Given just how successful the first Assassin’s Creed game was – selling millions upon millions of copies for UbiSoft – it’s surprising how few people seem to rave about it.
Oh, they rave about the first level or two, as it throws its tricks at you and sucks you into a seemingly fascinating and exciting game world. But beyond that? Few big games have got so repetitive so quickly, and few have made us want to hurl a gamepad through our screens with such venom. The fact that we didn’t is perhaps something to do with our anger management classes. They were clearly money well spent.
The sequel, however, is much better, UbiSoft having clearly taken on board the extensive criticism of game one and subsequently fixed the majority of the problems. Why don’t more developers do this?
Assassin’s Creed II is still quite a free game – albeit one that only lets you into bits of the game world when you’ve completed certain tasks – but it’s simply much more interesting, even with the wraparound story that we didn’t fully warm to (although, to be fair, the narrative is far better than we’re used to seeing a in a videogame).
It benefits mainly from a massive tightening up of the game mechanics themselves, that thus provide the foundation for more scope, more coherence and a lot more variety in the missions that you face.
In fact, the changes kick off fairly quickly as even the character you play has been altered. Now you step into the shoes of the younger, more frivolous Ezio, over whom you have a lot of control. The game gently leads you up a reasonable learning curve to master techniques to help Ezio on his quest (hiding in haystacks, fighting, going to high points to work out what to do next, that sort of thing), before gently raising the difficulty level.
The tasks that it puts in front of you are varied and testing, and invariably require a mixture of action, stealth and exploration. Along the way you gain feathers and currency to help you upgrade your arsenal and earn extra goodies. You can also earn more money through taking on missions and looting bodies, and it’s worth the effort. However, this also hints at another of the strengths of the game, in that it’s far more pick-and-choose. The same-y missions are still, in truth, tucked away in there, but you’re not forced to effectively do the same thing over and over again any more.
We should also note that it’s a satisfyingly long game – and how often do we say that? – that will eat up the best part of 20 hours if you want to get to the end of it. For such a polished, challenging production – and Assassin’s Creed II is genuinely gleaming from top to bottom – that’s some achievement. It’s also, crucially, very entertaining to play.
It’s not a perfect dish, of course, with some elements of the narrative feeling a little clumsy, and still the odd moment of frustration to slightly sour the taste. But it’s a huge leap forward from its predecessor and a genuinely terrific game. It also makes Assassin’s Creed III a savoury proposition. But for now, this is one of the best games of the year.