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Assassin's Creed II Review
developer: Ubisoft Montreal
genre: Action Adventure
|ESRB rating: M
release date: Nov 17, 09
|» All About Assassin's Creed II on ActionTrip|
As you may recall, while a majority of the press and gaming community praised Assassin's Creed and even hailed it one of the best games ever made, weren't too happy with it. Before you get that annoyed geekish look in your eyes and condemn us to hell, you should know that we had very good reason for criticizing this game. Frankly, it deserved to be criticized. Okay, so Ubisoft Montreal did a fabulous job on conveying cities like Acre, Jerusalem and so on. The combat turned out to be fun to boot. Despite the initial kick you'd surely get out of the game, the boredom is bound to ensue after an hour into the main story. Realizing the error of their ways and acknowledging the community backlash, Ubisoft Montreal decided to make some serious changes. Not only have they vowed to improve the combat, but they promised to concentrate on delivering a better and more in-depth mission structure, which still stands as one of the biggest downsides of the original.
Unlike the first Assassin's Creed game, the sequel puts Desmond (the lead character) into the virtual shoes of a young and elegant nobleman named Ezio Auditore da Firenze. Yep, Assassin's Creed 2 takes place in Renaissance Italy, depicting several major cities such as Florence, Tuscany and Venice. Ezio lives a pretty normal life - hanging out with his brothers, chasing girls whenever he gets the chance, etc. Unfortunately, this wasn't meant to last, because pretty soon his life will turn upside down. Bernaldi, a longtime friend betrays him and his family, sentencing Ezio's father and brothers to death. Motivated by vengeance, Ezio hides his mother and sister and accepts to learn the ways of the assassin. There's more to it, of course. You should discover the rest of the story on your own. Yes, we've walked down the path of vengeance many, many times in games before. In AC 2 though, it fits rather well with the game's back-story. Also, the whole narrative is a bit more localized and centered on specific characters and Ezio's life, rather than elaborating too much on the bigger picture - that comes later on. Much later.
That's mine, give it here!
In order to master the skills of the assassin, Ezio will have to make an effort and take out a number of targets (i.e. certain individuals who contributed to his father's death). Contrary to the first game, a great number of moves during fights will be available to Ezio from the start. Granted, some time will pass before he can learn every move. On the whole, the combat feels more polished and generally more intuitive than in the previous game. Okay, it's still possible to take out armies of baddies simply by pulling off counter attacks. It gets more interesting this time around. The developers refreshed the combat with additional assassin take outs and more moves accompanying the counter attack option. For instance, you can taunt enemies before they attack and then effectively execute a counter-attack move. Disarming opponents and using their own weapons against them is another available tactic. By the way, weapons range from spears, axes, mauls and hammers, to swords and daggers, of course. Numerous brand new assassin moves were added too. Now you can assassinate from very high up; in fact, from almost any place, be it a rooftop, window ledge or building wall. It's also possible to assassinate targets whilst hiding in carts of hay (yes leaps of faith and carts of hay are still in there).
Combat aside; most of you are probably wondering if Assassin's Creed 2 delivers the same type of experience as its predecessor. Relying heavily on the platformish mechanics of the previous game, the game once again features lot of free-running, climbing, shimmying across rooftop ledges and of course scouting the area via viewpoints. Exploring the areas methodically is not compulsory, although you are advised to do so if you want to have a generally good idea of how you're gonna escape once the main assassination tasks are completed. Much of the game feels familiar, so if you are a fan of the original, don't worry you'll surely get a kick out of this one.
Ubisoft really made an effort to improve nearly every aspect of the game. Free-running and climbing is more intuitive, while climbing less accessible buildings and structures is now easier when Ezio learns a special move. This move will allow him to leap and then grab hold of higher ledges that were previously unreachable. It takes a bit of practice, but is extremely useful in most situations.
When Ezio is dashing across the rooftops, guards are more alert and quick to retaliate if they sense danger. In lower areas and in the streets, guards can spot Ezio if they are on high alert. This usually happens when you go around excessively killing soldiers until your notoriety level is soaring. The town citizens will also be fully aware of your actions thanks to town criers and posters. At this point, it would be wise to, shall we say, clear your name either by tearing down posters or bribing officials and town criers - and making sure the guards don't catch you at it. If you want another approach, Ezio can distract guards by throwing money in the street, by hiring mercs, thieves or hookers and then instructing them to lure soldiers away from their posts - sweet. Throughout the entire game, the AI proved to be one helluva challenge when it comes to fighting and running. It's not perfect, sadly, but then we never played a 3D game with perfect AI. In Venice, guards sometimes hurl themselves into water when chasing you even though they can't swim. It's a bug that occurred a few times, albeit not too much, so it didn't really ruin the gameplay.
Thankfully, Ezio is able to swim his ass off if he so desires. In many cases, swimming is a great addition to the gameplay mechanics. It's easy to jump off of high positions into water and then dive below the surface to avoid conflict. Plus, Ezio can maneuver through the canals of Venice by using gondolas, so he doesn't have to swim like an Olympic champion every time.
The new-fangled mission structure is one of the fundamental changes incorporated into the Assassin's Creed gameplay mechanics. Gone is the dull routine of pick-pocketing or eavesdropping your way towards the main goal. Instead, how Ezio approaches targets is completely up to the player. Scouting the area first is an option or simply heading into action directly. Of course, most of the assassination missions are carefully planned thanks to Ezio's friends like Leonardo da Vinci and others. That improvement alone should be enough to lure you in. Furthermore, currency plays a key part in the whole experience because you're gonna need money to perk up your armor and get your mitts on new weapons. Weapons, ammunition and armor may be bought at blacksmith shops. Still, that's not the only thing you'll be spending money on. You need to think about healing as well. Doctors are scattered throughout towns and are always there to heal you or sell you medicine. At some point in the game you'll get access to a huge mansion - it's almost like a small town unto itself and it's going to need improvement; everything from barracks, the church, banks and art dealers. The mansion generates income depending on how much you've invested in it. It's a very cool element and it often saves you the trouble from going around stealing money and looking for treasure chests. Just wait for the regular income to arrive and stop by the mansion to collect the cash every now and then.
Every improvement made since the original makes a huge difference in this game, the combat mechanics are still exciting, the missions are more diverse, the gameplay is generally more polished, every area looks beautiful, the sound effects, music and voice acting are top-notch, truly one of the best releases this year;
The AI can stumble every now and then, choppy frame-rate when you activate the area map.