Reviews// Assassin's Creed II

Posted 19 Nov 2009 17:53 by
Games: Assassin's Creed II
Has anyone told Jack Thompson about Assassin's Creed II, yet? Because we've got his honest-to-God murder simulator right here. An honest-to-God murder simulator of the stealth/action type in a sandbox world with impressive depth. Quite a good murder simulator, as it happens.

I'm happy to throw that phrase out there because, you see... oh, sorry, did you want a SPOILER ALERT? If you don't know the basics of the Ass Creed story, come back when you've played the first 15 minutes of the game - it's mostly in there. So, yeah, in Assassin's Creed II you're playing a guy (the thrillingly-named Desmond) who's mentally simulating the life of one of his ancestors (Ezio) via a doohickey called an Animus. It's a meta-game, which is clever, you see? Anyway, unlike the last game (in which shadowy types were fishing through your memory) you're replaying the life and times of your great10 grandfather in order to learn the ways of the assassin so that you can help fight some shadowy types (Templars). You're learning to kill. And so it is that you're off to Renaissance Italy.

So, the first thing you're going to notice once you hit the Renaissance is that it all looks lovely. Well, nearly all. All the in-game stuff looks bloody brilliant. The game world consists of a lot of Florence and a bit of other Italian cities, such as Venice and San Gimignano. They all look good and they all ? surprisingly, I have to say - look a bit different from each other.

San Gimignano's huge towers make it distinct, while Florence has a refined quality and the town around the Auditore villa has a rundown, drab quality that's a little reminiscent of Sheffield in The Full Monty. Unlike Sheffield, at any time however, it's crisp and smooth and well rendered and everything you want it to be. The animations have a nice flow to them and despite the largely urban setting, it all somehow manages to avoid looking samey.

If there's anything that lets the side down, it's the cutscenes. They're a bit blocky and awkward looking. I wouldn't moan about this unless a) the trailers didn't look so damned pretty and b) there wasn't a whopping three hours worth of cutscene to watch. So, yeah, I did just have a moan about the cutscenes.

The second thing you're going to notice is that the free-running feels pretty great. As with the first Ass Creed, you spend the majority of the game sneaking around the place to kill people and trying to traverse the rustic urban landscape as quickly as possible, so parkour's a pretty massive part of the game. The control scheme is pretty straightforward in this regard ? [RT] and [A] (yes, I was playing the 360 version) get you free-running, and the moves you make are context-sensitive, so if a jump is required Ezio jumps, if a spot of swinging is needed, he'll swing.

For the most part it's fast, fluid and fun and makes the (shitloads of) time you'll spend traversing the environment a good lark in its own right. It feels a bit faster than in the first game ? a plus if you were one of the people who felt a bit like their limbs were made of mashed potato in the previous outing.

It does, alas, get fiddly. It's most noticeable in the Tomb Raider-ish sections that you spend trying to recover crests from your forebears' crypts. There's a substantial chunk of platforming to be done in these segments, but if you tweak your thumbstick just a smidge the wrong way, you'll end up plummeting back to floor level and have a whole heap of climbing to do over.

So, that whole free-running thing's fun, give or take a bit of frustration. Just not, unfortunately, as much fun as when you're doing it with electric super powers in inFamous.

There's a goodly range of missions to be had. There are stealthy assassinations, full-on assaults, speed challenges, people to be followed, nicer people to be protected, stuff to be found (loads of stuff). It's good because, you know, doing the same stuff repeatedly gets boring. It's good because the whole thing never starts to feel stale. Even when you are basically repeating previous actions, the story drives things on with enough oomph to let you forget that you've done it before.
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Games: Assassin's Creed II

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