Assassin’s Creed 2 Combo-Review

Assassin’s Creed 2 Combo-Review

Every now and then a game crops up that gains so much love that we can’t agree on who gets to write it up. Assassin’s Creed 2 is one such game, and both Mark and Matt want to have their say.

It would probably be classified lower if it wasn''t for all the Italian swear words
It would probably be classified lower if it wasn''t for all the Italian swear words
Mark says...
Mark says...

Mark says: Ubisoft Montreal have seriously broken the usual stigma regarding sequels.

Assassin’s Creed 2 has you once again playing as modern day assassin Desmond, who in turn plays Ezio Auditore di Firenze, a decendant of previously played assassin Altair. Yeah, I think that’s about right. I had to try and explain the concept of the game to a friend who isn’t down the Assassin’s Creed 1 backstory. It was … trying.

Okay, so the run down.

Set for the most part in 15th century Italy, you’ll be playing as this Ezio Auditore di Firenze fella. Standard sob story; your family gets knocked off by this dude, and you are out to settle the score. But revenge doesn’t turn out to be a simple as Ezio might have expected.

Well, you could sum it up that way, but that kind of makes Assassin’s Creed 2 sound like an 80’s cop film, which doesn’t exactly do justice to the awesome writing that’s gone into this series. The game opens with Ezio facing what essentially is his boyhood enemy, Vieri de Pazzi, who is naturally a coward and hence, must eventually be stabbed in the face in the middle of the night. Beating up his posse leads you into a beautiful vista of Firenze, standing next to your brother on top of a church, exclaiming how life is kind of ace, and that things should never change.

And then they hang your father, older brother and younger (sissy, feather collecting) brother. It was the plot twist that absolutely no-one saw coming from nine miles away (or 14.4 kilometers away, if you’re in the EU/AU).

Compared to the previous game, I was hoping for a little more Desmond time. His character seemed to just be coming into itself, and the first game had a heavy focus on the past life story, with a handful of present day (or at least, close future) scenes to drive the story. But, and this was perhaps missing from Assassin’s Creed 2, AC1 had a healthy feeling that whatever the bad guys were doing was pivotal to the story. In Assassin’s Creed 2, there are precious few crumbs of modern-day story to spur the memory-digging on.

Don''t expect a lot of time with Desmond this installment
Don''t expect a lot of time with Desmond this installment

Despite this, the Ezio storyline is still fantastic, almost as impressive and detailed as the city vistas you’ll soon be overlooking.

Gameplay is staggeringly fun. The sequel has taken a bit less of the “don’t get detected” vibe, and you are now free to take on twenty of thirty opponents at a time and still have time for brunch. Enemies now drop weapons which you can pick up (good and bad, explained in a bit) and enemy types vary slightly causing the player to adjust their combat style. There are speedy units who are agile but weak, “seekers” who will search available hiding spots after a detection to find you, and heavily armoured guards with big axes, claymores or spears. You have to vary your attack/defense style to quickly dispatch the different types, mixing it up from counter attacking (good on the weak dudes, not so on the heavies), to dodge and backstab. You can carry one sword / axe / hammer, a short-blade, throwing knives and your dual (yep, there’s two now) wrist blades, which can be upgraded with several nasty little additions.

The combat system has been given a fair few tweaks, but still retains the original feel, so fans of the series will be able to jump straight into the action. My only complaint with the new weapon management is that you can carry a sword, disarm and pick up an opponents spear, but as soon as you engage in anything more than a walk (jumping a foot off the ground, for instance), you drop the spear, and start reach back for your sword. So you can’t really keep what you kill. Riddick would be so angry.

ANCESTOR FIST-BUMP
ANCESTOR FIST-BUMP

Matt says: I’m going to have to agree with Mark, and say I think this installment could have used a little more love for Desmond. While I appreciate that Ubisoft has obviously listened to critiques of Assassin’s Creed 1, which were quite often rather uncomplimentary when it came to our modern day hero, Desmond’s story should be immediately driving the past-life experiences. Assassin’s Creed 2 didn’t achieve this, and although the Ezio storyline was definitely compelling enough, I found myself think at the end of so many memory sequences “OK, now what’s going on back in the hideout?”, only to be left pondering. Apart from a few little story twists that I won’t spoil, it really is like Ezio is Assassin’s Creed 2 main character, not just a recovered memory of the actual main character.

