First it was Altaïr Ibn La-Ahad, running through 1191 Jerusalem on a mission between the league of Assassins and the ancient order of Templar, out to change history and rewrite the record books. In truth this was all played out in the mind of Desmond Miles, trapped in the future and hooked up to a nifity blood machine or “Animus” that tracked ancestors and allowed the skills and knowledge to bleed through into the present day.
Assassins Creed 2 continues exactly where the first one left off except this time the trappings are Renaissance Italy and the Assassin, Ezio Auditore da Firenze. The Templar is still trying to muck with history from the future and it’s your job to jack in and discover the truth. The Matrix never looked so good, so strap in and find out if you have what it takes to live by, the Assassins creed.
Weather it is Altaïr or Ezio, there is no doubt that Ubisoft have captured 'the every man'. That is, a character otherwise “nameless” or ambiguous that a person can identify and personalize as their own. Point in case; 'Master' Chief or Gordon 'Freeman'. Specific people with distinct personalities but one that fanboys alike can latch onto and assume for a short while, pretending they are losing themselves in a un-reality. Fitting, because despite the marketing hype and beautiful videos, the world of Assassins Creed is just that, un-real. Specifically, past memories are replayed, from the future; through the eyes of Desmond Miles, which can make newcomers to the series, a little confused.
Initially the game is a little slow, and with a lot of cut scenes. Your character is rushed through an office all the while tutored on movement and controls. Hooked up to a 'blood' machine, you find yourself born into 15th Century Italy as Ezio Auditore da Firenze, a would be assassin. From the outset there is a lot of in-jokes and knowledge and as it follows the events of Assassins Creed directly, there is a lot to learn.
More over this style of gameplay and story, where it’s almost expected that you know the first game so well, is more akin to the sequels of Hollywood- and it shows. Ubisoft have always created beautiful characters in beautiful worlds sitting somewhere between a piece of art and a Saturday morning cartoon. Ironic because it is Disney that plans to launch a Prince of Persia franchise on the world next year, based heavily on Ubisoft's other wall running franchise. This typifies Assassins Creed perfectly. It is beautiful, but ultimately shallow with exaggerated characters and a 'Hollywood' approach to voice acting. Ubisoft games especially; last years Prince of Persia and the original Assassins Creed are also known for something else- repetition.
Whether you are repeating the same action 100 times or 5 different actions 100 times each, the result is the same; either you will find it ultimately distracting from the main plot and boring, or you will revel in the need to collect every crate and every feather, all the while looking for hidden computer codes within the cities to unlock a deeper plot.
Without spoiling too much, the layers of the plot extend almost as far as a Dan Brown novel, back to Adam and Eve themselves as the Templars seemingly travel through history doing what they can, while the Assassins try to stop them. As an assassin, Ubisoft have given over a number of tools and improvements from the first one to equip the player with at least some choice in how they execute their kills. Ezio can now 'level' his gear increasing the quality of boots and armor. There are stat boosts for effectiveness and strength and equipment will require repair. Even the traditional white assassin garbs can be changed in color, fitting with a classical, colorful renaissance theme. Defiantly, this adds more variety where there was none before, but is a far cry from actual RPG elements.
Animation and motion capture is also extended and more fluid as Ezio moves between enemies in a similar way to Batman’s one button kills. The execution of death is actually excellent in the game with each weapon producing different cuts and stabs and attacks. The violence in killing is technically accurate but at odds with the rest of the game, making it the only 'adult' element in an otherwise animated adventure. Running over rooftops is a joy, especially when momentum is reached and once you realize that Ezio moves automatically without the need of button pressing, some truly heroic leaps and grabs will be made. Compared to the 'wall running' of the Prince of Persia, Assassins Creed is highly contextual with a combination of Lara Crofts dexterity and the Princes speed.
On the ground, movement is somewhat more, restricted. To counter the plethora of enemy and guards, a well trained assassin can hire wenches to escort around or simply 'blend into crowds'. Smoke bombs are available and for the first time, if you find yourself without a weapon, you can make use of the enemies. There are also context sensitive benches, hay bales and tents to make you invisible. Where Assassins Creed fails, despite their best efforts, is in the content department. All the above elements are excellent, and fun to play with but ultimately hollow without anything to do around them. Now it’s not that Assassins Creed 2 doesn't have a story, rich in characters and steeped in history. Also there are a multitude of side activities from finding hidden chests to collecting feathers and statues. It is just that despite the variety, Ubisoft fail to string any of these together in any meaningful way. Assassins Creed, in the end becomes what Prince of Persia always should have been. Almost every single activity involves repeating the same action over and again or finding X number of the same item. Padding out the game and forcing the player to run around the city just to show off the new animation and movements. The game is heavily scripted and missions are usually fed one at a time, meaning if you don't want to do a mission and just explore the city...there is not a lot to do, except collect a bunch of different object for money and secrets that you don't even need.
