A Killer Game
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Assassin's Creed is boring!
Assassin's Creed is tedious!
ASSASSIN'S CREED IS DISAPPOINTING!
Think this is my opinion of the first game? Maybe not as strict as all that, but yes, it was a letdown. The game followed the same structure over and over again. Go in the Animus, climb tall buildings to locate key vantage points, obtain information by any means necessary, get the assassination contract, perform a scripted assassination, escape. Rinse, repeat, do it again. Not to mention that there was little to know about Altair and his background, or enough to care about him. It just got tedious and halfway in the game I just lost complete interest.
Then there was the beggars"the darn beggars! Even in the rich sections of Jerusalem or Damascus, these greedy old women would block my way and constantly bug me for money while I'm tracking my target. It got to the point where I just wanted to give them a donation"in the form of a hidden blade to their heart!
I expected the same situation with Assassin's Creed II. Was I ever wrong.
It all starts off right into the story. Desmond is still imprisoned at Abstergo, haunted by visions caused by the "bleeding effect," a side effect of being in the Animus. However, he is rescued by Lucy (voiced by Kristen Bell), the assistant who hooked Desmond up to the Animus. Turns out that Lucy is actually an assassin herself, and helps Desmond escape from the Abstergo building. Reaching a secluded location, she informs Desmond that he needs to train in order to fight Abstergo, who in actuality is the modern day equivalent of their sworn enemy, the Templars, and who are in search of the mysterious Pieces of Eden.
Upon arriving, Desmond is introduced to the Animus 2.0, and begins Matrix-like training to become an assassin. As part of his training, he again goes back into his ancestor's memories. In this case, the time period is 15th Century Italy, and the ancestor, who we even witness being born, is Ezio Auditore di Firenze.
The son of a banker, Ezio is a nobleman, a troublemaker, and a womanizer. We witness him getting into trouble with his family rivals, the Pazzi. During the course of the story, we see Ezio's father betrayed, and as a result, his father and two brothers are hung at the gallows. His sister is devastated, and his mother takes a vow of silence, while all Ezio cares about is killing those responsible. In doing so, he learns the art of assassination from his uncle Mario, as well as many other characters in his travels.
One individual he comes across appears at first to be a simple artist, Leonardo da Vinci. However we soon learn there is more to da Vinci than we think. He is able to upgrade Ezio's weaponry, translate important Codex pages that is found and even introduce his famous Flying Machine to use in an epic scene.
Still, this is an Assassin's Creed game, so we will have the same elements of climbing tall buildings to survey the land, and perform assassination contracts. But thankfully these are now optional and can be done whenever needed. The storyline of the game, however, is more linear, as the storyline progresses over 10 years of Ezio's life. Personally I'm more in favor of this form of storytelling.
Assassinations are still quite interesting to perform, but like the first game I wish there was more freedom about what to do. Still, getting your target is quite satisfying, and yes those weird post-mortem discussions occur but are not as elaborate. But they always end with Ezio saying "Requiescant en Pace." (Rest in Peace.)
If there is one thing I have to say "Thank you, Ubisoft" for, it has to be the much needed economy system. Sure it is used to pay for upgrades to your villa (the base of operations,) new weapons, armor and ammunition, but something else makes it much more useful. Throwing money around has become a much needed weapon. Finally bards (this game's equivalent of the annoying beggars from AC1,) can be distracted with a well timed money toss. Not only them, but guards as well. Toss money in front of them, and a crowd will arrive that will distract the guards who try to disperse them. In addition, mercenaries, thieves, and courtesans (hookers) can be hired to bait guards. Controlling these various groups of people on the street can be the key to lots of success in getting into places you want, or grabbing well-guarded loot. Have the courtesans distract the guards and take it, have a bunch of thieves lure guards away or simply tell your mercenaries to start a fight. Meanwhile, you can slip in undetected and do whatever needs to be done.
And on the topic of your villa, this is a great mini-game in its own right. You are given control over a small walled city and can spend your money on upgrades to the buildings. Everything you do affects the town visually. If you fix up the brothel, you will have courtesans walking around. If you fix the mines, you will see miners live there now. And all the dirt and clutter is slowly replaced with clean stonework, glittering flags and other niceties as you continue to upgrade your home. And doing so provides income, as a more popular town ends up paying much more in taxes to you, which can be collected every twenty minutes from your sister. So investing in your village has great long term benefits. Oh, and buying artworks not only increases your town's value (attracting more visitors and thus more money) but each painting actually gets hung in a gallery and can be viewed and studied with the press of a button. You will get the history of each painting too, so it's a bit of a history lesson if you are into art.
Blending is much improved too. Where past blending meant having to travel in a specific movement among monks, staying in a group of people in AC II will provide some direction of how to get the crowd to blend you in. It just feels much smoother. And you can even hire groups to help you blend if you like.
And speaking of smoother, the movements feel improved. Sure there are times when free running gets a mind of its own, and will try to climb walls you want to run around, but the rest of the time it is responsive and will do what you want. Prince of Persia fans will also be pleased to find out that there are now six Assassin's Tomb stages that test any platformer specialist. The reward for completing them is worth it, as it unlocks the Armor of Altair which cannot be damaged during combat.
Completionists will have a lot to find. In addition to the six tombs, there are 100 feathers to collect, 30 Codex pages, and twenty hidden glyphs in key locations through Renaissance Italy. Each glyph has a historical puzzle that needs to be solved in order to unlock the code, and some of the puzzles can be quite challenging. They really hit hard into many historical events, such as the Kennedy Assassination and the Moon landing. Just by seeing these alone shows there is more to Assassin's Creed II than just the Renaissance setting. You are involved in a global conspiracy, and seeing this mapped out will really enhance the sense of urgency in your mission.
The setting itself is quite gorgeous. All the cities and the Italian countryside are beautiful to look at, as are the movements of Ezio and those around him. Problems do occur with some frame tearing and detail pop up in backgrounds, but for most of the time, the game runs at a very smooth clip. Rarely do I see any frame rate issues.
As for the sound, I'm so glad that whoever voiced Altair was replaced, as he sounded like he came from the 21st Century as opposed to the Crusades. Ezio truly sounds like a Renaissance Italian, and even speaks some lines in his native Italian. Even better, a language option is available so the full game can be in Italian. Talk about authenticity.
The main quest can be finished in about 10 hours, but finding all the extra items will increase the experience more, not to mention it helps solve the riddle of the Pieces of Eden, leading up to Assassin's Creed III.
Earlier this year, the GIN Lounge did a show on sequels that actually improved on its predecessors. I was not available for that show due to personal reasons, but if we do an update on that topic, Assassin's Creed II will easily be mentioned. Ubisoft took their criticisms seriously and makes the series worth checking out again!
PROS: Much improved sequel! Ezio is quite a likable character for an assassin. Leonard Da Vinci=Best Sidekick EVER! The economy system! Less tedious than the first game. Tons of puzzles to solve. Assassin's Tomb levels provide quite the challenge.
CONS: Bards are almost as bad as the first game's annoying beggars. Storyline is a bit more linear than the first game. Some of the puzzles can be very difficult.
Todd Hargosh is GiN's Product Testing Manager. He enjoys any game that gets his adrenaline pumping. Todd can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org.