Ezio-man, Ezio-man, does whatever an assassin can
Ezio-man, Ezio-man, does whatever an assassin can

We also don’t get to learn much about the new assassins Lucy introduces you to, other than one is the nice and the other is snarky. In the end you’ll probably have a much better idea of the Templar Vidic’s character than those of your newfound allies. This is why I’ll also echo the senitment that this isn’t a “jump straight in” game. When Moose showed interest in giving AC2 a go, I immediately pointed him to a copy of Assassin’s Creed 1, because not much of the game makes sense unless you’ve played the original.

And there is so much extra on offer for the people who have played the first title. Throughout the game you’ll unlock memories from Subject 16, the assassin that Abstergo put into the Animus before Desmond. These help to explain several things (not the least of which being the game’s ending) including the blood scrawled notes only seen in eagle vision inside Desmond’s room at the end of AC1.

Players missing Altair will be pleased to know his storyline is continued, and those interested can read how he shaped the Assassin order from taking it over until his death. This is achieved by collecting pages of the Assassin Codex, which will also unlock new devices and upgrades for your weapons.

A brutal new set of counters and finishers are on offer
A brutal new set of counters and finishers are on offer

New weapon upgrades and gadgets come compliments of Ezio’s friendship with the legendary Leonardo DaVinci, who is introduced early on in the game. Going in to the game, I was of course expecting the old, balding man from DaVinci’s self-portrait, but instead was greeted by a young Leonardo. A young, funky Leonardo, who likes the ladies. This was a great choice for the developers, because it allowed Ezio and Leonardo to form a realistic (well, as much as it can be) friendship throughout the story.

I loved the original game for it’s brilliant, epic plot, and Assassin’s Creed 2 does not disappoint in the continuation. There are a couple of unseen plot twists that are delivered quite well, and when you reach the climax of the Ezio plot, you’ll probably end up agreeing with Desmond’s appraisal: “What. The. Fuck?”. In a good way, of course!

I think perhaps the only problem the game has is it’s replay value. It’s such a great game that you won’t want it to end (and it’s quite lengthy), but once you’ve completed it (even if you bite the bullet and tackle the pointless feather collecting missions) there’s nothing left to do other than wander the streets and get in fights. Just like the original, you’re allowed to continue using the Animus after the credits have rolled, but there are no big plot revelations this time, just the ability to flex your legs. You’re also not allowed to return to previous memory blocks, which is something that annoyed me no end, because it means that if you want to replay a mission, you need to start a whole new game.

So the replay value is lacking. There are two new DLC packages being released in early 2010, which will presumably fill in the sequences currently missing in Ezio’s memory sequences. Really Ubi, you could of at least made that a little less obvious.

In the end, anyone who loved the original, will love this game. Anyone who bitched and moaned about the repetitive nature of the original will be pleased to know there is now much more variety to missions. I can’t wait for the third installment in the trilogy, but Ubisoft? Can we please make better use of Desmond next time around?

The Verdict:

Great! Brilliant! Twelve thumbs up!
Great! Brilliant! Twelve thumbs up!

Pros: Newfound variety in missions, gadgets and assassination methods. The storyline continues to compel, answering enough questions to satisfy your curiosity, but leaving enough open to make Assassin’s Creed 3 that much further away. Beautiful visuals and solid design.

Cons: Replay could have been improved by restoring the ability to go back to previous memories. The intuitive controls will every now and again fail you for some reason, leaving you leaping into a giant gap instead of onto a beam three feet in front of you.

Overall: We both agree this is game of the year material, and the continued plot puts the series in game of the decade territory. You’ll end up stuck to the console for the week, ordering take-away because cooking at home is time that could be better spend on the couch. This game is smart, funny and drips with cool. No-one gets a perfect score, but this is 4.99 out of 5 material. Say goodbye to your friends for a week and pick this baby up!

Awesome out of 5.  Please, let me maintain my journalistic integrity!!
Awesome out of 5. Please, let me maintain my journalistic integrity!!

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