Assassin's Creed II

Stabbing people is bad. Even stabbing bad people is bad, though it's obviously tempting. However, thanks to videogames, invented by mice to keep pesky humans occupied, it's possible to act out all things good, bad and downright naughty, while feeling cool and devoid of guilt. In Assassin's Creed II, it'll come as no surprise that you play as an assassin, Ezio this time, and although it's true that the poor bloke goes through some pretty bad stuff early on, the essence of the game is pretty much stabbing people. And it's bludy brilliant. In this world with no real consequences, Ezio becomes embroiled in the fight to rid ancient Italy of conspiracists, murderers and strange, annoying guys who play little banjos in your face. In your face, dammit!

Assassin's Creed II

Firstly, the game needs to get stabbery just right. This involves planning, getting to, acting out and escaping the consequences of the stab or stabs. Step 1: a character involved in the main plot uncovers the identity of one of the conspirators, and tracks them to an interesting location. Step 2: Ezio hops, skips and jumps across tricky obstacles, up walls, across rafters and dangly chandeliers. This step is called free running, and for the most part, it is indeed that. When things flow nicely, Ezio cracks along at a pleasing pace, giving a great feeling of skill and progress. It does take a while to learn how the game will react to your button pushes. Once you can predict how the game will act, things go much more smoothly. Until then, you might find yourself tapping a direction that seems logical, only to see your heroic scamp leap galantly off into midair, with no more parachute than his underpants and poorly attached cape. Fortunately, the ornate cities of Florence, Venice and others in the game are expertly designed, with free running kept in mind, without sacrificing authenticity. No way to cross between two buildings? Surely somebody of the era would have placed a handy rope for hanging washing in the gap!

Step 3 is where things get messy, but it's amazing how clinical you can be. Switching to Eagle Vision, which tends to turn the world a funny shade of blue (don't try it in real life for any prelonged period of time), you'll be able to pick out your target with ease, as well as spot many of the world's interesting collectibles such as feathers, glyphs and treasure chests. Once you're in a position to stalk your prey, options start to open up beautifully, demonstrating the thought put into this by the developers. Spotting a big bail of hay, did you think it'd be funny to hide inside, then pop out to quickly grab your victim to be dealt with out of view? How about simply leaping from the top of a building, landing on your foe, relying on the shock people will feel to allow you to escape? For a real thrill, how about strolling casually towards your opponent, stabbing him with hidden spikes as you pass, unnoticed like a pickpocket until the victim begins to stagger. By the time nearby citizens begin to question what has happened, you've calmly walked away, with not a flicker of suspicion from anyone.

Assassin's Creed II

It's beautiful, but not as beautiful as the cities themselves. The stand-out location has to be Venice, for its beautiful water (somewhat less polluted so many hundreds of years ago), delightful buildings and pleasing variety. That said, Florence, Roma, Forli and the rest of the cast of towns aren't bad either, and as a coherent whole, they're a wonderful slice of ancient Italy to explore. Were it not for the daft amount of killing and rubbish entertainment, it'd be a great place to live. Oh, but did anyone mention that you're doing all this from the future? Yep, there's some dribble about some stuff with a lab and something, and an Animus, erm, and, who actually careS? The future setting, despite being the big surprise for the first game, serves only to reduce the immersion in the game. You'll become so accustomed to taking control of uber assassin Ezio, in a world that's brilliantly crafted and superbly complete, that when you snap back to the future, it's this reality that appears false. Undoubtedly this is the desired effect, and it's discussed somewhat in the game, but that misses the point that, actually, the game might have been better simply set in the past, following Ezio, and forgetting about the future setting entirely. In order to fight some bad stuffs, future forgettable person links to the Animus to learn things as Ezio did during his extraordinary life. Forgettable person is voiced by Nolan North, reprising his role of Prince of Persia and Nathan Drake almost identically, perhaps with just a shade less confidence. It seems completely pointless, but at least it's only a brief component of the game.

The real content in the game is back in Ancient Italy, jumping from incredible viewpoints, taking down hateful bad stuffs, protecting Ezio's remaining family, making new friends and generally becoming a new hero for the local area. It's pretty special stuff, despite the initial control flaws and strange future component. The story lasts a good 15-20 hours, with some additional side missions to take on as well. These include races, which really exploit the free-running element of the game, as well as some entertaining combat missions. Quite often, you encounter women whose husbands have been chasing the wrong chickens, and it's time they were given a stern punching in the face. You can go too far, but the ideal outcome is to slap sense into their gormless faces, sending them back to their loved one. This side avenue isn't a true reflection of the combat, which can involve a variety of weapons, from throwing knives to spears, customizable armour and even poison injections. The latter can lead to some strange consequences as people in the near vicinity gradually become aware of the poisoning. If you fail, for any reason, it's usually time to run, preferably in 3D, but there are other options at Ezio's disposal, including blending into the crowd once out of sight, and throwing money to distract nearby citizens and guards. You can even hire courtesans to user their, erm, charms, to woo the guards away from you.

Assassin's Creed II

The first Assassin's Creed game was a decent success, that made some admirable achievements, but it's various flaws prevented it from true success. A rarity in the world of gaming and films, the sequel somehow betters the original in almost every way. Character models are improved, cities look more realistic, missions are more varied, combat is more exciting and the free running is even smoother. If the third game in the series makes the same leap in quality, it'll be almost impossible to better. Some tiny, remaining flaws are only small niggles, but keep this sequel from perfection. Still, the game is a tremendous achievement, and a fantastic experience to play.

Game details

Game logo

Publisher:

Ubisoft

Developer:

Ubisoft Montreal

Players:

1

Online:

None

Release:

2009-11-19

Trophies:

51

Review summary

Gameplay:

Smooth and thoroughly enjoyable throughout

Graphics:

Some strange faces, but amazing cities

Sound:

Good voicework, suitable music and okay effects

Lastability:

A good long adventure with lots of collectibles

9.1

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