Assassin’s Creed II – The PS3 Attitude Review
Whether it was the incessant hype machine that rolled into every town, the column inches gained by the (mostly) bulletproof Jade Raymond, the promise of new and interesting game mechanics or the simple fact that it was the second fastest selling brand-new IP in video game history, everything that surrounded the game was intriguing.
Ultimately, however, the game itself didn’t deliver fully on all these promises and was labelled ‘repetitive and monotonous’ by many. So how has the sequel, backed up by a much lower-key but more focused marketing offensive, measured up?
The game continues shortly after the events of Assassin’s Creed. It is 2012 and you once again play the character of Desmond Miles.
At the start of the game you are still imprisoned at Abstergo Industries after being forced to search the memories of your ancestor, Altaïr, using the Animus device. Kristen Bell revives her role as Lucy Stillman, a former researcher for Abstergo, and after freeing you takes you to a hideout where you are introduced to two of her colleagues, played by PS3 Attitude favourite Danny Wallace and video game voice-over artist Eliza Schneider.
With their own, upgraded version of the Animus you are invited to help them discover the memories of another ancestor, Ezio Auditore da Firenze. What is your motivation for helping them? Firstly, over-exposure to the Animus leads to your character taking on the skills of your ancestor, so you are being trained in the Assassin’s techniques in order to use them outside of the Animus device against Abstergo.
But the second reason is to find the Pieces of Eden, artefacts that hold great power and can potentially help you to avert a cataclysmic event for the World and everyone in it.
As with the original game, Assassin’s Creed II’s includes fictional depictions of historical characters including the likes of Rodrigo Borgia (Pope Alexander VI) and Leonardo da Vinci. The story is well written, and the voice acting throughout is excellent, helping to immerse you in late 15th Century Italy during the Renaissance.
As the memory of Ezio, you find your family the victims of a political plot, and your motive for action is provided by the unlawful execution of your father and two brothers.
The locations in AC2 are varied and much more interesting than those found in the first game. Instead of similarly designed walled cities, the story will take you from Florence to San Gimignano, Forlì, Venice and eventually to Rome. Each location has a distinct look and feel and the detail the developers have gone to in depicting Venice is particularly noteworthy.
If you have ever visited Venice, you’ll get a real feeling that this is in fact what it must have looked like in the 1400s, and it is fun seeing key landmarks as they may have appeared over 500 years ago.
The mechanisms in the game will be familiar to anyone who has played the original title or, indeed, any ‘sandbox’ style game. As you play through the first hour, you’ll open up a number of different ‘threads’ that you can decide whether you want to partake in or not. These include assassination contracts, time-trial parkour races, courier delivery chores and other ‘missions’.
Some of these are fun – who wouldn’t want to try out the assassination contracts in a game called Assassin’s Creed? – but others just seem tedious. Delivering letters is no way to spend your time when you’re a highly skilled killer.
In addition to these you’ll also meet various characters that will assist you, including Leonardo da Vinci who will decode pages you find along the way to create new equipment for you. These ‘Codex Pages’ become important to the storyline, but we’ll talk more about that later.
You will also discover the case of Subject 16, one of several previous test subjects used by Abstergo, and the person responsible for writing the images you saw in your room at the end of the first Assassin’s Creed title. Subject 16 has managed to place twenty glyphs that can only be seen and decoded by you on key monuments within Italy. On discovering one, you are given a puzzle to solve in order to unlock a video called ‘The Truth’. Some of these are truly challenging, so be prepared to have your grey matter stretched.
All of these new elements and the addition of many new weapons bring a much needed variety to the gameplay within AC2, and there are only a few moments in the game where you are reminded of the repetitive nature of the first title. The gameplay is further broken up with some stand-out set pieces, such as a breakneck coach ride and a flight above the streets of Venice.
The graphics in AC2 are, in a pre-Uncharted 2 world, excellent. However, in a post-Uncharted 2 universe they seem a little ‘off-the-mark’. When you find yourself at the top of a viewpoint, scanning the surrounding area for locations, you can see the same framerate issues that dogged the first Assassin’s Creed title. Pop-up is a massive issue throughout the game, with entire fields of poppies, people, rocks, trees and other objects appearing and disappearing at will. It should be noted, however, that these glitches never get in the way of the gameplay.
Despite the issues, the textures and variety seen in the locations, the character animation and the general style of the game are superb. We can see a lot of attention has been paid to the small stuff, such as when you see a guard sneeze or the throwaway comments you can eavesdrop on when you’re travelling. Ubisoft have really tried hard to make the inhabitants of each city act individually and with character, and it works.
Unlike some, we always liked the combat system in the first title, and in this it has been improved further. Fighting is intuitive and requires skill and timing to get the best from the system, so button-mashers need not apply here. The action is fluid and you feel like you are really in control of Ezio as he sends hundreds of enemies to meet their maker through the course of the game.
If there is one criticism of the game it was towards the end of the story when it was only possible to continue if we had collected all the codex pages. Since gaining a page requires exactly the same process (use a faction, such as the local prostitutes or mercenaries to lure the guards away from the door, then walk in) this reminded us of the negative aspects of the first game. Because we had only grabbed half of the pages through playing the story, it meant travelling to each location and repeating this dull ‘mission’ fifteen times before we could continue.
That small criticism aside, the rest of the game is varied, interesting, fluid and fun to play. The graphics, whilst suffering only due to Naughty Dog raising the bar for everyone, are still excellent. The sound is wonderful. The story is well written and acted out superbly by the cast and whilst the end of the plot rests on a hypothesis that many will find doesn’t fit with the general feel of the game, it is still interesting and makes us want to find out more.
Assassin’s Creed II is highly recommended and is definitely one of the best games your money can buy this Holiday Season.