Genre: Action Developer: Ubisoft Montreal Publisher: Ubisoft Classification: MA15+ Release Date: 19th Nov 2009 Platforms:XBOX360
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It took me about 10 months to finish Assassin's Creed. It was a curious combination of ultra-addictive gameplay and mind-numbing repetitiveness which pushed me to keep coming back to a game I found myself incapable of playing for more than 2 hours every couple of months. I finished Assassin's Creed 2 in around 18 hours. Let's just say there have been some changes.
First impressions aren't fantastic by the way - you kick things off in the real world as the same character from Assassin's Creed - Desmond Miles. The game immediately assumes you've played and finished Assassin's Creed - a theme which persists throughout the game as it refers to scenes and situations punters who skipped the first title won't appreciate. After a brief tutorial style intro where Lucy Stillman (again played by Kristen Bell) takes you through the basics of playing, you're back in the Animus - this time with a different team guiding you through.
The game is a lot more story-driven this time around - grand set-pieces and involving characters give you a reason to continue playing this time, also replacing the repetitive necessities of the previous title. It falls short by dragging the story to a ludicrous conclusion - especially when there are options available to the writers. Without spoiling what happens, consider this a warning - as much as you enjoy Ezio's tale of revenge, remember that the ending will disappoint you.
You will enjoy Ezio's story up to the end, however. While Altair was a selfish character forced to find redemption for his hubris, Ezio is a personable, friendly guy with a love of life and a load of charisma. You'll make friends with Leonardo Da Vinci, travel throughout Italy and celebrate the Carnivale on your journey to the end - AC2 is essentially a demonstration of how the journey can be more important than the destination. Ezio's world is filled with other fantastic characters as well, from your uncle to random folk you'll encounter while breaking into a palace. The way the characters interact is much more natural this time around - and the quality of the voice acting is much better as well (the Italians sound Italian!).
Renaissance Italy is a sight to see as well - from the beautiful architecture of Florentine to the (surprisingly) pristine canals of Venice, Assassin's Creed 2 looks fantastic.
Outside the Animus (the magic computer which lets you live your past lives) Desmond is far more capable than he was in the previous game. He's a bit more of a fighter this time around, though he still seems like a pushover character around others. The characters outside the world of renaissance Italy aren't as good as they are inside either - like the first game the game is at its weakest when not inside the machine.
I found myself completing missions and dreading the idea of being thrown out of the animus again - while the 'real' world isn't as tedious as it was in Assassin's Creed, it's certainly not as much fun as being a world class assassin. While Lucy is still great the other two outside characters appear to exist only because making Kristen Bell say 1000 lines about Italian history would probably be very expensive. The sarcastic database management/historian idiot grated on me the most with his constant flip flopping between helpful and painful.
The gameplay is fantastic - the team at Ubisoft Montreal mastered free-running in Assassin's Creed, and barely any tweaks were needed for AC2. The few new additions to how Ezio cavorts about Italy don't dilute what is still a fantastic adventure experience - the core of Assassin's Creed 2 is good puzzle focused gameplay. Combat remains very similar to the first game, which is extremely cinematic but eventually becomes tedious (as it did in Assassin's Creed) while you repeatedly reverse attacks from an ever increasing number of enemies (with no increased difficulty in the actual combat).
The puzzle elements are enhanced in AC2 with actual puzzles. Throughout the world there are encrypted messages left for Desmond, locked away with some surprisingly complex puzzles. It's a surprising concession to hardcore punters - a great little bonus for people willing to work out not only the puzzle of how to reach the glyph in question, but the puzzle contained within. They usually involve word and picture puzzles, but a few border on the painful - one appeared to involve a message encoded in binary (which, once decrypted, meant nothing to me). It's a nice little aside to the usual task at hand - assassinating people, usually.
Being an assassin no longer involves tedious preparation, most people will be glad to hear. People will still want to go to lengths to plan out their killings, and there are some remnants from the first game which carried across to this game but thanks to a much more story driven experience, killing people is fun once more.
This is definitely more Grand Theft Auto than it is Hitman - Ezio will spot his target and more often than not simply leap in, kill and then fight his way out. There are no bonuses for unseen kills - the game forces you to be noisy on more than one occasion. Assassin's Creed hasn't ever really been a Hitman game though - Altair and Ezio's proficiency for free-running has always lent itself heavily to the idea that when you kill your target you'll be running away, not slipping away unseen.
When you're not pushing forward with the story there are other distractions for Ezio to take part in. You have a family palace, which you can upgrade to earn money. It's a very simple economy system - you'll find it's very simple to upgrade your palace and its surrounding town well before the end of the game - but it's a cool aside nonetheless. Beyond this you've also got quite a few different side missions to complete this time around - many of them not even actually having a specific mission beginning. Capturing messengers, killing public officials, tearing down wanted posters and finding
treasure are all mission elements you simply do (or do not).
Assassin's Creed 2 is a curious beast - I had such a good time playing the game that I finished it literally the day after I got it, and it took me about 17 hours. That said, the start and the end of AC2 are daunting to series newcomers and the story structure is such that people without knowledge of the previous title will have no idea what is going on for sections of the game - a huge mistake in a game so focused on story.
I've got to recommend it as a purchase - if only because the fantastic free-running, beautiful Italian vistas and engrossing Animus world far outweigh any ludicrous ending or shaky start. If you didn't finish the first Assassin's Creed however, you would do well to find some background information on the story using the magic of the internet - something you really shouldn't have to do.