Gameplay ImpressionsUbisoft Montreal has clearly taken a good look at the criticisms made by reviewers of the first game and has acted upon them to deliver a more polished and all-round more entertaining adventure. Though the open-world locations still offer a lot of room for exploration, Assassin's Creed 2 feels much more compact and focused then the last game, offering a diverse range of missions that are scattered more densely than they were in Assassin's Creed, while putting less focus on dialogue, overly detailed conversations and long drawn out quests that required boring journeys.
The storyline, though we have yet to reach its conclusion (and pray that is better than the first game,) is absorbing from the out-set and the majority of characters that we've met thus far are likable, interesting and charismatic. Though the "Mama-Mia!" over-exaggerated Italian accents can get a little annoying, the acting is superb and really captures the passion and high family values that we largely associated with Italian culture. Though there are dozens of quests, Ubisoft has done a tremendous job in giving them meaning and linking them in with the storyline, cleverly building the back-story and characters alongside them.
Of course, we expected Assassin's Creed 2 to look as magnificent as the first game and it doesn't disappoint. The streets are full of beggars, scholars, merchants, guards and locals hustling with market traders. There are busy town squares where crowds gather, ornately-designed buildings and stone-clad houses where ladders lead to rooftops offering gateways to a world begging to be explored with its hidden areas and dazzling viewpoints. The renaissance setting is made more authentic by the architecture typical to that period, with columns and pilasters, decorated arches that connect the streets, domed church roofs that dominate the skyline high above the bustling city and sparkling canals that sweep through the streets of Venice.
Flocks of birds scatter as you amble through the town squares, while courtesans chatter, smoke bellows out of chimneys and locals barter with market traders. The atmosphere that has been created in the bustling streets is certainly one to be savoured and there’s a warm vibe on the streets which is amplified impressively by the soothing blend of natural sounds that are complemented by composer Jesper Kyd's blend of orchestral music and delightful choral flavours.
Each location not only looks stunning but is designed with freedom of movement in mind, crafted specifically so you can explore the areas from many different angles and reach different parts of the city in a variety of ways. Quite simply, it's been designed to make the most out of Ezio's movement and flexible animation. It's worked, because the free-running (or parkour) element in Assassin’s Creed is a great deal of fun and there's plenty of scope for experimentation as you jump onto the roof of a market stall, climb up the façade of a building, swing on a wooden beam and lift yourself up onto the rooftops. It takes a while to master the intricacies of Ezio's moves, which require a great degree of timing and environmental awareness to flow smoothly, so it can initially be frustrating as you drop to your death after you've spent a good few minutes climbing a high steeple, but largely it's a joy to explore the detailed environments.
Unlike the last game, we've yet to feel bored traversing the various areas. Occasionally, it's annoying when you get spotted by the guards and then have to spend the next few minutes getting out of their way or seeking a hiding place, just when you were about to reach your final destination, but those times serve as ample warning that Assassin's Creed II isn't a game that should be played gung-ho. Aside from combat sections, it's a stealthy game that requires thought, planning, but also quick decisions and intuition. In fact it flows nicely between these two styles.
Indeed, the pacing of the game is spot-on. Short cut-scenes never feel intrusive or unnecessary and build the story nicely without waffling on, whereas short side missions can be exciting and fast-paced, complementing the slower missions where, for example, you might need to deliver a letter to someone who is surrounded by guards without them seeing you - in this case you need to plan and be stealthy.
The enhancements to the combat system and the addition of new weapons means that fights are more versatile and visually impressive. Enemy A.I. can behave erratically and occasionally, when you're up against multiple enemies outside of a main mission, combat can feel a little wooden and clumsy. It can be hard to shake off guards so sometimes you do have to stand and fight. Combat can get a little repetitive in this sense, though the majority of actual combat-based mission are still a lot of fun and fighting appears to be much smoother than when you've accidentally walked into brawl.
Quests are scattered about freely and there's plenty of choice available so that you can pick and choose your favorite mission type. We found that part of the motivation to want to complete all of the side objectives, aside from being another good excuse to earn some cash, was because they build on the storyline and reveal more information on characters in the game. In fact, each time you meet a characters or discover an area you can access the database to read up on background information. This helps to expand on this living, breathing world, as you learn about its history and empathise with its characters. It just makes it feel all that little bit more real.
Money has added a new dimension to the gameplay and also acts as great motivation for you to explore, carry out as many quests as possible and search for collectibles. With money comes power and buying extra weapons from the blacksmith and getting them repaired, or picking up a bigger pouch from the tailor to carry your goodies, or even furnishing your house with the greatest treasures, makes earning money an addictive addition to the game.
Quite simply, Assassin's Creed II is better than its predecessor. It's more focused and more streamlined towards your enjoyment, which ultimately makes it absorbing and more fun.
Final Score - 9/10