|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: Nov. 17, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
Additionally, players will uncover glyphs scattered around many of these buildings by the mysterious Subject 16. These glyphs not only reward exploration, they also nicely tie the overarching narrative of Desmond Miles back into the main gameplay and even provide some mild puzzle-solving mechanics. Of course, treasure chests filled with gold litter the city, and later on you'll also be able to find statuettes that have gone missing from your stronghold and the final resting places of former assassins. All in all, these hidden goodies and locations end up contributing a considerable amount of extra gameplay and challenge.
Stealth mechanics in ACII have improved. Rather than simply blending in with wandering monks, Ezio can actually hide in plain sight simply by hopping into any crowd. Also, hay bales and leaf piles, while conspicuously ever-present, are now not quite as concealing, as guards will check hiding spots if you're within the search area of your last known position.
Mixing things up a bit, this time you have the option of hiring thieves, mercenaries, and courtesans to help you distract guards. This allows you to circumvent human obstacles rather than taking the fight directly to your foes and sounding the alarm. Disappointingly, once again the enemy AI's silliness is exposed. While targeting guards with the feminine wiles of ladies of the night or the pilfering proclivities of thieves seems interesting, these hirelings distract guards so completely that you can bump into them without drawing their attention. This ends up making these new stealth portions of the game less than perfect, but it is still nice to have a lot more options this time around.
ACII is rife with varied mission types: parkour-style free-running races, beat-up events, courier assignments, and assassination contracts. Unlike the first game, these missions - whether mainline or otherwise - tend to be a lot more enjoyable. Also, side missions adapt themselves nicely to the story rather than sticking out as tacked on. In addition to missions, players will eventually be granted access to the town of Montereggio. There, the Auditore family has carved out their own refuge; a sprawling villa within a walled town. This villa serves as the game's main hub, granting you access to goods and collectibles. Players will find themselves regularly hiring caravans to fast-travel to and from Montereggio to restock on goods and seek repairs without the constant threat of suspicious guards made hostile by your notoriety in other cities. As a bonus, you'll be able to develop your stronghold over time with architectural improvements and lavish pieces of art.
There's a ton of content to wade through in Assassin's Creed II, but none of it would be worth squat if the production values stunk. Naturally, the team at Ubisoft Montreal really made this game well. The environments are captured so exquisitely, you'll be hard-pressed to find more attractive and lifelike virtual surroundings. The cities seem incredibly accurate and truly lived-in. I especially liked the way the developers were able to essentially get rid of clones. From passersby to guards, everyone has clothing, body sizes, and hairstyles/facial hair that make them unique. I can't tell you how refreshing it is not to be ripped out of immersion by a constant stream of clones.
On the audio side, the voice acting is excellent and infused with a lot of great dialogue and even some humor - I roared when I first met Mario Auditore. I especially loved the intermingling of Italian phrases in the dialogue - by the time you finish playing through the 20+ hours of gameplay, you'll likely have a lot more knowledge of Italian than just "Mile grazie!" or "Arrivederci!". Ambient sound effects are also amazing. Stepping over cobbled streets and terracotta roofs sounds authentic, and the shouts of vendors, heralds, and merchants really gives the game flavor. Finally, the musical themes in the background add a real edge to gameplay and the setting.
Assassin's Creed II is greatly improved over its predecessor. At the same time, it doesn't mess with what made the game so attractive to fans in the first place. The varied and refined gameplay along with the engaging story makes this title a must-buy for any serious gamer.
CCC Editor / News Director