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Jeremy Jastrzab
25 Nov, 2009

Assassin's Creed II Review

360 Review | The second time is always a charm.
Assassin’s Creed was released in 2007 to wild hype and fanfare, and became one of the most successful new IPs of the current generation. And it did so without being a critical darling, though a lot of the reviews seemed to focus on some vaguely defined flaws. Very few applauded the innovative use of HD technology or the fact that it was something genuinely new and different. Maybe the vagaries at the end of the story didn’t help but, for better or worse, Ubisoft have taken on board a lot of the ‘feedback’ and have come back with the vastly improved Assassin’s Creed II.

Players reprise the role of Desmond Miles, who spent the majority of the first game in a machine that had him ‘reliving’ the life and times of his distant assassin ancestor from the Middle Ages, Altair. Assassin’s Creed II neatly summarises the events outside of Altair’s adventure, where Desmond has been caught in the middle of an underground war between the Templars (fronted by the pharmaceutical company, Abstergo) and the Assassins. Apparently, these groups have been at it for millennia, constantly fighting for control over humanity and the mysterious artifacts known as the ‘Pieces of Eden’. A superb opening sequence has Desmond and fellow 'Assassin' Lucy escaping Abstergo to the modern Assassin’s base. From here, the story switches focus from Altair in the Middle Ages to Ezio Auditore de Firenze in the Italian Renaissance.

Playing through as Ezio will supposedly help Desmond ‘learn’ to be an assassin (Altair’s memory was already ‘established’), not to mention reveal further clues regarding the Pieces of Eden. The presentation of the story is much simpler, so no ‘glitches’ or tacked-on real-time involvement. The narrative is driven by the charismatic Ezio and the characters in his world, and players are much better off without the constant switching back and forth between realities. So while Desmond’s story is still going in the background, most of the time you’ll be concentrating on Ezio’s tale. There are other minor plots that add to the compelling alternate reality (a bit like Metal Gear Solid, but without as much huh?), as well as a nice humorous take on the history that you’re playing through. So while the story is built so new players can get into it, fans of the original will have a great extension to look forward. The ending is interesting, to say the least, but it does make sense. Just remember what year the game is set in.

Standing there in awe isn't going to help you.

Standing there in awe isn't going to help you.
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Complex story aside, what Assassin’s Creed did very well, was provide a playground for the highly innovative free-running mechanics and while aspects such as assassinations and combat were considered easy, they never let you feel like anything but a supreme athlete and highly trained professional. These and the other good aspects of the game have been kept in Assassin’s Creed II, at the expense of some that were considered bad. With the changes in the story structure, the game is no longer purely driven by your objective to assassinate 'x' number of figure heads. Instead, each of the assassinations is tied into the levels or ‘memories’ of the story. The advantage of this is that it has allowed for the abolition of the much maligned investigations (which if you actually listened to them, you’d find that they were actually very useful), and this in turn has allowed for a more streamlined structure as well as more variety.

However, this variety does run out of steam at the back-end, which disappointingly points to the limitations that the developers had in making the game accessible. The lengthy introduction to all the new mechanics of the game, while contextual, took a bit too long to get through. It isn’t really until the fourth and fifth memory sequences that the game really gets going and takes you off the leash. That, and new players are slightly isolated as some of the older mechanics aren’t explained, such as the difference between high and low profile. Still, these are very minor concerns when you have a game that flows much better than the original, but that still allows you to participate in shenanigans outside of the story. In a way, the progression feels like something out of a Grand Theft Auto game, but with no reliance on luck or battling terrible mechanics to get through missions.

In truth, playing through the memory sequences play like the investigative missions from the original, but they make much more sense in context. And once the action does ramp up, you’ll be pulling off assassinations similar to, though not as deliciously complex as, Hitman. On the plus side, that means you’ll have some sweet assassination possibilities that can actually be achieved. One particular mission has you sneaking over across several towers to get to a lunatic priest, where we were able to make it across, perform the deed and make a get away completely unnoticed. And damn was it satisfying. Outside of these, you’ll have many other neat one-off missions that weren’t present in the original.

Leonardo Da Vinci's inventions and associations make for compelling variety.

