By Duncan Voice
It’s not often that I’ll take offence to an advert, being the fairly laid back fellow that I am, but after a first game that transcended even listening-to-your-Dad-drone-on-about-airplanes levels of boredom I was quite taken aback by the TV advertisement for Assassins Creed 2. It carries itself with a swagger, an air of arrogance much like it’s lead character Cesc Fabregas, erm sorry I mean Ezio Auditore de Firenze. He swans about, performing his murderous duties whilst the advert screams at you various accolades about it being ‘Action Game of the Year!’ and ‘9/10’, all the while having the gall to play the awesome Genesis by Justice during proceedings. So by all means, if you’re going to sing about it from the rooftops, it had better be good!
It all starts worryingly familiar and by that I mean at a snail’s pace. Run here. Do this errand to unlock the next mission. Oh goody, it’s the Animus again, I really loved spending half of my weekend watching those cut scenes in the last game. To ask if my heart sank during this initial hour is like asking a bear if he deposits last night’s dinner in the woods. But soon it picks up, Ezio has a reason to get all stabby and it finally starts to feel like the game we’ve wanted since the original was announced.
It all feels much more organic this time round. The game no longer requires you to traipse around performing tasks to continue the story. You do it at your own pace and when you’ve had enough of collecting viewpoints you just head to the next mission’s starting point. I’m still completely convinced that the viewpoint synchronization is there for no other reason than for Ubisoft to show off its graphics, which are absolutely beautiful.
There are some truly stunning photogenic moments, particularly when you reach Venezia. As you are no longer forced to complete them for the sake of progression, performing the side quests actually became quite an enjoyable distraction. I often spent hours exploring the beautiful cities. Social blending is now automatic as well; walking into the middle of any group will hide Ezio from sight.
Perhaps with a nod to Fable II, Ezio can earn an income through upgrading a mansion in a rundown town and can collecting his earnings every twenty minutes. Everything you collect from weapons to codex pages gets displayed in the mansion and it can turn into quite an obsession creating your own little museum.
Paintings can be collected to go on display, as can the armour you acquire. There is something in the basement that will raise a little smirk from most players of the original game. Feathers are this years flags, it’s like trying to spot the cheeseburger on a plate of chips compared to the haystack and needle malarkey of last time round.
Combat remains largely unchanged but is still as satisfying as before. A few extra weapons are there for toying around with, although the most fun is had from disarming an opponent and cracking his skull with his own hammer. After Arkham Asylum raised the bar for combat, it’s still a bit bizarre to watch your opponents stand off and attack you as if there are some Queensbury Rules written into the AI. Still, it works well and some of the finishing moves do cause you to wince a few times.
So far so good then. The story is fairly engrossing and well acted, it looks sublime and there is a decent feed of new weaponry from your best friend Leonardo Da Vinci to keep things interesting… and then, like a slap on the back of the leg with a wet sock on a cold Monday morning during PE, the foibles rear up. Nothing game breaking, but annoying enough to hurl a few choice words at the screen.
Ezio can swim, but his followers can’t. After rescuing a few thieves who can also freerun, I dived into a canal looking for a quick getaway, only to watch as the thieves I’d rescued dived in after me and all disappeared like a freshly inserted suppository.
Sprinting is still mapped to the free run button, so cue irritating jaunts up un-scalable pillars during a chase and pushing someone away during combat still causing Ezio to step forward, which often left me falling off a tower and to my death.
A few points in the game will ask you to traverse a route before a timer runs out. Most of the time this is fine, but I’m positive the guys who programmed the cameras get distracted easily by shiny buttons or Wham bars or something. I’m running right, oh right no I’m not you’ve changed the camera needlessly again so I’m running backwards. Repeat four to five times until you work out the exact angle you need to point the analogue stick.
These are minor irritants however. Ubisoft Montreal have crafted an immersive, beautiful world with gameplay that remains compelling right up until the slightly controversial finale. It does feel like the game promised the first time round, but to criticise it for this is pointless.
Never once did the crippling tedium from the first game rear its ugly head and everything felt perfectly paced. When you start to ache for some new toy to play with, the game will deliver you one. Quite wonderful, even though I now look at teenagers in white hoodies with an increasingly suspicious eye. It turns out the advert wasn’t lying.
8 OUT OF 10
Assassin’s Creed 2 is also available on PS3, with a PC version planned for release in 2010. All images used are property of Ubisoft.