Published on November 17th, 2009 | by prime1
Assassin’s Creed 2 – Review
Summary: The excellent pacing and a sense of progression and reward plays a key role in the success of ACII
As Leonardo da Vinci famously once said, “I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”
That the Italian polymath plays such a central role within the sequel to 2007’s super-successful slash‘em up appears not to be mere coincidence, but rather a deliberate act, for it seems that the team at Ubisoft Montreal have hung on to every word of Leonardo’s quote when approaching their follow-up, listening intently to players’ criticisms before applying a remedy.
And they needed to, really. Despite its success, there have been very few games in recent years to split opinion quite so much as Assassin’s Creed. For every fan it had its critic; for every lover a hater; and while there were many who persevered, just as many simply gave up. And it was easy to see why. While Ubi had delivered a visually stunning game that offered an element of gameplay relatively unexplored at that point, digging below the surface exposed sloppy errors in design and some mindnumbing gameplay repetition.
But it did have an excellent framework – the cohesive parkour, the fantastic architecture, the glorious visuals and a rich narrative – and ACII makes good use of this, before balancing it with fun and varied missions, an expanded combat system, economic micro-management (albeit fairly briefly), and even more compelling storyline and location. The new Italian milieu is not just stunningly gorgeous, but fantastically rich; no longer just an empty shell of a playground, but a complete world filled with riches to find crevices to explore and stories to tell. Each collectible now has its own appropriate reward, handsomely compensating the player who takes the time to find all of the hidden feathers (ACII’s equivalent to AC’s flags), dig out all six seals from the secret locations, find each of the 300 scattered treasures or uncover the secrets left by Subject 16. It’s an exploration-fan’s dream game.
A similar level of thought has been put into lead character Ezio Auditore da Forenze, another ancestor of Nolan North’s Desmond Miles, this time of Italian heritage. A far cry from the relatively dull and one-dimensional Altair, Ezio actually has a degree of personality. No mere puppet, he shows reasoning behind his actions, and as a character evolves from boylike figure into a cold, ruthless killer you’ll start to feel some empathy for him – something impossible to achieve with Altair.
It’s this excellent pacing, and a sense of progression and constant reward that plays a key role in the success of Assassin’s Creed II. Indeed, in complete contrast to the first game, ACII actually gets better as it goes along, as you unlock new regions within Italy, are showered with more gadgets and abilities, are gifted with more diverse missions and become more wrapped up in the ongoing conspiracy. The ridiculous prerequisite of fulfilling repetitive side-missions has been removed too, allowing the player to dip in and out of the story and side-quests at will, while others tweaks like an expanded armoury and improved combat system that allows you to purchase weapon upgrades and equip armour also bulks out the brawling experience.
But while there have been many big improvements, you do still get the overall impression that AC’s whole is still greater than the sum of its parts, and that each element isn’t quite as good as it perhaps could be. The combat – though slightly expanded upon since the first game – isn’t anywhere near as refined as the similar system found in Batman: Arkham Asylum and can often feel slightly clumsy, while the climbing mechanics don’t feel quite as confident as those found in infamous or Uncharted 2, due to an awkward and overcomplicated control setup. Technical flaws on the PS3 version also mar the overall immersion factor, with the game engine proving prone to screen tearing and the occasional bit of slowdown. Pop-in too, becomes particularly noticeable while riding horseback across Italian landscape.
But these are mere slight imperfections in an otherwise perfect package, and Ubi Montreal’s willingness to act on the criticisms leveled the original rather than simply churn out a reskinned version (which they could have quite easily done) is highly commendable. And there’s still so much that we’ve refrained from talking about – stuff that you are simply better off seeing for yourselves. Assassin’s Creed II is every bit the game the original should have been… and then some. It’s a game so rich in character and reward that we’ll be returning to it right up until the time the third one rolls around.
As da Vinci also said, “There are three classes of people: those who see, those who see when they are shown, those who do not see”. Judging by Assassin’s Creed II, the Ubisoft team definitely fall into the middle bracket.