Assassin's Creed II
Venice, Italy, The 15th century. In reality this seemingly picturesque town is an overcrowded, plague-ridden pit A hairy miasma-hole perched on the rudest bit of long-legged Italy's suggestive coastline. You wouldn't go there if you could help it, you'd probably go to the far prettier Florence to do your wine shopping. Sure, there was a Renaissance happening and Senora Vespucci down the way says that hot young thing Da Vinci is zipping about the city streets in a hello-copter - but the place smelled like poo. No amount of culture can waft away a poo smell.
Thankfully Ubisoft are downplaying the reality slightly, if only to give the new Altair the ability to dive into crystal-clear Venetian canals instead of plodding between bloated corpses and turdy sandbanks. In fact, Ubisoft's vision of a Renaissance-era Italy is a beautiful one, from the shimmering waterways of Venice to the chapels and architecture of Florence. Where the original went some ways towards highlighting the sparse beauty of the ramshackle Middle Eastern cities of the Third Crusade, Assassin's Creed II's art direction collides head-on with the most creative period in human history, resulting in some visually astounding scenes.
This isn't Altair either. The wacky futuristic subplot to Assassin's Creed tells the story of an unwitting descendent of an assassin's guild forced to relive the memories of his ancestors in a magical genetic memory machine. No doubt that for the sequel the machine's been recalibrated, and the memories you're now re-enacting are those of a different ancestor, one called Ezio Auditore di Firenze. As he's part of the same legion of assassins, and of the same blood as Altair, he'll look vaguely similar and sport that all-important white hood.
Da Vinci, who's very much a character in Assassin's Creed II, is claimed to have invented dual wristblades - a weapon remarkably similar to the hidden blade used by Altair, except mounted on both wrists instead of just one (what a genius). Ezio's been gifted with this innovative new invention, as well as the newfound ability to disarm guards and use their weapons against them. Polearms and poleaxes were the tools of choice for many in this age, and each weapon purloined opens up a variety of new moves and abilities for Ezio, namely great big swipes and rude, thrusting pokes. Some clues to potential new weapons lie within the presentation we were given. Da Vinci's sketchbook was a trove of ideas for Ubisoft's design team, featuring mad contraptions like a wooden tank and bomb arrows (a boss fight in any level designer's books), as well as the flying machine shown in the game's artwork. In Ubisoft's universe, Da Vinci is a friend to the assassins, and his workshop acts as a mission hub as well as a dispenser of useful equipment with which to surprise pursuing guards. As ever, combat is intended to be the assassin's last resort. The point here is to avoid scraps by clambering to the tops of buildings and bounding over rooftops or slinking into a crowd to evade detection. That was the original's selling point: the fluidity of your character's motion as he skips from beam to bar, from ledge to sill, sprinting through the urban environment in a finely tuned, accurate-to-the-pixel display of agility.
That's still the case, and much of the architecture se ems familiar in terms of game mechanics. This is after all the same engine, though it leads us to wonder how many criticisms have been addressed since the first game. The ability to thread Altair through the city was lauded for being stylish and spectacular, but it was heavily automated, with the player choosing where to go, rather than choosing how.
Ezio will be able to swim and dive in the canals of Venice, and we're told that, where Altair could blend with monks, Ezio can blend in with "any kind of group of citizens" in the crowd. You'll be able to move freely while blending too, instead of being forced to walk the same path as your habited friends. While weapons such as warhammers and axes can be snatched from guards, unarmed combat has been made more complex and involving to encompass a wider range of combos and to that effect, there's a spate of new assassination moves too.
We doubt Ezio will get a jump button (and whether we'd want him to is questionable), but other game elements are definitely being tweaked. Buildings can now be entered and explored, a feature which only barely appeared in the form the original's safe houses.
The mission structure of the first game was rigid and repetitive; a routine of finding your agent before climbing to the tops of towers to discover three different kinds of investigation events on your map. This time around, those types (eavesdropping, interrogation and pickpocketing) have been extended to 16 (a number Ubisoft say could rise). And rather than successful events simply accumulating until you reach a point where you can move to your primary :assassination target, missions will branch and diverge, unlocking new agents and unique missions. What those 16+ mission types will involve isn't yet known, though they'll go a long way towards dissolving the tedium felt during the first game. There's more. Optional missions will i be spread throughout the cities of Venice and Florence, on which listless assassins might be tempted to spend their time. If you've gutted your screaming target in a busy town square and don't want witnesses saying what a rubbish assassin you are, you can hunt them down and silence them (ideally in a subtler manner).
Your crimes will be noted too - every action you take will be tied to the game's notoriety system, in which you gain a wanted level in each city you frequent Presumably there are consequences of becoming the most wanted man in Florence, benefits of being the most feared man in Venice, and ways to get the authorities off your case with bribes.
Other agents will crop up alongside Leo, including Botticelli, the powerful Medici family, and Machiavelli, a man so scheming he has his own adjective and an assassin's guild loyalty card. Around these, two major factions will operate in 15th century Italy: the Thieves Guild of Venice - purported to be the beginnings of the Mafia, and conduct themselves as such - and the Courtesans of Florence -high-class hookers (see Faction Stations).
Assassins Creed 2 will be more than a simple scenery swap then, taking key features from Altair's adventure and expanding on them while introducing new ideas.
Most exciting is the fact Ubisoft have sorted out the botched mission structure. The one-dimensional progression of the original was the biggest sticking point for many, so tying missions to characters and allowing their outcomes to lead to other missions makes a very big sack of sense. We'll have to see how wackiness such as Da Vinci's flying machine fits into this new equation (apparently we'll be able to carry out assassinations from the thing), and beyond Venice, Florence and the surrounding Tuscan countryside, the locations Ezio will visit haven't been confirmed. There's also an economy system yet to be unveiled, which will no doubt see Ezio paid with cash that can then be used to buy Da Vinci's wares. The first Assassin's Creed was a deeply satisfying game to play, one whose lack of substance was obscured by the thickly laid on style - a sequel that injects worth into the original's hollow shell of spectacle would be something very special indeed. Assassin's Creed 2 might have avoided the stench of Venetian reality, but it's also steering well clear of the stink of... urn... not learning from mistakes.
As thick as thieves, as destitute as prostitutes, Assassin's Creed H's factions exposed!
Led by master thief Antonio, the Thieves Guild operates in Venice's commercial district as an conglomerate of pocketpickers and burglebirds. Antonio grew up without much money, and weighed down by his shoddy heritage his hard work and determination was fruitless. Buoyed by a shocking sense of entitlement, he began to steal from the corrupt upper classes. So he's a decent fellow, and looks on the Guild members as his brothers. Ezio's dealings with the guild are amicable, considering his talents are of great use to their organisation.
Led by Madame Paula, the Courtesans work out of a Florentine brothel. Paula's backstory is a bit grim to say the least Having been abused by a guard while living on the streets, she eventually freed herself from her captor and murdered the man who'd tortured, raped and imprisoned her. Afterwards she took it upon herself to look after other homeless women, with the Courtesans' brothel acting as a halfway-house for wayward souls. As high-class escorts to the rich and famous, the girls' connections will be of great use to Ezio.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode