At the end of my Assassin’s Creed review, I asked where my game was. Assassin’s Creed was an awesome tech demo – it was just too repetitive to be called an actual game. And lo and behold: here it is. Assassin’s Creed 2 is a mastodont that improves on its predecessor in every possible way.
The basics are still the same: you take the role of Desmond, hooked to a (different) Animus, assuming the role of a (different) assassin. Even the absurd-sounding control scheme is back: every face button controls part of the assassin’s body, making for smooth movement throughout the cities in which you kill some bad guys.
And this is where the review will start shifting tone again – only in the opposite direction of what I wrote about the first game. Assassin’s Creed 2 doesn’t drop you in the skin of Altair – instead, it chooses to send you to Renaissance Italy, where you assume the role of Ezzio Auditore. Now the Italy thing might be a personal preference – as I’m not really that into the Middle Ages and hence wasn’t that interested in the crusader theme of the first game. I’d personally rather hang out in 15th century Venice and check out the sweet clothes people wore.
It’s Ezzio Auditore who makes all the objective difference. He’s one swell guy. It seems the writing staff learned from the mishaps of the first game: gone is the know-it-all asshole, and in comes the know-it-all sweetheart. Ezzioz is about as sympathetic as it gets without pushing your Disney buttons: when we meet him, he’s just a young man having fun – so when later the fun gets real, we truly understand his pain. As opposed to Altair, whom we first met as he was making the biggest booboo of his life.
Listening to Ezzio (using an Italian accent like all the other characters, which works just like the weird control scheme) is a dream. You feel for the guy and you hope for him to achieve his goals. The game truly takes its time to tell this guy’s story (and even ends before it’s over – sequel!) and it pays off. Like a lot of long games, it seems to suffer in terms of consistency, though: sometimes, you get the impression the characters are all over the place and none of them truly matter. But Ezzio does, and that’s something. I just wish video game writers would realize writing these kinds of stories isn’t like writing movies – the dramaturgy is completely different.
That said, here’s a game that can carry the length gameplaywise. The mission-based structure rarely gets repetitive and when it does, the game always allows you to do some free-running. There’s tons of sidequests to discover (in fact I was amused to see that the actual assassinations are side quests now), collectibles to collect and there’s even a mini-game where you rebuild your own village. It’s easily one of the rewarding parts of the game – if only it wasn’t so damn easy.
But boy, I can only wholeheartedly recommend Assassin’s Creed 2. The first game pales in comparison. Everything just seems to have been improved. This is a gripping experience – one that’ll last you well over forty hours to complete.