Ubisoft needed to publish something amazing given their anemic financials thus far this year, and Assassin’s Creed 2 delivered. Assassin’s Creed 2 was simply put, amazing. The sequel vastly improves upon Assassin’s Creed which given all the hype, was disappointing to say the least. The game plays on the strengths of Assassin’s Creed, most notably the free-running, and is no longer monotonous and repetitive, like its predecessor. If you want to complete all of the quests in this game, I would suggest setting aside around 35-40 hours. It took me a little over 25 hours to complete the main quest, as well as completing about 80% of the side quests (feathers notwithstanding, there was no way I was going to look for 100 of those).
If you never played Assassin’s Creed, I suggest taking the time to look online for synopses of the game so that you get a feel for what happened as Assassin’s Creed 2 does a poor job of rehashing the tale. I played the first game almost a year ago so I was hazy on the plot and was a bit disappointed that I had to look up the Wikipedia page to figure out what was going on. Ubisoft could have done a better job here by having some flashbacks, or even some dialogue at the beginning of the game to help those who are new, or haven’t played in a while.
This installment of Assassin’s Creed has you playing as Ezio Auditore, a suave ladies-man hell-bent on exacting revenge upon those who took part in the killing of his father and two brothers. His blood lust carries him throughout Italy, assassinating all who he deems guilty. As you progress through the game, you learn new techniques, as well as acquire new weapons–through the help of Leonardo DaVinci. Each weapon has different assassination traits, and I highly suggest trying them all out–they are extremely satisfying and awe-inspiring and keep the game from becoming stale. My favorite however, is the dual-hidden blades, because let’s be honest, there aren’t many things cooler in video games than jumping from three stories in the air and assassinating two unsuspecting guards below. Don’t believe me? Just try it.
The first thing you notice when playing this game is the awe-inspiring graphics. The engineers in this game went through a lot to make sure the game looked absolutely amazing. Whether it’s the movements of Ezio himself, or the structures he ascends, every aspect of this game is painstakingly detailed.
The combat in Assassin’s Creed 2 is good, but nothing exceptional. It actually reminds me a lot of the combat system used in Fable 2. Controls are simple–one can get through this game by simply mashing the attack button over and over again–but using combos and making sure your weapons match up well against your opponents (for example, using your knife is better than your sword against a spear) make the game more strategic. Like many games, throwing an enemy is obscenely overpowering (think Super Smash Brothers). You can grab a guard and throw him off a roof and watch him plunge to his death, or simply throw him to the ground and assassinate him quite easily. Unlike in the first Assassin’s Creed, you can swim, while your enemies cannot. Thus, grabbing an enemy and throwing them in the water is a sure-fire way to kill a pesky guard. As I said before, you get most of your combat pleasure through the use of various assassinations. As such, I used the counter-assassination move quite often simply because of the animations which followed.
Assassin’s Creed 2 adds the concept of an economy this time around. You can use money you collect to upgrade the villa you’ve been put in charge of, as well as to buy supplies such as weapons, medicine, or art. Everything you collect in the game, whether it be new weapons, armor, or paintings, adds to the value of your villa which is proportionate to how much money you get per 20 minutes of play time from the villa chest. This, while a good idea in concept, makes it very easy for people to game the system. By upgrading your villa early on, you make enough money to buy anything you need later on in the game. By the time I had progressed far enough to purchase a certain set of armor for instance, I had triple what was needed to buy everything in the store.
Like any good RPG, Assassin’s Creed 2 has a multitude of side quests. For the most part, these are quite enjoyable and add to the scope of the game. There are over 20 assassination contracts you can fulfill, all with a varying degree of difficulty. Races and beat-up events were introduced as well. The beat up events are pretty pointless in my opinion, but the races are quite fun, as they take full advantage of the free-run capabilities of the game. The races start with a timer and you must run through checkpoints before time runs out. One fall or a mistake and you’ll have to start over. Luckily, these races are only about two minutes, so messing up a few times isn’t going to want to make you quit playing for a while.
This brings me to my point: free-running. I spent a great deal of time just jumping from rooftop to rooftop and it was extremely enjoyable. The grace and precision in Ezio’s movements is simply astounding. When scaling buildings, you’ll always find Ezio grabbing onto a ledge or a crack in the wall while placing his feet in supports as well. You will hardly ever find Ezio grabbing onto an invisible ledge or putting his feet somewhere where he shouldn’t be able to. It was small details like these which makes you actually believe some of the things Ezio is doing are possible, and they did not go unnoticed.
The controls in this game are pretty basic and intuitive, which is a major plus. Since there are so many things going on at once in this game, the game does slip up every once a while. It was frustrating to be scaling up a wall and then suddenly diving into a bale of hay twenty stories down when in fact you wanted to simply jump to another building. There were also times when I wanted to assassinate a certain individual and ended up killing nearby civilians instead. While these occurrences were rare and far-between, it was annoying nonetheless, but did not however detract significantly from the game. For the most part, Ezio did precisely what you wanted him to do, with grace and swagger to spare.
As you can see, all my gripes with this game are small and nit-picky. Assassin’s Creed 2 excelled in every way imaginable, from the story line to the gameplay. I have not had this much fun playing a single-player video game since Mass Effect.
It is a shame that we have to wait for the next installment of Assassin’s Creed to come out. Hopefully Ubisoft can correct the few flaws in this version, and make a perfect ending to this epic trilogy. When thinking about game of the year for 2009, Assassin’s Creed will definitely be in the running. The gameplay is smooth, the story is compelling, and it was a hell of a lot of fun to play. If you have $60 to spare, I would suggest going to the store and buying this game right away, you will surely not regret it.
If you’ve already beaten the game, don’t be hasty and trade it in. Ubisoft will be releasing two DLC packs, one in January and the other in February, for your enjoyment.
CrunchGear score: 9.45