It’s games like Assassin’s Creed II
that truly put gamers in a difficult position: wallet in one hand, Blockbuster
card in the other. With visuals comparable in beauty to Renaissance artwork, voice-acting so convincing that you’ll find yourself pulling facial expressions during cut-scenes, and gameplay far more varied than in the first Assassin’s Creed
, you’ll be surprised to learn which hand I’ll be recommending you raise.
And so, to my famous question: do you join the Creed (buy the game), just play about with the hidden blade for a while (rent the game), or leave it out altogether, deciding that it’s all far too dangerous because you're afraid of heights? I’ll give you a starting clue: it’s most certainly not the last one.
For fear of spoiling it for you, I won’t delve too deeply into Assassin’s Creed II
’s storyline. Needless to say, vast improvements in comparison to the first await you! The whole experience is far more stream-lined and comprehensible, infused with mystery, twists and shocking truths. I realise I’m speaking in very general labels, but believe me when I say that you’ll thank me for it in the end.
The basic premise of the game involves playing as Ezio Auditore di Firenze, the young, cocky seventeen-year old son of a prestigious Italian banker, whose hobbies have luckily included free-running across the tops of Florence’s buildings in true Altäir fashion. Following a catastrophe about ten to fifteen minutes into the game, you’ll be allowed to slip into the infamous mantle of the Assassin, and finish what has started.
As I mentioned, in comparison to the first Assassin's Creed
, gameplay is far more diverse
. Even before you’re able to strap the hidden blade on, Ezio, as a civilian, will still have access to plenty activities. While the core game mechanic has remained the same, main missions consisting of preparation and execution of prime assassination targets, both pre and post Assassin-wear side-quests include the traditional time-competitive races, message delivering and “beat-up” tasks- usually involving a big-breasted wife in distress over her good-for-nothing cheat of a husband. Later pastimes will also include assassination contracts- of course.
You might think this all still fairly dry, but Assassin’s Creed II
has more than just a hidden blade up its sleeve. Gone is the first game’s redundant flag collecting, which has now been replaced by treasures far more useful and, more importantly, interesting.
There are feathers to find (of which locating them all will unlock you more than just Achievement points); Assassin tombs reminiscent of Prince of Persia
’s puzzle-infused levels (of which acquiring each Assassin seal from all six will unlock you a fantastic prize) and hidden symbols, each of which will shed light upon Assassin's Creed II
’s mysterious back-story. There are even “Codex pages” to be fought for, which, following translation, will often endow you with new gadgetry that’s sure to put a coy smile across your half-hidden face.
There is even, quite literally, treasure, to be collected. Yes, that’s right: the major cities of Italy have somehow become infested with hidden chests filled with florins. So while you’re not busy killing people, you can set about scaling the buildings of locations such as Florence and Venice on the lookout for cold hard cash.
This leads us neatly on to the game’s primary new instalment: an economy. Besides everything to find and collect, there are new colour schemes for your outfit to be bought, armour to be purchased and even famous pieces of artwork up for sale!
During the course of Assassin's Creed II
’s storyline, you’ll come into the possession of a small town- and in turn your very own mansion. It is here that your procured portraits and paintings will find a home, adding to your estate’s overall value. You’ll even be able to invest/ upgrade the settlement’s assortment of stores and shops, not to mention renovate broken down buildings: not only increasing the town’s monthly income to fill your penny-purse with but also unlock retail discounts to boot- a most pleasant combination!
There’s even a pretty selection of weaponry to be bought, ranging from maces and hammers to swords and daggers, each with their own specific statistics and price tag. Moreover, each of them have their own attacks, finishers and countermoves, lending to some truly interesting and varied combat that’ll more than feed your bloodlust.
Speaking of which, combat mechanics are solid and fun, incorporating the trusty “easy to pick up/ hard to master” formula; and while the free-running element felt perhaps a little less smooth than normal, animations and movement are precise, fluent and feel just right- regardless of whether you’re swinging a sword or just jumping rooftops with consummate ease.
As much as I’m not one for usually discussing visuals, I’d be worthy of assassination myself if I failed to reiterate just how wonderful Assassin’s Creed II
looks and sounds. Facial expressions are emotionally charged, dialogue is toned and perfectly characterised, and aesthetically, even something so mundane as a bridge is a work of art. Even the starry night sky via the game’s day/night cycle can hold you spellbound for longer than just a moment, before you plummet down upon two unsuspecting guards with your duel hidden blades.
But it isn’t a buyer. See? Told you you’d be surprised.
Though there are some legitimate issues with Assassin’s Creed II
, which in all fairness pale in comparison to the positives of the game, the simple fact of the matter is that almost everything reviewed thus far can be accomplished, quite comfortably, within a seven day rent. And no, you don’t have to be unemployed in order to do so.
‘Legitimate’ issues include elements such as the free-running camera, which, like in the first game, still insists on maintaining a somewhat awkward position behind you as you sprint across rooftops: never quite helping you spot large gaps between buildings that you can’t jump, often resulting in your faithfully leaping from gutter-pipes only to get down with gravity and plummet towards the sidewalk.
Furthermore, while aspects such as treasure chest hunting and side-quests can be fun at first, they quickly become repetitive and mundane. Redundancy also creeps in like a strange man in a white cowl once your estate starts to bring in its large amounts of funds, eliminating the necessity for any other source of income.
The game also features an all new “notoriety” scheme, wherein performing incredible feats or shoving away annoying, instrument-playing beggars, will result in your infamy increasing, meaning guards will spot and attack you more readily. Aside from the fact that this aspect of Assassin’s Creed II
quickly becomes both tedious and ultimately pointless, the means by which you may reduce your notoriety seem somewhat contrived: namely, tearing down what amount to wanted posters, which you’ll often find placed in the oddest of spots such as rooftops and balconies. I can’t help but feel sorry for the civilians of fifteenth century Italy, who were apparently expected to be on the lookout for danger via unobservable notices. Assassin’s Creed II
is a marvellous adventure, both to take part in and simply just behold. With truly breath-taking visuals, a compelling storyline, new gadgets and a lick of RPG, it’s most certainly a game you should be looking to partake of. And then some.
But being allowed to swim or use spare change as a diversion still doesn’t divert from the fact that Assassin’s Creed II
is, ironically, much like a piece of Renaissance artwork in itself: though wonderful to look at, exceedingly enjoyable and an exceptional example of what can be achieved, it still doesn’t justify the price tag.
+ Superb graphics and voice-acting
+ Purposeful collectables
+ Smooth combat
- But still
not a buyer.
- Awkward free-running camera.
- Redundant features. Assassin’s Creed II review by A.H. Topalian