Assassin’s Creed 2 Review

Posted on December 3, 2009 by

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The original Assassin’s Creed was… interesting. The basic plot was this: Desmond, a man so bland he makes Gordon Brown look charismatic, gets kidnapped by modern day Knights Templar, who stick him in a special machine called an Animus, which allows him to re-live the ‘genetic memories’ of his ancestors. A lot of whom were apparently Assassins. This isn’t technically a spoiler because you get all of this information in the first five minutes of the game. Desmond proceeds to re-live the life of Altair (Meaningful name: Eagle) as he assassinates his way through nine real life historical figures in the Crusades era Holy land, uncovers a sinister ancient conspiracy, and proceeds to end on one of the most baffling cliffhangers in video game history.

AC was accused of being bland and repetitive, which is fair, because it was. It forced you to sit through half-hour conversations with targets you’d just stabbed in the neck. The main character Desmond was essentially a cardboard cut-out, although Altair gets away with being stoic and mysterious and overall, there was this general feeling of seriousness. Like you should be sitting up straight while playing. The imaginatively titled Assassin’s Creed 2 has arrived to rectify this.

AC2 is a rare example of developers listening to the people. My first impression of the game was that it was a lot more fun from the start. Still confusing, but fun. Desmond gets broken out of the Templars base, but not after a quick ride in Animus to experience the birth of a new ancestor, Ezio Auditore de Firenze. There’s a spot of combat as Desmond, which makes a change from the first game, where the most Desmond did was walk around very, very slowly. You’re soon introduced to some other Assassins, who look like kidnapped youth club workers. They include the stereotypical snarky British guy, and the wrench-wench techie girl who runs the Animus 2.0. After chatting to these guys for a few minutes to fill in a bit of information, you get bundled into the new Animus and the game proper begins.

You’re put back in control of Ezio (Meaningful name: comes from ‘Aetos’ in greek, which means Eagle) in media res, as he’s starting a brawl in the streets with someone who insulted his family. This serves as the basic fight tutorial, and the combat is as fluid and vicious as before. After beating the ever-loving crap out of his foes, Ezio’s brother arrives to make witty chit chat, and suggest Ezio tries looting the chaps writhing on the floor in pain to pay his own medical bills.

It’s worth noting now that this is a major new addition to the game. It has an economy. Ezio can buy medicine from doctors, armour and weapons from blacksmiths, and paintings from art merchants. This all goes to improve the family Villa, which itself can be upgraded by Ezio, who hires an architect to fix up the town, which increases it’s income, with which Ezio can continue to refurbish the villa in a sort of  ersatz self-perpetuating economy. Eventually when you own everything, and have fully repaired the villa, you’re hauling in tens of thousands of Florins (the currency in renaissance italy) which you no longer really need.

Ezio’s brother then races him home, which is the free-running tutorial, which works exactly like it did in the original, but feels strangely different, with the introduction of ‘kinetic movement’ which takes inertia into account as you bound across the rooftops. It’s subtle, but it makes a difference. There’s more witty banter, and it’s revealed that Ezio is quite the scallywag, going out boozing, womanising and getting into brawls on a regular basis. He then abandons his brother to engage in the second of those activities, the randy scamp.

From here, you’re introduced to missions by Ezio’s family- courier stuff for his dad, collecting a painting from Leonardo Da Vinci for his mother, beating up his sisters unfaithful boyfriend, and its all fun and games. Then everything starts going horribly wrong for young Ezio. His father and brothers are captured, framed and executed in front of him, and he’s forced to flee with his mother and sister to the family villa currently owned by his uncle, who, in one of the most brilliant game shout-outs in recent history introduces himself with a fantastically hammy ‘It’s-a me, Mario!’. The final proof that this game doesn’t take itself anything like as seriously as the original, which is a prodigious improvement.

It’s at this point that you can actually set about killing some people, as per the original. Assassinations aren’t nearly as fastidious this time around, and now you don’t have to sit through lengthy monologues from dying men, who instead have pithy one-liners, even going as far as to lampshade the originals tendency to go on and on by having one target say ‘what do you expect, a confession?’.

The story gets a tad confusing in  the middle, not helped by a number of jumps forward in time. After completing one assassination, I suddenly found that time had skipped forward 2 years to Ezio sitting on a bench, at which point a woman comes over and tells him she has something important that came from that last assassination. I felt the urge to get up and smack her in the chops for not bringing this to me sooner.

Leonardo Da Vinci turns up in the game to translate collectible Codex pages, the pages of a book written By Altair about the plot macguffin the Apple of Eden, as well as letting you try out his flying machine. This was greatly hyped before release, but you only get to do it for one brief mission which strikes me as a massive waste of potential, because a game that is so full of high-up places to launch yourself from, and which has such beautifully animated environments wouldn’t let you soar over the cityscapes with reckless abandon.

As the game goes on, and Ezio gets better armour and weapons, he does start to feel a bit over-powered, especially by the point that he gets access to a tiny wrist mounted gun. No one else has a gun. It sort of feels like cheating. The ability to poison people is useless, but deeply hilarious, as it causes people to start doing the robot. If used on a guard, they start swinging their sword about and killing people at random.

The plot finishes off on another baffling cliffhanger, and I feel it should be noted that the final boss battle consists of a fist-fight with a fat old man. Oh, and Jesus was an alien.

Overall, it’s a vast improvement over the original. It’s much more fun, much more varied, better looking and much less staunchly strict, it enjoys itself and is more enjoyable because of that. I thoroughly recommend it.

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Posted in: Games