Back in 2007, the first Assassin‚Äôs Creed tore its way into the gaming market and introduced a whole new intellectual property to Ubisoft‚Äôs line-up. It was a bold proposal from the Canadian development team, offering a ‚Äúhistorically inspired‚ÄĚ action game without the usual blazing guns and exploding stuff. Fears were put aside quickly though, as the game went on to sell millions of copies and eventually earn Platinum status for the two consoles. But for all of the game's breathtaking graphics and flowing control system, Assassin‚Äôs Creed suffered from repetitive gameplay and a lack of replayability. The good news for fans is that the developers have listened to the constructive criticism and Assassin‚Äôs Creed 2 builds on the original, expanding it in all sorts of tasty directions.
Personally the first Assassin‚Äôs Creed was an instant love affair. It had a brilliant sense of style and sheer ‚Äúcool‚ÄĚ factor that made every assassination and daring escape a genuine thrill. But I‚Äôll be honest, I never really appreciated the mashed up past / present timeline and remember sitting and staring at cryptic scribbles on the wall for hours before giving up at the end of the last game. But for those who are still trying to decipher the bloody symbols, Assassin‚Äôs Creed 2 picks up exactly where the first game left off to continue Desmond‚Äôs story.
Still held in the confines of the Abstergo labs, Desmond must escape for unexplained reasons with the aid of Lucy Stillman (still voiced by the adorable Kristen Bell). This playable sequence lets the player get familiar with the third-person controls, allowing you sneak or run past guards and also try out the basic combat system. Just like in the first game, everything is still all very confusing, but before long, Lucy brings you to a secret laboratory where a new and improved Animus 2.0 has been set up. From here fans of the original will feel right at home.
For those who haven‚Äôt experienced the first Assassin‚Äôs Creed, the Animus is an augmented reality machine that reads a patient‚Äôs genetic memory and recreates past life experiences via a simulator. In the previous game, it allowed Desmond to step into the life of Altair, an assassin in 12th Century Jerusalem who was caught up in the Third Crusades and a plot revolving around the Templar Knights. This time around, Desmond climbs into the Animus and is transported into the leather shoes of young nobleman-turned-assassin named Ezio Auditore da Firenze living in late 15th Century Italy.
Immediately it is clear that the scribes behind the game at Ubisoft have taken more time with Assassin‚Äôs Creed 2. Players can now expect a rich tapestry of character development and subplots that the first game lacked. For starters, you meet Ezio when he is first born and through a series of cut-scenes and mini-quests you learn more about the Auditore family and the 1490‚Äôs. Your father, Giovanni Audiotre is a respected and wealthy member of Florence society and as such, Ezio has a very different upbringing than Altair‚Äôs gritty past. His ruggedly handsome good looks, charming persona and well-rounded money pouches have given him a life of womanising and luxury. But despite this Italian-stallion exterior, it is clear that Ezio is still a decent person at heart who cares deeply for those around him ‚Äď especially his family.
Just as players are getting used to trotting around Florence delivering paintings and seducing busty maidens, a terrible sequence of events turns Ezio‚Äôs life upside down. His family betrayed and his father arrested, Ezio follows his father‚Äôs instructions and finds a secret family heirloom that leads him down a new line of work; assassination. Donning the stylish hooded attire of the assassin‚Äôs guild (albeit with some extra Italian flair thrown in) Ezio sets out to avenge his family‚Äôs misjustice. Along the way he meets the legendary Leonardo da Vinci who becomes his best friend and personal engineer, as well as Niccol√≤ Machiavelli and other famous Renaissance figures. In a similar fashion to the cross-city spanning adventure of the first game, Ezio will get the chance to explore various locations like Venice, Tuscany and Rome. To break up the scenery the developers have also included catacombs and caves that can be explored to find treasures and unlockable content.
The scope and detail of the story telling has been improved greatly, but the developers have also taken lengths to expand the gameplay as well. The near-perfect controls of the first game haven‚Äôt been changed much at all, with Ezio‚Äôs free-running and acrobatic prowess still intact. Scaling dizzying heights, leaping from rooftop to rooftop and zipping down alleyways is not only easy, but a joy to watch too thanks to the beautifully rendered animations. The term ‚Äúnear-perfect‚ÄĚ is thrown in because occasionally players will feel a twinge of frustration when falling off a ledge to their deaths. The controls are quick to master and feel natural when playing, but even after hours of play can still lead to embarrassing slip-ups. Players will also be able to swim (a must considering the multitude of canals scattered throughout Venice), take to the air in a Leonardo da Vinci‚Äôs flying machine and even steal and operate gondolas.
