Review – Assassin’s Creed II
Yeah, it’s that prick from Creed.
If you take a cursory look at the original Assassin’s Creed’s Metacritic page, you’ll see that a bunch of sites and publications thought it was literally gaming sex in your mouth. The sites capable of reviewing it in a more reasoned way, all said the same thing. It was a great game engine that had been given ten minutes of gameplay which was then copied and pasted until ten hours later you were wishing it would just stop.
Achievement whores were punished further with hundreds of black flags to find in the shadows and a bunch of stupid tasks such as pressing ‘A’ whenever you saw a glitch and invoking a bunch of conversations that you had no way of knowing were available until you went up to Lucy the lab assistant and pressed ‘A’ at her.
It was the repetition that really killed the first game though. Each mark had to be targetted by completing a bunch of eavesdropping and pick-pocket missions until they showed up on your map. The game’s real saving grace was that the actual hits – whilst not being up to Hitman standards – definitely involved a little strategy (especially if you wanted the achievement for assassinating every target without taking damage).
So, has AssCreed 2 improved things at all? The short answer is ‘yes’. A slightly longer one might be ‘fucking aye’. Before we get into how, here’s a little background for the uninitiated.
Assassin’s Creed 2, much like it’s predecessor, is an open-world, platforming, hack and slasher. Actually, the combat is a little more refined than your usual X, X, X, Y archetype, but that’s basically what you get. Where Assassin’s Creed saw you playing as Altair, an assassin operating during the Crusades of 1191, this sequel puts in the role of Ezio, a carefree playboy in Renaissance Italy, who is lucky that Altair’s athletic genes haven’t skipped his generation.
For the most part, Ezio and Altair play the same way. They leap, climb and free-run their way around the game world with the grace of a cat and have many of the same combat techniques. However, there is less emphasis on perfect kills for Ezio as he isn’t motivated by duty but rather revenge.
Whilst this makes the game a lot… well… easier, it does make your hits a lot less interesting which is a shame because that was the first game’s strongest feature. Indeed, perfect kills are often impossible as targets are sometimes followed around by two guards within two feet of them and any action against either guard will result in the target initating Operation: Save Ass and running like a bastard.
So, ultimately your best course of action is to run in, assassinate the mark and then run like bloody fuck until you lose the guards. Or you could just stand and fight, after all Ezio makes short work of counter-attacking their strikes just like Altair used to. These sections can be a little unsatisfying if you spent any real time with the first game but that’s not to say that things aren’t a lot better generally in this game.
I was bitterly disappointed with the first Assassin’s Creed. It was clearly rushed out in time for Christmas, which was probably a major factor in the repetitive mission structure that resulted in me trading it in after one week (setting a personal record for fastest trade-in ever). Thankfully, Assassins Creed 2 is pretty much what the first game should have been.
Yes, the combat still feels very clumsy, and not as refined as Arkham Aslylum for example, but pretty much everything else has been improved upon. No longer do you have to fanny about with tedious side missions in order to progress through the main story, this time there is a much more natural progression without all the padding. Most of the tedious stuff from the first game has been relegated to optional side missions which simply award you with extra money.
The cities and environments themselves have also seen a lot of improvement. There is a much larger area of countryside to explore outside the city walls this time, with some missions taking place there too. The free-running mechanic is still by far the best aspect of the game, and watching Ezio’s flawless animations as he leaps across the rooftops of Venice is a joy.
It’s been a while since I’ve played a game which improves on it’s prequel in such a way. I was cautiously optimistic about what Assassin’s Creed 2 would offer, and it has far surpassed my expectations. The sense of triumph you get after stalking a target across the rooftops and perform a successful assassination is brilliant – even better when it’s two targets with both wrist blades. While it’s not the best game I’ve played this year, it’s certainly high up my list.
Secondary Score: 8/10
The good news starts with the graphics. AssCreed 2 is as jaw-droppingly gorgeous as the first game but Renaissance Italy makes for an even more attractive playground. Running around real-life landmarks, especially those in Venice, is as close to virtual tourism as it gets and executing bent officials is just that bit sweeter when it’s in a 15th Century church.
The side missions are no longer mandatory and are just a way to raise cash. Not that you’ll need to do them as there is loads of loot lying around (and you can even buy maps to find it quicker) and not a whole lot of stuff worth buying. This leaves you free to race through the storyline. This immediacy is certainly a welcome change of pace from the first game and there’s a whole lot less bollocks to play through as Desmond (the near-future descendent of Altair and Ezio) as well. This is a good thing.
So for the first ten or so hours, you’ll enjoy the sites, the story and the slaying. After that though you may well find yourself killing yet another bent politician or corrupt clergyman and wondering if you really give a toss anymore. Still, that’s a lot later than the first game took to get old.
If you can pace yourself and not try to mainline the game in a few days, then AC2 gives you a fantastic playground to dip in and out of. Achievement whores be warned, there are a few things to collect but it’s not nearly as bad as the first game.
The game does have a few nice gameplay twists and set-pieces to keep you interested and is genuinely a tremendous game. I still can’t help wishing that it’d stop worrying about being so slick and would add a bit more variation but it’s a genuine contender for GOTY and I can’t wait for the next one.