Sequels are always a tricky thing when it comes to games. If you’re a game developer lucky enough to get the opportunity to make one you know that the original game garnered at least some respect from your peers and the wider consumer market. Unfortunately with the games industry becoming an extremely large and profitable business we’ve been inundated with nothing but sequels recently as businesses seek to reduce risks whilst still increasing profits. The original Assassin’s Creed, released just over 2 years ago, was an original storyline and game play idea that by all accounts was a smashing success (knocking the original Call of Duty: Modern Warfare from the top spot on its debut). Still it wasn’t without its criticisms as the core game play mechanic as well as the side missions became rather repetitive and tedious as the game played along. Still the story was utterly intriguing and the ending, whilst unashamedly screaming “LOOK OUT FOR THE SEQUEL”, left me begging for more. My fix came in the form of Assassin’s Creed 2 which I managed to finish over the weekend.
The setting for Assassin’s Creed 2 is set in the late Renaissance period in Italy. It’s a far cry from the original’s settings of Israel and I have to say initially I was sceptical. The original was sold on the basis of exploring the original roots of the assassin’s and seeing it jump forward almost 300 years had me wondering how they would connect the two together. Thankfully I can say that despite the gap in the assassin’s story lines the lineage is still there and is referenced constantly throughout the story. Your character is the young noble Ezio Auditore da Firenze who’s journey begins in betrayal leading him on his own personal crusade.
When you compare the sequel to the original at first it is a little overwhelming. Whilst playing as Altair the only other parts to the game, apart from assassinating people, are running a few side missions or trying to collect flags from all over the city. I happily avoided doing this in the original since there was no appreciable benefit to doing so. Whilst playing as Ezio however there’s opportunity to buy new weapons, armour and even buy upgrades for your villa and the surrounding town. At first I thought this was just a tacked on after-thought however since the upgrades you buy actually improve the town I started to get a feeling of connection between my efforts and improvement I was seeing. I quickly spent all my hard earned cash on upgrading everything from the doctor’s surgey to the brothel, reveling in a strange sense of pride. All your weapons and armour that are not in use are displayed on racks inside your own villa which was another cool addition. In terms of engagement Assassin’s Creed 2 is definitely a step up from the last.
One of my gripes about the original Assassin’s Creed was that whilst the assassination’s were thrilling any other combat felt rather stilted and repetitive. The base combat hasn’t changed that much in the sequel, however the variety of combat is much greater and is far more enjoyable. From disarming enemies and then taking them down with their own weapons to running up to high ground only to turn around and leap on top of your enemies to quickly dispatch them I never had a dull moment when it came to combating everything from the run-of-the-mill grunts to the heavily armored and agile guards. The ability to pick up weapons that your enemies have dropped is a great addition to as stealing a 2 handed weapon can turn a fight that would last 20 minutes into a 2 minute affair.
Another small gripe some people (especially players of the PC version) had with the original was that, although the free-running was new and highly enjoyable, it was a tad unpredictable leading to many awkward moments of Altair leaping to his death or straight into a bunch of guards. The free running with Ezio is far more fluid and with the addition of the crouched-leap which is gained part way through the game many areas that looked inaccessible suddenly open up. There’s also the addition of swimming in the game, which at first looks like a gimmick but soon turns out to be a powerful tool when you stumble into Venice. I still don’t understand why anyone other than Ezio who dares take a plunge instantly perishes, but it can still lead to some rather comical moments when you accidentally shove a civilian in the drink.
These are really all an aside to the main star of this game: the story. From the beginning where you suffer a brutal betrayal to the your rise from the ashes to your acceptance of who you and your family are I couldn’t find a moment in whilst playing Assassin’s Creed 2 where I wasn’t wholly engaged in the people and my place amongst them. Initially I lamented the lack of interaction with Desmond as the interplay between his waking life and time spent in the Animus was something I really enjoyed. However after a while I began to forget I was playing through Desmond’s eyes and began to appreciate the depth of character development that Ezio undergos throughout the story.
One of the features of Assassin’s Creed 2 is the included database that pops up when you get near a historical place or building. This serves 2 purposes, the first was to immerse you even further in the world. I found myself reading through every database article, soaking myself in the world of late renaissance Italy. The second was to guide you to places that held some significance, either to Ezio in the form of the assassin’s tombs which unlock the best armor in the game (worn by Altair apparently, although you never get a classy black garb like this one in the original) or more interestingly to Desmond, who is hunting down clues placed by another user of the animus, Subject 16.
This was probably one of the most engaging parts of the game. Hidden on buildings throughout the game are glowing glyphs which, after a cryptic puzzle which can involve simply finding something in a picture to cracking some extraordinarily hard codes, unlock just under a second of a video. The puzzles are usually based around technological events in history with everything from Telsa to the atomic bomb making an appearance. The clips of the video are just as confusing until the whole series is unlocked and the revelation gained from doing so, whilst completely unrelated to the game, is something to behold. I just stared at the screen for a minute or two after watching it, contemplating what it meant.
All of this is brought to a dramatic end that wraps up the main story arc of Ezio whilst opening up more questions for Desmond. It was one of the most gripping ends to a game I’ve ever experienced with my emotions following those of the characters in the game. There will definitely be an Assassin’s Creed 3 and I can tell you now, it can’t come any sooner. There’s potential for the game to go several ways and no matter what option they choose they can’t go wrong with the formula they have developed. This is a story that’s just begging to be told.
I’ve intentionally left my gripes to the end because really they’re nothing when compared to the rest of the game. There are some frustrating moments when you push the controller in just the wrong direction, sending Ezio to his untimely death. This becomes all the more painful when you’re introduced to the dreaded jump puzzles to unlock Altair’s gear, especially when they add a timer to them. Still these parts of the game are at their heart platformer puzzles and they’d just be a waste of time if getting that jump just right wasn’t the secret to success.
Overall Assassin’s Creed 2 takes all the criticisms levelled at its predecessor and emphatically puts forward solutions to silence even its most harshest critics. If you enjoyed the first Assassin’s Creed you’re guaranteed to like the second one and those of you who found the first lacking in some way will find their wants satisfied.
Assassin’s Creed 2 is available for PS3 and Xbox360 right now for AU$78. The PC version has an expected release date of March 16, 2010. Game was played on the Playstation 3 with around 20 hours of gameplay total and 90% completion.