Leonardo Da Vinci's inventions and associations make for compelling variety.
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There have been some useful additions to the game, and some spurious. Earning money in the game and your home base covers both descriptions. While Altair had everything provided for him, as Ezio, you have buy or take it. You can get money by completing missions, stealing it using you assassin skills or finding chests. Money then is used to buy health, weapons, armour, hiring help (courtesans, thieves and mercenaries) against city guards to avoid a fight or lose them, as well as upgrading your villa. Doing so will ‘attract visitors’ who will bring in more money for you. It’s a nice way of having to earn your stuff rather than just by finishing levels. However, once you have everything, money becomes superfluous. Thankfully though, it won’t be till quite late in the game.

Aside from your villa in Monteriggioni, there are four other magnificently detailed locations in Renaissance Italy to explore: Florence, Tuscany, Romagna and Venice. While the cities in the original had more distinguishing character to each of them, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that they provide a great, living environment to explore as well as rich and intriguing histories. While there are open fields for you to run around in, they’re contained in each region and there is no useless overworld to get lost in. There's a lot of tomfoolery to get up to in each of these cities as well, including solicited ones such races, assassinations and beat-ups and other that are just about stuffing around, such as trying to catch Borgia couriers. Finding glyphs is also an interesting task, as it gives you further insight into the story. But once you find them, you need to unlock them through a mini-game. The mini-games vary and require some cryptic thinking and historical trivia, but some can be devilishly difficult. These puzzles are a welcome diversion.

The undoubted highlight of the additions are the Assassin tombs. Basically, there are six tombs in the game that combine the acrobatic mechanics of Assassin’s Creed with the environmental puzzles similar to modern Prince of Persia games. The result is some of the most exhilarating and satisfying acrobatics ever seen in a video game. Not only do they show just what the mechanics in the game are capable of, but they are superbly varied, puzzling and creative. If you picked up one of the limited editions, you’ll get a few more of these to play with as well.

Get out of my office!

Get out of my office!
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Aspects such as the free-running and combat remain fairly untouched. There are very minor additions to the free-running, such as the ability to swim (a must in Venice) and a few jumps. Otherwise, it remains a highlight of the game. Combat has a few new weapons and tricks to play with, such as smoke bombs, poison and some (term used loosely) strategies, but the general mechanics are fairly identical. So these combat additions come off as nice-to-have rather than a necessary progression. Sure, the combat can make you feel like a real professional and there is satisfaction in being able to pull off the best moves, but there really hasn’t been a proper evolution to it nor does it provide much of a challenge at times.

As mentioned above, the presentation goes back to traditional cut scenes, but this has meant that the characters are a bit more caricatured than in the original. Still, Assassin’s Creed II pretty much improves upon most of the graphical hitches of the original and now takes it even further, with more detail and depth without sacrificing performance, particularly with hugely improved load times. The ambition in the Venetian waters and racing around on horse back can still be a little dicey, but overall, it’s kind of improvement a sequel should have. The soundtrack to the game is masterfully composed by Jesper Kyd with another wonderful performance. The voice work seems to have been unleashed this time around, with performances that seem to be delivered with much more freedom and zest, complimenting the improved story delivery. Basically, Assassin’s Creed II pretty much nails the presentation.

Simply put, Assassin’s Creed II is a superior game to its predecessor. While it no longer has the ‘new concept’ feel, a number of additions and subtractions have overhauled it into a much more coherent experience, both from gameplay and story perspectives. The gameplay has a much better flow, a lot more variety and the story is compelling and well delivered. Sure, the perceived lack of difficulty and variety wear thin at the back, but the compromise is necessary in delivering an accessible but compelling gameplay experience, as opposed to a complex but jarring one such as Hitman. And to top it all off, this is a 20 hour quality single player experience, something a rarity in this day and age. Otherwise, the only thing that’s left for the series is a conclusion.
The Score
A vast improvement over the original, Assassin's Creed II is among the most compelling action sandbox titles available. 9
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Assassin's Creed II Content