Ezio also has some new combat tricks up his sleeve as well. Two of them to be exact. In the form of dual hidden blades that allow him to stealthily eliminate two enemies simultaneously. On top of this players will be able to wield a sword and also concealed long-range weapons thanks to the engineering genius of da Vinci. Visiting the local blacksmith allows Ezio to upgrade or repair weapons and armour.
To counter the repetitive nature of the first Assassin‚Äôs Creed, Ubisoft have expanded the number of missions available to the player. While the first game had around six types of activity, Assassin‚Äôs Creed 2 now has sixteen different types that range from delivery, assassination, escourt, chase, relic hunting, tomb raiding and more. The linear structure of your missions has also changed giving players more freedom over how they want to play the story through. The game boasts around 200 missions in total and around half of these are essential to the main narrative, while the other hundred are side quests. Talking to citizens and important characters in your travels unlock these extra quests and each one gives you the option to accept or decline. A personal favourite was a side mission that requires Ezio to track down a cheating husband on behalf of a rather disgruntled wife and give him a bit of a beating. There‚Äôs no better marriage counsellor than a pair of stranger‚Äôs fists.
Along the way players will also encounter various markets or shops including tailors and street doctors. The tailor store allows players to purchase coloured dyes to alter Ezio‚Äôs outfit, a customisation feature that appears to only have an aesthetic effect. However the doctors can be essential for dangerous missions as the health system has been adjusted to allow for a more dynamic experience and your health now only recharges up to a certain point. More grievous injuries will require a trip to one of the many street-side doctors, who can help return Ezio to full strength. Also doctors sell medical supplies that Ezio can carry about on his person for quick healing at any point in the game.
Stealth still plays an important factor in the game, but Assassin‚Äôs Creed 2 makes blending into crowds more streamlined this time around. Instead of having to find a handy pack of monks, players can now blend into almost any crowd of people simply by walking amongst them. Ezio (with his connections in the courtesan industry) can also call on the help of local escorts or bustylicious ‚Äėworking gals‚Äô scattered around town. They can be hired to follow you offering cover or to even distract guards with their womanly assets. Far superior to a bunch of grotty old monks. Finally Ezio can also choose to throw money to the ground to attract the attention of nearby civilians and create a diversion. It‚Äôs perfect when escaping from the scene of the crime to help block guards and slow them down before ducking into a side passage.
As players of the first game experienced, the concept of genetic ‚Äúbleeding‚ÄĚ is still carried through. This is the effect of skills and abilities of a past life being transported through the Animus into the subject, in this case Desmond. One of these attributes is known as Eagle Vision, an ability that allows you to highlight important or unusual points of interest in game. For example Eagle Vision can be used to locate assassination targets, enemy units or hidden doors and anomalies in surroundings. Often these strange sights offer hidden pieces of code that your crew operating the Animus 2.0 can help you decipher, revealing new pieces of the intriguing conspiracy. Often these chunks of the story require you to solve simple puzzles such as recognizing similar themed paintings, revealing historical connections or examining architectural structures. Each one is fairly simple but beautifully executed and players will enjoy the change of pace as they piece together an all important truth behind Desmond‚Äôs saga. Finally the Eagle Vision has been improved from the first game too and now lets players move around in third-person when activated to track targets or search for clues easily.
There is little doubt that fans of the first Assassin‚Äôs Creed will find plenty more to sink their teeth into this time around. The sequel possesses hours of extra activities, a more complicated plot and still manages to maintain a great gameplay engine while adding some much appreciated tweaks to expand the controls slightly. The visuals in the game are breathtaking in parts, although unusually the ingame graphics actually look better than the cutscenes. Despite the developers getting the body animations and facial features near-perfect, there is something quite off-putting about the character‚Äôs bright white, almost cartoonish eyes that come out and slap you in the face during some cinematics. The soundtrack is superb though and the voice acting excellent as well, making Assassin‚Äôs Creed 2 a riveting and very attractive gaming experience. Finally, before people get excited about assassin vs. assassin deathmatch modes, the Xbox Live features in Assassin‚Äôs Creed 2 are limited to online chat, leaderboards and future downloadable content. Still a nice touch to the single-player epic that is Assassin‚Äôs Creed 2.