Ezio faces off against a squad of game reviewers in the Assassin's Creed II Frankenreview. Does he triumph, or does he get lost in the crowd?
Assassin's Creed II picks up where the first game left off, with assassin descendent Desmond Miles once again delving into his genetic memories to explore the life of another white-clad killer. It's bigger, deeper, and more ambitious than the original game by far, but those aren't always good things, are they?
Let's see how the
Templar game critics feel.
Assassin's Creed II has a bit more to offer those already familiar with the high-concept intricacies of the original, where you played as a bold and highly serious young assassin named Altair living in the Holy Land during the Crusades. Although, really you were playing as Desmond Miles, an average every-man strapped into a genetic memory machine called the Animus. Locked-up in a high-security facility, Desmond was forced to play through this whole Altair scenario by a high-tech, ultramodern, and exceedingly diabolical order of Templars, who are searching through history for clues concerning some ancient artifacts of supernatural power that they hope to use to end their centuries-spanning war with those do-gooder Assassins. If all this premise is just whizzing clean over your head, you may want to read up before jumping in here. Assassin's Creed II makes some token effort to catch up new players, but after a quick summary reel, it picks right back up from the final shot of the first Assassin's Creed and doesn't look back.
As in the 2007 game, Assassin's Creed 2 takes place in numerous open cities, with large swathes of countryside to explore in-between. Being set in Italy, you've obviously got brand new locations to visit, including Venice (complete with row-able boats), Florence, Romagna and Tuscany. Each is stunningly reproduced here, with even more attention to detail than in the still beautiful original. Hundreds of civilians go about their business, guards patrol the streets and roof tops, and, more importantly, each place is packed with things to do. There is a core series of storyline missions to play through, but these only represent a portion of what's on offer. Ezio is even more nimble than Altair, so he's more than up to the job of climbing the numerous towering buildings scattered about each city. Reaching the top of marked 'viewpoints' will reveal a hidden part of the map, simultaneously unlocking new missions.
In all this game is 30 hours long and (unlike the original) very little of it feels like filler. Even the traditionally mundane side-quests, like letter deliveries, are spiced up by AC2's characters and scenarios. Want an example? One of the first courier missions sees you delivering letters for Casanova (who looks like an old letch) to rich ladies who have been put under armed guard by their fathers. Again, these little incidentals really give you the feeling that everything in Assassin's Creed 2 is there for a reason. There's no sloppiness or dead weight. In fact, there's often more going on than might first meet the eye.
Combat features strong new additions like disarming techniques and an expanded array of weapons. Countering and special kills remain a blast, and the new techniques and weapons make defensive fighting more enjoyable than ever. However, enemy AI is often questionable; guards will stand and stare without attacking for too long or ignore you completely when they're fighting your allies. In addition, I'd love to see a more engaging way to handle attacks initiated by the player. Most enemies auto-block any frontal assaults, so it's hard to bust out into a flurry of motion to take them down. The combat is still thrilling, but it needs some work to stand toe-to-toe with the best action games.
The level of craft and care evident in the creation of Assassin's Creed 2 - to say nothing of the level of obsession with conspiracy - is on par with those of the creators of the Metal Gear Solid series. This is big budget with polish. This is technology put in the service of artistry. Climbing and killing might wear thin by the end of the next game if the current formula of Assassin's Creed is maintained, but given the willingness of the series' creators to think and execute boldly that is evident in this sequel, complacency and obviousness are two things for which Assassin's Creed is little at risk.