A fun, yet flawed murderous romp through Renaissance Italy
*Warning this review contains spoilers*
The first Assassin’s Creed was an interesting game. It essentially expanded upon the Prince of Persia franchise allowing players to jump, swing and dive in an open world. While this was amusing, the combat was flawed, as was the storyline. Assassins Creed 2 seeks to fix these issues, and while in some aspects it succeeds, in others it takes a leap of faith and unfortunately lands in the rocky abyss.
In the first Assasin’s Creed players controlled Altair, an assassin based in Jerusalem who was sent out to retrieve a missing piece of Eden (powerful, manipulative objects created by the first civilization) before the Templers get their hands on it. In the sequel many centuries have passed as has the location. The sprawling country of Italy is brought to life through the character of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, a son of a nobleman who becomes an assassin after witnessing the murder of his brothers and father. The story revolves around Ezio seeking retribution on those who murdered his family, while also coming to discover some deeper secrets about the Templers, the Assasin’s, and the World as we know it. Like the first game, the story in Assasin’s Creed 2 suffers the same issues; mainly the fact that it is not intriguing. While they do throw some curveballs, such as introducing Leonardo DaVinci and Nicollo Machiavelli as allies of the Assassins’, the story ultimately lacks focus. You simply go from one location to another, assassinating someone only to find out more secrets about the templar’s and their ultimate plan. However by the time you discover their ultimate plan and what it means for the world, you come to not care. More so it is a terrible twist used simply because it fits modern concerns. In fact you wouldn’t be far off if you were to say that the writers took all these modern myths and compiled them into one game. Never the less, like the first game, the story in Assassin’s Creed 2 is lacking. This is a shame for it has some intriguing ideas, such as the history of ancient assassin’s or why DaVinci crafted certain items, which ultimately come to be buried beneath all the myths and old wives tales, leaving a boring, over the top plot.
While the story is certainly lacking, the developers went all out with the environments and general design. Florence and the surrounding cities are absolutely gorgeous, and teaming with life. Most character models no longer linger in one area; rather they walk around, talk, and in some instances follow you. However what is most impressive is the architecture of each area. While they use some of the same models, each area feels unique and vibrant. Unlike the dark, depressing area that was Jerusalem in the first game, Florence and the surrounding areas are vibrant and rich in colour. This adds to the appeal of the overall game, for it made me want to explore each nook and cranny of this world, not only to find hidden treasures, but to simply see the true beauty of it. The designers of Assasin’s Creed clearly spent the majority of their time on the environments and it shows. Whether it is the top of a bell tower, or the lower slums, each area feels colourful and alive, making each and every city the most unique (and most intriguing) characters in the game.
Whereupon the environments and inhabitants of Assassin’s Creed 2 have improved, so has the gameplay and combat…but to an extent. While new techniques, such as the double blade or projectile weapons, add a new layer to combat, they untimely come to be overshadowed by the most important item in your arsenal- counterattacking. While you can sneak behind two guards and take them both down; or stab a guy and then toss him off a roof, only for him to land in front of unsuspecting guards, the majority of the time you are going to be surrounded by at least half a dozen guards, all of which you will use counter attack to defeat. The main reason for this is because counterattacks are one hit kills, and are really easy to perform. All players have to worry about is which blade to use on what enemy. Although it is at first fun to see the cool kill video before going back into combat, these counterattack become really repetitive and annoying, especially since they are only about six variations in enemies. This really bugged me at the end of the game when you are faced with dozens upon dozens of guards, which attack one at a time, and all you can do is either slowly hack away at their health or wait to do a one hit kill. What it comes down to is this: although the combat can be fun, by the end of the game it becomes repetitive and made bland by the simple notion of counterattacking. As I have not played the sequel, I hope that they fixed this problem and made the combat more fluid, and hopefully they do not continue to rely so heavily on counterattacks for combat.
While combat can be repetitive and a bit dull, the highlight of the game comes from the ability to run, jump and essentially go anywhere you want. With Ezio, the apparent parkour master of Renaissance Italy, an entire world is yours to discover. I had a great time jumping from rooftop to rooftop, and doing leaps of faith off tall buildings only to grab a ledge and hoist myself up. Through adding simple items, such as swinging garden pots; and gameplay elements, such as the ability to grab ledges when falling, exploring has never been easier, or smoother. While I did my fair share of unnecessary combat (shakes fist at rooftop archers) I mostly just enjoyed exploring the different cities and countryside’s. This almost, almost made up for the combat, but not quite. Overall, this was my favourite aspect of the game and made me appreciate all the hard work the developers put into making such beautiful locales.
Although Ubisoft expects players to search beyond for the great many mysteries that this game holds -as Ezio does in his journey- when you get down to it, aside from the obvious outer beauty of the game, there is not much to its interior. Although the environments certainly have polish, as does some of the gameplay, they come to be weighed down by the ridiculous plot and repetitive combat. The Assasins’ Creed series are good games. However they have the ability to be great if they can simply get the plot cleaned up, and spice the combat up. If not, well they may end up being slain by the competition and put to rest in a bin of long forgotten games where not even Ezio can help them to “Requiescat en Pace”(rest in peace).
The Good: Beautiful environments and the ability to navigate them with ease make this game a step above certain open world games.
The Bad: Repetitive enemies and combat take away from the overall beauty of the world
The Ugly: The plot line is absolutely abysmal and put together without any thought (fans of a certain John Cusack movie anyone)
Overall: 8 out of 10