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Assassin's Creed II Review

Brad Gallaway's picture

How Much Do You Like Running on Rooftops?

Assassin's Creed II Screenshot

HIGH Feeling my stomach pitch climbing the heights of a towering church.

LOW The poorly-planned, hours-long, painfully slow beginning.

WTF Is finding feathers supposed to be fun?

Back in 2007, my estimation of the original Assassin's Creed was that it was little more than a tech demo, rich in style but deficient in substance. However, the potential was clear to see. The premise of being a nimble intruder dancing across rooftops to deliver justice to unsuspecting enemies was an extremely attractive one. Despite my disappointment, I held out hope that Ubisoft would listen to player feedback and get things right in the inevitable sequel.

That sequel is now here. Although it's definitely a better experience, "better" is a relative term.

While many in critical circles were quick to proclaim that all was well with this new installment, I find my issues with third-person actioner Assassin's Creed II are much the same as they were the first time around; the tasks presented to the player are too repetitive, too much time is spent simply climbing or traveling from place to place, and the core controls never feel as tuned as they should.

Looking first to the controls, Assassin's Creed II employs the same system that allowed players to make impossible jumps and scale high buildings last time. By holding a button and pressing a direction, main character Ezio Auditore can ascend practically any wall and make breathtaking leaps from one precipice to another. It's a great trick and terribly impressive-looking in motion, but lacks precision.

Assassin's Creed II Screenshot

It's a very common occurrence to leap in a direction that was not intended, especially in timed sections, or while fleeing. Additionally, since the player does little more than hold down a button and aim towards the desired destination, so much automation lends the sense that the player is only vaguely in control. There's little thrill in nailing a landing or correctly judging distance. That same sort of imprecision extends to the combat—although the developers try to maximize the available inputs on a controller by employing context-sensitive inputs, I can't help but feel that they've tried to cram too much in. It's quite annoying to try to grab a ledge and instead "push away" a person that isn't there, or to have to hold down both triggers, aim in a direction and then hit a face button to counter an oncoming attacker. At no point does the interface ever feel natural or effortless.

Although the controls were a bother, the more serious issue to address is the fact that a player's enjoyment of Assassin's Creed II is directly linked to how much pleasure is derived from climbing walls and leaping rooftops to get from point A to point B.

Rather than craft composed levels that present directed situations the player must navigate with Ezio's skillset, the bulk of the game instead relies on the auto-climb system in nearly all missions and gives the player large expanses of urban environment to traverse. Although I do feel that the parkour-styled locomotion at the heart of the game is interesting and attractive, positioning it as anything more than supplementary is a mistake. By placing it at the core of the Assassin's Creed experience and expecting it to provide the lions' share of engaging content on its own is a grievous error in judgment.

By the time I reached the game's halfway point, I had become thoroughly disenchanted with jumping and climbing tall things just for the sake of climbing them. There are only so many ways to implement such a system without providing a wider variety of scripted situations, and the biggest problem of the last game, repetition, remains a problem still.

For example, upon entering each new area, the player must obtain map data by climbing a series of towers simply to get to the top. Although it's fine to do the first few times, it quickly becomes a chore that has to be endured rather than savored. The new optional missions (ostensibly added to provide variety) are all variations on the same basic types—assassination, racing, delivering messages, and so on. Once these have been experienced, there is little to separate one from another. The same goes for finding important Codex pages, or how the game requires players to tear down posters or eliminate officials as a way of reducing the notoriety Ezio accumulates. It all basically boils down to asking the player to engage in low-complexity activities hinging on navigating the environment.

Assassin's Creed II Screenshot

Interestingly, the most enjoyable segments of Assassin's Creed II for me were when it broke away from its free-running identity. Throughout the adventure there are six crypts (seven, if the extra from Ubisoft's Uplay system is downloaded) and a quick visit to the Vatican. These segments are all deliberately made to have one correct path through, and include discrete challenges that must be overcome by taking advantage of Ezio's agility and assassination skills. Feeling more like Tomb Raider or Prince of Persia, the level of focused intent from the development team felt more rewarding than the hours of wide-open mediocrity I had to wade through between them. More than anything, these sections are what convinced me that the franchise still has potential, but continuing to rely on an open-world design to provide the bulk of what passes for "gameplay" is the true Achilles' heel here.

