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Assassin’s Creed II Impresses Despite Simplicity

Andy Seroff | Monday, February 1, 2010

“Assassin’s Creed II” is the second major installment of the successful and critically acclaimed series by Ubisoft. In this episode, the player takes the reins of Desmond, a descendent of the assassin Ezio Auditore da Firenze. Through some far-fetched futuristic technology, Desmond is placed in a “Matrix”-like virtual simulation of his ancestor’s memories, which are apparently decoded from his DNA.
Within this simulation, Desmond relives Ezio’s life story, including the assassin’s training, the cold-blooded murder of his family, and his corpse-littered, blood-soaked path to revenge. You know, the normal stuff of a Renaissance Italian.
To those new to the franchise, you are initially introduced to Desmond and the plot of the series through a tedious sequence of escape scenes, where you have to follow a woman who won’t tell you where you’re going or why you’re getting into the trunk of her car.
After a successful getaway, you’re itching to get into the “Matrix,” if only to learn player controls other than walking, and the slightly faster but incredibly stupid looking power-walk.
Once inside the simulation, the game opens up with a tutorial of the controls, which varied on the spectrum between “obvious and insistent” to “aggravatingly unhelpful.” What it explains thoroughly need not be said, and where the player is pitted against a non-player character (NCP) in an unavoidable building-scaling contest, the tutorial offers little more advice than “Beat your brother to the top of the church.” This, the hardest and most frustrating part of the game, comes within five minutes of putting the disc in.
Having conquered the tutorial, the player is introduced to Ezio’s world by completing a series of tasks for his father. It begins to seem like Ezio is just a trouble-making courier, until the delivery of a secret package results in Ezio’s entire family getting murdered for a conspiracy his father was fighting against. This event fuels Ezio’s thirst for revenge, tracking down and killing every member of the massive group of coconspirators guilty of the murder of Ezio’s family.
Once into the flow of the game, the missions come very easily. Each assassination of one conspirator results in leads to three others, taking you to various Italian settings — Venice, Florence, a rural area, Ezio’s villa. All of these magnificent landscapes also come with different peacekeepers, different vehicles (horses, boats in Venice) and different malicious leaders to take down.
These different settings make the difference in what are basically variations on a theme — platforming and fighting. Not to say that these two components combined cannot make a great game — on the contrary, many great games are solely comprised of them. What makes this troublesome in “Assassin’s Creed II,” however, is that these platforming and combat tasks are unbelievably easy. Despite countless controls, by holding two buttons, Ezio enters Spider-man-mode, where he leaps and bounds in the direction indicated, through whatever means necessary.
The secondary plot, which is collecting relics of historical assassins, is the only time you’ll ever have to think about platforming, because these areas are designated platforming challenges, designed to test the mastery of the skill. In all common town areas, holding the two buttons renders Ezio uncapturable. The second element of the gameplay, combat, is also excessively easy. Unless you manage to aggravate a small horde of guards, Ezio’s combat skills, weaponry, and speed will result in a large pile of guard corpses.
The plot is present, but not essential enough to really be a factor in the game. Once you turn into a revenge-seeking Renaissance ninja, with the puzzle-solving and invention-making sidekick Leonardo Da Vinci, it is easy to tune out the names in favor of the little red “kill this guy” indicator on the minimap. The result is a sandbox game that plays through well once, then leaves you as a heavily armed misanthrope with a weird compulsion for jumping off of the top of church steeples into big piles of hay.