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February 11, 2010

Assassin’s Creed 2 – Xbox 360/PS3

Overall Rating: 9.6

Author: JohnnyXeo
Genre: Action/Adventure
ESRB Rating: M for Mature

Assassin’s Creed 2 is the much anticipated second title in the Assassin’s Creed trilogy that has had me anxiously awaiting its release since shortly after I finished the first instalment. Assassin’s Creed did have its flaws, but Assassin’s Creed 2 appears to have made up for those flaws with some tweaked gameplay, new mission types and a lot more cohesion to give the game a nice glossy polish.

Presentation (9.3)

The attention to detail in this game is remarkable and the game could easily be an armchair traveller’s delight as you follow Ezio through the streets of some of Italy’s most famous locations including: Venice, Florence, Tuscany, Romagna, and Rome during the 1400’s. Everything from the masonry on the buildings, the multitude of characters including peasants, citizens, thieves, guards, doctors and even courtesans that make the streets of these cities come to life, the changing weather, the visible currents in the water and even the detailed use of shadows cast by not only the characters but the buildings and even the smallest flag hanging from above, absolutely nothing seems to have been forgotten.

However, there is not a whole lot of improvement in the graphics from AC1 that I expected with this title, released two years later. The graphics appear to have a bit more polish and any kinks that appeared in AC1 have been ironed out and there is a graphical flow through the game that works really well. As I said there was little improvement from AC1, which in a way is a great testament to how awesome the graphics were in the first game. With some of the promotional videos that were released for AC2 I was expecting some amazing in game movies/cut scenes to be viewed throughout the game, but I was left a bit disappointed when I viewed the typical graphics for this game.

One of the crowning achievements of AC2 is the overall sound presentation right down to the tiniest sound effects and the amazing voice acting. The depth of the voice cast is extensive and is full of veterans from video games and the animation industry. The experience of the cast shone through with how well their voices alone enhanced the atmosphere of the Italian communities. The voice cast is not just limited to the main characters, but to the citizens of each city or town making remarks as you bump into them, merchants selling their goods from their booths or the guards yelling at you when you scale the rooftops.

Along with the excellent voice cast comes the expansive sound effects that filled the game from the dirty side alleys to the guard covered rooftops. It is the little things like bird calls, the fluttering of sheets, the trickling of water, the steady hammer blows from the blacksmith that completed the truly Italian feel. Combat sound effects are also top notch as the clang of two swords smashing into each other or a mace thudding into the face of a guard are all very prominent when in combat and will more than likely make you cringe as you hear bones break.

Filling out the sound department is the light instrumental music along with some chanting, almost like church music that plays in the background depending on the area of the game you are. The audibility of the music depends on what is going on around you, if you are in the busy market you will hear the sounds of the market over the music and if you are sneaking around an empty church the music is more prominent.

Overall, this was one of the best developed portions of the game and really added to the depth of Assassin’s Creed 2.

Gameplay (9.5)

The story of Assassin’s Creed continues shortly after the ending of the first Assassin’s Creed where Desmond Miles, an ancestor of an assassin named Altair who lived during the times of the Holy Wars in Jerusalem uses a machine called the Animus to relive memories of his ancestors. In Assassin’s Creed you learn about an ancient and ongoing battle between the Templar’s and the Assassin’s. The Templar’s fight to bring order to the world by any means possible. The Assassin’s Order fights to keep the freedom of the people intact and out of the thumb of oppression. In Assassin’s Creed 2 Desmond is reliving the memories of another ancestor named Ezio Auditore to learn the trade of an Assassin and to solve the mysteries that have been hidden throughout the memories of Ezio by someone only known as Subject 16.

The game controls build on the excellent controls that were created for AC1 and have been tweaked to become even better. Essentially there are non-combat controls and combat controls and they are split into high and low profile manoeuvres. High profile moves draw more attention to Ezio, such as shoving, tackling and your attacks/assassinations. Low profile is the exact opposite with gentle touching, walking, jumping, etc. these moves draw less attention to Ezio.

In Assassin’s Creed you were able to blend in with a group of monks by grouping up with them and walking a pre-determined route that the monks followed. Blending has been expanded to where you can drop in and out of almost any gathering that you see from monks, two chaps sitting on a bench or a group of people chatting in a circle. Don’t forget that you can also blend into an area by hiding in a haystack, a well or a covered area on the rooftops. Courtesans are also available for hire and they will walk through the streets with you providing the perfect cover, they will even distract any guards that approach the group so that you may continue along to your intended destination.

Blending however is not guaranteed to keep you hidden from the guards as there is a new type of guard that is smarter and better at seeking you out when you are blending into the environment. How hard they search is determined by how Notorious/Incognito you are. Notoriety is determined by your actions and there are a few determining factors. If you assassinate someone in front of witnesses your notoriety will rise much faster, or if you take your time and assassinate someone inconspicuously your notoriety will still rise, but not as much. Keep in mind that the more high profile your actions are the more notoriety you will gain. However, there are ways to lower your notoriety and become more incognito by removing wanted posters, paying off heralds or killing off prominent officials.

Two other groups you can hire to help you are thieves and mercenaries. Thieves can be used to target a group of guards that they will steal from, pulling them away from their post. Mercenaries will also distract guards, but by fighting them to the death. More often than not I used the mercenaries to attack a group of guards while I walked in behind them and used my hidden blades to finish off the guards quickly. As an Assassin I often didn’t want to leave any witnesses to my nefarious deeds.