Built on such a shallow foundation, the rest of the experience suffers. The adventure as a whole feels samey, sluggish and bloated, and in my opinion would benefit from being half as long as it is. Although I do appreciate the return of the high-concept sci-fi elements first posited in the original, most time spent in Assassin's Creed II's deals with an overly-complicated tangle of Italian political intrigue that fails to engage or interest, just as it fails to deliver any showstopping, must-tell-friends moments. It's clear to see that the development team spent quite a bit of time and effort in developing this mythology, but to be honest, it's so boring and verbose that I can't help but feel their efforts would've been better spent elsewhere.

Although it's possible to rattle off a list of bullet-point features that imply Assassin's Creed II is head and shoulders above the first game—more missions, more story, more collectibles and extras—I simply didn't find them to amount to much. As I stated in the opening, it's certainly better, but remains too tiresome and unsatisfying to celebrate. Rather than writing a book's worth of Renaissance dialogue and tossing in more carbon-copy roof-crossing filler, I'd much prefer that Ubisoft Montreal focus future attention on expanding and enriching the core gameplay itself. As much as it pains me to say it, Assassin's Creed II is yet another promise, and not yet a promise fulfilled. Rating: 5.5 out of 10.

Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately 18 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood, intense violence, sexual content and strong language, and those descriptors are accurate. Most definitely not a game appropriate for young ones, the violence is redly graphic, salty language litters nearly every cut-scene, and although the sexual content isn't prolific or gratuitous, it's definitely there. This one is labeled "M" for a reason, moms and dads.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: You won't have much difficulty playing the game proper, but even with the subtitles turned on I noticed that the opening scenes did not have text. It was a little disappointing to start the adventure out that way, but everything else in the game is accessible. Although sounds of enemies do occasionally play a role, their importance is also communicated through on-screen displays, so there's nothing being missed by those with hearing impairment.

Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360   PS3   PC  
Developer(s): Ubisoft Montreal  
Key Creator(s): Jade Raymond  
Publisher: Ubisoft  
Series: Assassin's Creed  
Genre(s): Stealth  
ESRB Rating: Mature (17+)  
Articles: Game Reviews  

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Absolutely right - you hit

Absolutely right - you hit on the fine points, Brad. I would mention that the PS3 rendering on this title was way UGLY compared to AC1. Nothing popped, and facial animations in particular had all manner of weirdness.

I agree completely, well not

I agree completely, well not 100% completely because since I'm not a game reviewer and didn't have the task of being forced to finish it. It would have been at gun point. The tedium was nauseating me at some point and I felt guilty for wasting my life. Its amazing to imagine the potential and see it stuck in a shell like this. I do hope they can find a useful project for what is amazing game technology at its heart. I did love comparing ancient Firenze with the game by flying there in google Earth. Pretty amazing attention to detail. I don't know what is going on these days but its seems hard to not be disappointed by the current groups of sequels. Maybe out hopes and imagination has made our expectations so high. I did love Demo's Souls for awhile but I gave up on it too. Just too hard core for me though I really can appreciate the love and work that must've gone into that project.

I also heard that there may have been some coercion regarding review scores from the publisher which say a lot right there if its true. Seems like the lack of cohesion in the game belies a lack of cohesion in the project at a very basic level. hmmm.

thanks for the great review.

Your point about the game

Your point about the game controls being imprecise is plain wrong. It very much relies not just on the automation of its running physics but also slight player input via the A button to orient and perform precision maneuvers. It can be claimed that the game may be poor in its communication of this, however, it's nothing short of a masterclass in control once you understand it.

(Also see the largely misunderstood vehicle physics in GTA IV, which can also be claimed as poorly communicated but hardly poor in its functional execution.)

Saboteur vs Assassin's Creed 2

Just completed both games and I have to agree with this article about the repetive nature of Creed. I found Saboteur to have more variety, better stealth and better controlled free running. Also there were none of the load time problmes that Creed has constantly running through it. I don't think Saboteur is a fantastic game or anything, but I feel it should be much closer to Creed 2 in review scores.

100% Agreement

I'm glad to see SOMEONE talking some sense about this game. I 100% agree about the first game, and was hoping for all of the same improvements. Unfortunately only the graphics are better. The controls, mission style, and story are just as stilted and repetitive as the first one. In other words, if you loved the first one, you'll be fine. If you hated the first one, you'll get tired of this one just as fast.

And I totally understand why they used the same voice-actor as Uncharted--because he ROCKS!!--but they just shot themselves in the foot, because all I keep doing is comparing this to Uncharted 1 and 2, and I'd rather play those games a few dozen more times than play another hour of this junk. I want my trade-in credit back!

