STAFF REVIEW of Assassin's Creed 2 (Xbox 360)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009.
by Adam Dileva

Assassin's Creed 2 Box art The original Assassin?s Creed was a very love-hate relationship for most gamers. On one hand you absolutely loved how new and cool it was to finally be an assassin while on the other you had to do very mundane and repetitive missions just to get to those awesome 5 minutes of actually stalking your prey. Luckily Ubisoft has listened to the many complaints and suggestions and has made a sequel that makes me love the series once again.

Everything has been rethought from the ground up and in general is simply a better game overall because of it. The mission structure is completely new, you can buy new weapons and armor that have stats, you can gain money and spend it on your hometown for upgrades and this time you can even fly and swim. Everything is bigger and better and I truly wish I could replay the first game with all these improvements as I think many people would have taken to it much easier.

The story is done in two ways just like the original game had; you have Desmond in the real world trying to figure out what is happening to him and then he is reliving his ancestors memories in the Animus machine. Assassin?s Creed 2 starts exactly where the first one left off in the real world with Desmond still locked in the laboratory. I will refrain from spoiling anything plot wise but the action starts almost instantly as you begin as you are still trying to escape from Abstergo.

Familiar faces and new ones appear in the real world to help you and there is a slight but brief recap of what happened in the first game, though it does nowhere near a good enough job of explaining things or why which will confuse many new comers to the series. Even after watching the intro, I had to explain past events in the previous game for my wife to understand what was going on, so if you haven?t played the first game, at least read up on what happened; as you are trust right into this story expecting to know what has happened previously.

Desmond is no longer living Altair?s memories; the new star is Ezio Auditore who is from the renaissance in Italy. Again; I will refrain from spoiling anything but you are living a whole chunk of Ezio?s life and not just thrust into someone?s story after they?ve already become an assassin. Needless to say, something very dramatic happens to Ezio that is life altering and he is set out for revenge. Ezio?s character seems much more relatable as he?s very charming and means well which seems almost contrast to the Altair character previously.

As you continue on you unlock a massive conspiracy and the story is actually quite engaging and flows very well from segment to segment, though this is also partly because of the complete mission restructure from the previous game, but more on that later.

Another big difference you will notice from the first game is that previously after almost every kill you exited the Animus to do a brief real world segment and then back in you went. It is no longer like this as your friends are able to communicate with you while you are controlling Ezio in the Animus. Some may like this more consistent flow but I do miss the odd break and real world blending of storyline.

If you?ve played the first Assassin?s Creed you will know exactly how to play this one as the button mapping is basically the same. There are some different moves to learn but for the most part it will feel natural as soon as you pick it up.

Ezio?s notoriety will show how incognito you may or may not be to the guards. Guards will only react to illegal actions such as looting, killing, pushing them, etc. This means that you no longer are forced to walk in front of a guard just so you don?t get noticed like in the previous game.

Guards will either ignore you or recognize you on sight based on the level of your notoriety (think of wanted star levels in GTA) but there are many things you can do to lower your notoriety if you wish; such as removing posted signs (though sometimes theses make no sense since they are up high where no one would ever see them), bribing heralds to stop talking about you, or killing officials. The choice is yours of how you want to clear your name, should you even want to.

Combat also keeps the same layout and mechanics from the first game and will feel just as natural. Guards will have arrows above their head showing how soon they will start to notice and attack Ezio which is very handy to see how long you have before you have to scoot.

The minimap will show guards as red dots on the map like before, but now they will be bold and bright if they are on the same level as you (roof or ground) or lighter and faded if they are below or above you. It makes it almost too easy at times to travel around simply looking at the map, but it is a welcomed addition if it means less frustration.

When you kill your enemies in combat, dead bodies can now be picked up and moved and even thrown into hay nails to hide the evidence of what you?ve done. Escaping is also done much like in the first game though now much easier and quicker to do. You can find a spot to hide like previously, but now you can also simply just leave the last known position zone (large radius) and eventually they?ll stop looking for you (just like leaving the police?s radius area in GTA). Again, this makes it very easy to escape now, but I do like how I no longer have to run across the whole city just to restart over or fix a mistake I did.

Even blending in with crowds is back but now you are able to blend in with almost any group of crowd as long as you follow the lighted area on the floor; no more having to find just monks to follow around and blend in with.

