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Assassin's Creed II (Xbox 360) artwork

Assassin's Creed II (Xbox 360) review


"Iíd barely hesitate to call this to the most beautifully realized game world of all time, a feat attributed to both its considerable knack for detail and its incredible draw distance Ė prepare to be wowed the first time you see Ubisoftís rendition of Venice circa 1484 unveiled before you. The very act of exploring these locations and admiring their beauty is so satisfying that thereís an entire game mechanic based around climbing to high places and enjoying the view. And whereas the three major locales of the last game more or less felt like the same set of buildings shot on a different color of film stock, visual landmarks and a genuine push to instill variety into each district gives every city in Assassinís Creed II a uniqueness all its own."



Iím experiencing a rather abrupt change of attitude here. I was fairly underwhelmed by the first Assassinís Creed, yet Iíve just now finished its sequel and Iím fully prepared to call it the best game Iíve played all year. This franchise always had the right ingredients, and itís important to remember that while the first game fell victim to many obnoxious design choices, many of its individual components worked surprisingly well. I loved the Crusades-era locales, the sprawling, free-roaming environments, and the stealthy killing of high-profile targets, many of whom were based on actual historical figures. Iíll even accept the plotís modern-day setting, with a bartender digging through his ancestral memory, as a perfectly acceptable sci-fi twist in the right hands. Forcing players to trudge through the same menial tasks ad nauseum and sinking the adventure into a rut of predictability didnít help matters, though. It felt like the potential presented by some great ideas was squandered due to a complete misunderstanding of what the gameís great ideas were.

Assassinís Creed II, in addition to simply being a great standalone title, is an exemplary sequel, one that demonstrates just how much a development team can accomplish when they take constructive criticism to heart without undermining the very elements that make a franchise unique in the first place. From a glance, very little has changed, to the point that you could watch videos of Assassinís Creed II in action and not even realize that any improvements were made. Yet mechanically, there was very little wrong with the first game; the go-anywhere, climb-anything mentality of the sandbox environment, matched with its fluid controls, was that gameís strong point.

The sequel plays almost identically, and the free-running spirit of its predecessor hasnít been lost. Desmondís second journey into the Animus brings us to Renaissance-era Italy, and the locales are stunning. Iíd barely hesitate to call this to the most beautifully realized game world of all time, a feat attributed to both its considerable knack for detail and its incredible draw distance Ė prepare to be wowed the first time you see Ubisoftís rendition of Venice circa 1484 unveiled before you. The very act of exploring these locations and admiring their beauty is so satisfying that thereís an entire game mechanic based around climbing to high places and enjoying the view. And whereas the three major locales of the last game more or less felt like the same set of buildings shot on a different color of film stock, visual landmarks and a genuine push to instill variety into each district gives every city in Assassinís Creed II a uniqueness all its own.

Where Assassinís Creed II truly trumps its predecessor, however, is in design and pacing. Gone are the tiresome eavesdropping, pickpocketing and flag-fetching quests that plagued the first game. Even the plot itself has taken a tremendous step up from merely giving you a list of people to kill. The writers at Ubisoft saw fit to give protagonist Ezio a genuine backstory and real motivations as a character. When we first see him (disregarding his birth at the beginning of the game), heís a dashing young hothead whoís picking fights in the streets of Florence and courting women by climbing through their bedroom windows at night. Heís only pulled into the war against the Templars when his family is betrayed by one, and the plot that unfolds afterwards, following his evolution to a skilled AltaÔr-esque assassin, is a deeply personal one. Every story-essential mission has a direct bearing on Ezioís own goals.

In that regard, Ubisoft Montreal made the incredibly wise decision to eradicate much of the monotonous questing that plagued the first game, while simultaneously boosting the amount of optional content in which players can engage. This gives us an incentive to familiarize ourselves with the Italian locales beyond simply gazing at the sights (admittedly quite a draw in and of itself), thereby making Assassinís Creed IIís status as a sandbox game totally relevant. The side quests are actually exciting, too Ė many of them are legitimate assassinations, youíll be happy to hear, yet even the generic-sounding rooftop races and fetch quests have more flair than nearly any of the mandatory missions found in the previous game. A full-blown monetary system, with weapons and armor to be purchased, only increases the amount of time the typical player will invest in Assassinís Creed II.

The assignments pertaining to the meaty central story line are more engrossing still. Each hunt for one of Ezioís prime targets has an large-scale air of authenticity about it, as if youíre really fighting the power and initiating a one-man crusade against a greater evil. DNA sequences (the "chapters" of the adventure) are bookended by such events, and the missions in between can actually be called varied, something the first game never was. This is a game that had me running alongside the network of Venetian canals, frantically picking off archers who were trying to shoot down a friendly gondola Ė and thatís not even one of the most imaginative or memorable sequences here. Iím hesitant to ruin those. Even the gameís interruptions from the Animus hold a significant weight to them. Again, Desmond feels more like a fully-realized character this time around, and the suggestion that he may be inheriting his ancestorsí parkour abilities only makes his side of the story all the more intriguing.

I could probably go on for ages. Thereís the much-improved combat, which isnít as abundant this time and unfolds at a much faster pace. Thereís also the addition of the helpful notoriety system, which gives players control over how easily guards will recognize them, and how quick theyíll be to attack. Iíd love to cite the Dan Brown-esque puzzle sequences that weave historical references into the writersí all-encompassing conspiracy, or the linear treks through hidden tombs that bear more than a passing resemblance to last generationís Prince of Persia trilogy. While the last game could be summarized in very few words, the strength of Assassinís Creed II is that it offers so much to talk about. There are an astonishing number of improvements and details that might not warrant a mention in this review, but which certainly come into focus while playing.

There are people who really enjoyed the first game, and I suspect theyíll love Assassinís Creed II even more than I did. Yet it nevertheless feels tailored for people like me, who saw potential in the original and were disappointed that the resulting product was so lackluster. In that regard, Ubisoft Montreal have crafted one of the greatest sequels of all time, because I canít think of a single complaint I had about the first game that hasnít been addressed here. Assassinís Creed II is truly the adventure that its predecessor was supposed to be, and I give it my absolute highest recommendation.

Rating: 10/10

Suskie's avatar
Freelance review by Mike Suskie (November 23, 2009)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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CoarseDragon posted November 25, 2009:

I never played the first one but none-the-less I gathered from your review this game is excellent. I did not see you mention this but did there happen to be any achievements in the game? I am guessing there must be because pretty much all games have them these days.

I am leaning toward getting this game based solely on your review, so good job on that.
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honestgamer posted November 25, 2009:

Achievements have always been required for Xbox 360 games. Microsoft insists.
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Suskie posted November 25, 2009:

You'll actually earn a good portion of AC2's achievements just by completing the mandatory story missions, though there are some optional ones you can go after once you're finished with everything else. I've had the game for a little over a week and I've only got a few more left.
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Ben posted November 26, 2009:

I've not really been trying with the achievements and ended up with 845 upon finishing the game. You get a huge chunk of points by just going along the story (30 for completing a chapter, 100 for completing the game), and you'll pick up some of the optional stuff naturally as you play.

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