Assassin's Creed II DLC Round up
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Second Assassin's Creed II DLC dated
17 Feb, 2010 Closer than you think.
First Assassin's Creed II DLC due next week
23 Jan, 2010 More adventure for Ezio on 28 January.
19 Comments
4 years ago
This and U2 have been my favourite game experiences of the year. Both games are incredibly deep and polished (aside from a few niggling control issues with free running) and have story's that suck you in and make you want to play just one mission more over and over again.
4 years ago
Got the Black Edition at launch; finished and love it to bits. This has to be my favorite game this year (Followed by Batman:AA)

Might be worth mentioning that Ubisoft have added in their own little reward system too.
4 years ago
Yeah, that Uplay thing was bollocks. It was just a ploy to force you to sign up to their website, as all the 'uplay points' were unlocked through story missions and once you finish the game, you end up with enough points to buy everything they offer anyway. Pretty shallow, Ubisoft. Next time, why don't you just add those extras in as straight up, achievement based, in-game rewards, as that would have been dope, instead of this commerical bullshit of forcing people to sign up to your website to enjoy game content they paid for.

I did love the game, but there was so much shameless commericalism involved: 'I'm sorry, you can't enter this room until you enter a code', it just felt like after you got it home, it was still trying to sell you shit. I don't like feeling like i'm being subversively bombarded with microtransactional 'buy' messages (which is what they are - the codes will probably come out as DLC and definitely not free) and little exclusive lockouts, but that's really my only complaint with the game, which in and of itself is a thorough endorsement of its greatness.
4 years ago
Sounds compelling.
4 years ago
Sinthesys wrote
Yeah, that Uplay thing was bollocks. It was just a ploy to force you to sign up to their website, as all the 'uplay points' were unlocked through story missions and once you finish the game, you end up with enough points to buy everything they offer anyway. Pretty shallow, Ubisoft. Next time, why don't you just add those extras in as straight up, achievement based, in-game rewards, as that would have been dope, instead of this commerical **** of forcing people to sign up to your website to enjoy game content they paid for.

I did love the game, but there was so much shameless commericalism involved: 'I'm sorry, you can't enter this room until you enter a code', it just felt like after you got it home, it was still trying to sell you ****. I don't like feeling like i'm being subversively bombarded with microtransactional 'buy' messages (which is what they are - the codes will probably come out as DLC and definitely not free) and little exclusive lockouts, but that's really my only complaint with the game, which in and of itself is a thorough endorsement of its greatness.
There's only one room that you can't enter isnt there? At your villa? Which you unlock through UPlay? That's the only one I've noticed.

And I love the UPlay thing. It's not like its a big thing you miss out on if you don't sign up. What? Instead of 20 knives you get 10? Big deal. Another room? Wow. To me the game is great, if you have to look at the little things like for instance signing up to their website then your just complaining for the sake of complaining.
4 years ago
I have to say imo, AC2 is a massive improvment over the original tittle.
4 years ago
heatseeker wrote
There's only one room that you can't enter isnt there? At your villa? Which you unlock through UPlay? That's the only one I've noticed.
And the eb exclusive areas.

heatseeker wrote
And I love the UPlay thing. It's not like its a big thing you miss out on if you don't sign up. What? Instead of 20 knives you get 10? Big deal. Another room? Wow. To me the game is great, if you have to look at the little things like for instance signing up to their website then your just complaining for the sake of complaining.
Sinthesys wrote
but that's really my only complaint with the game, which in and of itself is a thorough endorsement of its greatness.
The fact that uplay was what I chose to complain about says a lot about the game. It is a polished, well crafted game, so much so the only fault I had with it was having to sign up for crap and waste my time, which would have actually been a huge problem for a lot of my friends who don't have their xboxs online. It's not about the inconvenience or the rewards, its about the principle. It was completely unnecessary to add it in there, and its a shameless arm twister to get you to sign up for their website.

Quote
And I love the UPlay thing.
What are you, a masochist? Name one way the uplay system is better than simply giving out the rewards in game for the achievements you get?
4 years ago
I really enjoyed the first, I'll definitely be making this my next game.
4 years ago
This game is huge. my sister's boyfriend has been playing through and it took himm like a week, as a pretty pro player who finished modern warfare 2 in several hours. good value for money in development time.
4 years ago
think UPlay has POTENTIAL to be a good thing... I just don't think it's there yet. I'd be interested to see what the share option means (can be pretty sure what the store will be though) also I think the rewards system needs to be more than just reaching different points in the game, they need to create rewards for things outside of the normal gameplay.