And another thing

Sorry, I also meant to say the graphics aren't THAT good. Just marginally better than the first one. The cutscenes are shameful,(ESPECIALLY compared to Uncharted 1 and 2) and the facial animations are just bizarre. Only the background textures and body animations are believable.

you nailed it again Brad!!!! Well done!!!!

I have to agree with your article Brad, you really nailed it this time!!! As you mentioned in the article the graphics really are a major downgrade from the last one which is very true(horribly choppy animations and such) and jumping from building to building just doesn't seem fun either, it reminds me of frogger from the atari era. This really is the worst game possibly of the year and easily the most overhyped junk since GTA4. Thanks Brad, finally we have a real honest reviewer like you to tell it like it really is!!!

Good review, and one of the

Good review, and one of the only seemingly honest ones for this game. I'm so tired of reviewers glossing over inherent faults because of a franchise name or company. The first one bored me, and it had so much potential yet was so limited by many factors, including the boring and repetitive nature of the main storyline assassinations.

I was hoping they'd fix the niggling issues in 2, but it sounds like it repeats a lot of the same problems that plagued the franchise starter. If developers are going to keep pushing the open-ended exploration format, then they damn well better make good used of the possibilities instead of using cheap tricks to artificially expand the gameplay.

The most honest review I've

The most honest review I've read so far. I write reviews for another site and subscribe wholeheartedly to unbiased opinion rather than the sugar-coated fluff that fanboy sites splurge out for certain franchises and development studios.

Sadly though most candid reviews are met with scathing disapproval from the blind masses, so props for telling it like it is.

Keep up the good work.

Wow did you even play the

Wow did you even play the game? I normally like your reviews but this is just silly. You don't like the controls, running and jumping but you like the crypt levels? This doesn't make sense. The game has a good story, fantastic sound and graphics and the voice acting is better than anything else this year. I think you dropped the ball on this review.

We all have games that,

We all have games that, despite their popularity, seem, to us, to be completely devoid of merit or fun. Assassin's Creed is that game for you (mine's Resident Evil 5 :P.) I loved the first game and am thoroughly enjoying the second. You're overwhelmed by the flaws in the game because you aren't having a good time (along with quite a few other people it seems.) I see the flaws in the game but they are minor things to me because 90% of the time I'm having a blast (How can you not love running across roof tops and taking out guards with a throwing knife or a blade through the back.) If I was you I'd consider acknowledging that you are in the 50% of the gaming audience that this franchise seems to piss off and maybe leave the review for 3 to someone who enjoyed 1 and 2.

Anonymous wrote: I'm glad

Anonymous wrote:

I'm glad to see SOMEONE talking some sense about this game. I 100% agree about the first game, and was hoping for all of the same improvements. Unfortunately only the graphics are better. The controls, mission style, and story are just as stilted and repetitive as the first one. In other words, if you loved the first one, you'll be fine. If you hated the first one, you'll get tired of this one just as fast.

And I totally understand why they used the same voice-actor as Uncharted--because he ROCKS!!--but they just shot themselves in the foot, because all I keep doing is comparing this to Uncharted 1 and 2, and I'd rather play those games a few dozen more times than play another hour of this junk. I want my trade-in credit back!

I agree with you both.
I was almost believing to be the only thinking in this way

But what about Italy?

I actually sought out this review via GameRankings.com to find the worst review score on record for this game, largely because I'm suffering through it right now and needed some empathy. I definitely agree with you about almost everything you said, but the one thing that keeps me coming back to this game is the one thing you failed to mention as one of its positive attributes:

The designers did an INCREDIBLE job nailing these Italian cities! How could you not mention that? Do you have little appreciation for world culture, history, and geography, or were you just that frustrated with the controls and repetitive missions that you couldn't see it?

I'm sure I'm not the only person who has played this game having been to many of these cities and was ASTOUNDED at how dead-on the city layouts are. It's uncanny, so much so that it certainly makes me miss my time in Italy. Sure, you could argue that if this were the only redeeming thing about the game that it would basically be a really expensive-to-produce version of Google Earth or something, but you have to admit that the game has more to offer than just the scenery, right?

All this said, I'm VERY tired of playing this game and totally agree with you that it should have been half as long (maybe even shorter?). And yes, the controls take the fun out of it...I haven't cussed this much at a game in a long time, especially during the race sequences... =)

Thanks for your great review.

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