Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Genre: 3rd-Person Action-Adventure
Console: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
Hours Played: ~ 30 hours
Progress: Completed main story, discovered The Truth, collected all weapons/armour, stabbed a bunch of people in the face
The first Assassin’s Creed, even though riddled with bugs and repetition was a unique and deep enough experience that it sold quite well and brought a good amount of solid gaming hours to everyone who played it. Looking to fix some of the mistakes of the past, Ubisoft Montreal set out to make a more fleshed-out Assassin’s Creed experience while continuing the intriguing (and somewhat convoluted) story-line and helping us discover The Truth. You can find out about whether or not their efforts were in vain after the jump.
Story was always a strong-point for the Assassin’s Creed (AC) series. While on the surface it appears to be nothing more than a run & stab series, there were strong mystic and technological undertones throughout the first game. Luckily for the gamer, these undertones have been greatly expanded upon filling in many of the blanks and answering many of the questions left by the first game. Playing through AC2 gives you the feeling that the devs really do have a huge arching plan for the series and that they are masterfully revealing details of the big, big picture as they go along. This time around the characters are much less flat. Each character has a distinct and relatable personality, often because of their fiery Italian nature. You take control of another one of Desmond’s ancestors named Ezio Auditore (pronounced Et-zee-oh) this time around, and he is certainly much more fun to control. One of his first missions under your control is to go beat-up some guy that broke his younger sister’s heart. Emotions take a much more leading role in Ezio’s life compared to the stoic Altair from AC1. In addition to the main story-line, there is also a set of collectible symbols that can be found using your Eagle Vision throughout the game that reveal one-second segments (after the completion of sometimes mind-wracking puzzles) from a video called “The Truth” that does a lot to reveal what’s been going on behind the scenes and what started the battle between the Assassins and the Templars. Spanning multiple areas and complicated concepts through new interesting characters (especially Leonardo DaVinci) the story in AC2 is much improved over the first and definitely a shining feature of the game.
AC2′s graphics were perhaps one of the only aspects of the game that left me disappointed. Soon after starting up the game it becomes terribly apparent that the devs did essentially nothing to improve the graphics for the series’ second installment. With improvements in game engines for sequels essentially becoming the industry standard now-a-days (esp. apparent in sequels like Mass Effect 2, Halo: Reach, and Battlefield Bad Company 2), this was an annoying and disappointingly missed opportunity in the game’s development. The graphics are still very much acceptable during gameplay. Draw distances are as good as they were in the first game and in a zoomed-out perspective most of the characters and environments look fine. But during dialogue and cut-scenes, facial animation and graphics quality literally reveals its ugly head and that’s when you start wishing that the devs had spent even a small amount of time touching things up so that they look presentable. I really do hope that they tighten the graphics up for AC3, but I’d like play the game regardless.
The sound in Assassin’s Creed remains as good as ever. Everything sounds as it should and background music is both appropriate and immersive throughout. With that said, there is nothing that really stands out as being particularly good about the sound either. Even though it is important to have sound blend smoothly into the gaming experience, it’s almost as important to have sounds and music immediately recognizable as belonging to your game/franchise. So far in the AC series, this has not been the case. There are no sweeping theme songs or unique environmental noises that will end up as people’s ringtones or on their iPods. While this is a bit of a shame, there’s nothing to really bother you on the sound front while you’re playing the game, except for perhaps the music played while solving The Truth puzzles, which is a lot more creepy than it needs to be, particularly when you’re using surround-sound headphones.
The controls for AC2 are the same as AC1′s in basically every respect. There were no real control issues in the first game, so the lack of change is actually welcome in this case. The right trigger/R1 serves as the “high-profile” mode modifier button again to allow you to run, climb, and attack faster when it is held and the left trigger/L1 still serves as a lock-on button to center your view on specific enemies/objects. The other controls are again standard for the AC series with A/X letting you jump, X/square to attack with your main weapon, B/circle to attack with your secondary weapon and Y/triangle to enter Eagle Vision mode. These controls have been proven to work quite well for navigating the buildings and areas in the game as well as decent in combat, so there are luckily no problems here.
Gameplay enjoyed the largest improvement over the first AC game in AC2. AC1 was mostly renown for its very repetitive and formulaic set-up requiring the gamer to do the same few tasks repetitively in a few cities to gain info on an assassination target and then assassinate them. Another large complaint dealt with the fact that NPCs only had about 10 phrases in total to say that were repeated constantly throughout the game. The issue of repetitive missions was essentially eradicated in AC2. The game now follows a much more developed storyline with missions basically different every time. For people who still liked the challenges from AC1, they are still around but almost completely optional. You can take up races or assassination contracts for simple monetary gain that will allow you to purchase new weapons and armour or things for your Villa in shops all over the game’s world. Money plays a much, much more important role in AC2 and can be use for everything from bribing officials and distracting NPCs to tricking out your uncle’s villa to rake in even more cash. The money and weapon/armour purchasing system adds a huge amount of depth that was lacking in AC1 and is one of the features that really makes this a game worthy of any gamer’s time. The swimming mechanic is also a very welcome new feature. Especially when booking it through cities like Venice, being able to dive into a canal and swim away is a great boon to the fluidity and believability of gameplay. As for the complaints about the lack of variety in NPC dialogue, that too was addressed to a point. NPCs (with the exception of town criers who still suffer from having only a handful of things to say) now have about five times more phrases to randomly spout off when you bump into them or they see you swinging between buildings. The much-hated repetition of these phrases is still there, but in nowhere near as prevalent a fashion as in AC1.
