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Assassin's Creed II review

AT A GLANCE
  • Huge, brilliantly realized world
  • Lots of new ways to kill horrible people
  • Buildings are beautifully rendered, fully climbable
  • Scanlines and pop-in mar the visuals
  • Faces look kind of dated (think GTA IV)
  • Accents can get a leetel-a seelly

About Desmond

Like the original, Assassin's Creed II tells two parallel stories: that of Ezio, and that of his descendant, Desmond Miles, a hapless test subject kidnapped by a shadowy corporation in the near future. These both tie into a larger narrative about a centuries-long secret war between two Crusades-era sects, the Templars – who’ve been using “Pieces of Eden,” mystic relics of a long-dead civilization, to exert near-total control over humanity – and the Assassins, who resist the Templars in the name of free will.


Above: See how clumsy Desmond is at fighting off guards during the game’s first few minutes? He gets better 

If you hated Desmond’s sequences in the first game, you’ll be happy to know you only play as him three times – and when you do, you’ll be doing far more interesting things than just skulking around and reading emails. Beginning seconds after Assassin’s Creed left off, ACII sees Desmond busted out of confinement by his new accomplice Lucy (played by Kristen Bell) and taken to a secret Assassin safehouse, where he’s hooked up to a new Animus – a machine that enables Desmond to experience “genetic memories” coded into his DNA. This time, however, it’s with the aim of experiencing the life of one of his ancestors – Ezio – so that he’ll learn all the secrets and assassination techniques Ezio did.

The next two times you’ll see him, it’ll be as he tries out the things he’s learned – and after the third time, you won’t be left with another frustrating, super-cryptic cliffhanger ending. Mind you, the ending’s still kind of a cliffhanger – this is the second game in a trilogy, after all. But you’ll learn a lot about the game’s suddenly apocalyptic backstory as it closes, and the result is far more satisfying and conclusive than the first game’s weird, glyph-covered wall.


Above: Maybe you’ll like him now, maybe you won’t. Either way, he’s not around for long 

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get back to meat of the game.


A violence of history

As we said earlier, a big part of why Assassin’s Creed II succeeds is because of the level of detail that went into its Renaissance backdrop. That’s not just limited to putting canals in Venice, or creating accurate, climbable models of famous Italian landmarks – every building, person, object and weathered brick looks and feels like it belongs in its respective time and city. Town criers rattle off the news as you wander near them, shopkeepers yell for your attention and everyone reacts with wonder and fear whenever you start clambering up a wall.


Above: No, he’s not going to hurt himself. Shut up 

Sure, it breaks the immersion a little that the criers and shopkeepers repeat themselves a lot, and that the guards, mercenaries, doctors, thieves and courtesans wear nearly identical outfits in every city you visit. But overall, the illusion of historical accuracy holds up pretty well, and it’s helped along by the in-game database, which can actually be an entertaining read. Give it a look every so often, and you might actually learn a few things about architects, the professions available to women in Renaissance society and exactly what the hell a “doge” is.


Above: Oh hey, there’s that cleared up, sort of 

Another potential immersion-breaker: everyone speaks in slightly exaggerated Italian accents, with bits of actual Italian thrown in for flavor. The effect is a bit like watching a less-grim version of The Godfather Part II, and while it can be hard to take seriously sometimes, it suits the game well. If you absolutely must have slavish realism in your games, however, you can switch the spoken-language track to full-on Italian (or French, or Spanish) with English subtitles. To give you an idea of how the Italian accents sound against actual Italian, we’ve prepared the following mashup of the two vocal tracks:


Above: Note that the background music in the Italian version isn’t present in English, for some reason

Accents aside, the thing that really cements ACII’s immersiveness is that each of the five cities has a unique look and vibe. For example, in addition to being surrounded by enormous, varied tracts of rural land, the three smaller cities each have a distinct feel: Monteriggioni is defined by high, domineering fortress walls and narrow streets, while San Gimignano’s soaring gray towers contrast sharply with its low houses and shops. Forli, meanwhile, sports a lot of ugly brick buildings whose gray hues and saggy feel echo the surrounding foggy wetlands.

Meanwhile, the sizable city of Florence has haphazard buildings, busy streets, lots of relatively new-seeming buildings and a skyline dominated by huge cathedrals. And the comparatively huge Venice (the last city you’ll unlock) has ubiquitous canals (complete with gondolas), lots of tall, close-huddling buildings and – once you’ve opened up certain parts of the city – Carnival celebrants.


Above: Not too bad for staying hidden in Ezio’s usual getup, really 


Your civic duty

Monteriggioni is also unique in that it starts out as fairly decrepit; Ezio’s uncle’s villa, where he eventually goes to live, is in a bad state of disrepair. Half the town’s buildings are boarded up, and there aren’t many people on the streets. Once you’ve gone out into the world and earned some money, though, you can come back and invest in Monteriggioni’s local businesses, or renovate its abandoned buildings through a simple menu interface.

As it comes back to life, the town will gradually take on a warmer, livelier look. Play your cards right, and it’ll also ensure that you’ll never have to worry about money again, thanks to the regular payments you’ll get as landlord. (Until you start getting those payments, you’ll have to rely on mission bounties and whatever money you can can pickpocket or loot from dead bodies.)


