Assassin’s Creed II
_Assassin’s Creed 2_ is the definition of a perfect sequel, improving the original in nearly every way while still retaining what differentiated the franchise from its competition, primarily the huge cityscapes and the ability to climb and explore nearly everything you can see. However, what elevates _Assassin’s Creed 2_ above the original is its story. It’s now an epic tale through multiple periods of time that is far more thought provoking and mysterious than ever before.
Set in 2012 and following Desmond Miles, the descendent of a long line of assassins, _Creed 2_ continues exactly where the first game left off, revolving around the continued struggle between the Assassins’ Guild and the Templers. Through use of a machine called the Animus it’s become possible to read the memories of a person’s ancestors through their DNA. Therefore, while aspects of the game take place in the near-future, the majority centres around Ezio Auditore da Firenze and his life in 15th century Italy. By living these memories, Desmond and his companions hope he’ll learn the skills necessary to become an assassin in the present, as well as to unlock the mysteries of the past. You really need to have played the original as, although there is a very short recap video at the start, it’s confusing even if you know what’s happened up until now, in detail.
Without giving anything away, there are two points in the story that truly make _Creed 2_ stand out; a point in the middle which changes the setting considerably, and the ending which perfectly lends itself to a third chapter in the franchise in a way that’s neither annoying nor predictable. It’s worth mentioning that there’s generally anti-religious subtext throughout which may be insulting to some; this actually comes across more as worthwhile opinion than pointlessly offensive and is a key part of the underlying narrative. Overall, _Creed 2_ has an incredible story that I really got wrapped up in, even after I’d finished it, I still kept thinking about the implications of its final moments.
With a story this profound, it’s a good job that the rest of the game is so enjoyable as well. The scale and general size of the environments that you can explore is simply unbelievable; if you thought _GTA4_ had a big game world, _Creed 2_ will blow you away. And it’s not like these environments are sparsely populated, it’s quite the opposite; hundreds of people roam the streets of Florence and the rivers of Venice are packed with gondolas just like they should be. Although the original game was on par with _Creed 2_ in terms of scale, one of its major flaws was the similarity between its three main cities. Ubisoft Montreal has obviously taken the comments of the gaming community to heart as the variation between Venice and Florence is phenomenal; while Florence is somewhat drab and reminiscent of Acre, Venice is bright and vibrant with red-brick and beautiful water effects.
Even though the world of _Assassin’s Creed 2_ is so vast, the overall presentation and graphical fidelity are still impressive. Everything looks crisp with great texture work throughout and a huge draw distance, meaning you can see for miles. When combined with futuristic Animus effects and some intuitive menu screens, _Creed 2_ delivers a distinct art style that you won’t find anywhere else. The game also runs surprisingly well considering its scope, there is some slow down and pop-in here and there but it doesn’t detract from the overall experience.
Another feature that made _Assassin’s Creed_ unique was its visceral combat. Rather than being a basic hack and slash, the game centred around the execution of precise counterattacks which, due to a range of different finishing blows, simply looked awesome. As with every other aspect of the game, _Creed 2_ builds on the original’s combat mechanics, adding a number of new abilities and avenues of attack. The standard sword and hidden blade have both returned but now it’s also possible to disarm your foes and use their own weapons against them. This means that Ezio’s arsenal has expanded to include maces, axes and pikes, to name a few, as well as smoke bombs and poison. With all this equipment at your fingertips, you can approach a combat situation in any way you like; it’s particularly entertaining to watch a poisoned guard as he flails around slicing up his companions with his own sword.
There are a few changes that detracted from the experience; the timing on counterattacks has been relaxed and Ezio can now carry medicine, restoring his health instantly. Both of these cause the game to become extremely easy. Not once did I die through combat instead only needing to use the medicine or reload the game if Ezio had accidently jumped off a building, which happened way too much.
Although the movement and traversal in the game is generally good (being able to scale any building is an impressive feat in itself), it can be messed up at times. The main problem is that Ezio will jump in the completely wrong direction than the one you wanted him to go in, usually leading to his death. He’ll also get stuck on some objects, start climbing buildings when running down a street and can generally be annoying. To be honest though, you can overlook these facts, as for the majority of the time the movement is perfect.
Overall, _Creed 2_ has a host of other improvements over the original, such as the addition of a fast travel system as well as money which adds a whole new aspect to the franchise, but the most important one has to be its lack of repetition. _Assassin’s Creed_ was ruined by the fact that you just did the same thing over and over again; do some stuff to find out who your next target is (like the very exciting task of eavesdropping on people) then assassinate them, then do some more stuff, then assassinate them and so on… This made the game extremely boring, the only reason I continued to play it was to see how the story ended. Thankfully, _Creed 2_ throws away with this rigid formula and replaces it with dynamic missions that change considerably throughout. Ezio still ends up assassinating a lot of people but how he gets to them changes dramatically; one mission sees you simply attack a target in the street while another requires the use of a flying machine to land on the roof of the target’s palace. In general, this means you never know what’s going to happen next or where the story is going to take you, something the original would have truly benefitted from.
I could go on and on about how each subtle change or addition has made _Assassin’s Creed 2_ so fantastic or how the excellent characterisation of the lead Ezio, the great voice acting, the fluid animation and the deep puzzles, that are incorporated into the side-quests, all rise this game above the majority of titles available this Christmas. But, what really captivated me was how great the story was; combining the topics of mortality, the tragedy of loss and the guilt of revenge, _Assassin’s Creed 2_ is a far more meaningful game than _Modern Warfare 2_, _Uncharted 2_ or anything else that’s been released this year. This is a game you must own.