Considering the problems with the first game, I was, admittedly, a little dubious about this on. I didn’t get my hopes up just in case I was left with another let down like the first one turned out to be. It was far too repetitive with its missions and, although the basic idea was interesting and fun to start with, it soon got boring and, although I played it to near completion, I didn’t really care much for the game or its characters. Credit where credit is due, though, because it was stunning to look at and the climbing aspects were very well thought out.
So, when I started playing Assassin’s Creed II I was glad that it carried on from the first game, as I felt that a brand new character and story really wouldn’t be the right move for this franchise. Best to carry on where it left off and just do it better, which, I have to say, they have done with some particular style.
It’s the only game I can think of where you start off as a baby and actually use this time to figure out what each of the main four buttons do, an idea that was a bit freaky to begin with, but in a strange way made sense by the end of it.
Once you actually take control of the adult Ezio, the young Italian noble, the fun really start, as it gently eases you into how the game works. Granted, it’s very similar to the first but where this one differs is in its variety, not just in the missions, but variety in every aspect.
Even the NPCs within the game all look different. Granted, when it comes to the guards, you come across the same classes often enough, but just looking around and seeing all the variety of characters on screen at once, you realise just how much effort has been put into this game.
Gone are the annoying beggars in the street that you can’t seem to get rid off and they are replaced with buskers who, with a simple shoulder charge, will drop their loot and leave you alone. You could, of course, just chuck some change on the ground but, in all honesty, punching them in the face is far more satisfying.
Gone too are the ridiculous treks between locations on horseback. Now, if you don’t fancy the ride, you can pay a small fee and magically transport there, which is far better. Gone is the watery grave you fell into whenever you went into the sea by mistake and in its place is a relatively good swimming mechanic (the water isn’t particularly well animated, but that’s being really picky).
So, all in all, a much more pleasing game to play and this is greatly helped by the brilliant voice acting. Sadly, the facial animations aren’t quite up to scratch and therefore the lip-syncing is not so good on a lot of the characters, but you can look past that as the story and stunning graphics everywhere else pull you in to Ezio’s world.
The fight mechanics are another section which was in dire need of improvement and they’ve really done a good job here. Lots of different animations for each different style of weapon make for some gruesome scenes as you finish off endless amounts of guards on your travels.
By far the most simple but effective way of dispatching enemies, though, are the hidden blades, and there is a great scene with Leonardo Da Vinci where he first helps build the hidden blades for you and jokes about cutting off your finger in order to fit it properly, before pointing out that, in fact, there have been alterations to it so now you don’t need to!
Da Vinci acts, not only as Ezio’s friend, but also becomes a sort of James Bond ‘Q’ character in that he builds and provides you with the upgrades to your weaponry as the game progresses.
By far, my favourite of all the weaponry are the dual blades, which are easily used, particularly so in doing what Ezio does best, assassinating! With just a touch of a button you can dispatch perfectly any two targets at the same time. Alternatively, you can use them in self defence to counter attack a guard (displaying some of my favourite kill animations) and it is most satisfying to see.
A nice touch to this game is the notoriety mete. When you commit crime or do something the guards don’t like, it builds up, and the ways to get it back down again are by either pulling down wanted posters with your face on it (some of which are in crazy places nobody would ever see!), killing a snitch who’s running around the town, or bribing the town criers in the area.
It makes the choices in the game you make much more important. For example, if you wanted to steal a treasure in a building guarded by up to four soldiers, you could drop down from above and assassinate them using the dual hidden blades, walk in and take the treasure. This would up your notoriety considerably, but be far more satisfying.
Alternatively, you could hire courtesans and send them over to distract the guards, taking them away from their post and enabling you to sneak in unnoticed and take the treasure without affecting you notoriety. This is just one example of how variety and choice can make a difference in the game. I didn’t want there to be any real spoilers in this review, so I’ll leave it up to you to figure out the others.
The last big improvement I want to mention is with regards to the Animus, or rather, the amount of game play that took place outside of it in the first game compared to this one. In the first game pretty much all of the sections where you controlled Desmond involved you going from your room (or cell!) to the Animus, and with some dialogue with the scientists, and that was about it. Most of it could just have been shown as cut scenes instead and saved a lot of time and hassle.
In this version, however, each time you return from being in the Animus, you actually get to do things that make sense to the story and involve more than just walking from point A to point B, interacting with the different characters, the visions, exploring your surroundings and more. Again, I don’t want to give too much away ,but rest assured it’s an all round more enjoyable experience.
To summarize then, Assassin’s Creed II is a vast improvement on its predecessor in pretty much every way. The original game deserved no more than three stars, but this instalment is easily worthy of at least four. Depending on the DLC that’s recently come out, I may even consider it a five star game. But for now that will have to wait.