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Assassin’s Creed II Review

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The original Assassin’s Creed offered up a huge promotional freight train of promises – and while the final product certainly opened our eyes as to what next-gen could be about, it absolutely fell short in the game play department. The action mechanics, the whole concept of assassinations and ‘disappearing’ into crowds of civilians were well done. The graphics and massive open-world environment impressed and it had a tremendous scale about it, climbing up gigantic towers and observing the city below. Eye candy at its best.

Where it fell over however, was the story progression. After the first one or two assassinations, it all felt recycled in each new location. Do the same set of available side-missions, do the main mission. Wash, rinse and repeat.

Okay, so that’s a shocking generalisation, but even the die hard Assassin’s Creed fans will probably be able to admit – there could have been so much more.

Almost two years to the day, we finally get our hands on Assassin’s Creed II. The sequel that promises so much more in the game play department, while keeping all that was special from the original…

Story

In Assassin’s Creed II, we pick up the story of Desmond Miles – abruptly removed from the environment of the first game with the aid of Lucy Stillman. Quickly reinserted into the Animus’ new incarnation, 2.0 at a secret location, we pick up our story with the new main character, Ezio Auditore da Firenze, the ‘Eagle of Florence’. Taking place some three-hundred years after the original title, Altair out of the picture, we find ourselves in 15th century Italy during the Renaissance.

Young and carefree, Ezio loves fine living and fine women. Not one to pass up the opportunity of a scuffle either, he ends up in a battle with the Pazzi, one of Florence’s prominent families. After reprimand, his father Giovanni attempts to involve Ezio in the family business in an attempt to keep him out of trouble.


It’s a me! Mario!

In the process of running basic errands for his father, Ezio is briefly introduced to Uberto Alberti, interrupting a secretive meeting with his father. A short time later, guards raid the Auditore homestead. Ezio’s father and brothers are arrested before Ezio can return.

Possessing the only evidence that can free his father and brothers, Ezio delivers the documents to Alberti, who assures him they will be sufficient to release his family.

Uberto Alberti however, betrays Ezio’s trust, destroys the only evidence and sentences the Firenze men to die at the gallows. Escaping the guards, Ezio’s story is one of vengeance.

Game play

I’m going to be upfront in saying the game play in Assassin’s Creed II is vastly improved over its predecessor.

The combat system has had a significant overhaul, counter-attacks are much more productive and finishing moves are more varied and definitely more graphic. There are a host of new weapons at your disposal, everything from throwing knives to maces – and each have very unique attack animations and applications.

Truly, the open world experience is much more believable and mission progression is far less linear than it was in the original title. There are no required side-mission sequences, you no longer need to build up a prior synchronisation just to attempt a main target, so it feels more open, more purposeful and there are a myriad of new ways to approach the mission.

NPC’s and blending in with the civilian crowds all offer more immersing option. You can hire a group of mercenaries or prostitutes to accompany you to or from mission objectives. Mercenaries will draw the heat away from you by engaging pursuing guards. Prostitutes will show some flesh and coax guards away from protected doorways and remove prying eyes from objective balconies. You can even spruce up the neighbourhood chaos by throwing gold coins out into the streets providing you cover for more stealthy tactics.

This new approach leaves the options squarely in your hands. Its now entirely up to you how you plan your assassination, if you want to focus on combat, or if you’d rather be in and out without anyone knowing you were ever there. Its all available and the tools for doing so are a LOT more creative and certainly loads more fun.


Its a familiar cloak, but an unfamiliar face

Scattered throughout the cities are plenty of collectibles – this time around with even more additions, statues, paintings and more – all up for the taking. Offering a brief reprieve from the story progression and a remarkably distracting one at times.

The climbing mechanic from the first game is preserved. Its one of the things Ubisoft really nailed the first time around – and apart from some minor refinements, most of your options are the same. If you can see it, you can climb it. The animations are a little smoother this time around though – however, there are odd occasions when the camera is slightly off your centre and you’ll end up jumping to a post or into a street completely away from where you wanted to go. It does take a little getting used to managing the camera as well as your free-running, especially in the faster chase sequences.

You now have a host of shops (Blacksmiths, Tailors, Art Merchants for example) that contribute new elements to both your character and locations. You can purchase armours, weapons, upgrades, even decorate your home. There is a currency system along with an ‘income’ facility which is a welcome addition. You can even employ an architect to continue your father’s wishes in revamping and restoring buildings of your home city utilising this currency system.


Spectacular sights

There’s simply so much to see, do and explore this time around. It is nice to see a developer listen to the community feedback in developing a sequel that addresses most – if not all – of the qualms listed against the original. Whether its pursuing a messenger across the rooftops of Florence, pickpocketing a prostitute, or riding a horse at full gallop through the Tuscan countryside, its enjoyable. Its fun – and its continuously fun.

Ultimately, its a huge improvement all-round for Assassin’s Creed II. Its absolutely addictive.

Graphics

Without a doubt, Assassin’s Creed 2 has received an impressive improvement in the graphics department. The cities are rendered in amazing detail, from the very beginning in the sparkling skyline of Florence, to the canals of Venice, you would almost swear you were walking through 15th century streets and mingling with your city’s inhabitants.

City life is alive and much more intriguing with greater attention to detail of character models and art style. Deep colour, a night and day cycle and incredible lighting all contribute to an overall experience that outshines its predecessor.


Touched by an angel?

Frame-rates have also vastly improved over the original. Introduced in the sequel however, is some screen-tearing – mainly during the in-game cutscenes and movies, or when panning across birds eye views of the city. Nothing game-breaking ultimately.

Conclusion

Assassin’s Creed II takes everything that made the original game special – and improves on everything else that needed work. It received a fairly major overhaul in the graphics department and it reflects in the vivid recreations of Florence, Venice, Tuscany and Rome. The complete immersion on the cities is stronger and even more believable than before.

Combat is also much improved, with all the additional weapon and armour upgrades. There is plenty of option and variation to keep you interested throughout the story.

The story line in Assassin’s Creed II is also more interesting, aided by the environment and surroundings, the more engaging characters and increasingly intricate sub-plots and twists.

Overall, a massive improvement over the original – Ubisoft have taken the franchise in an exciting new direction, ensuring a thoroughly enjoyable game that puts the complaints and downsides of the original well behind it.

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