Assassin’s Creed was one of the top games of 2007, but it was dogged by considerable repetitiveness and several glitches. Assassin’s Creed II from the outset looks to build on the strengths of the original and remove many of the pitfalls that existed, and it would appear developers Ubisoft have succeeded in this.
Assassin’s Creed II once again sees you in the shoes of Desmond Miles, as you are propelled into the past, or (more precisely) into the shoes of long-dead ancestors. In Assassin’s Creed II, you escape the research facility from the first game, however are sent back into a new device, the Animus 2.0, by a new group who may be friend or foe.
Desmond becomes his ancestor Ezio Auditore da Firenze in the 15th and 16th century in Renaissance Italy. Ezio is a young rich boy, who enjoys fighting with a rival family. Initially he knows nothing of assassins, but he is soon forced into the dark underworld.
You start out the game in the beautiful city of Florence, where a story of betrayal, corruption and murder soon catches up with Ezio, emphasised when his father and brothers are executed in a conspiracy. Ezio vows to take revenge and begins to uncover something far greater than he could have imagined. Fortunately too for us, you are not pulled out of the world every few moments as in the original, and can focus almost entirely on the task at hand, allowing yourself to be immersed in the story and environment.
The story is filled with excitement, but it wouldn’t be much to write home about without the amazing environment that Ubisoft have so lovingly crafted. This is an area where the Assassin’s Creed series really excels, creating what almost feels like a time-machine. You will be taken throughout Florence, Rome, Venice and Tuscany in your quest to bring justice to those who murdered your father, and to uncover the plot. Being able to experience Renaissance Italy is indescribably exhilarating, and the extra effort focus on detail really pays off here. Though graphically Assassin’s Creed II is generally similar to the original, the world is much more diverse and realistic. NPC’s painting walls and working around the city, along with crowds that hustle and bustle through the streets make the cities come to life. This is where some of the changes come into play.
No longer do you need to wait until a group of white robed priests walk by, now you can mingle with any crowd to hide from the city guards. This becomes crucial to elements of the game. In Assassin’s Creed II you will also be expected to fulfil a much wider range of missions, which avoids the tiresome repetition of the previous iteration. There's not only a wider range of assassin and thievery missions, but you also can now pick-pocket, join in roof top races, as well as solve intricate puzzles. Some of these puzzles even turn into mini-platformers where you need to use Ezio’s nimble moves to jump from ledge to ledge to discover secrets and plans.
The assassinations themselves have also been refined, and you can now conduct auto assassinations when positioned in certain places, for example hanging onto a ledge under a target, or on the ledge above. Assassinations are even possible from in the water by pulling an enemy to their murky death in the canals of Venice. These make for very stylish deaths, and help to connect the player with the story and its characters, really allowing you to live the life of a Renaissance assassin.
The health and weapon systems have also been revamped. Health can now only be recovered to a point by resynchronising with the Animus. After this you will need to visit one of the street-side doctors which haunt the city. On top of this you will be able to acquire weapons and armour from street vendors as well, not to mention art-work to increase the value of your property. Property you say? At one point in Assassin’s Creed II you will largely take over the management of a small city, where you can renovate and upgrade shops and beautify the city in order to attract more patrons to it. As you do you will be able to skim the cream off the top in the way of extra money to spend on further upgrades, as well as dye for your cape. In this sense it becomes like the night clubs in Grand Theft Auto, and it's a pleasant addition.
Weapons are however not only bought. You make contact with a young Leonardo Da Vinci who decrypts hidden documents you find in order to recreate advanced weaponry, the design of which has long been forgotten. These include poison blades, as well as a retractable assassins blade.
The combat has improved from the original in that the motion is far more diverse and the kills more intricate. Though for the most part the controls are the same. Ezio runs with ease through the beautiful streets, sprinting along roof tops as roof tiles clang, leaping and darting. As Ezio comes up to an obstacle he leaps over it with ease, and without any input from the player - the only thing you need to do is keep Ezio running in the right direction. Occasionally though, it can be a bit frustrating. In particular the climbing mechanism can be challenging when you're tasked with finding the footholds and handholds on which he can hoist himself up, and sometimes leaping from one hold to another can be tricky as Ezio leaps in the opposite direction, or into a wall. These incidents fortunately are sporadic and therefore don’t impact the gameplay much, and it is clear that it has all been refined considerably since the first.
A new wanted system has been implemented, perhaps simply because it belongs in almost any open world game. In Assassin’s Creed II, as you commit crimes and the guards become ever more aware of your presence your wanted level increases, although it can be lowered by removing wanted posters, bribing heralds or assassinating officials. In a game where staying in the shadows and being anonymous plays such a large role you will spend some time avoiding too much attention, which is half the fun to be honest.
An incredible improvement in Assassin’s Creed II though is the awareness radius. Effectively if you exit the radius and can stay off the radar the guards will lose track of you. In the original you had to find a hiding spot first, but in this one you can either find a hiding spot, or escape. Both of which will lose the heat and allow you to get back to business faster. This means that less of your time is spent escaping the guard, and instead following up on the fantastic storyline.
Assassin’s Creed II has improved on every element. The gripping storyline is even better than the original, and the gameplay is less repetitive and more immersive. The only real downside to Assassin’s Creed II is the lack of progression in terms of graphics, which appear to be largely the same. The controls could have been slightly more intuitive too, as locking on to enemies can at times be difficult, and there are moments where you fall to your death due to the difficult climbing and jumping. Though considering how heavy the game is on these elements, the actual instances of things going wrong are extremely low. The game is filled however with so many subtle and obvious changes it's clear that is is a true successor to the original.
Assassin’s Creed II is truly one of the most immersive titles of the year.