Assassin's Creed 2 review
Given a quick glance, Assassin's Creed 2 (AC2) looks remarkably similar to its 2007 predecessor. A hooded figure races athletically across a set of beautifully rendered rooftops – with an obvious nod to the pastime of parkour – slowing only to dispatch a bungling guard or climb a tower to admire the view.
The setting has been updated, from the Holy Land of the 12th Century to 16th Century renaissance Italy. Strictly speaking, you play as the same character, Desmond Miles, who in 2012 is experiencing past events through a machine that accesses his Genetic Memory. Thankfully, all this sci-fi claptrap is kept to a minimum, leaving you to enjoy the richly detailed recreation of the period.
The nobleman Ezio replaces previous assassin Altair. In appearance, animation and capabilities they are largely interchangeable, no bad thing as the series continues to provide a protagonist of awesome, but believable, physical agility.
Starting in Florence, Ezio is something of a playboy, but his family are soon betrayed and he is drawn into a violent conflict between Assassin and Templar factions. It's painfully slow to start, takiug a couple of hours to really gets into its stride. Although the core actions – stalking, stabbing, leaping, fleeing and exploring – are identical to the first game, the structure they are set within is hugely improved.
Missions are constantly varied, rather than the cookie-cutter set from the first game. A good early example is set in San Gimignano, a small city of soaring towers. A cautious Templar has gone into hiding on its highest structure. To take him out you have to cross between a series of towers, taking down the sentries as you go. Ezio's story is more compelling than Altair's too, and we were keen to revenge his family. You feel like you are following a plot, rather than completing a set of tasks.
The main game is still very linear, with the only choices being in what order you tackle some tasks. Thankfully, the open world provides plenty of diversions should you wish to take a break from killing Templars. You can add these missions to your map by climbing towers, which give breath-taking panoramic views. There are people to bully, races to complete and hidden clues to discover. The best side missions are those which unlock Altair's armour from the first game. You need to plunder six assassin's tombs. Each of which is a standalone platforming challenge, requiring some careful planning.
As a killer for hire you can always complete contracts for cash, useful for buying new weapons and armour – which increase your combat skills. Combat itself is fairly straightforward, with well timed button presses countering your opponent's blows and despatching them with a swift riposte. A range of enemies, from lumbering armoured brutes to agile rooftop running knife-wielders, helps bring some variety.
Any kind of suspicious behaviour, particularly out-and-out brawling, will raise your notoriety rating. If this goes too high, then guards will give chase on sight. You can lower it, though, by tearing down wanted posters, bribing heralds or bumping off city officials. Ezio can move around unnoticed by blending in with the crowds on the streets, or even hire courtesans to distract nearby guards.
The huge open world also includes Venice, Rome and large areas of the Tuscan countryside. It has being lovingly researched, with most important missions being based around real-world buildings, each of which is brought to life with historical anecdotes. Famous events and characters, like Leonardo da Vinci and the all-powerful Medici family, are used to great effect.