(Review archived from November 9, 2014)
Time for a triple-A action adventure title!
I played through the first title last year, and I enjoyed that one quite a lot as well, but every time I mentioned how much I enjoyed the first one, inevitably someone would retort, “Yes, but have you played the second one?” To be honest, I really didn’t see where the second title in the series could be that much better than the first. I had seen gameplay videos and everything seemed fairly same-y. I get it now. I still stand by the first game as being an enjoyable experience, but ACII winds up being an immersive experience.
First and foremost the story in this game plays out on an epic scale. The first game was great in that it introduced the concepts integral to the series, but this game meticulously crafts those set pieces into an epic tale of revenge, redemption and growth. While Altair seemed a bit like a faceless soldier of the Assassin’s Order, Ezio is a well rounded character with human strengths and flaws. Over the course of 10 years Ezio experiences ultimate loss, and absolution through the Order and through his own personal quest.
One of the things that’s an amazing strength of this series is how it takes real historical people and places, and then interweaves them seamlessly into the mythology of the series. ACII is astounding in this regard. There is so much attention to detail that the entire game seems plausible, and further that you are witnessing a living breathing rendition of renaissance Italy and its colorful inhabitants.
Another aspect where the game shines is in it’s attention to detail in terms of intricate conspiracies, playing out over the course of centuries. If you’re a conspiracy buff, or a fan of works like The Da Vinci Code and Holy Blood, Holy Grail, you will likely find plenty to enjoy here. There’s just so much content to absorb regarding various political intrigues, and shady nefarious “illuminati type” groups manipulating world events behind the scenes. It’s a game that rewards you for digging deeply into its sizable database of people, locations, documents, decodable glyphs and various other errata.
Naturally the the free running game play mechanics for which the series is famous for really shine here. The other core element of the gameplay is of course assassination, and it feels and plays here better than ever. For this outing Ezio sports two arm blades meaning that you can assassinate two targets simultaneously. Add to that the various new and assorted deadly gizmos at his disposal (provided to Ezio vis a vis a very famous Italian renaissance painter and inventor), and he’s an extremely formidable opponent. In fact the game makes you feel like an absolute badass, regardless of whether you choose to take a stealth approach for minimum body count, or if you’d prefer hack and slash your way through the legions that oppose you (shock and awe!). You are a walking razor blade, and no one will stand in your way between you and your target. In regards to this latter point I should point out that the combat in this game has been improved significantly from that seen in the first game. Ultimately the gameplay in ACII feels natural, smooth and exhilerating.
One element Ubisoft added to this game which really shines, is that you’re tasked with raiding the tombs of various famous assassins. These areas wear the Tomb Raider influence on their sleeves, but when you combine that with excellent freerunning mechanics, they are an absolute joy to play. They’re basically like a puzzle based free running mini game. Awesome!
One misstep present in the first game, that also rears its head here, is that the analog controls can be very touchy at times during freerunning and climbing segments. I know I’ve raved about how good those sections are (and they really are), but sometimes Ezio will be in the middle of an epic freerunning line or several stories above the streets of Venice, when all of a sudden he’ll freak out like an epileptic monkey on crack, and jump in a completely unexpected direction. This will often spell disaster if you’re high up off the ground or chasing after a fleeing target, and it can definitely lead to some rage inducing WTF moments. All told though those moments are fleeting, and certainly didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the game.
I almost forgot to mention it, but the Super Mario Bros. reference at one point was pretty much one of the highlights of the game for me. I won’t spoil it, but you’ll know it when you see it. There’s also a random pedestrian comment you hear occasionally regarding, “a capering crusader”. Ha! Classic!
All told I had a really good time with this one, and I can’t wait to see where Ezio’s adventures take him next in AC: Brotherhood (after a suitable cool down period of course. Too much of a good thing is still too much). My personal GOTY? Maybe!