Published Jan 07, 2010By most definitions, the first Assassin's Creed was a resounding success. It's hard to argue with eight million copies sold of a fantastic-looking game with both a cool/original setting (Crusades-era Holy Land) and a cool/original premise (a centuries-spanning war between the Knights Templar and the Order of Assassins). Not to mention an acrobatic, Parkour-based control scheme, realistic-yet-stylized sand-brushed graphics and for added geek cred, Miss Veronica Mars herself, Kristen Bell, providing her voice and likeness.
But something wasn't quite right. The game quickly grew repetitive and while it wasn't the tech demo some cynics claimed, it also wasn't the classic the rest of us craved. So, an army of Montreal-based developers went back to the digital drawling board at Ubisoft's sprawling Mile End studio and emerged two years later with Assassin's Creed II, a veritable argument in favour of game sequels.
Basically, Assassin's Creed II has everything you liked about the first game, but this time with enough variety of game play to keep you engrossed until the end. Once again you play Desmond, a modern-day descendant of the Order of Assassins (based on a real-life olden times Islamic sect known as Hashshashin, from whence, by the way, we also get the term "hash").
Using a virtual reality-like simulator, Desmond is able to access the genetic memories of his ancestors. But instead of returning to Altaïr ibn La-Ahad's middle-eastern middle-ages, this time he goes to the Renaissance-era Italian homeland of nobleman Ezio Auditore da Firenze. Florence, Venice, Rome and the Tuscany countryside turn out to be just as interesting an open-world as Jerusalem, Acre and Damascus ― maybe more so. The red rooftops are a pleasure to Parkour across, the alleys fun to dart in and out of, the up-to-five-story buildings a blast to climb (and leap off of). Having been to Italy, it's also a thrill to just wander Firenze during a time when the Duomo chapel and the Ponte Vecchio bridge were still new.
As well as being architecturally accurate, the game is also surprisingly historically accurate, with real-life figures playing prominent roles, including Machiavelli, the Medici and Pazzi families and Leonardo de Vinci, the latter of whom plays Chloe to your Jack Bauer (or Q to your Bond, if you prefer).
Mostly, though, this epic sequel is just a sheer pleasure to play ― the more interesting missions fit snugly into the stronger Renaissance politics narrative, the twisty conspiracy makes more sense, the already beautiful graphics have been improved, the assassinations are more thrilling, the art direction more ambitious and overall there's a creative confidence that was lacking the first time round.
This past holiday season saw the usual overwhelming deluge of triple-A titles, so if you haven't yet had a chance to play this game, you should do so post-haste. Take our word for it: Assassin's Creed II is killer. (Ubisoft Montreal)