’d like to point out that since I’ve played AC2 from front to back and have all but 3.8% completed, there may be some minor spoilers in the game. If you’ve played the first game then you should be fine, but if the entire game series is new to you, perhaps just take my high praise from this point and just go play the game.
If the internet is to be believed, AC2 is riddled with screen tearing, jitters and slowdowns, lip synching and perhaps one or two texture pop-up moments near the end of the game. So why the high score? The tearing is minimal, very rarely is there jittering or slowdowns and they never ever impact the game.
The lip syncing was something that you can find if you look for it, however I only recall 3 or 4 moments where it became apparent that the person talking wasn’t mouthing the right words. Given that the faces are incredibly expressive and convey believable emotion, there really isn’t much to complain about.
When you walk into an Italian restaurant and the food you’re served is amazing, you don’t really judge the drapes. The game’s atmosphere is superb, the vistas are well done, and the textures are pretty enough to suit the horsepower of the 360. Each city has its own distinct feel to it due to architecture and color, and this time around you can actually play the game with eagle vision turned on without causing epileptic seizures.
The sounds of Assassin’s Creed 2 are believable and help immerse you into the Renaissance. While there are no moments where I was blown away by either the music or the sound effects, all of the voice acting is top-notch and never did I get the feeling that I wasn’t experiencing the memories of Ezio.
One of the nicest touches is that all of the english dialogue contain Italian words and doesn’t explain them in great detail. If you turn on subtitles, the words used will often have a translation beside them. I played through most of the game without this option turned on, and knew exactly what was meant even if I didn’t understand every word spoken.
Comments on the streets are often repeated, however I don’t think there is much there to irritate; it’s not like you hear the exact same phrase over and over. I would put this down to nit-picking though, and while I hope the next Assassin’s Creed varies it up a bit more, I don’t hold it against AC2.
Assassin’s Creed 2 plays a lot like the first game, however it feels like they’ve taken some of the fluid nature of Prince of Persia and added it to the mix. I’m not going to describe button layouts in detail as you learn that pretty quickly at the beginning of the game. Let me get this out of the way now though – if you don’t take the time to learn the reflexive nature of the controls, you can find yourself frustrated when you’re put under pressure.
For instance, if you are running along the rooftops you’ll be holding the right-trigger (which allows faster movement) and perhaps you’ll be holding A to sprint. The problem is that you’re in free-running mode so if you come to a wall you’ll naturally move to climb it. If you didn’t intend to climb the wall, you should have let go of A before you got there. This can lead to doing frustrating situations like running along wires between buildings and arbitrarily leaping off of them in an undesired direction. If you let go of the A button to get onto the wires and then hold it down once on them, you’ll scamper across like a cat burgler instead of plummeting down like some weekend warrior with one too many drafts under his belt.
This brings up the Prince of Persia element to Assassin’s Creed 2′s controls – while running you need to hit the A button before you need to to perform successful jumping. Think of it this way, were you to be running full tilt along a roof, you don’t just decide to jump at a split second, you get ready to jump several steps before you actually leap. If you practice this when you first start to play the game, then you’ll find you will move fluidly and will be able to make short work of rooftop races, and chasing down targets and fleeing guards.
The real draw to Assassin’s Creed 2 is a tug-of-war with the fantastic gameplay and the immersive storyline. Rather than form and function being on the opposite sides of the rope, however, they double-team you and, for me at least, they won handily.
If Assassin’s Creed 2 were a time piece that didn’t have the Desmond/Abstergo subplot, and instead only had Ezio and his trials, then the game would be complete but not nearly as interesting. The game gets to flirt with the fourth wall because ultimately you are not Ezio, but Desmond who is looking into Ezio’s closed world. As such you get to find glyphs, 20 in all, that reveal a hidden subplot from the previous Abstergo subject. You also get to leave the Animus on several occasions to further the Desmond plot, and you get to run around unhindered in 15th century Italy as a budding assassin who is trying to uncover a conspiracy that derailed his life and family.
Hiding from guards has changed in that you now can tell if the crowd you’re milling with is doing their job. There are also people you can hire to help you deal with guards – whether you choose prostitutes, thieves or thugs, you can have a faction follow you around to the best of their ability. If you become notorious, you can tear down wanted posters, kill crooked officials or bribe the news announcers to bring down your notoriety. While this makes the game easier, I found that it was almost too easy and would have preferred a little more challenge.
Unlike in the first title, you also have a small fortress in which you can spend money on to improve and thus draw in a regular income from trade and tourism. There is also a family history that can be explored as Ezio and uncover the truth about your family.
Then there are the side missions. There are a few side missions which you need to complete in order to finish the game, however you are not required to do them at any specific time. There are tomb raiding missions which involve lots of puzzle solving, assassination missions, courier missions, rooftop racing, beat-em-up tasks and finding hidden objects and glyphs.
It came as a surprise to me to find that all but the rooftop race missions were fun, rather than a chore. The racing missions are few, however when you undertake them expect to do them three or four times as you aren’t told where your destination or checkpoints are ahead of time. I wouldn’t have minded more racing missions, but I would have preferred the markers were visible on your mini-map to better anticipate your next steps.
Just like in the first game, you can use the DNA strand to move back to a completed memory to do it over again. You also have several memory slots, so you can start right from scratch without losing your progress. Most missions have more than one solution so going back and trying a different method is a way of extending your game time.
I enjoyed the first game. I saw past its flaws and played it front-to-back. I had gone through the tedium of completing side missions and while enjoyable, they were still repetitive. If this game were the same, it would have been worth playing, but not easy to recommend. That being said, AC2 is it’s own beast. While I was cautiously optimistic in starting up Assassin’s Creed 2, within the first three hours it had it’s hooks in me. After finishing the game I found one word to describe what Ubisoft has given us: Amore.