As for signing up to Ubi's website, I'd already done that when PoP w2as released (to ge some extra skins) so it didn't phase me at all. I rarely get e-mails from them either so it's not like they hound people with crap.
4 years ago
Sinthesys wrote
heatseeker wrote
There's only one room that you can't enter isnt there? At your villa? Which you unlock through UPlay? That's the only one I've noticed.
And the eb exclusive areas.
they're CE exclusives - 1 is unlocked in the White Edition, and the other 2 from the Black Edition. (which i guess was EB exclusive here, so that makes what you said right.)

I didn't realise the entrances were still visible even to those without those editions - that's rather lazy of them.
4 years ago
'A superb opening scene...' which was this? I might have missed something - not trying to be funny but an honest question.

I think it's a huge game but having just played UC2 (granted UC2 is not sandbox or as open), the gfx in this graphic kind of underwhelmed me, at this it looked a little half life-esque (i am thinking of desmond in the opening sequences).

But I am definitely enjoying this a lot more than the 1st one. Thanks for the review.
4 years ago
ObsoletE wrote
they're CE exclusives - 1 is unlocked in the White Edition, and the other 2 from the Black Edition. (which i guess was EB exclusive here, so that makes what you said right.)
1 in White; 3 in Black (EB Exclusive) and 1 extra through UPlay. They're marked as Templar Lairs.
4 years ago
The white code is the same as one of the black codes - they are shared between them, meaning there are 4 special areas in total, including the uplay one.

Sin Ogaris wrote
think UPlay has POTENTIAL to be a good thing... I just don't think it's there yet. I'd be interested to see what the share option means (can be pretty sure what the store will be though) also I think the rewards system needs to be more than just reaching different points in the game, they need to create rewards for things outside of the normal gameplay.
See, now if they did that, like had uplay act as a completely independent system with it's own unique objectives separate from achievements and trophies, it would work pretty well. I like the idea of getting points that I can choose to spend how I wish, but not if it just follows the xbox achievements anyway, as then its rather redundant - mayaswell link the rewards to achievements...
Sin Ogaris wrote
As for signing up to Ubi's website, I'd already done that when PoP w2as released (to ge some extra skins) so it didn't phase me at all. I rarely get e-mails from them either so it's not like they hound people with crap.
Yeah, I doubt they'll spam me or anything, but I resent the fact that the system seemed to be put in place purely to get you on the website. Like I said, its arm twisting, and something I'm not particularly fond of considering I've already bought the product. Plus, the uplay interface within the game is laggy as hell, had to wait a good 10 minutes just for the thing to connect...
4 years ago
yeah its annoying i have 1000/1000 points for this game and have found everything yet because i dont have CE i am missing 3 secret locations and stuck at 97.6% sync status. plus seems some areas of citys are there but you cant go into them yet

ps. the secret octopus is awesome
4 years ago
Sinthesys wrote
Quote
And I love the UPlay thing.
What are you, a masochist? Name one way the uplay system is better than simply giving out the rewards in game for the achievements you get?
The way its better is that it integrates with other Ubisoft games. If you don't want to unlock say the 360 theme available you can save the points for Splinter Cell.

Agreed that its annoying for people without a internet connection, but they aren't missing out on anything that is overwhelmingly exciting.
4 years ago
Spoilerish: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJZI-54QmRc

Aforementioned giant squid.

I'm sad I didn't see it when I was there icon_sad.gif
4 years ago
Very good game, a couple of small AI bugs but very much enjoying it. agreed with the review about the assassins tomb missions also, very circus like. very pretty also.
4 years ago
Just finished it this evening, easily one of the best games I've played this year. Despite how corny the plot looks on paper, the writing, I find, is utterly sublime, kept me wanting to play more of the story and uncover The Truth. Sheer brilliance, and better than the first game.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  19/11/2009 (Confirmed)
Standard Retail Price:
  $109.95 AU
Publisher:
  UBI Soft
Genre:
  Action Adventure
Year Made:
  2008
Players:
  1

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