Electronic Theatre In-depth Review: Assassin’s Creed II

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            Hailed as one of the defining games of the current-generation since it’s original unveiling at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in 2006, Assassin’s Creed, perhaps inevitably, failed to live-up to expectations. While remaining an enjoyable game throughout, the lack of elegance in the delivery of story missions and few original ideas that stretched beyond movement, Assassin’s Creed was better a demonstration of the technology behind it than the kind of games we’d be playing on the then young generation of consoles. Released in 2007 and proving to be the most successful intellectual property (IP) of that year, a sequel was inevitable. Whether or not it could correct the mistakes of the first title, however, was never a certainty.

            Assassin’s Creed II manages to outdo the original title with all the numbers. More missions, more combat manoeuvres, more weapons, more locations – all the Assassin's Creed II Blipessential bullet-point statistics have received the necessary increase, but there are many more subtle areas in which Assassin’s Creed II better demonstrates how to build an engrossing videogame experience upon that underlying technology. The mission objectives are now intrinsically tied to the storyline, and while a few may feel like you are set to work tackling someone else’s problems rather than dealing with your own, every single moment of the lengthy campaign feels effortlessly more coherent than a series of flag collecting trials.

The main adventure within Assassin’s Creed II is undeniably better paced than that of its’ predecessor. Each and every mission has been delicately crafted and is unique, with no idle busy work thrown onto the skeleton to inflate the scripted progress. Missions now swing wildly from assassination attempts to fighting guards, rooftop escapes and common thievery, with the odd errand thrown in to bring the player to new locations, and the new Tomb Raider inspired Platform sections are a fantastic exercise of your acrobatic skills. There are of course a number of filler missions in Assassin’s Creed II, but these act solely as side-quests and are available for those who wish to engage, rather than for purposes of padding-out the main storyline.

The side missions themselves are plentiful, and a number of the grander scale objectives truly add to the depth of the game. Collecting the Feathers may be essential padding for the completionists, but the addition of the Monteriggioni Villa is theAssassin's Creed II Blip greatest implementation of an economic system that could have been wished for. The fact that, once upgraded, the game becomes quite unbalanced as the player acquires more money than they have options to spend it on is simply a misjudgement of the value of certain items, and doesn’t harm the game so much as give the seasoned player an additional edge.

The new notoriety system could be said to be a weakly implemented feature, simply adding unnecessary irritation to even mundane tasks. Impressive or socially unacceptable actions will make you more notorious, resulting in the guards patrolling the city being more likely to recognise you, and attempt to engage you in combat. However, by removing wanted posters, killing officials and bribing public speakers, you can lower your notoriety. This all sounds fine on paper, but the system is so rigid, with near every action accumulating an additional 25% and every counter measure removing the same, most will simply ignore it and struggle on with their fame.

The combat is largely based upon the original Assassin’s Creed, with combo and counter attacks being the quickest route to a positive resolution. Players can now hireAssassin's Creed II Blip bands of mercenaries to aid them and will regularly find themselves battling aside non-player characters (NPCs) throughout the story. The artificial intelligence is easily outwitted, with few battles providing a real challenge, though the spectacle involved with a couple of dramatic sequences more than makes up for the fact that seasoned players will have to partake in supplementary tasks to have their skills tested. Of these dramatic sequences, the much hyped – and clearly underused – ability to fly using Leonardo Da Vinci’s hang glider is perhaps the most impressive, but a show stealing horse-and-carriage set piece is certainly the best engineered.

Alongside Da Vinci appears another celebrated historical personality, thanks to a surprising and brief cameo from Machiavelli. The characters are generally well drawn, with many memorable faces amongst their ranks both present day and during the famed interpretation of the Renaissance where most of the action takes place. A cheap attempt at an in-joke ruins any credibilityAssassin's Creed II Blipof Ezio’s uncle Mario, and the present day guidance of Sean is frequently more irritating than of use, drawing comparison to Will McKenzie from Channel 4’s The Inbetweeners with his unsubtle remarks. The most jarring issue within the world, however, is that of Time. Passing within the story without any real relevance to the game being played, the only sign of age is a character boldly announcing so in a cut-scene.

It’s clear that nearly every aspect of Assassin’s Creed II has received a lick of paint. While the original game was hardly an ugly presentation, it could be said that it was a comfortable experience for the host console. From the first time we see that stubble growing on our modern day persona’s chin however, it’s very clear that Ubisoft have decided that Assassin’s Creed II was going to be a workout for the hardware, rather than a Sunday afternoon by the pool. Character models are undeniably more detailed and the draw distance is awe-inspiring; few games have ever possessed such stunning vistas. Ezio’s motion is more fluid than Altair, though not by a great deal, and the apparent lack in updating animation sequences can be quite jarring between the ease of command input and stilted movement of the on-screen avatar.

Assassin’s Creed II addresses near every flaw of the original game, creating a more fluid and dynamic gameplay experience. More than just a demonstration of underlying technology, Assassin’s Creed II is also a commendable effort in combining storytelling with compelling gameplay. Assassin’s Creed II does lack much of the freedom for player expression that it’s rival 2009 releases have championed, and in many respects feel as though it’s advances may have arrived a little too late to be labelled as groundbreaking, but for all that it still presents one of the most enjoyable videogaming experiences of 2009.

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