We made no secret about our love for the original Assassin’s Creed. We scored it glowingly, took some flak from you guys, and stood proudly by our 10 like a Christ-like figure up against an inquisition of haters. Okay, perhaps that’s a bit much, but it’s still a somewhat appropriate analogy given the game’s biblical setting and that the original Assassin’s Creed was just one of those games people either love or hate, with very little in between.
Above: Have a look, boys!
Take it or leave it: We’re of the opinion that Assassin’s Creed II is a shining example of the maturity of modern gaming. Oh, it’s got all the blood, guts, and even an early safe-for-Showtime sex scene to earn such a classification from the ESRB, but the original Assassin’s Creed has become one of those games people often defend by describing it as “an acquired taste.” Not unlike a fine wine. Or a really expensive beer.
Above: Pure Sophistication
Pinkies up, bitchy readers! The original Creed demanded a little more from the player than your average game that lets you unlock triple jumps and rocket launchers. “Please acknowledge the technical feat of designing a city where every brick retains not only a distinct interactivity, but character that reflects an actual setting in history.” “Please take the time to learn the rhythmic combat without on screen prompts and you’ll become a better badass in time.” “Please accept the slower pacing of the story, and take your time to allow the journey to be just as important as the goal.” “Please discover everything and your reward will be a sense of accomplishment far more satisfying than an exploding sword.”
That’s all well and good, but what does it matter when this is all your detractors see:
FOR THE HATERS
So let’s address the haters first off. We’ve just returned from a lengthy hands-on of Assassin’s Creed II, so believe us when we say that the naysayers have been given ample reasons to cast off their preconceptions, while the rest of us have been given much more to love.
“Waah! Boo Hoo! Assassin’s Creed doesn’t give me enough to immediately do!” Shut it, mister. Right from the get go, you’ll see a map populated by new icons to interact with. Viewpoint marks and assassination targets will be instantly recognizable to fans, but there are other icons for races, quick kills, and many others that will be familiar to gamers at large. Which is good, since a lot of people weren’t up to the task of several missions worth of investigation before the climatic kills.
You see, with the architectural framework firmly in place, Ubisoft’s been freed up to create a billion or so other objectives and that should silence the people who slighted the original for being slow and repetitious. For instance, you’ll see points on the map where you can tear down wanted posters of protagonist, Ezio to lower your notoriety (think a Wanted meter) as well as marked locations for hidden money. These can be easy to spot or micro parkour-puzzles in their own right; either way they’re optional, and more excitingly, representative of Assassin’s Creed II’s kickass new economy.
Part of the reason Assassin’s Creed has emerged as one of this generations most divisive games is that impatient gamers had a little trouble with its play-at-your-own-pace style. ACII’s addressed this with several mammoth indoor sequences that allow you to acrobat through environments in much more linear fashion.
Sort of secret, sort of optional - players who simply desire a Point A to Point B structure should delight in the towering platform puzzles found within underground catacombs and church interiors hidden throughout the game. After all, nobody does platforming better than AC’s Anvil Engine.
15th century Italy comes alive with all the hustle and bustle of a Renaissance marketplace, and there are plenty of new ways with which to spend your hard earned coins. Buy art, maps, visit a frighteningly mask-clad doctor for health, and best of all, a blacksmithy for a little enhanced weaponry. Because what good is all the new stuff to do if you don’t have new implements of death to do it with? (Can you say… Hand Cannon?)
The wealth of options to tackle at your leisure conjures up fond memories of Crackdown, but in terms of breathing new life into a digital setting, Assassin’s Creed II is a helluva lot closer to the feat pulled off by Grand Theft Auto. Like Altair, Ezio’s physical interaction with his setting is second to none, but his actions can have a far greater impact later on.
Better still, monks and haystacks are no longer the only friend of botched stealth. Pay some salacious courtesans to siren off (straight) male pursuers, or bribe a preachy Herald to spread disinformation as to your whereabouts. You can even hire packs of thieves to create distractions and commission kill-ready mercenaries to accompany you and dole out death on harder missions.
Above: “Go forth and distract, henchmen”
Other complaints stemmed from the overall story presentation and the super serious cutscenes. Take note, all ye ADD-addled assassins: you start kicking ass before you even step into the Animus, the ancestral Matrix in the not-too-distant future where a majority of the events of both century-spanning Assassin’s Creeds take place. And while Desmond isn’t quite up to the status of Altair and Ezio, he’s getting there, and throwing some capable licks right out of the gate.
Above: What the Assassin’s Creed official screenshots never show
You’ll take control of a young Ezio very early in his life (something we won’t spoil), and then you begin the game with him, out of hooded costume, as a young man who seeks only to protect his family. Of course, a tragedy comes along and thrusts him into the role of political avenger, a keeper of secrets, and all around murderous badass.
Either way, it makes for a more personal and compelling story. Plus we immediately noticed that the characters introduced in the short cutscenes were far more distinctive than in the last game. The movement in the Italian inhabitants’ facial features alone made for some of the more expressive characters we’ve seen rendered in real-time in a while. And we should also mention that the dialog has more than a few genuinely funny moments. You’ll know it when you hear someone say the word “vagina.”
Above: Pulling idiots over ledges is the purest form of comedy