Not a fan of the first? You'll enjoy AC2!
Ubisoft fires up the Animus once again in Assassin’s Creed II this time dropping players into to Renaissance Italy. ACII promises to follow in the footsteps of its predecessor while smoothing out its many rough edges. Does this tale of parallel narratives manage to climb to new heights or does it trip over its own ambitions?
Assassin’s Creed II tells the tale of two characters: Desmond Miles, an uninteresting man who is the direct descendant of a long line of assassin’s who have been at war with a group known as the Templars for centuries. Immediately the game recaps the events of Assassin’s Creed which is a lot to take in for those who never played the first game. Desmond’s side of the story is fairly dull but Ubisoft wisely makes his trip to the Animus 2.0 (a device that allows him to re-live memories of ancestors) short and keeps him out of the way for the majority of the game.
This time Desmond recounts the life of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, a womanizing young man who loves getting into fist fights, and climbing to the highest points of late 15 Century Italy. Ezio’s fun is quickly cut short when his father and brothers are arrested and publicly executed. Before their execution Ezio is instructed to retrieve the tools of the assassin’s trade from his father’s office. This event bluntly forces him into the life and struggle of the assassin’s. Revenge is his number one priority as he seeks training in the art of the kill.
Once Ezio assassinates those responsible for the loss of half of his family and settles into the life of a killer, the story becomes fairly uninteresting as his personal stake in the plot grows slim. Player’s will run into a large cast of interesting characters (including Leonardo Da Vinci and Rodrigo Borgia) but they’ll merely send Ezio on errands and hits. There is a lot of 15 century political jargon and information on the landmarks and people of the time but most players will only want to know who to follow, escort, or kill to keep the plot moving forward. The story drags on far longer than it needs to and finishes with a devastatingly easy final battle and an ending that will disappoint players who don’t care for the sci-fi side of things.
Assassin’s Creed II’s open world features a large number of mission types and even more ways to complete them. Ezio’s parkour skills are just as strong as Altair’s. Running across the rooftops of Venice is as fun as it is simple. You merely hold down two buttons and watch as Ezio scurries up the sides of buildings, leaps from roof to roof, and drops like a graceful stone from astonishing heights. Players can usually depend on Ezio to go where they want him to but specific segments in the game that require very precise platforming can become frustrating. Sometimes players just won’t know why Ezio narrowly misses a platform or can’t find a hand hold on the side of a building.
Combat offers players a fair amount of options in the form of swords, smoke bombs, daggers, two hidden wrist blades, and (surprisingly) a pistol. Ezio can also taunt, dodge, grab, throw, and block enemy attacks. The combat system is deep but players will end up merely holding down the block button and spamming counter kills due to the enemy’s predictable attack patterns and ditzy AI.
Getting in a fight isn’t always an option however and this is when Ezio’s ability to blend into a crowd takes center stage. Often times the game will task you with an assassination that requires you to remain undetected. Ezio can avoid being recognized by sitting on a bench, standing within a group of NPCs, diving into a stack of hay, or merely staying out of enemy’s line of sight. The game’s execution of blending is far fetched, pushing the player’s suspension of disbelief as Ezio’s pursuers are quick to dismiss him if he so much as turns a corner before sitting down on a bench. A man dressed like Ezio, covered in throwing knives and swords, blending into a crowd of hookers is harder to believe than the idea of Adam and Eve escaping from a futuristic Eden.
Assassin’s Creed II’s visual presentation is nothing short of breathtaking. Every building and structure is rendered with an incredible amount of detail and depth. Hunting down viewpoints scattered across the world rewards the player with a sweeping camera move that shows the city in all of its glory from eagle eye heights. The streets are densely populated with people constantly interacting with each other and reacting to the player’s every move. Ezio’s animations running from spot to spot and in combat are fluid and visceral. Counter kills may not be the most fun to perform over and over but watching them never gets old. Character models don’t have the same amount of detail as the city but their faces are extremely well animated and expressive. Voice acting is rock solid as every character in the game is fully voiced in English and Italian. Minstrels will serenade Ezio for money, ladies will casually flirt with him, and any corpses left out in the open will cause a panic in the area. Again… the presentation is easily the most impressive aspect of this game and makes Ezio’s world truly feel alive.
Assassin’s Creed II manages to address many of the faults and failures of the first game to deliver a much more fluid and straight forward experience. The world of Renaissance Italy has never felt more alive and traversing your way around its terrain is as fun as ever. Enemy AI removes the fun and depth from the combat but the presentation gives players something to enjoy within these dull encounters. The parallel narratives clash at times and the sci-fi finale is disappointing but players will definitely be eager to see where the series goes from here. Assassin’s Creed was a very ambitious title that had a lot of great ideas but their flawed execution kept it from becoming an instant hit. But no matter how you felt about the first game, make sure you get your hands on Assassin’s Creed II.