Above: Yep, you can rebuild the brothel AND the church 

Of course, that begs the question of what else you can spend that money on. In addition to hiring assorted scumbags to help you deal with guards, you can use it to buy works of art for your villa (which increase the town’s overall value), as well as treasure maps, new and more powerful weapons (there are 22 in all, although PS3 owners can potentially get 26 – more on that later), new pieces of armor (which boost your health) and even dye jobs for your costume. Note that that last item is purely aesthetic; changing your colors might look cool, but it won’t fool guards into thinking you’re someone else.


Above: Horses, meanwhile, are always free 

Not that you’ll really need to, though; guards in ACII are pretty easy to shake, although they tend to get in your face an awful lot. If you do something they don’t like in front of them – like killing someone, picking pockets, looting corpses or tearing down a wanted poster – they’ll either start harassing you or draw their swords and charge. At that point, you can fight them (which we’ll get to in a second) or run, in which case you’ll have to break their line of sight and escape from a GTA IV-style “wanted” circle on your mini-map.

No matter what you do, though, it’ll raise your Notoriety, a persistent wanted level that makes guards quicker to attack if they notice you acting up. You can lower this by tearing down wanted posters, bribing town criers or assassinating “corrupt” officials who are bearing “false” witness against you (for your very real crimes).


Above: What? No! This never happened 

Next up: How’s the fighting?

More Info

Release date: Nov 17 2009 - Xbox 360, PS3
Mar 09 2010 - PC (US)
Nov 20 2009 - Xbox 360, PS3
Mar 09 2010 - PC (UK)
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Genre: Action
Published by: Ubisoft
Developed by: Ubisoft Montreal
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content
PEGI Rating:
18+

17 comments

  • TheIronMaiden - November 17, 2009 10:02 p.m.

    Just bought the game last night. Quite the number of improvements from the first title. Great review, great game.
  • zombiekiller27 - November 18, 2009 1:12 a.m.

    this game is going to be awesome!hope they made missions funner?great review!!!
  • Ricochet3438 - November 18, 2009 1:45 a.m.

    ya and i hope they rly did eliminate the repetitiveness. Once in AC1, i searched for like 4 hours strait jst to find one side mission tht i needed 2 complete the assassination!
  • Japanjack - November 18, 2009 3:55 a.m.

    Very well written review! I wasn't sure if I wanted to just rent this and now I shall buy it (eventually). Thanks Mikel!
  • n00b - November 18, 2009 4:09 a.m.

    ...must resist... aww hell *first* anyway, seems this one came out a lot better than the last one. good to know the developers knew what was wrong with the first one might just pick it up
  • speno93 - November 18, 2009 5:11 a.m.

    wonderful, i expected nothing less for this fantastic game i really want it now.
  • lnksmartt - November 18, 2009 1:21 p.m.

    This game really is fun, and its actually harder to stay alive now with the health system the way it is
  • Greed - November 18, 2009 6:45 p.m.

    I beat the game before Mikel, and I liked it very very much. In fact, I had all but five achievements before the game even came out. However, the achievements that are left seem very very hard. Throw sand in the faces of 4 guards? They hit you while you collect it! Sweep four guards with a long weapon? All I can do with a spear is stab! Help me, Mikel!
  • Makk_Mizzy - November 21, 2009 11:34 a.m.

    I must admit this game I knew wouldn't let me down but, it is amazing at how repititous it isn't with all the new quirks, gadgets, assassination options, puzzles, landmarks, being able to make it rain with only 10 florins and watch the people of their cities go crazy just for a few florins and while they scavenge for the florins I simply walk thru the crowds and pickpocket everyone that is unaware of the diversion and loot them all blindly! I also love the chokeslam, OMG! This time around the game is far more compelling and creative. I was blown away by the intro, with Ezio and his family being framed and his father and two brothers were lynched for a falsely committed crime. Also im playing Left4Dead2 so I can't beat this game as fast as I normally would if I didn't have a girlfriend that lives with me, a full-time working job, and a social life like others that do not have these three key things to optimize ones GAME-TIME!!!!
  • XBLsponge - November 24, 2009 9:27 p.m.

    cool, can't wait to get it! sadly i will have to wait till christmas due to low gaming funds.if you have it in your heart to get this game early please send a donation to po box:assasinscreed2isawsome,united kigdom, london.thank you. (joke)
  • Benji - December 10, 2009 6:53 a.m.

    Best Game Ever....!!!
  • BertTheTurtle - January 3, 2010 4:30 a.m.

    When Uncle Mario came in and said "It's a-me, Mario!" I couldn't stop laughing.
  • BeingShifty - February 20, 2010 10:25 a.m.

    This is the best game ever!!! I have completed it and only have 2 achievments to do, i think they are hard as hell to get, collect every feather and where the cape in every city. :@ it makes me angry that you have to collect every feather to get the cape!! lol anyway AWSOME GAME!!
  • jaredmaracano - April 11, 2010 9:52 p.m.

    best game owwwww this games fire
  • gavinhamm - April 21, 2010 4:52 p.m.

    OMG this is the best game i've ever played!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • pakk99 - May 31, 2010 2:33 p.m.

    AC2 does what GTA4, MW2, and Halo 3 couldn't do: significantly improve an already great game without breaking anything. The other titles didn't even bother trying.
  • Blackhelm - July 25, 2010 9:41 p.m.

    Excellent game. Only one thing annoying me at the mo, is it possible to revisit the assassins tomb missions to try to get into the secret locations within these areas. There are three that I missed as I was doing the scenarios and I was assured by someone that I would be able to revisit once I had completed the game, but so far they wont let me back in. Has anyone done this, how is it done, please?

Showing 1-17 of 17 comments

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