Combat has been greatly improved and upgraded from the previous Assassin’s Creed with the addition of armour, multiple weapons and more fluid controls. In AC1 you were introduced to a hidden blade, a weapon designed in a wrist guard to be hidden from view until activated. Ezio continues on with this weapon, but also gains another blade that he uses on his opposite hand to have double the killing power. The twin blades opens up some different assassination options, and are really versatile as melee weapons if used properly.

Other new weapons available include swords, hammers, small weapons (knives, daggers, and a metal cestus) and are not just limited to type but to make as well. Added into small weapons is an additional missile weapon, a pistol, which becomes available later on in the game. Each make has three attributes of damage, speed and deflect. The attributes don’t seem to make any major differences when it comes to using your weapons, but you do notice a huge difference between the weapon types. Small weapons like your daggers and throwing knives are the fastest weapons but do less damage, swords sit in the middle and hammers are the slowest but pack the biggest wallop.

Counter attacks are still one of the best offensive moves when in close combat and depending on the weapon you are using will yield different results. A natural extension to the counter attacks is unarmed combat which has received a bit more attention this time around. Unarmed combat opens the ability to disarm an opponent which I found quite useful to use when combating guards who use pole arms/spears. The timing is a bit more crucial when you want to disarm a target as the window is much smaller than counter attacks.

Along with new weapons is the four armour pieces of pauldrons, chest guards, vambraces and greaves. There are five different armour types with leather, metal, helmschmied and missaaglias available to purchase throughout the game. There is also the armor of Altair which is unlockable through collecting seals that have been hidden at the graves of the best of the best of the Assassin’s Order. Armor serves two purposes in adding damage resistance and extra health, with the extra health being the most noticeable advantage of the two. Trust me when I say it is nice to have the extra health when you make the wrong turn off the rooftop of a church and plummet to the streets.

There are several new accessories available in AC2 with medicine, poisons and smoke bombs. Medicine, as well as poison can be purchased at any of the apothecaries, or doctors that are scattered throughout the realms. Medicine is stored in a medicine pouch which can be upgraded to store more medicine as you progress through the game. Poison can be applied to your twin blades and applied gently to a target which will slowly drive them insane and they will start attacking any nearby people. This is quite useful when you have a group of guards and you want to wreak some havoc on the group.

The game is broken down into the main storyline is composed of core memories, and quite a variety of side missions that include assassination contracts, races, beat up events, and courier assignments that are secondary memories. The core memories always start at a memory start and move Ezio through the story of Assassin’s Creed 2. You are not forced to do any of the memories in any particular order and can choose the order you complete the memories. Secondary memories are indicated by the appropriate icon that is indicated on your map.

A prominent secondary memory that I enjoyed following through on is the Assassin’s Seals quest, where you have to collect five seals from the tombs of reknowned assassin’s to unlock Altiar’s armor which is locked away in the catacombs of your villa. This armor is the best in the game and is worthwhile to spend the time it takes to solve each of the puzzles that encompass each Assassin’s Tomb.

Inside your villa you will also find a wall filled with some codex pages that you will collect throughout the game, at first the codex pages provide a weapon design for your hidden blades and for every four pages you collect you gain more health. However, the codex pages are more than a means to get new weapons and health. At first you learn some of the secrets of the codex pages by bringing one to the famous artist Leonardo Davinci, who aids you in deciphering the codex’s. However, you will learn that each codex page is part of a larger puzzle and only by collecting them and posting them to the codex wall will you have a chance of solving that puzzle.

As you can see there are quite a few ways to keep your self busy besides the main memories; another fun option is to scour the cities in the search of treasure. There are many scattered treasure chests in each of the areas around Italy that are just begging to be looted. Treasure maps can be purchased from art merchants and will indicate where treasure is, but won’t really help you find where they are hidden.

Speaking of earning money, there is an additional feature to the game that I found added a nice touch to the depth of the game which is your own personal villa in Monteriggioni. As owner of the villa you can build up your city by renovating any of the following buildings: Art merchant, bank, blacksmith, doctor, tailor, brothel, mines, church, military barracks, thieves’ guild and a well (water). All of these buildings once renovated will start producing florins to add to your coffers and will become your main source of income to upgrade your equipment, restock your inventory and purchase paintings. Once renovated some of the buildings can be upgraded to produce more income or a discount off purchases at the art merchant, blacksmith, doctor and tailor.

Recreational Rating (10)

Overall, this game offered a gaming experience that allowed the player to choose the direction the game took, not only in regards to the variety of puzzles and missions that could be completed in no particular order, but also the way in which Ezio completed these missions, particularly the assassination and the courier contracts. The excellent controls really allowed you to step into the character of Ezio and along with the intriguing and in depth storyline, the gameplay experience in Assassins Creed 2 is definitely one of the best I have experienced this year.

Buy It –Try It – Forget It

In addition to the fantastic graphics found within this game, Assassins Creed 2 combines both a strong focal story mode with a vast variety of puzzles, challenges and side quests that will keep you entertained for quite some time. The graphical attention to detail and the interesting story mode really makes this game appealing. However, it is the variety of gameplay options that is truly the best feature of the game. Knowing that you can pick and choose what you complete and in what sequence gives you a large amount of freedom, makes it possible to play this game if you only have a short period of time to play and allows you not to become frustrated if you are having difficulty completing an objective because you can always move onto another challenge within the game.