Assassin’s Creed 2 Review

I love this game.

There, I said it.

While the last Assassin’s Creed was a disappointment, its successor is a triumph of immersive entertainment, taking the gamer through the highs and lows of life in renaissance Italy, crammed with action at every turn and (prepare yourself) it has a thrilling plot.

Truly, Assassin’s Creed 2 is un brillante gioco al computer, as our hero, Ezio Auditore da Firenze, would say.

Set in the 1400s, Assassin’s Creed 2 continues the parallel storyline started in the previous game, detailing the secret war between the order of Assassins and the power-hungry Templars, who are now hiding behind the front of Abstergo Industries – a multinational company. In the modern day, our eponymous hero, Desmond Miles, escapes from Abstergo and joins the Assassins, who stick him in an Animus machine (a tool which allows the user to relive the lives of one’s ancestors through DNA), and allows him to play the life story of Desmond’s ancestor Ezio, an Italian nobleman, in order for him to learn the Assassin’s art.

So, while playing as Desmond playing as Ezio, the gamer is plunged into Ezio’s world, as he has to face off against the Templars and take his revenge on the betrayers of his family, while unravelling a mystery as old as time itself.

Despite what you might think, the two parallel storylines are clearly separated and make sense. The two even collide in some ways, as a previous test subject (who was tortured at Abstergo before Desmond) has left clues in Ezio’s memories for you to find, which in turn unlock the truth of both conspiracies – it’s a multi-layered plot which I found to be completely engrossing, unlike the last game’s plot, which was bland and disappointing.

I’m not going to say much more, other than to say to find a game plot of such depth is a rare thing indeed.

Ezio’s world is one of great change. At the time of the renaissance, Italy was moving into an age of technology and commerce, when great inventors like Leonardo da Vinci (who acts as one of Ezio’s mentors in Florence) were expanding their minds.

Into this new world comes Ezio, now an Assassin, and he has free run all over Italy to chase down the conspirators.

Locations on offer include the massive city-state of Florence, Venice’s network of waterways, the huge open countryside of Italy (complete with bandits) and the Auditore family’s city retreat, Monteriggioni, which Ezio can upgrade with his hard earned money in a side quest and restore to its former glory, as well as a money-maker and a great place to stock up on the tools of the trade.

And speaking of tools, unlike his predecessor, Altair, Ezio can have more than four weapons. A huge number of swords, maces, axes, throwing knives, smoke bombs and even a small pistol are up for grabs, provided you have the money. Ezio can also eventually wield two of the Assassin’s hidden blades, allowing him to off two enemies at once in a stylish attack, which is even better if executed from a rooftop.

And there is a lot of assassinating to be done. While the main campaign is engrossing enough, many side jobs are available to Ezio, ranging from assassination contracts to courier work, races, collecting any one of a number of different chests, eagle feathers or pages of ancient knowledge (which in turn open up even more of the plot) – the opportunities seem endless.

There’s even an opportunity to commission a painting to decorate your villa, or dye your robes, or you could go hunting for the tombs of legendary Assassins to unlock even more armour or weapon choices. Basically, unlike the previous title, you aren’t likely to get bored with Assassin’s Creed 2.

The gameplay is smooth and simple to grasp. As with his predecessor, Ezio is as skilled at climbing as a cat, and can climb, swing and jump his way across the rooftop with ease. Combat is also simple, but this time round Ezio can disarm his enemies and use their own weapons against them – a useful tactic when your enemy is a massive brute armed with a war hammer.

Ezio is capable of taking on ten or more enemies at once, and though the combat controls can take a bit of getting used to, once you’ve mastered them, countering, disarming and taunting enemies becomes second nature, and the game all the more enjoyable for it.

Alternatively, if fighting would not suit the assassination, Ezio can hire thieves, mercenaries or a small bunch of courtesans (ladies of the night to you or I) and task them with distracting the guards. Or you could blend in with the crowds and strike suddenly as you pass. Or you could poison one guard, watch him go nuts- distracting the enemy- do the deed and disappear, how you complete the missions is up to you, and it’s this freedom which is so engrossing.

Speaking of freedom, though the controls for getting about are simple, with the free-running aspect still playing well, the controls can occasionally be very unforgiving, particularity during a frantic escape or in the middle of a particularly difficult climbing section – one slip up, one joystick push in the wrong direction, and it’s a plummet to the streets of Venice and a swift restart, but with practice, getting about is not a problem.

Graphically the PS3 version of Assassin’s Creed 2 is superb. The game makes full use of the PS3’s hardware to produce a living, breathing environment with no slowdown and excellent texturing close-up.

The cutscenes are also well animated, though there is the occasional lip-synching problem, but this is a marginal issue

The sound is also well thought out. The musical score ranges from Italian harp to surprisingly good mixes of rock music and orchestral score, and it flows and rises with the action on screen.

The voice acting is also excellent. Ezio’s character is well rounded and believable, and listening him go from noisy teenager to stonehearted Assassin is another high point for the game.

Even the NPC’s have believable characters as you move through the crowds – knock over an old man and he will raise his fist at you, yelling “Bastardo!” at the top of his lungs- and attracting the attention of the guards- you have to watch how you approach the targets in Assassin’s Creed 2 – everyone could be a troublemaker.

Assassin’s Creed 2 is a massive improvement from its predecessor in every way. There’s more to do, a decent plot, dozens of targets to plan and assassinate, better graphics, voice acting and environments- it’s a brilliant game in all respects. Though the controls can be a little frustrating, once you learn the nuances of the system the game that keeps on giving, and if you spend some time finding every hidden glyph, riddle, feather, mission and jewellery box, it’s extremely fulfilling as well.

Stick it on your Christmas list.

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