Review: Assassin's Creed II

Assassin’s Creed II/PS3, XBox 360, PC/Rating: Mature/1 Player/Release Date:11-17-09

This is How Potential is Reached

With the original Assassin’s Creed we had a game that had the potential to be a great game, but fell just shy.  Two years after Ubisoft’s first title hit shelves, AC:II was one of the most anticipated games of 2009.  The timeline had moved nearly 300 years, the map moved from the Middle East into Italy, a new hero was added and removed the love-him-or-hate-him Altair, and fresh gameplay was added to improve the open-world stealth-adventurer.  Ultimately, AC:II reached it’s predecessor’s potential for gaming greatness, and has given Ubisoft a franchise series that will have a growing fan base for years to come. 

The game starts off with some interesting information as Lucy helps Desmond escape from Abstergo and its Animus.  It’s immediately obvious that Desmond’s role in the game has grown from the original title.  The duo escape past a handful of clumsy guards and hideout in a warehouse where two more supporting characters are introduced to the story.  Rebecca Crane, a technical geek, and Shaun Hastings, a history nut, are part of Lucy’s team to save Desmond from the next-gen Templars.  After the group spends the time to get familiar with each other, Desmond gets put into the “Animus 2.0” and is reborn into Ezio Auditore da Firenze’s memories.  

Unlike Altair, Ezio was not an assassin right away.  I was able to play a young, adolescent character that beat up street bullies and chased the girls.  From there the story unfolds to a tragic turn of events and leads Ezio into the Assassin Brotherhood.  With no one to go to, nowhere to call safe in the city he considered home, our hero was forced to leave town.  Here we meet Ezio’s uncle, Mario, who critically takes the young and inexperienced assassin under his wing.  Mario gives Ezio a place to stay and to keep the rest of his family safe from danger.  In Monteriggioni, AC:II’s economic system is introduced.  Without a doubt, it’s one of Ubisoft’s greatest additions from the original game.  I could earn currency (or Florins) by completing quests, looting chests, or even pickpocketing civilians.  I could use the Florins on upgrading the city’s buildings, purchase art for the villa, upgrade Ezio’s armor and weapons, obtain medicine to heal from battles, and even get our hero’s clothes dyed to colors I liked.  

The fighting engine got an improvement, however it still lacked a swift and flowing combo system like Batman: Arkham Asylum.  Though those games aren’t comparable in time frames, the combat systems are fairly similar, with the hero taking on several combatants at once.  It would have been nice to make quick work of a group of non-challenging guards.  Still, the best way to get through foes was to counter each attack rather than be the aggressor.  However, when it comes to guards on roofs, throwing knives work great to avoid being detected in many areas.  Synchronizing viewpoints was still a critical aspect of each city in order to view the map entirely.  Ezio’s little brother’s feathers replace the city flags of the first game, but just like the first game, there is no map of the collectibles and it’s hard to find them all without logging days on end looking for them.

The missions are varied and keep the game from getting repetitive, which was one of the biggest problems with the original.  While the usual assassinations are a large role in the quests, you could beat up a cheating husband for a distressed woman, race a thief, explore assassin guilds, and create distractions to draw the attention of guards in order to obtain a Codex Page or loot, just to name a few.  There is even another side story that involves Subject 16.  Just like Desmond, Subject 16 was used in the Animus to live the memories of his ancestors.  However, Subject 16 was left in the Animus too long and wound up falling into a coma within the Animus.  Historical monuments have a bio about them, and Subject 16 left glyphs on 20 of them.  If you find the glyph, you can solve a puzzle and unlock a portion of a video.  Find all 20 and you can see the entire clip that stretches the story of bible characters.

The overall story is part historical and part supernatural.  The ending takes the stretched and turns it into the farfetched.  But a solid storyline lets the imagination accept the supernatural.  Ezio is also a more likable character.  While I was actually disappointed at first to see the story go away from Altair, getting a chance to watch Ezio grow from a lady-pleasing adolescent to a legendary assassin was quite the experience.  His personality sets him apart from his ancestor, Altair, because you can actually relate to his emotions.  Ezio reminds me of an Italian, renaissance era Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series.  He’s flawed, but confident; thick-headed, but down-to-earth.  

The graphics were much improved, even from an already stunning original.  Every character, building, ship, and horse appeared to be flawless.  The voice acting was also very impressive as the mouths lined up with the words each character was speaking.  Cutscenes were a great way to show off the animations.  Climbing is one of my favorite things to do in video games, which is why AC appeals to me so much.  Running around Italy is a little more memorable than the Middle East and falling into the water isn’t an automatic death anymore as Ezio is able to swim.  

Like many of today’s game series, the sequel improved on the original and gave the series a title for the ages.  Ubisoft was able to create expansions like Brotherhood and Revelations because of the success of this title.  And while Ubisoft had the award winning Tom Clancy titles, it never had that signature franchise that kept it running with the big boys, like EA, Activision, etc.  AC:II made the series legendary and expanded the fan base.  If you’ve yet to hop onto the Assassin’s Creed trail, I recommend picking up a used copy of this title first.  At just $14.99 at Gamestop, it’s a way to use your limited funds on a great game that will give you your money’s worth, and then some.  

By Geoff Barry

Final Verdict - 95%

Click the link below to see a trailer.