Assassin's Creed 2

   30/11/2009 at 08:35       Phil May       8 COMMENTS. - Score 4/5
 - Assassins Creed 2, Ubisoft, Ezio, Renaissance, Tearing
It seems almost unbelievable that it's been 2 years since the first Assassin's Creed had us scaling the lofty heights of the middle east in the 12th Century.

Those familiar with the first game still might want to proceed with caution through this review as there will be spoilers, and those who've yet to experience either game should probably just skip to the stars at the end. If you were going to do that anyway, see you later (loser).

Have they gone yet? Great, get comfy, grab a cup of cocoa this might take a while.

After the first game Desmond Miles' fate was a little up in the air. Scruffy bartender Desmond, kidnapped by the mysterious Abstergo Corporation, spent a vast chunk of the game living through the memories of Altair, a mysterious assassin trying to unravel the complex conspiracies woven through history by the Templars, a mysterious and deadly bunch of ne'er do wells.

At Abstergo's bidding, Desmond "steered" Altair in search of various clues and artifacts, and at the start of the second game we find out what we already knew - Abstergo are a nasty bunch as well, and far from seeking to bring down the Templars they're actually trying to reinforce their position as the mysterious puppet masters pulling the strings of the world.

Aided by Lucy Stillman, the muppet-mouthed former Abstergo researcher turned rogue, Desmond escapes from the facility and with a stolen memory core and the help of two other 'Assassins', Desmond once again straps himself into the Animus to tread a wary path through history.

This time, the focus of Desmond's Animus Horribilis is 15th Century Italy, the time of the renaissance and an absolutely blistering setting for the majority of the game. The era was soaked in blood, rife with corruption and the powerplays of several influential families with fingers in banking, commerce and of course the church. If you ever wanted to dip into history to dig up a nasty bunch of characters who'd happily sell their own grandmothers for a handful of coins, you could do no worse than the Renaissance.

As brash and cocky young upstart Ezio Auditore De Firenze, Desmond must once again unravel the underlying mystery of what the Templars were up to back then, and the importance of two key artifacts as the basis of their power.

Ezio's quest begins with the slow build up to a tragic event that will propel him on his path to revenge, but beyond that, the path to uncovering the far-reaching machinations of the nefarious Templars and the key players in their empire. Ubisoft's team have dipped into history to flesh out the various characters you'll encounter, from Pazzis to Borgias and even a young and skittish Leonardo Da Vinci, a very handy chap to collaborate with as you'll find out later in the game.

As with Altair before him, Ezio starts out as a bit of a klutz with some rudimentary combat and free-running skills, which you will hone to a fine sheen over the course of the game. Earning (or stealing) money will allow you to buy armour upgrades and new weapons, while collaborating with various other sympathetic characters will help you develop your skills even further.

Thankfully this time round, the majority of the game takes place in "olden times" but when you wake from the Animus and have to listen to Danny Wallace's prattling (he plays one of the other Assassins helping you use the stolen Animus to put paid to Abstergo's plans but you'll wish you could slide a wrist-blade into his neck after a couple of hours in the game).

Ezio's world is a huge sandbox with several famous cities acting as the backdrop for the main story mission as well as the various side-quests to keep things busy. Though the architecture in AC1 could get a bit samey, the developers have pulled out all the stops with AC2 to produce a fantastic living breathing Italy, an absolutely stunning Venice (quite accurate though you'll be thankful the 360 doesn't have smell-o-vision, the real place stinks to high heaven!) and plenty of variety to keep you on your toes.

The free-running aspect of the game is even more satisfying than before, and if you're anything like me you'll spend a lot of time scaling the rooftops and giving yourself mini vertigo attacks as you climb the Duomo or scale the colossal tower in the Piazza De San Marco. Context-sensitive controls help a lot but there were still moments of frustration particularly in the tomb-hunting bits of the game, where Ezio inexplicably tumbled to his doom simply because the controls didn't react properly, or the camera system got its knickers in a twist.

Despite those quibbles, and the fact that Ubisoft also still can't sort out their V-Synch problems, you'll be thankful that the scenery is stunning enough to distract you from the game engine's rough edges. For the most part though it's certainly no ugly duckling and what goes for the scenery goes for the character designs too.

As the story gathers pace, you find yourself being drawn into the game, cheering at Ezio's triumphs and booing each time the bad guys seem to get the drop on him. It's incredibly addictive and involving stuff.

The main storyline is a huge chunk of game in its own right, but just when you think you've got that licked there's a whole other game lurking in the shadows. Pay a lot of attention to what's said by your modern-day support team, and if they tell you to look closely at something - do it! You could save yourself a lot of frustration and annoyance later on, believe me.

Assassin's Creed 2 pulls out all the stops, addresses some of the issues that bugged me about the original, and long after you've completed the main quest you'll still be playing this to hoover up the extra stuff that they've shoehorned into an already packed game. Achievement junkies will find plenty to keep them occupied and conspiracy theorists will get a huge buzz out of that underlying "mission within a mission" that bubbles under the main structure of the game.

It'll be very interesting to see where the team takes the third game (and by crikey, there had better be a third one). With a bit of a tech tweak (sort out the tearing guys, c'mon!) but keeping the same structure and feel that AC2 has, they should be onto a sure-fire winner so let's hope it happens sooner rather than later.
User Comments:

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Murbal - on 30/11/2009 at 10:41 wrote: more games until January... more games until January... more games until January...

peej - on 30/11/2009 at 11:28 wrote:
By January this'll probably be stupidly cheap as seems to always be the way with Ubisoft stuff.

Kay - on 30/11/2009 at 11:52 wrote:
I have loads of games to trade in and was planning on getting this, but then I noticed Batman for £18 at Zavvi...

As much as I wanted to play it now, I guess it makes sense to get Batman over and done with and leave AC2 until the January sales.

peej - on 30/11/2009 at 12:23 wrote:
Batman just edges this out. Game-length wise both this and Batman were far better value than MW2 :)

NewYork - on 30/11/2009 at 17:17 wrote:
"cheering at Ezio's triumphs and booing each time the bad guys seem to get the drop on him"

Please tell me you weren't being literal.

peej - on 30/11/2009 at 17:51 wrote:
I'm always literal. Like I'm literally thumbing my nose at you right now, you grumpy old tosspot.

NewYork - on 30/11/2009 at 19:44 wrote:
When the bad guy's creeping up behind the good guy do you yell "IT'S BEHIND YOU!" only for the good guy to turn around at exactly the wrong moment and fail to see the bad guy, and turn back to you with a shrug, sending you into hysterics? Do you do that? Huh?

peej - on 01/12/2009 at 08:59 wrote:
Yeah, doesn't everyone?

Sheesh your time of the month always like this?

Very close to nailing "the truth" now. Finding the glyphs late on in the game is a complete PAIN IN THE ARSE though, so heed my warning and definitely look for those buggers every time you get told a building is marked with a symbol. Do it then and there and save yourself the complete ballache of trying to remember where those buildings are later on!

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Better late than never, eh Ror?
Khanivor - In response to: Battle Chasers: Nightwar Review - 248day(s) ago.
Enjoyed this, cheers!
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Looks who's back. Shady's back.
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Micro Machines was my favourite!
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i agree chris, the Aliens table makes the others look bad.. because its so goood!! but they arent that bad.. haha! ...
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