Assassin's Creed II Preview
Xbox 360 | PS3 | PC
Assassin's Creed II box art
System: X360, PS3, PC Review Rating Legend
Dev: Ubisoft Montreal 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Ubisoft 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Q4 2009 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Pending 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
Italy's Assassin
by Matthew Walker

April 17, 2009 - Whether you loved the mystery surrounding the first Assassin's Creed or not doesn't really matter. Nearly everyone I have talked to, and even in my own opinion, agrees it was a great game to play. The idea behind the creed and mission-based assassinations was a fun concept. Ubisoft Montreal thinks people need another go around in the world of assassins, and we agree. The problems most frequently encountered with the first are being retooled and turned into something fresh, innovative, and, undoubtedly, wrapped tight in mystery.

Assassin's Creed II screenshot

The first Assassin's Creed took place in 1191 during the Crusades, with players controlling Altaïr, an arrogant member of the Assassins seeking to reclaim his honor. This time around, we advance some 300 years. Set in 1476, in Italy, players will not only be interacting with new surroundings but with a new character as well, Ezio Auditore de Firenze. It will become quickly apparent that Ezio is no Altaïr. Ezio has had a privileged life, is a nobleman, and it is unclear what his direct relation is to Altaïr and Desmond is - and Ubisoft is not sharing all of the info. In fact, the only thing known is that Ezio eventually winds up alone and on a quest for vengeance against some of the most powerful families in Italy. For those concerned with whether the Assassin's and the Templar's war is still raging, don't worry, they are still very pivotal to the narrative of Assassin's Creed II, even though they may reside more in the shadows than they did in the first title.

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The environment is one of the changes that the team is bringing to Assassin's Creed II. Unlike the first, with its wide-open wilderness between cities, this time around things feel more connected throughout the cities and surrounding landscapes. Missions, story development, and hidden secrets will be spread out through the environment, giving not only a stronger need to explore the environments than before but also a greater sense of the era itself. Ramifications of nobles fighting, the church's influence, and merchant families vying for land and profit are beautifully and accurately portrayed. Ubisoft went the extra mile and brought in University of Notre Dame professor of history Margaret Meserve to consult on the time period. One example of the true events incorporated is the assassination attempt of Lorenzo de' Medici during a Sunday mass. I won't ruin the depth of that story, but know that it is a good read and definitely ties into the Italian Mafia stories of modern day. Events like this and environments resembling historic cities like Venice and Florence will undoubtedly intrigue history buffs on a whole new level.

Assassin's Creed II screenshot

The intrigue doesn't stop there either. Several things have been tweaked to make the experience different but still very much reminiscent. For instance, the health system of the first game relied heavily on you being in synch with the memory to refill you health. This time around, the same holds true but only to a certain point. If you have been injured and your health meter has only recharged to a certain level, you will need to seek out a street-side doctor to refill your health the entire way. Collectibles have also been adjusted to serve a better function. Instead of just collecting the flags, statues, gold coins, and other various items, all of them will come with in-game bonuses or awards for the players going out of their way to obtain them. Another modification includes a reworked leap and grab maneuver to make traversing buildings much easier and more enjoyable. In addition to this, more free-running paths have been clearly marked by white flags in the game. It will operate in the same manner as birds on ledges that signify an appropriate hiding spot. There will be a few extra types of hiding spots as well, including a merchant's pile of wool, carts filled with a fisherman's fresh catch, and several more. Probably my favorite of the new hiding spots is in the water. Yes, finally you will be able to swim, and you can use it as a hiding spot for as long as Ezio can hold his breath.

Along with the new hiding spots comes a much-anticipated and welcomed ability: assassinating from cover. This was something I expected in the first, since there was a huge emphasis on using to cover. I don't know how many times I wished I could just pop out of hiding and rid myself of my pursuer. This time around we will also have an easier time of using the stealth blade, or should I say blades, which opens up the possibility of assassinating more than one person at a time. These new stealth blades were designed, as shown on the teaser site for Assassin's Creed II, by Leonardo da Vinci. Another modification to the stealth blades is if your target is unaware of you, then you will no longer need to select the blades to use them. Instead, they will automatically be used. This is also a great thing to hear, since, more often than not, in the beginning of the first title, it became more of a chore to remember to equip the stealth blade.

Screenshots / Images
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