When Assassin's Creed released back in 2007, fans got to taste just a sample of the possibilities that Ubisoft imagined. With amazing visuals, stunning locations and gameplay that revolutionized how we play and imagine games today, Assassin's Creed proved to be more popular than anyone imagined. How exactly would Ubisoft be able to top that monstrous effort? By making the sequel bigger, bolder and an all-around better game than its predecessor, which is exactly what Assassin's Creed 2 is.
Assassin's Creed 2 puts you in the role of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, a simple Italian worker who soon becomes thrusted into the role of an assassin after his family becomes murdered. Seeking out vengeance and those responsible, Ezio finds himself traveling all across Italy learning the ways of the assassin and ultimately taking down anyone who stands in his way. The story, albeit a little on the cliché side, works well within the parameters of the assassin lore. Desmond Miles, the unwilling subject from the first game, once again enters the animus to examine his ancestors and thus begins exploring the origins of Ezio. Ezio has a lot more charm and charisma than Altair, and his conversations with various characters throughout the game will propel the story to the ultimate, anti-climatic revelation.
Ezio is not a master assassin from the start and the history of the creed is not known till well within the story, but that does not mean he is inept at moving around. Ezio moves gracefully around the various cities, and by holding down the free-run button, Ezio can gracefully hop from rooftop to rooftop, climb on the sides of buildings and swing from various ledges. The free-running segments have been improved greatly to allow easier maneuverability, but there are still instances when Ezio climbs on top of things you never intend to or when he simply falls down when he crashes into someone walking along the street. They aren't huge deterrents away from the beauty of being able to climb and go anywhere, but they are moments that happen occasionally for you not to notice.
What make these free-running segments so enjoyable are the levels for which you can truly express your creativity. Each of the game's main cities, Tuscany, Florence, Rome and Venice all exhibit their own blend of artistic design and originality, meaning none of the places ever feel the same when you free-run to various locations. Rome features more cathedrals and high-rising buildings meaning you will spend more of your time climbing to soaring heights and running along rooftops while Venice's fabled rivers will have you swimming more often than not and staying near the ground to get around. Each level exhibits its own brand of exploration and you never have to go into a new city expecting to free-run the same way as you did in a previous city.
Unlike Assassin's Creed, the second game gets rid of the simplistic nature of the missions and instead mixes things up by giving you dozens of options to partake in. The story missions are all exceptionally designed, and whether you are chasing down thieves along rooftops, blending in to assassinate a political figure during Carnivale or using Leonardo Da Vinci's flying machine to gain access to an otherwise impenetrable fortress, there are plenty of memorable and exhilarating moments to keep you well entertained for a long time (the story lasts for about 12-15 hours). If you want to take a break from the story mode you can always use your free time to perform odd jobs around the city that reward you with tons of florins (cash), such as assassination missions, beat-up segments and races.
While doing these side missions are optional, completing those nets you experience and money necessary to upgrade Ezio. New to the series is an economy based system where you can buy new armor, weapons and clothing for Ezio and set him as you see fit. Money is hard to come by early on in the game, but if you spend time doing side missions you will be rolling in dough in no time, and since the missions all vary things up and never seem redundant, you will have a blast performing them all. There are also six Assassin's Tombs scattered across the various cities, than when discovered, will force Ezio to solve the puzzles within to claim the prize at the end. Completing all six Tombs nets you a fabulous prize that is too awesome to explain here, but it really is worth your time to find these Tombs and complete them. There are also hidden glyphs scattered around the city, that when found reveal the secrets behind Subject 16, the patient that entered the animus before Desmond. Finding these strange symbols results in performing unusual tasks to break open files to watch a video hidden by Subject 16, which needless to say is definitely worth watching for a little bit of interesting back-story.
Doing these odd jobs are not the only ways for which you can earn money either as chests scattered around the cities also contain plenty of florins for you to find and collecting feathers and codex pages nets you some cash and upgrades as well. The best and probably most efficient way of earning florins is to help renovate your uncle's hometown of Monteriggioni. Here you can spend florins on upgrading the banks, blacksmiths, tailors and more. The more cash you spend on the city, thus increasing the cash flow into the city, the more money you end up making in the long run. A chest placed within one of the rooms has your share that you can come back and access at any time, so if you spend time upgrading the town of Monteriggioni you will always be pleased with the money you will undoubtedly earn. By the end of the game we had nearly 100k florins in our pocket by upgrading Monteriggioni and performing optional missions, so running out of money to fully upgrade Ezio should never be a problem.
While the basis of Assassin's Creed 2 is to utilize Ezio's assassin heritage to perform silent, deadly tasks, sometimes combat is unavoidable in which case Ezio must battle. Combat is as simple as locking onto a target and attacking but the later levels prove more difficult when various types of enemies begin attacking you at once. The lesser guards can be easily countered for beautiful executions, but the brutes, guards adorning massive armor, need impressive evade and counter tactics to be taken down. Besides a sword, Ezio can now utilize his double hidden blades, daggers, guns and even his fists in battle allowing him to mix things up to make things interesting. Scoping out your surroundings before a situation is always a good idea because you can usually take down two unsuspecting guards at once with the double hidden blade and the new aerial takedown, allowing you to drop in from above, usually proves effective at the start of a battle.
For those of you who prefer to remain silent instead of fighting, Assassin's Creed 2 now utilizes a new blending and notoriety system that lets Ezio blend in successfully within his surroundings. The blending system allows Ezio to hire courtesans to distract guards or even walk with him so he blends within a group, avoiding any suspicious looks from guards. The notoriety system acts like a meter that lets you know how far along you are into being noticed by the guards. Doing suspicious activities, such as killing innocent civilians or being in restricted areas raises the meters, forcing guards to be on high alert. You can however decrease your notoriety by removing posters of you around the cities, bribing officials or chasing down corrupt officials before they can speak your name to everyone. The choice is yours as to how well-known you choose to be, and the wide range of tactics for which you can engage every battle is always a welcome change.
Assassin's Creed 2 is perhaps one of the best looking games of this gen and it shows gracefully in every city you visit. From the towering structures of Rome to the mountain villas of Monteriggioni, every place is ripe with intricate artistic design, breathing with lively citizens and colorful villas. The combat moves at a steady pace even in the midst of fighting dozens of enemies at once, and the character models all look exceptional throughout the course of the story. Some stunning moments, such as participating in the Carnivale or soaring high above Venice with the flying machine truly show off some of the game's most exciting moments. The voice acting is stellar as well, showcasing some truly impressive Italian dialects and a triumphant orchestral score that fits the mood wherever the situation may arise.
Although the ending might be a little anti-climatic and leave many more questions unanswered, Assassin's Creed 2 fully delivers on anything you could ask for from a sequel and much more. The Italian countryside was a perfect fit in both design and gameplay and many of the new features should keep fans entertained for quite a while. You simply could not have asked for a better addition to the Assassin's Creed franchise and everyone should give this game a try as it is clearly one of the best titles of 2009.