Assassin’s creed 2 adds the beauty of historic Italy to it’s complex game structure. Though it greatly resembles it’s predecessor, developers took enough steps in the right direction to give us a much better game this time around, complete with an involved plot, a fun open-world scheme, and cleavage as far as the male eye can see.
Let’s look back for a moment. The original Assassin’s Creed reminded me of Ryan’s description of Transformers 2. It was like having some really great homemade bread and putting poo in between two slices. The beginning and end of the original were interesting and well thought out, but everything in the middle was tedious and exhausting. AC2 is the best apology for a predecessor that I have seen recently. This time you aren’t forced to undertake a limited palette of objectives (clear a new area of your map, gather info by beating up a guy and doing other assassin’s repetitive work, kill a guy, wash, rinse, and repeat). This time we are given an open-world to play in. While there are still a few limitations here and there, you can basically roam around the cities and choose your missions as you see fit. Side tasks include races, treasure hunting, lowering your infamy, unlocking video-clips to show you the “truth” of humanity’s origins, and building up real estate to generate some revenue. You can sit around and do this till your fingers go numb, or you could run straight through the main missions (still driven by assassinating targets), giving you about 8 hours of solid but lean gameplay. The best part is that it’s all up to you. You can pace yourself and play however you like. There’s still a reliance on open-world conventions like “go find X amount of stuff and bring it to so-n-so,” and “kill all the guards marked in these locations,” but it doesn’t feel tedious because they are kept mercifully short or have plenty of checkpoints to get you through. While certain side quests may make the storyline quests a little easier, they aren’t always necessary. All these available objectives are spread across six beautifully rendered city-states of Renaissance Italy. Completing any of these tasks results in a sense of accomplishment with desirable rewards, making AC2 hard to put down at times.
The other part that keeps you invested is the plot. The first 95% of the game has an intriguing story with only a couple of ridiculous moments peppered in. The end…well, it’s as if they hired M. Night Shyamalan to create his combined version of The Da Vinci Code and Stargate in equal parts. But all throughout, we are led through it by one fantastic main character: a young Italian named Ezio d’Auditore. He’s first seen as just a care-free Noble’s kid; dating women, getting in fist fights, and being completely oblivious to his family’s involvement in a secretive political web. Of course, that can only last for so long, and he’s quickly thrown into the life of an assassin, which is something that takes him time to adjust to. Unlike Altair from the first game, Ezio is a sympathetic and believable character who is fueled by revenge, but not consumed by it. Ubisoft took a note from Naughty Dog’s Uncharted character Nathan Drake, making Ezio charming, witty, and good-natured. On top of that, every fantastically acted bit of dialog is delivered in a smoldering Italian accent by accomplished voice actor, Roger Craig Smith (Chris Redfield from Resident Evil 5).
The game does suffer from a few big issues — things that, at this point, seem to be native to the concept of Assassin’s Creed. We’ve all seen how cool it seems to blend in with the crowd from the trailers, but in reality, surfing between four-person clusters of pedestrians while evading guards doesn’t hold a candle to their promise of melting anonymously into a crowd of civilians. Also, it’s obvious that Ubisoft wants players to feel empowered by effortlessly scaling the cities of Italy, but it’s a case of providing too much output for not enough player input. Basically, holding one button while running at a wall will have you on the roof in just a few seconds. Most of Ezio’s actions are determined by Ezio’s pathfinding AI rather than by the player, and unfortunately he has a tendency to do the wrong thing at the wrong time. The few times that you actually are required to push a button, things can go horribly wrong. For example, when leaping to a ledge that is too high for the AI to reach, you must push one button to make Ezio jump and hold another button to make him grasp the ledge at the height of the jump. Unfortunately, the grasp button and the “release from ledge” button are one in the same. Say hello to frustration.
One good thing about the controls has to do with the ability to buy useful items and inventory them. There are tailors, blacksmiths, art dealers, and doctors that all have a variety of supplies to help keep you alive and up the value of your real estate. Also, you are allowed a full arsenal of ways to take out your enemies. These include smoke bombs, throwing knives, poisoned tipped hidden blades, and a hidden black powder gun; not to mention the ability to pick up the dead bodies so you can hide them or create diversions. All these elements combine to give the player a more well-rounded approach to combat (or non-combat if you prefer).
There are significantly less interruptions by your friends back in the future this time around. Once you lay in the Animus the first time as Desmond, you are only briefly brought out of it a couple times to deal with some current events. Really, the characters who are in the 21st century segments are the only ones that get a little annoying. Overall though, the voice acting is pretty good.
The backdrops and environments are once again top notch, and the level of detail put into this game completely amazes me. From Ezio’s expressions and physical presence, to the hordes of milling citizens, to the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the cities, you can’t help but be in awe. A few times the character models were a little off with glassy eyes or wiry frames. Oh, and there is a sea of ridiculous cleavage. Some of these dresses are so low cut on these chicks, that you wonder if their breasts are deformed since their nipples surely should be showing if they were by any means healthy or normal. Still, the whole thing is seriously gorgeous; one of my favorite things to do was ride my horse through the rolling hills of Tuscany.
Another favorite of mine was finding and crawling through the Assassin’s Tombs. In what could be a hint at future spin-off games, you search through 6 tombs of notorious past assassins looking for seals that will unlock an updated version of Altair’s armor. There is a heavy dose of Prince of Persia in these segments that is a welcomed change of pace, though they are too few and far between.
Assassin’s Creed 2 is everything that we wished for in the original. It’s fun, addicting, and has great pacing. The Italian atmosphere adds class and beauty to everything from the scenery to the dialog. While the ending plot twist will have you rolling your eyes, the whole of the game leaves me very few grievances. Hopefully these will all be addressed when the next inevitable version of Assassin’s Creed comes out. If I could make one suggestion though, it would be for a form of split-screen co-op. Not all gamers are loners who want to spend a week locked in their mom’s basement playing their single player games!
I give Assassin’s Creed 2 4.5 “apology gifts” out of 5.