GOONL!NE Review: Assassin’s Creed II

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Also on: Xbox 360
Console Played on: PlayStation 3
Release Date: Friday November 20th 2009
Age Rating: PEGI 18, BBFC 15

I’ll be honest: I was one of the minority who liked the first game for what it was, despite the repeativeness of the first game, as there was some serious potential for the series. Assassin’s Creed II has even been as “probably the single most dramatic improvement in a franchise I’ve ever seen” by freelance gaming journalist Rob Fahey.

In that sense, he is right. And in fact, just on that basis alone, it will be a game of the year contender… right?

As you start the game, you get a brief reminder of the events of the first game. Last time we left Desmond Miles, he had somehow managed to procure the Eagle Eye feature that his ancestor Altair had in Desmond’s memories in the Animus. Once the end came round, Desmond was left looking at weird symbols and signs. Assassin’s Creed II picks up right away where AC left off. Desmond (once again voiced by the brilliant Nolan North) is left looking at the wall when Lucy Stillman (again, voiced by Kristen Bell of Heroes and Gossip Girl) comes running in and bounces Desmond from Abstergo.

Without trying to spoil too much from the first game, it is revealed that Lucy is in fact an modern day assassin, with a whole group of them existing in the modern era, undercover in Abstergo alongside her boss Warren Vidic. The war between the assassins and Templars from the first game has now escalated into the modern way setting with the assassins and Templars, who are Abstergo. After Lucy gets you out of Abstergo, you are taken to an undisclosed warehouse where it’s revealed to Desmond they need him to go through the memories of a second ancestor, Ezio Auditore da Firenze, for two reasons: to train Desmond as an Assassin through the bleeding effect of the Animus (oh yes, they have an Animus of their own) and find the other pieces of Eden.

As for Ezio’s story, you get to play as him from literally the minute he was born. From the first seven chapters of the game, you will see Ezio grow up doiing what normal teenagers get up to in the period of the Italian Renaissance; start fights with local gangs with your brother, have rooftop races with your brother and lose your cherry. And all that is in the first chapter when you play as a teenage Ezio. However, tragedy soon strikes when his father and brothers are set up while on trial in a polictical plot, and sentenced to death via hanging in Florence.

From there, you find out your father’s secret life was as an assassin, not as a banker as he made out to be. From there on, you go and continue your father’s work, and take out whomever is involved in the conspircy that seen your father and brothers die. By the end of the game, your head will be just as boggled as it was during an episode of Lost. The first seven chapters, which act as a tutorial as well, can drag on for so long, you wonder if it will pick up. While there are golden moments within them (C’mon, who doesn’t love the obvious “Its’a me, Mario?), it does start out very slow. But then, it really does start to pick up after the interval between DNA sequences. Simply put: don’t lose faith in AC II within the earlier stages. It does pick up.

Assassin’s Creed II is, indeed what Fahey said, the biggest turnaround of a series after what happened with the 2007 original. While I did enjoy the original, one of it’s biggest flaws was the fact it was absolutely repeatitive throughout. All in some parts of the game’s design, character NPCs and in mission structure.In AC II, they have fixed mostly everything that was wrong in the first. Going through the game, it most certainly is a lot more diverse in terms of what to do then the original.

Instead of going through the same three or four types of gameplay missions, you get more to do if you wish to move off the main path such as courier missions and extra assassination assignments which aren’t linked to the story, as well as races, hunting for codex pages, going for all of the viewpoints and more. The game most certainly gives you the illusion that the game is certainly non-linear somehow, yet hiding  the fact that it is linear very well. It should be applauded just for that, just for giving it the feel of a GTA game, rather than playing the same four gameplay missions from the first game.

The weapons system also has a lot more diversity this time round. While in the original, all you had to pick from was just four weapons. This time, holding R2 brings up a weapons cycle which holds more weapons than the original Assassin’s Creed. Overall, the game has over 30 weapons in the game, with the PS3 version having six extra weapons if you connect the PS3 version of AC II with Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines for the PSP. New to the series is that you can earn currency during missions in the game, so you can buy all sort of goods and material such as new weapons, outfits, ammo and more.

The free-running in Assassin’s Creed II is still pretty much the same as you’d expect from the first. Hold down R1, and you’ll start off in a simple jog like run. Hold down the X button, and you’ll start running properly. It stills feels like an auto-pilot system, with Mirror’s Edge pulling off a more realistic free-running system.

The upcoming Brink could also show Assassin’s Creed II a thing or two on free running in games properly. That said, it is decent enough for a pass. It is also much easier to escape then the previous game. While in Assassin’s Creed Uno, you either had to jump into a stack of barn you’d get when doing a leap of faith, or hiding out in a rooftop. In this sequel, while you do get the same two options, a third option is that; unlike the first game where if you tried it you drowned; you can swim. Dive from the rooftops from rooftop guards, hide in the water from view of soldiers, do a fast swim to get away from the point of discovery on you map.

One of the first game’s big talking points was it’s environments and graphics. The environments in Assassin’s Creed II is still as impressive as it’s predecessor on a massive scope, everywhere from Florence and Venice, to the Italian countryside. Graphically, while admittedly not on a level that some games has already shown already this year, they are still on an impressive scale that remains as impressive as the prequel beforehand.

Final Thoughts: Ubisoft has fixed everything that made Assassin’s Creed a seriously flawed game. They promised that they would, and they maintained their promise of doing so. Story, mission structure: everything that brought down the first game has been improved incredibly well in Assassin’s Creed II. It’s why you all need to go out and get it now.

Story – 9: Much more improved this time then that of the original. Ending, while confusing, is certainly a lot better then that in the first game.

Gameplay – 9: While the free running system still feels like an auto pilot in some respect, it is still an impressive game to play through.

Graphics – 9: AC 1 was impressive looking. AC2 is just incredible looking full stop.

Sound – 9: A great soundtrack by Jesper Kyd, and a fantastic cast led by North, Bell and UK comedian Danny Wallace.

Overall – 9: Overall, Assassin’s Creed II’s overhaul from the first game is a complete and utter success. It is one of the best games all year on any platform. £40 sticking out in your pocket? Well, you know what to do. Go get the game.