Running from road to rooftop is almost flawless except on the occasion that you press a button and find yourself accidentally launched off a wall, down at the opposite angle rather than climbing up. The draw distance is flawless and more context sensitive moves means epic jumps from building tops into bails of hay and water. The story will take you to most of the iconic cities of Italy with the ability to ride horses in between. The city maps are not overly large and easier to navigate than expected being circular in nature. In the end it is the combination of the 'matrix' effect, constantly reminding players that the world is not real and the lack of any real gameplay outside the main story that pulls players out of really feeling like a true assassin character. Even most of the story missions involve either fetch, follow or kill quests which can become similar and boring.
Last year, Ubisoft branched out with a decidedly different look for their Prince of Persia franchise. Using a highly stylized cell-shading, they did what they have always done best. Beautiful backgrounds with lots of nice glow effects. Which ever game they make on whichever platform, there is a certain trademark to their work that is both familiar but also the same. With Assassins Creed 2 you get exactly what you expect. More so than the first a lot of effort went into making people know that this one was different set in a highly decorated and colorful renaissance era. The result; could be taken from any number of fantasy literature. This could be Italy or simply another medieval village. Perhaps more than the people, the architecture and surrounding countryside really adds to a sense of Italy, with some of the best backdrops and scenery this year. Draw distances are near flawless and there is nothing quite like sitting on the edge of a castle and looking back over a sprawling ramshackle city. With a new location comes the addition of water and compared to the arid Jerusalem of the first game it plays heavily in escaping your enemy. Effects though in Assassins Creed tend to err on the soft colorful glowy side, rather than any technical reflections or lighting.
Surrounding the beauty of Tuscany though is the sterile and logical trapping of the future, evident in all the menus and HUD. Not completely jarring it also doesn't sit well, even with the white assassins garb providing a link. Menus are overly complicated and the map crammed with so many icons that it is hard to see. Similar to Prototype or Infamous there are so many collectibles that you will be trying to find they all just to clean out the map. Also until you learn the different combos for attack you will constantly be looking in the top right as to what A,B,X,Y do at any given time rather than at the action. Depending on the context each face button does 3 different things and it can be hard to keep up. Up close character models simply don't stand up to even recent games like Dragon Age or Modern Warfare with low polygons and a cartoon look. Highly stylized but less than perfect, the eyes in particular can bug out and look strange.
The game also will hang, though through no fault of the graphics. Restarting the XBOX will fix it, but freezing on the first time load screen is never a good sign. Character models in Batman were technically more complex but overall Assassin Creed creates a lush vibrant world, with lots of character. If you must collect all and every item in AC2 along with buying every set of armor and weapon and painting then the visual representation of them, in your personal Manor in Tuscany is a welcome sight. Very much like the Mansion of Tomb Raider fame, everything you find can be seen and filled in different rooms of the manor like trophies, unfortunately, no one else will ever see it.
“It’s a me-a Mario!”
The above line, quoted by Ezios Uncle early on sums up the sounds of Assassin Creed perfectly: Highly amusing, but more than a little Cheesy and at odds with the complex research of names and places that Ubisoft have done. Overall the dialogue in the game is excellent and Ubisoft have done their homework in working in the Italian lingo. But it does sound like an American Italian movie at times, with American actors doing their best 'Italian' accent. While the locations and history are well thought out, the representation of characters is left somewhat to the imagination. Leonardo Da Vinci in particular is classed as a 'super' hero of his day, breaking the fourth wall and seemingly younger than perhaps he was. In fact all the characters are a tad cliché and seemingly aimed at a younger audience. Further while there are some nice 'Italian' tunes floating on the air and during action sequences, for the most part the game is rather quiet. It would have been nice to have a bit more classical music while running all over the shop collecting items. There are some golden one liners to be found, including Da Vinci joking about cutting off Ezios' finger ala Altaïr in the first Assassins Creed, but these are found amongst an otherwise ordinary cast.
The value here is for the completest to find and 'do' everything. There are easy achievements to be had, almost 100GSP before the game really starts and at least two for each type of activity. This not a game requiring multilayer or co-op but DLC adds more of the same for those still not satisfied. Like the first game before it or even Batman recently, there is not a lot to come back to. You may find yourself rushing through the story just for something to do, or get bored before it’s even done. There is a very well thought out game here, but one with extra baggage; a mixed bag of so many different elements that it doesn't quite work. The new integrated Uplay service adds extra points and unlocks to 'get more stuff' but is currently still in Beta.
Don't be fooled, this is not a game for everyone. Certainly this approach to storytelling will only appeal to the most avid of fans. On its own merit though is a game that is ridiculously good looking, propping up some smooth animation and a lot of different devices. There is a little bit of everything in this game, from puzzles to action to fighting to collectibles and shopping, but only a little bit, while the rest is kind of- boring.
AAG SCORE: 9/10
- Beautiful graphics and visuals
- Amusing sense of humor
- Deep back story
- Ridiculous list of separate things to collect
- Lack of music between missions = boring
- Not particularly challenging
Reviewed & Written By Ian Crane