Stabbing people in the face never gets old.
Assassin's Creed II is a game that received a lot of attention during the past couple of months. It's been nominated for the Game of the Year 2009 award at several websites, and gotten all positive reviews. There's been some talk about a buggy PS3 release, but don't believe the hype, I played the PS3 version and didn't notice a thing wrong with it. ACII is a sequel to a game that was very innovating, groundbreaking, and even though the story of the first chapter was somewhat underdeveloped and boring; the gameplay made up for that in a very satisfying way. The sequel does not disappoint in any way, it's bigger, it's better, and even more spectacular than the first game.
First a couple of words about the story, which seems to be the biggest improvement. Players who walked the path of Altair in the first game were mostly disappointed with the ending that provided no closure, and very little to look forward to. The only thing that was obvious at the end of Assassin's Creed was that there is gonna be a sequel. The first game left me thinking “what, that it?”. Not in this one though. In ACII you continue with two parallel storylines, just like in the first game, but this time around it's far more interesting, intense, and addictive. In the “real world” you're still the bartender Desmond, but once you jump into the Animus the story takes you to 16 century Italy, where you become Ezio, whose character can be described as the ruff ryder of his time. Ezio is badass from the start, and he becomes even badder during the course of the game. When the character is first introduced he's a playa, son of a rich and influential Florentine family. He does a little of streetfighting, a little bit of sneaking into girls' bedrooms at night, you know, the regular grind. But then the larger part of his family gets killed and Ezio is out for blood, bound to kill every single motherfucker responsible for this crime, which leads him into a very intricate and widespread conspiracy. As a result he will visit Florence, Venice and Rome, all presented in stunning visual design. And he'll do a lot of killing too. Ok, enough spoilers.
I feel like this one thing has to be said, though. It seems that the creators of Assassin's Creed II are following the trend which begun with “The DaVinci Code” and other Dan Brown books. It's hard not to make that comparison because of how the story develops. I guess the hype isn't over and the world still craves conspiracy theories based on the Catholic Church, and its plots how to gain control over the world. In this respect Assassin's Creed II creates its own conspiracy universe, which is believable up to a certain point, but in my opinion, it resembles the horrible novels too much. Fortunately the ending of the game completely breaks off from this curse and just makes you shake in your seat waiting for ACIII. For now just focus on killing Christians (for me that's enough of a reason to play any game).
Essentially the gameplay mechanics have not changed since the first game. If you played the original Assassin's Creed you'll be able to jump right in, because the control scheme is exactly the same, as well as all the combat and movement mechanics. You'll still see an artistically brutal animation after performing a successful counterattack, and the new weapons make stabbing, throat-slitting and cutting even more fun.
The two major changes in gameplay make a lot of sense, and feel like something that a sequel should have, especially that the core is basically the same as in the original. The first new thing in Assassin's Creed II is the existence of money. And man, you'll need that money. It can be used for a variety of things, the most important of which are the upgrades you can buy for your stronghold (a village that you kinda own, the Assassin's HQ, if you will), and new weapons and armor. This time you won't just be given better weapons as you progress through the story, you're gonna have to buy your own stuff. Money can also be used to distract guards (throw some money on the ground and see people fighting for it like... *racist joke here*), hire courtesans (also to distract the guards, not for your own pleasure, sadly), thieves, and mercenaries.
The second change introduced in ACII is huge and alters the experience, makes the game less repetitive, and basically just moves you forward quicker. Remember how in the first game you had to gather intel on your assassination targets before you could actually kill them? It was always the same stuff, like eavesdropping or beating somebody up for conversation. It was boring. Fortunately, all this was completely removed from the game. Now you just go from point A to point B, just follow the exclamation mark on your map. Now the general mission structure goes like this: you find out who you have to kill, you prepare the diversion on gain access to the necessary building, and then proceed straight to the kill. It may not sound like much, but trust me, it's in every way better, more interesting and satisfying.
All that said, you don't need to be in a rush to do anything. The missions will patiently wait for you as you explore the open world and take on the side missions and activities, which are a good way of making money, even if they're not really anything new. What got me hooked on ACII is the exploration. Just running on rooftops and climbing church towers is fun enough to do nothing else, and the visual presentation is quite stunning. The artistic design team really did a wonderful job at recreating Florence and Venice, the cities look alive, and probably resemble the real historic places a lot.
You can say a lot about this game, but the bottom line still is that it's a game about stabbing dudes in the face. And now that you have two hidden blades you can stab two dudes at the same time. How cool is that?
I tried hard to find something bad to say about ACII, but just couldn't come up with anything. Finally after replaying the first half of the game, still the only bad thing I can say about it is that maybe it's a little too easy. If you don't fall from a great hight, or do something really stupid, it's almost impossible to die. Seriously, the game is a little too easy. But in the overall picture, it really doesn't matter because the execution of the whole is so perfect.