It's been a while coming and Ubisoft have said right from the start that they have listened to critique from both press and fans. Having spent quality time with Assassin's Creed 2 as of the 16/11/ I can say, yes they have and in spades. I want to stress this from the beginning, this game would not have been possible without Assassin's Creed but the sequel ups the ante in every way possible.
No spoilers you'll be glad to know, just how I like it. The game begins right where Assassin's Creed left off and you're quickly brought up to speed if you haven't played the game and refreshed on the story if you have. Soon you're back in Desmond's shoes and the adventure continues. And that's all you'll get from me, as I said, spoilers. Suffice it to say that the story is extremely well told, interesting and provides several really good dramatic moments. There are slight quick-time events that can impact the story cut-scenes and they are little additions meant to enhance the scene or make certain things easier, if you miss one, it's not really game over.
Set in Renaissance Italy during a tumultuous time in history, Creed 2 puts you firmly in the virtual shoes of Ezio Auditore Da Firenze, a young Florentine nobleman who has a cushy life of wine, women, song and more until something happens. Right from the start you can feel the improvements over Assassin's Creed, the free-running is more fluid and Ezio has a better grasp (literally) of the environment. The whole system has been tuned and there are numerous subtle changes to it. Ezio climbs faster and more accurately than Altair and it's needed since the enemies can navigate the environments just as quickly as you can.
Gone are the investigation missions that were so repetitious in the first game, replaced by a cohesive story-based questline and dozens of optional objectives such as exploring for hidden glyphs, solving interesting and varied logic puzzles and piecing together an ancient Assassin Order secret that could unlock the Truth about the world as we know it. There's literally almost too much to do here but it never becomes overwhelming and additionally there's even a monetary economic system that allows you to purchase upgrade moves, armour and weapons for Ezio as you progress along the story.
The game's balance is perfectly tuned as well, so things are tricky but never impossible and you can approach the various missions with a variety of different tactics. Money as previously mentioned plays a massive role in the game and there are numerous ways beyond upgrades that you can utilise the economic system in Creed 2. You can hire several factions to help you complete objectives, or provide a suitable distraction for the guards in the game.
Mercenaries: tough fighters, these are a walking army and will follow Ezio on the ground battling guards and providing backup.
Courtesans: ladies of the night, beautiful and distracting. They can be used to lure unsuspecting guards away from important objectives, money caches and even into traps. They can also act as a mobile group for blending in crowds.
Thieves: sneaky pick-pockets and light-fingered masters of the Taffer Arts (yes, I loved Thief: the Dark Project), they can follow Ezio as he free-runs and also provide a distraction luring guards away and across the rooftops.
Ezio's actions are measured by the guards and tracked with a notoriety meter; high profile moves around the various cities will attract attention. If you murder a guard or a group of guards around the city, you're going to become more noticeable and when you're no longer anonymous, guards will react to the slightest move, even going so far as to become alert when you're around. To remove your GTA-style wanted level, you can kill officials, bribe heralds and even tear down posters around the city with your name and likeness on.
Ezio can learn how to blend in, rather than holding down A and walking around like a monk, you must actually use the crowds, benches or groups to move unseen when you're approaching a target or shadowing someone. Moving at the same pace as a group of people makes you invisible to guards and suspicious characters. It's possible with skill to be able to move almost unseen through the streets, even when in a restricted zone or when the guards are on high alert.
Combat has been upgraded as well, Ezio has a wide array of moves at his disposal and even more can be bought from the Fight Trainer later on. Advanced moves are the key to success in the game and these hidden techniques transform the combat in Assassin's Creed II into a swashbuckling and visceral experience. The counter kill, dodge and other moves are now easier to perform and additionally to this Ezio can disarm his enemies, take their weapons and use them in some pretty stylish one-shot kills if you can get the timing down right.
Ezio can also use his hidden blade (or double blade) in combat, it's a fast weapon and it can pulverize most enemies as long as you can catch them in a good enough combo. Ezio will need all his fighting tricks since there are new enemy types to contend with. Brutes are massive armoured foes that take a lot to put down, unless you can quick-step around them and plant a blade in their back. Or you could disarm one and smash their weapon into their head. Seekers will check hiding-spots for Ezio and stab at haystacks. Runners will chase you down even across the rooftops and they can catch you up, since they are faster than Ezio.
Ezio's arsenal also includes numerous gadgets, crafted from ancient Assassin's secret texts, by his good friend: Leonardo Da Vinci. He is Ezio's Q or R akin to James Bond and he upgrades your arsenal throughout the game, from double hidden blades to poison delivery systems and more. All of this gives you a greater range of options to get your various targets. Do you toss down some coins to attract the crowds, slip through the mob and sneak up with a poison blade to assassinate your quarry or do you get up high and wait for the right moment to strike? Escaping ninja-style with a smoke bomb!
Ezio's assassination arsenal has been upgraded, you can do the air-assassination now just by being in the right place, pressing X when the option lights up on the HUD. You can kill from a hiding spot, from a hanging ledge and basically virtually anywhere that Ezio can get the drop on the guards from.
There are other moves, hidden treasures and so much more to unlock/find in Assassin's Creed 2. Money also plays a big part a little later in the game, when you gain the Assassin's Stronghold, whilst I won't tell you what you can do there, it's a pretty big and important part of Ezio's life, with just as many secrets as Atair himself.
