Few games were quite as immersive as the first Assassin’s Creed. I guess there’s just something about climbing to the top of a tall structure—to bask in your own glory and take-in the view—that really intrigues us as human beings. That, and killing people. The combination of those two things equals a novel concept, by which the first Assassin’s Creed produced a mostly enjoyable gaming experience. Pockmarked with imperfections and missed opportunities, though, the first game was met with plenty of criticism. But ultimately, people must have ignored its shortcomings—as more than enough copies were sold to warrant a sequel. And it seems that most of those critics are shutting up now anyway, as Ubisoft has addressed many of the niggling issues of the first game and created the highest form of redemption—a true contender for Game of the Year.
Assassin’s Creed 2 picks up right where the first game’s cryptic ending leaves off—Desmond, in a lab and confused. Almost immediately, Kristin Bell-voiced Lucy, who apparently got collagen injections in her lips since last time you saw her, breaks you out and brings you to meet your new friends—a snobby Brit and a really excited lez who want you to save humanity by joining their little revolution. After jacking-in to the Animus, you find yourself in the middle of the Italian Renaissance, and a street fight. Once you’ve bested your foe and learned the basics of combat (which later in the game you’ll realize merely consists of mashing the ‘X’ button and waiting to counter) you’ll begin your tale as the likable Ezio Fiorno Rubella Prosciutto (or something really Italian). Ezio suffers tragedy early on in the game that shines light on a conspiracy and causes him to go on a killing frenzy that ultimately guides him in to fulfilling his destiny as an assassin.
Unraveling the conspiracy leads to branching plot lines and a story that is far superior to that of the first game. This time there is much more to do and the side-quests rarely feel like the same “wash, rinse, repeat” snore-fest as they did in the first game. Besides the main quest-line of assassinating rival family members and church officials, you’ll take-on optional missions that have you killing lower priority targets, beating up unfaithful husbands and searching the cities for ancient relics.
City exploration is familiar (treasure box’s, viewpoints, etc…) but renaissance Italy poses as more of a main character than the landscapes of the first game. One of the cities, which acts as your base of operations, is even upgradeable—as are your weapons and armor. These customization options and other RPG-ish elements add a Fable-esque feel to go along with the Hitman stealth action and Prince of Persia platforming thing already going on. And that is really where Assassin’s Creed 2 falters a bit; it’s a Jack of all trades but a master of none—a victim of its own ambition—something that more time in development could have remedied.
So really, my only major gripe about Assassin’s Creed 2 is that it came too fast. Ubisoft Montreal had some big ideas but many seem incomplete in their execution. And that’s an inherent problem with the video game industry as a whole. The pressures for the developers to meet deadlines and skimp or cut-out features to get a game out before Christmas often results in exactly this—and I believe a game with as much potential for greatness as Assassins Creed 2 deserves better.
Overall, Assassin’s Creed 2 is a huge step forward; and it possesses the same overall feeling that made the original a video game-escapists dream. Many of the first game’s follies have been corrected, but there is still plenty of room for improvement within the AC mythos. Trust me, though, you’ll be staying up late past your bedtime for a week-or-two telling yourself “just one more quest” until you finally succumb to your wife’s (or mom’s) pleas to get to bed. You’ll get your money’s worth here. At 20-30 hours—depending on how obsessive compulsive you are—Assassin’s Creed 2 is one of the few games worth $60. And even if it doesn’t end up winning Game of the Year, I can not wait for the inevitable Assassin’s Creed 3.
Freek Score: 8/10