I will be the first one to admit that I was not a fan of the original Assassin’s Creed. The repetition and blandness of the mission structure grew tiresome after the first couple of missions. This disappointed me as I was really into the story and how it was progressing. When I first popped in the sequel I once again found myself not really digging how things were playing out. Then once I got past the initial introduction I found myself obsessed with the life of Ezio and the world of AC2. The sequel to one of the freshest ideas to come along is exactly what I had hoped the original game had been, and if you are a fan of the action adventure genre you need to own this game without question.
The story picks up immediately where the first game left off with Desmond being sprung from the clutches of the Templars and taken to a new facility to discover yet another one of his ancestor’s memories. The most interesting aspect of the game is how much more involved the narrative this time around. There are engaging stories left and right and you begin to forget about the present day setting altogether as you plot revenge for a crime against your family. The voice acting is phenomenal and the visuals convey a fantastic setting that simply drags you into the experience. Needless to say there are some clever ties back to the original game that fans will likely be pleasantly surprised about.
One of the biggest improvements about AC2 though is the overall structure of the game. In the first outing things became tedious too early and you often felt like you were going through the motions to progress the story. AC2 remedies nearly all of these problems by offering a more cohesive experience that simply keeps you playing for hours on end. The experience is akin to some of the older open-world games where while you are on your way to the next story mission you will take on five side missions simply because they catch your attention. This is easily the biggest improvement and one of the reasons the game will swallow your soul and have you coming back to complete every miniscule task.
Usually in game of this magnitude I find myself growing tired of some of the smaller distractions. AC2 actually made me want to find every feather, upgrade every item in my stronghold and even collect the glyphs hidden throughout each city. They do this by tying in each and every item into a meaningful part of the game. For instance discovering and conquering each tomb will slowly unlock a familiar and powerful piece of armor. It also helps that the game keeps tabs on almost everything you do and lets you know how close you are to completing each objective. The developers really took note of the complaints from the first game and set them right this time around.
The sequel keeps the same free-flow combat and movement system from the first game and makes some significant improvements to the formula. Ezio maneuvers around the environment much like Altair, but with more awareness to his environment. The animation on your character as he traverses the geometry is marvelous. Small nuances such as hitting each step and slowing down to catch a ledge better make navigating the environment as beautiful to watch as it is fun. My only gripe comes from the uncooperative camera that sometimes does not give the best angle of the action. I found myself falling from ledges or poorly judging jump distance leading to more deaths and injuries than most of the combat itself.
Speaking of combat the context sensitive theory returns with quite a few enhancements. Ezio learns a wide array of moves as you progress through the game, all of which become imperative against certain enemies. Counter moves are the highlight and often times the most effective way to deal with foes. Ezio can also disarm opponents and use their weapons against them which are actually quite satisfying when pulled off. Finishing moves are deliciously satisfying as you plunge your sword into enemies and the assassinations are adrenaline-inducing. The weapons in the game should be familiar to fans of the original game and there is a ton to collect. My personal favorite is the poison tipped knife you store in your sleeve. Needless to say there is no shortage of ways to dispose of enemies in AC2.
Like I mentioned earlier there is simply a ton of things to see and do within the world of AC2. As you progress you will gain access to new cities all of which house new challenges, items and things to do. It is almost overwhelming how much access you have within the game. You can pickpocket patrons, hire Courtesans and Thieves to help distract guards, upgrade items in your stronghold to make more money and even purchase paintings to hang in your hideout. The game offers so much to see and do it will take you roughly 30-35 hours to see and do everything within the environment.
Ubisoft has also added in some extra incentive for those that enjoy the idea of Trophies and Achievements. Not to take anything away as collecting the full 1000 gamer points and earning platinum is done exceptionally well, but the innovative reward system called Uplay really sets the standard. This new system earns you points that can be spent on actual items such as exclusive maps and themes for your consoles. This reward system is something gamers have been clamoring for since the inception of Gamerscore. Ubisoft already has support for these scheduled for future games and I applaud them for offering gamers incentive for playing their games.
When it comes to visuals AC2 is an impressive title. The city environments all feel unique and the amount of people roaming the street is impressive. As I mentioned Ezio’s animations are simply awe-inspiring when you see him climb the side of a building. My biggest gripe is that some of the facial animations are downright creepy. I am not sure why this bothers me as much, but likely it has to do with how great the rest of the game looks. Not all characters suffer from it, but the ones that do will really take you out of the immersion. Sound is equally impressive with a fantastic score that is subtle enough not to interfere and memorable enough that you will not easily forget it. Nolan North delivers a solid performance, but the real stars are the actors within the memories. The mixture of authentic Italian and English sound so fantastic. You will quickly fall in love with the accents and the excellently written and delivered dialogue.
Assassin’s Creed 2 is the epitome of how to make a sequel to a game. Take everything that worked, fix everything that was broken, and listen to what the fans want. I admit the first 30 minutes of the game feel really slow and disappointing, but once you move past that it easily becomes one of the best games I have played this year. With so many impressive titles already on the roster for 2009 it will certainly make picking the best that much harder. Regardless if you even remotely liked the first game or love action/adventure games in general AC2 is a must own. There is so much to love about this game and it ranks up there with some of the best in the genre.