Assassin's Creed II - Xbox 360
Tom Chick, Crispy Gamer
Assassin's Creed II
What's Hot: Virtuoso game design and world-building; Amazing tech
What's Not: Weak storyline with a terrible ending
Crispy Gamer Says: Buy
Fairly late in "Assassin's Creed II," you have to enter a tournament. You're fighting a series of one-on-one battles, mano-a-mano. But then the sponsor cheats and the rules change. Here come four guys at once, and they're using their weapons. In any other game, this would be one of those difficult scripted missions that you have to replay a few times to win. After all, it's late in the game and the developer intends to throw some tough challenges in your way before you get to the end.
Not in "AAssassin's Creed II."
You have come far enough that protagonist
A winner is you!
There's a certain lack of dramatic tension in "Assassin's Creed II"
when it comes to these battles, and that's OK. This is not a fighting game. This is no "Devil May Cry," built to frustrate you and hone your skills. It's no "Batman: Arkham Asylum," where you have to carefully judge threat levels and make tactical choices. It's not even an "Assassin's Creed." This is you making an action-movie scene unfettered by too much gameplay. It recalls the heyday of
What makes this work is that the fighting is just one piece of "Assassin's Creed II." It does not occupy a central place. It exists alongside and equal to the stealth, the climbing, the collecting, the setting, the graphics, the animation, the sound, the artwork and the interface. This is game design at its best because it understands how to combine various elements without giving too little or too much attention to any one of them. It's a balancing act every bit as skilled as Ezio perched atop the crucifix on a cathedral overlooking the majesty of Renaissance Italy. And it's just as awe-inspiring.
Whereas the first game was an amazing tech demo in which the various elements didn't quite gel -- the balancing act was lopsided, unable to find its footing -- this game uses everything in the service of a single admirable goal: to create a generous, forgiving, spectacular, exciting, vast, never-before-seen, unforgettable open world that can and should be recommended to anyone.
It's also the most vivid virtual living world you can visit. Liberty City in "Grand Theft Auto IV"
comes close, but it doesn't have the haunting, dreamlike quality of these historical places, like postcards brought to life. Liberty City doesn't have the breathtaking spectacle of grand palaces and delicate cathedrals and simple flooded lowlands. It doesn't have sailing ships and troubadours and the soft plop of your hand on stone or the unmistakable scrape of a boot on a terracotta tile. It doesn't have
Part of why
A view to a bunch of kills
As Ezio goes from assassination to assassination, the game doesn't care much whether they hang together. They don't, which is too bad considering the story has such a strong opening. It doesn't help that Ubisoft decided not to heavily script the assassinations like it did in the first game. This means many of the villains don't stand out any more than chasing down some random pickpocket on the street. (There are a few ill-advised scripted sequences. The drive out of
The more memorable bits of "Assassin's Creed II's" story are easy to miss. As you discover hidden glyphs, which are a great incentive to climb around the game's lovely, lovely landmark recreations, you can solve puzzles that unlock snippets of film. These gradually string together a mysterious short movie about -- well, I only got about half of them by the time I finished the storyline. As near as I can tell, it's like some sort of weird Zapruder take on ancient myth. The bits of info provided in these puzzles are eerie enough that they upstage the actual story. The Pazzi family? Bah. I want to know more of this wacky stuff about Tesla and Houdini!
Then there's the resolution, which is not quite as silly as that in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," but not for lack of trying. The climactic level is atrocious. Simply atrocious. And I really, really, really want to tell you what happens, because it would make you laugh. I want to spell out the bare facts of the end of the game, without embellishment or judgment. I want to say, "You go to W and you do X and then you find Y and you discover Z." Because we would have a grand laugh and you would ask if I was kidding. I would then tell you that I wasn't kidding.
But I won't spoil it. Ubisoft is clearly enamored of the "Lost" school of storytelling, stringing together vague and vaguely outrageous bits of info that may or may not come together; but we won't know, because by the time it does or doesn't come together, we will have forgotten the bits of info. It can be intriguing, but it doesn't make for much of a story. When a villain from the first game shows up at the end of "Assassin's Creed II" for a little monologuing, I wanted to interrupt him and ask if he could remind me again who he was. It's a bit embarrassing when you face your nemesis and you can't quite place him.
But an amazing open world with a game in it as good as "Assassin's Creed II"
doesn't necessarily need a good story. This gloriously interactive, breathing marvel is leaps and bounds ahead of other videogames, and it's yet another instance of the geniuses at Ubisoft Montreal schooling the rest of the industry. Until someone else out there can take me to a place as grand as
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 game provided by the publisher.
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Video Games: Assassin's Creed II - Xbox 360
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