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Hands on: Assassins Creed II

November 6, 2009, Author: Andy Corrigan

The game I was most looking forward to sampling at the recent Eurogamer Expo was undoubtedly Assassins Creed II. Sure there were more broadly anticipated titles there, such as Mass Effect 2 or Left 4 Dead 2 for example, however, with the imminent release of the sequel I’ve been eager to witness exactly whether Ubisoft had learnt from their mistakes with the previous instalment.

I had a lot of love for the first game despite its overbearing repetition. It had a fantastic game engine, the story was deep, cryptic and the actual gameplay was rather enjoyable. The potential was clearly there for something truly great. Even the guys from Ubisoft were brutally honest at the Expo, labelling the first game as being ‘like a footballer’s wife; great to look at, but not fun to spend time with’. So how did the sequel stand up to early questioning? A little disappointingly if I’m honest.

The first thing I should mention is that the demo on show was an extremely early (and unstable) build; the same one shown months ago at the Tokyo Game Show in fact. My go didn’t start well, considering that the game had to be restarted three times before I could actually begin playing. No longer playing as Altair, gamers are now living through the memories of Ezio, another kill-happy ancestor of Desmond, the hapless captive from the first game.

My first mission to enable an assassination was to take five archers out of the equation to ease my passage to my main target. The first thing I did was climb to a roof top. The game handles pretty much as it did before, however in this build the controls felt a little clunky and quite unresponsive. Ezio would often ignore button presses. Regularly I found myself dangling from the ledge I should have leapt from rather than landing on the roof opposite. On the way towards the archers, both over rooftops and through the streets, I was able to catch some of the changes.

Navigating the city streets seems far easier, especially considering that Ubisoft Montreal have given the boot to the annoying beggars who used to follow you every few steps. Stealth kills are still present and are still deeply satisfying; having the option to slyly perform a duel execution on two holy men at the same time (thanks to twin hidden blades), before walking away blending into the crowd instantly brought a smile to my face.

As I neared the vicinity of my targets I ran past a group of people and became aware that I was offered interaction with them. By pressing the triangle button I was able to hire these guys to follow me and help on my mission; more on that shortly. Speaking to the Ubisoft rep, money plays a large part as the game now features a full economy system, enabling you to hire gangs, buy weapons and even own property (including a brothel). By highlighting a chosen guard, I was able to send my newly hired goons to attack a group of men guarding a door while I’ll scaled a nearby wall completely unnoticed. This sort of strategy I really enjoyed, but it played little part in actually getting to my targets.

Once up above I disposed of the archers in varying ways; throwing them off buildings (in some cases while dangling precariously underneath them), sneak assassinations and full on attacks. The combat is exactly how you will remember (button presses were also being ignored here though), but this time in the midst of combat you can use enemies own weapons against them. When all the guys were down my job was done, but there was heat on me. Running through the environment trying to escape attackers was one of the most exhilarating things in the first game and this is no different, only the guards have a few new tricks up their sleeves. Having rounded a corner and jumped into a trademark bail of hay, the guards picked up a pitch fork and started stabbing at it, leaving me to try and sneak out the other side without receiving an unwanted buttock piercing.


Oh, you can swim too!

One thing I didn’t really take to in the original game were the main assassinations, and for a game that was hyped for its stealthy approach that aspect fell flat on its face. You couldn’t get in and out without being seen; you always ended up in a big sword fight. This hasn’t changed much from the mission I was shown. Still you can’t get to your target without alerting everyone. Worst of all you still have the lengthy conversations with them after you have struck the final blow. Quite what the guards are doing at this point I have no idea.

Whilst playing I asked about some of the aspects of the story. I’m told that Desmond plays a far larger part than simply walking around a lab, and that the character of Ezio has his own story and far more character development as opposed to Altair, who was simply an empty vessel. Ezio also has contraptions to aid him in his battles, such as a flying machine (designed by Da Vinci) but none of this was on show so it’s hard to gauge just how different it is to the previous title.

Surprisingly the game left me a little underwhelmed when it came to the visuals; the textures looked extremely poor. However, after I had finished my play-through I took a glance at another system, and it looked a lot nicer on the machine next to me, so there may have been an issue with the TV/graphical set-up I was on, or maybe they were on a different build of the game to me.

I totally accept that this was an early build of the game, and that the final game is likely to be much improved. There is definitely the basis of a very good game here just like before. However, as to whether they have succeeded in making this the game it should have been first time around I’m a little tentative about, especially on this showing. A large part of this is because there wasn’t much new they were actually able to show me as most of it is being saved for release. I definitely want to spend some more time with Assassins Creed II at some point, but playing this build has cooled my anticipation somewhat and I probably won’t be taking the plunge until the New Year. Probably my biggest disappointment of the show, but then again, I had pretty high expectations.