I wish that I could say that combat had improved greatly from the first game, but that is simply not the case. While AC1 was certainly no slouch in the combat department, the seemingly random assortment of buttons to press and the heavy reliance on sometimes cryptic rules regarding the timing of blocking and counter-attacks would start to become a nuisance whenever you had to fight more than 2-3 enemies at once. This problem remains in AC2 as well as the politely inane AI that makes guards wait their turn to be shanked in the neck one-by-one. The developers thankfully didn’t completely copy/paste over the battle mechanics from AC1, though. They managed to incorporate a few new moves into Ezio’s skill-set that spice up battle a little, but still did not address the underlying problems with both the fighting mechanics and the AI.
Climbing, another key element in AC’s gameplay, was altered slightly for AC2 as well. I say altered, because there was a bit of give and take in the climbing system that leaves it at about level ground with the first game’s in the end anyways. The take involved in the climbing system is that Ezio seems to only climb things at about 70% of the speed that Altair did. This is an issue as quickly scaling buildings is often quite necessary for the varied tasks required of the protagonist in AC games. This issue is prevalent throughout the game, but effectively cancelled out later on when Ezio gains the power to essentially pull himself up and “jump” while climbing to ledges further away than were previously reachable. This naturally eases climbing a great deal, but only just makes up for Ezio’s generally pokey nature in this area. It’s probable that the devs throttled Ezio’s climbing speed overall to make up for this new ability gained later-on, but it leaves you for half of the game sauntering casually up the side of buildings instead of booking it around assassin-style. The least they could have done is leave the climbing speed at normal until you get your magical jumping powers to prevent frustration early on in the game.
There are a butt-ton of things to collect in AC2. Pretty much wherever you go there are treasure chests to open, feathers to collect to make your mom stop praying all the time (long story) and around your uncle Mario’s (yes, they even do a very blatant Mario Bros. reference in the game) villa there are even statuettes of Roman gods to collect for fun and profit. These collectibles, and the inevitable achievements/trophies to be earned from the completion of their collection, add quite a lot to the replayability of the game. Once certain tasks are accomplished within the game, you can even get special capes that make you unable to become infamous in certain areas letting you basically go around stabbing people and causing havoc sandbox-style without fear of recompense. This lets you essentially play around within the game’s world if you so choose and can add a lot of gameplay depending upon how much you like shanking old ladies. There are also several pieces of DLC available for download (some only through Ubisoft’s new proprietary award system called U-Play that sort of acts like its own GamerScore, but letting you spend your points earned on extras for any Ubisoft game utilizing the system) but most of them are anticlimactic and should only be looked-into if you’re a die-hard AC fan. Overall, there’s a lot to do in AC aside from the main quest: collecting random stuff and armour/weapons, finding all of the treasure chests, solving the puzzles hiding clips from The Truth video, fixing up your uncle’s villa to rake in huge amounts of tourism dollars, doing random things to earn Achievements/Trophies and shanking everyone in sight, and they can add hours and hours of gameplay if you’re willing to do them.
AC2 is not only a worthy successor to the popular AC1, but it also improves upon its predecessor in almost every way. There’s a ton of stuff to do, an intriguing story with complex subplots, and great characters to meet who you’ll remember for years to come. AC2 is worth any gamer’s time and you owe it to yourself to at least check it out to experience its unique style of gameplay.
+ Story depth much more apparent than in previous AC game
+ Characters are dynamic and relatable
+ You can learn the mind-blowing Truth : O
+ Huge draw-distance
+ Characters and environments look good from afar
- Facial animations and poly-counts are simply bad
- Most things look crappy close-up
+ Environmental and action sound-effects are apt
+ Voice acting is fine
- Nothing amazing or unique to differentiate it from every other game
+ Money, weapons, and armour add a lot of depth
+ Going around shanking evil-doers (and random people) is still super-fun
+ The Truth puzzles are challenging and add another level of awesome to the game
- Climbing is slow until you learn mad skills later on in the game
- Combat still suffers from courteous/dumb AI and unclear timing requirements
+ Butt-piles of stuff to collect
+ Sand-box style construction lets you play around within the game if you want
+ Achievements/Trophies/U-Play points given out for myriad tasks and generally fun to earn
- DLC is hit-and-miss, better to generally avoid