(excuse this review being outdated, I wrote it when I got the game a year or two ago)
Imagine if Banjo and Kazooie from their eponymous video game moved to Renaissance Italy and started killing EVERYONE.
That’s Assassin’s Creed II, in a nutshell.
Okay – maybe that’s an oversimplification. However, at their base, the games are both in the longstanding tradition of the “collect-a-thon,” having multiple useful – or otherwise – items to seek out and collect. It’s just that Assassin’s Creed II has a few add-ons, like any game should.
The player goes around ancient Italy, experiencing the DNA memories of a member of the “Assassin’s Brotherhood,” a group pitted against the Templar Knights before even Nicholas Cage, Orlando Bloom, or Tom Hanks got involved.
As the titular character, Ezio Auditore, you witness the male component of your family being murdered in public through a Templar conspiracy. From there you are sent on a pathway of learning the ways of the Assassin, finding those who murdered your Father and two younger brothers, and killing them. That, and collecting everything like a 5 year old Pokemon fan with his weeks allowance and a bottle of ritalin.
The thing about “collect-a-thon” games is that sometimes you can feel overloaded with the amount of items that you can collect. With Banjo Kazooie it was Puzzle Pieces, eggs, musical notes, rainbow birds, shiny skulls, and the list goes on. With Assassin’s creed, the exhaustion of the sheer amount of items to collect and locations to discover is balanced by the fantastic payoff. Everything you collect leads to unlocking another layer of the game. Whether it’s making your mother speak again after the death of her sons and husbands, completing your map of Florence, or unlocking the secrets of the Assassin’s Brotherhood in the past and future, every finished collection has a great payoff waiting, and sometimes great perks along the way.
Finding them isn’t easy though – you’ll have to use all your powers of stealth to get by guards and baddies in order to get many items. You can blend into crowds, even in your bright red and white hoodie, and gaudy rodeo belt buckle. But don’t worry, if you get noticed too much for killing people in public, pickpocketing, or breaking people’s stuff, you can just rip down posters of yourself and the idiots of the town will forget who you are.
The second thing that makes all the collecting completely worthwhile is the sheer amount of history and beauty that is imbued into the gameplay environment. Every city is extremely detailed, from the bricks to the conversations you hear snippets of when you pass the motley folk. Like the buildings in the game’s rendition of Italian cities, the game is dense and layered with culture and possibilities for exploration – and boy is that exploration fun. Many historical figures make an appearance, which prompted me to consult Wikipedia whenever I heard a familiar name. Many items that you collect are tied to historical facts themselves – and their descriptions are not overly long and skippable, if your in the mood to get back to exploring quickly, or if you’re Kanye West and just don’t like to read that much.
Finally, the free-running aspect of the game makes what would be almost dull search for items a joy. Every jump off of a wall feels like a victory – and when you land a dagger in your target’s heart after a particularly well executed jump, the sense of accomplishment is tangible. I thought that the game’s difficulty might have been broken because of the ease of travel on rooftops, but (un)fortunately the bad guys station themselves on rooftops after you reach a certain point in the game. Those guys don’t like it when you walk on the roof. The ease of decreasing your infamy with the motley folk, however, did make it quite easy to avoid any confrontation. Then again, how quick guards are to stab you if you knock over someone’s box of what looks like grass, and the urge to pickpocket every single person in town bumps the difficulty right back up.
All that combined with the depth of the story being told, Assassin’s Creed II has assassinated it’s way into my top 15 favorite list (see what I did there?).
Oh, and also you kill people.