Tied into the achievement system of Assassin's Creed II is Ubisoft's beta of UPlay, this is an online service that will offer numerous rewards for completing the various challenges in the game. Right now, it serves AC2, Ruse and ConViction. Points are gained from performing in-game challenges (tied in to specific achievements) and they can be redeemed for things in Creed 2 or saved to unlock a new mp mode in ConViction. Time will tell if this service is successful but since I've unlocked a few UPlay points I can highly recommend the extra quest area for Creed 2.
Assassin's Creed 2 is bigger than the previous game as well, with no central hub area to travel through and lots of places to explore. There's also a fast-travel system later on that allows you to get to important locations quickly and safely.
Ezio can also swim and there are gondolas and boats to help navigate the water environments in the game, water can be used as a place to hide bodies too, since you can pick up enemy guards, weapons and so on now. So you can dump a body in a haystack or throw it in a canal, it's up to you.
As you visit important locations the Animus will tag them for a database that you can review at your leisure. Not only will it mark important sites it will also give you a little bit of history on each significant place, this means you'll pick up some facts from the 1400's too, amongst all the brutal slaying. (the gore in the game is understated)
There are a few texture glitches I've seen in the game, but they have been few and far between. Mostly if you're not looking for them, as I was, you won't really spot them at all. Apart from that, the graphics are excellent with a superb job done on the texture and design for the characters and models. The real time day/night adds a new level of detail to Assassin's Creed 2 and impacts more than just the eye-candy; guards alter their shifts as the sun goes down, so it's best to plan accordingly. Renaissance Italy has been brought to life in stunning ways for the game and the architectural detail is simply stunning. From the highest view-point in Firenze to the waterways of Venice itself, the game is a beautiful one to behold.
The animations in Assassin's Creed 2 are suitably improved over the first, subtle alterations to the free running and a larger array of combat moves for the combat are all tied in with little or no miss-timed frames or errors. Ezio comes into his own when brawling and later on when he's upgraded with new combat techniques, it transforms into a swashbuckling thrill-ride as you take on multiple foes using a variety of moves. Hand to hand disarms, using their weapon against them, fierce counters and all. Everything about the animation screams quality and it's hard to pick out a favourite, if I had to, then it would have to be the new double-blade attacks.
It occasionally does something stupid when free-running, almost like a panicked human might do, so it can be forgiven. For the most part it's a step up from Assassin's Creed and provides a suitable challenge in terms of combat and stealth, the guards are observant and they react to changes in their environment. Dead bodies can be used to draw their attention to a specific spot and trick them. In combat though, the various archetypes force you to adapt your strategy on the fly and they will use a variety of moves against you, team tactics and basically push you hard. Brutes will smash your defences and some of the other archetypes will use special moves such as vicious counters and their own and brutal combos. The city folk also have their own AI and may well call guards to their aid if they feel threatened by Ezio's actions.
The clash of steel, the thud of feet on the wood or the crack of boots on tiles are all realised in this game, along with the sounds of city life, the wilderness and so on. Basically, the sound design provides a superb counterpoint to the graphical design and complements it perfectly. It's flawless and the use of key notes to denote specific special objects such as hidden treasure chests and feathers for instance, even objectives.
Jesper Kyd returns to the helm for the soundtrack and yes, it's gorgeous. Jesper is a veteran game music composer and from his work on Hitman as well, it shows. He has composed a flowing and epic soundtrack that brings the world to life and counterpoints Ezio's story as it progresses.
Voice and Dialogue
Turn the subtitles on if you want a lesson in Italian swear words and phrases. The voice work is exemplary with Nolan (Drake) North returning as Desmond Myles and other actors doing an excellent job with the very well written dialogue, the complete package is great and there are some highly humorous moments between the characters. My firm favourite is the portrayal of Leonardo himself, great work.
None, if you're looking for some...I am afraid you're all out of luck. AC2 is a delightful single player experience.
Ubisoft created a game that grabbed our attention the first time around, it was flawed but it was the platform that allowed them to build the game that it was meant to be. Assassin's Creed 2 is the game that deserves to be called sequel, it adds so much into the core gameplay, wraps it all in a tight control system and delivers a massive injection of fun to boot. It's a huge game and whilst you can rush through the core story in a few days, you won't get the best out of the game if you don't unlock all of the secrets - there are many rewards hidden in Assassin's Creed 2 and treasure/loot hunters will want to find them all.
It's not without a few bugs, texture wise and a few issues here and there but for the most part, Assassin's Creed 2 stands as one of the best adventure driven swashbuckling epics I've had the pleasure to play on any platform, next to Uncharted 2. A flawless combat system combines with superb free running to deliver an epic story that twists and turns like a snake, dramatic, unexpected and most of all fun. Ezio might not be Altair but this new hero to don the eagle-hood, is perhaps more likeable and definitely more skilled.
Now I am definitely excited to see what they can do with the next game. Also, if you're looking for a free-roaming GTA-style Batman game Eidos, here's a hint, get Ubisoft to make it! Batman would be awesome with Altair/Ezio's free-running and this engine.
This is my Game of the Year, without a shadow of a doubt. Sorry Uncharted 2, but as much as I love you...Creed 2 has a massive dose of longevity in single player.