Game Review: Assassin’s Creed II
Release: November 17, 2009
Genre: Third-Person Action Adventure
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
ESRB Rating: M
Assassin’s Creed II follows shortly after its predecessor. Remember when Desmond Miles experiences the bleeding effect, awakening his eagle vision ability to observe Subject 16’s cryptic wall messages written in BLOOD? Yeah. That one! Ubisoft Montreal clearly worked out the kinks of the first title to explain some of the massive plot gaps. Well, throw in Lucy Stillman, an Assassin’s hideaway and the Animus (v 2.0). Shake this delicate cocktail to create the sequel. What you get is a journey spanning nearly 30 years, taking on another one of Desmond’s Assassin ancestors: Ezio Auditore da Firenze.
You’re transported approximately 300 years after Altair Ibn La-Ahad’s time of the Third Crusade to the golden age of the Italian Renaissance. As Ezio, you have the typical skills of a young nobleman: you’re very good at getting involved in fistycuffs and running along rooftops to escape a father’s wrath after you’ve debauched a maiden. Of course, not everything is fun and games once the Auditore family is betrayed. In a fit of vengeance, Ezio assumes his father’s legacy, beginning his transformation into a master assassin. Through the course of each target, Ezio gets mired deeper into the Templar plot.
Ubisoft Montreal used the formula that made Assassin’s Creed a success, but added a few notable exceptions. The economic system, weapons/armor upgrades, puzzles and Assassin stronghold (Monteriggioni) changes the dynamic of the game. As you learn to utilize the resources you have around you, such as Leonardo da Vinci and the different factions, you become better equipped to take down the Templar conspiracy. Ezio has the same free-running capabilities, eagle vision and HUD to use to his advantage. In addition, he has over 30 weapons at his disposal (Well, after you buy them all.), different grades of armor and florins to hire accomplices. Since he has quite a few tricks up his sleeves, the enemy AI is built to deal some serious damage. Seekers are more cautious and will check out hiding spots; those hay stacks aren’t as safe as they used to be! Brutes are heavily armored and will seriously bludgeon you to death. If that weren’t enough, there are Agiles fast enough to catch you while scrambling across rooftops. However, if you’re critically injured, apothecaries provide doctors who will heal you and sell you medicine. It’s all a nice system of checks and balances. You get an awesome weapon. A guard hits you in the face. You find a treasure chest. You spend the dough on medicine. Seems simple enough, no?
In case you didn’t get the memo, there’s some considerable hoopla around Assassin’s Creed II, and it’s justifiably deserved. A fairly intricate plot weaves the story together, changing Ezio’s agenda from vengeance to justice. “Intricate plot” is an understatement because while you’re playing through, you’ll think you landed in a zone that crosses The Matrix, Batman Begins and Angels and Demons. Ezio himself is a likable character. While Altair was a born and bred badass, Ezio is an up-and-coming badass with style (read: Italian panache). If variety is what you felt was lacking in Assassin’s Creed, consider yourself tickled. There are 15 different mission types with a total of 200 scattered in the open world map! Side quests are a lot more interesting and far more rewarding. With every little task you complete, you get the Assassin equivalent of a gold star; rewards differ from florins pouring into your coffer to increasing the value of your villa. If you like solving tricky problems, there’s plenty of that to go around. Subject 16 even placed clues to the bloody message he left on Abstergo’s walls via glyphs he hacked into the Animus. In order to piece together these clues, some sadistically hard puzzles may have you wringing your controller as you attempt to conjure up answers.
Other aspects may have you wringing your controller out of pure frustration. The combat system didn’t get a major overhaul. Enemy AI is not dynamic. One you engage in combat, AI takes turns coming at you one at a time. Because of this method, the challenge of taking down 10 guards is stunted; you can just counter kill them all with one strike. While pickpocketing as Altair was a challenge with highly sensitive AI, it’s a breeze to steal money as Ezio. You can run through entire groups at a time to lighten their coin purses, knowing that only 1 of 30 AI victims would notice and draw attention. Perhaps the biggest gripe concerns the parkour element. While it’s much appreciated that Ubisoft Montreal is trying to keep the game play fluid, there are moments when yelling at Ezio becomes the norm. With some of the timed puzzles, it gets rather frustrating when trying to direct Ezio from one ledge to another. Unfortunately, he jumps diagonally due to the directional cues the game takes from those blasted camera angles.
Despite these faults that hearken back to the first title, the sequel is, well, it’s pretty damn awesome. Sure, the ending answers a few questions, but opens the floodgates to others. Like the first cliffhanger, the second one leaves you wondering how the supposed finale of the trilogy set will tie everything together. It’s tempting to clutch your controller and wonder why the developers are being so cruel with another ending that only creates more questions. Keep in mind that the campaign spans at least 15 hours of game play, with additional hours to track down every secret morsel the developers hid in the massive maps. By the time you’re finished, you’ll appreciate how much Ubisoft Montreal pushed forward with the sequel, leaving gamers with a truly engrossing experience.
Jinkwell’s final say: If you thought Assassin’s Creed was boring, your perception of the franchise will be pleasantly surprised by the improvements its successor offers. If you’re a fan of the first, be prepared to have your mind blown and your head explode! Simply put, it’s more awesome than seeing a unicorn spear through a werewolf.