Ezio has many more options for fighting in combat than Altair ever did; the amount of combat weapons you receive is much more than the original ever had. You have a poison blade for close range kills with a delay and even have a hidden pistol later in the game much like your blade. Of course you are also able to hire thieves and thugs to take care of guards and slow them down but now you can even hire a group of prostitutes to make some guards get out of your way easily instead of fighting. If you really need some chaos to distract some guards, you can even throw a bunch of money on the ground and see all the peasants push and shove to get the florins on the ground while the guards try and restore order.

Along with new combat moves and weapons comes new mobility as well. Your friend Leonardo Da Vinci is a master at inventing and he makes all your upgrades as you bring him hidden codex pages. Arguably one of his most famous inventions; the Flying Machine, eventually becomes one of Ezio?s tools to travel around and help with his assassinations. It?s something new for the series and definitely shows that Ubisoft has been thinking of new ideas for the players.

Missions are no longer your standard 3 different types that had you scouting, do a quick mission or two and then ultimately killing your target only to repeat it over again. The whole structure has been reworked completely from the ground up and is probably the biggest improvement to the game as the mundane missions in the first title is what caused many people to never finish it.

Along with your main missions and assignments which are more unique you now have assassination contracts, races, beat up events and courier assignments that add many hours to the longevity of the game.

Another issue many people griped about previously was how much time is simply took to get from point A to point B, especially if it was in separate cities and you had to run the horse there. Now there are fast travel spots in cities so that you can quickly get from city to city if you wish to save time. The horses are still there for those that enjoyed that part and there are no longer guards along the path that attack you for no reason at all like previously.

Another addition Ubisoft has dedicated a great amount of time to giving more breadth to the game is the inclusion of tombs scattered and hidden throughout the cities. You need to explore these to find all the seals of past legendary assassins and gather all 6 to get the infamous Altair?s outfit and to learn much more.

The great thing about these underground tombs is that it is a great change of pace and has a very Prince of Persia feel to it as it is more based on the puzzle and traversing aspects instead of combat. I only wish there were a few more of these tombs, so here is to hoping for some future DLC.

Money plays a big part in Assassin?s Creed 2 and is gained a few ways; looting dead bodies and pickpocketing. Looting is an easy way to get some spare cash from your fallen enemies as long as guards don?t see you do it and pickpocketing is easily done by holding the A button and walking through a crowd of people. As long as you don?t stick around too long for people to notice it?s you the one stealing, it?s an easy way to get some cash quickly.

Why do you need money? Well there are many options of weapons and armor to buy and upgrade but also equipment like belts that will hold more knives and medicine. Villa income is like an allowance you get so often based on how well you?ve renovated and kept the Auditore hometown. The more you invest, the more return overtime. As you buy and upgrade shops you get a bigger discount and newer items so it?s worth spending money on your hometown as the return is much bigger in the long run.

Splurge for the Collector?s Edition and you will gain the standard bonus disc and soundtrack but you will also get a very interesting art book if you are into that kind of thing. 2 in-game maps are also included for even more gameplay but easily the coolest thing about the Collector?s is the 8.5? Ezio statue that would look perfect on any gamers? shelf.

Nothing is perfect; some scenes have very low res textures and there is still clipping here and there, though nothing to majorly take away from the experience. You will also run up walls you don?t mean to and fall off ledges as well when not intended.

Ezio is able to stack his health and healing items so much that you should never really worry about dying in combat. Everything overall seems much easier but not in the sense of being simpler. It just seems like much has been done to soften the blow of player mistakes which makes the game much more approachable.

There are so many side quests and collectables that even if you want to blow quickly through the main story (which still takes some time) there is always something else for you to do if you need a change of pace.

Simply put, Assassin?s Creed 2 is a much more enjoyable experience front to back and much better put together. It may not feel as new as it did the first time you played the game but the game as an experience overall is simply everything the first game should have been. While many people may have been turned off from the monotony and repetitiveness of the first game, to those people I simply ask to give this sequel a chance as it really is that much better this time around.

When the worst I can say about a game is about its textures, this should speak volumes for how great everything else is. I am eagerly waiting for part 3 of the series and can?t even guess what Ubisoft can improve on next time as this game is a complete package all in one. If you even remotely enjoyed the first game you will not regret diving right into this sequel that truly does deserve the 2 beside its title.

Overall: 9.2 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.9 / 10
Sound: 9.3 / 10


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