Retrospective: Assassin’s Creed 2 Hands-on

In October 2009 I was invited over to Ubisoft’s Sydney offices to have a go on a few upcoming games and to have a chat with some of the folks behind them. One of the games on show was Assassin’s Creed 2 and my host was the game’s creative director Patrice Désilets.

Assasin’s Creed 2 was the first part in what would become a trilogy of adventures for Ezio Auditore, his story coming to a conclusion in November with the release of Assassin’s Creed Revelations. Assassin’s Creed 2 had a lot ot live up to. The first game, whilst technically a work of genius, was dull and repetitive to play. With the sequel, failure was not an option. If Ubisoft failed for a second time AC2 was likely to be it for the series.

The most vivid memory of the trip was of me being completely shit at the game in front of the game’s creator- an overly excited French-Canadian who was practically bouncing of the wall whilst observing my complete ineptitude.

Reading though the resultant article, I seem to have been a little star-struck, but I think I got a good handle on the game. Anyway, here’s my report from back in the day.

Game Console was recently invited on a trip across the ditch to visit Ubisoft Australia. We had a yarn with the creative folks over from Ubisoft Montreal and checked out a few of their impending heavy-hitters. Top on the list was a hands-on with the latest build of Assassin’s Creed 2. Guided by the soft-spoken Gallic tones of Mr. Assassin’s Creed himself, creative director Patrice Desilets, I got to take to the rooftops and alleyways of renaissance era Italy.

Set almost 300 years after Assassin’s Creed, the action moves from King Richard’s crusades in the holy land to Leonardo da Vinci’s Italy. You control Ezio Auditore da Firenze, nobleman, scholar and the titular assassin; the descendant of Altaïr from the first game. As before, the game’s historic setting is encompassed in a science-fiction wrapper, the events being drawn from the genetic memory of the assassin’s descendant, Desmond, using a machine called the Animus.

The main criticism of Assassin’s Creed was that, whilst the cities were beautifully realised, the game itself became quite repetitive. I spoke to Patrice about this, he acknowledge the issue and told me that they have sort to engage the player with a deeper level of immersion this time around. Patrice admitted that the first game perhaps reveled too much too soon. Things will be less transparent for the player in Assassin’s Creed 2.

Ubisoft have added several new layers to the game play for Assassin’s Creed 2, allowing players to better interact with the game environment.  This time your character, Ezio, can steal money from passers-by which can be spent on equipment and upgrades purchased from vendors (including the great Leonardo da Vinci, himself).  Hired help is available the form of seductive courtesans and thieves which the player can use to distract guards.

The signature Assassin’s Creed game play of climbing buildings, running across rooftops and executing historic figures, returns. Again we have been treated to meticulously detailed living, breathing cities. As the game started Ezio climbed a tower and perched high above the city, the moonlit tiled roofs of Florence stretching out into the distance.

The first part of my mission was to dispatch two archers guarding the rooftops above the target. This is a departure from the first game, the lead up to the assassinations now being more structured. Instead of throwing caution to the wind and tearing your way in, killing the target and running away, players are tasked to prepare the scenario before carrying out the actual assassination.

As I played, Patrice was getting increasingly animated, having got out of his seat beside me, he stood there and gestured my next move. The pressure of playing in front of the game’s creative director got too much for me and, like an amateur, I dropped the assassin down in full sight of the guards. A frantic button mash caused Ezio to throw a smoke bomb, allowing me time to run up the stairs and assassinate my target with Ezio’s concealed knife.

I didn’t have the energy to participate in the inevitable chase from the guards, which could last a good few minutes in the first game, so I handed the gamepad back to Patrice. He was pleased to see that my knowledge of Assassin’s Creed had filled me with false expectations. Instead of a predictable rooftop chase, your allies surrounded the guards, their bows poised, allowing Ezio to flee.

In other sequence, Ezio, overwhelmed by guards, dropped a smoke bomb in the hope of escaping to safety; almost in the clear a guard spied the fleeing assassin. With the guards hot on his heels, Ezio dove into a canal. Your assassin can swim this time. Waiting against the steep canal wall, the guards ran by. Safe, Ezio climbed onto a nearby gondola and punted of into the night.

Ubisoft have tweaked the guard’s detection abilities. No longer will you spend five to ten minutes running across rooftops trying find somewhere to hide from the superhuman gaze of the guards. Simply stay out of the guard’s line of sight for thirty seconds and they will break off the chase. Icons above the guards head indicate their alert level. The challenge of evading guards remains, but without the chases through the city becoming tiresome.

New for Assassin’s Creed 2, Ezio’s actions increase his notoriety, eventually to the point that guards will actively hunt him. Notoriety can also be effected by bribes and killing witnesses. Tearing down wanted posters from the walls will reduce notoriety. Ezio’s eagle vision, which highlights enemies and targets, is actually useful this time around, allowing you to move around in the third person view rather than switching to the narrow first person camera as in the previous game.

There are a lot more ways in which Ezio can take down opponents in Assassin’s Creed 2. You can jump down upon opponents from a great height, performing a death from above move. You can reach up over balconies, as you dangle below, pulling guards over the side and to their death. The infamous straw bales from the first game return, but this time you can drag unsuspecting guards into the hay for a stealthy takedown.

Assassin’s Creed redefined the level of detail we should expect from a sandbox game. It was a bold and ambitious undertaking by Ubisoft, perhaps too ambitious. With Assassin’s Creed 2, Ubisoft have taken the game play of the original and given us new places to explore and the promise of a lot more interaction with the environment.

I’m confident enough to say that if you liked the first game you’ll like Assassin’s Creed 2. Throughout my visit, Ubisoft emphasised their desire to provide an immersive emotional experience for the player. If they have been successful in removing the formulaic elements of the first game, then Assassin’s Creed 2 might just be the game of the year. From what I’ve seen, I think they have created something pretty special.


This article first appeared in the December 2009 issue of New Zealand’s Netguide Magazine