Well look at this, a game that is actually going to be released in 2009. What a happy thought. Though the story will still concern the main character Desmond for the first game, in Assassin's Creed 2, the time-hopping assassin from the past is named Ezio. He looks similar to Altair, but his drama unfolds in a different age, Renaissance Italy. If you've been following our Assassin's Creed 2 coverage so far you'd know that already, but you might not know some of the details Ubisoft let loose during our time watching a new demo of the game at Gamescom 2009.
Gone is the do X number of side-quests to open up main assassination missions from the first game. Though you do still climb up to high perches to unveil bits of your map in the sequel, you'll no longer be forced into tasks in the same manner. It seems the main missions will flow more naturally. You also won't be wandering around in any hub world Kingdom trying to dart from metropolis to metropolis. Instead, each city will have a unique countryside where you can ride around a horse before heading into town. Eventually you'll also get the ability to quickly travel between major locales, which we were told include Florence, Venice, Tuscany and more.
Like in the first game, all architecture within cities can be climbed across. You'll still be diving off high towers and landing in wagons of hay to break your fall, and creeping around lines of wandering pedestrians. This time around, you'll be able to blend into cover with any NPCs you so desire. No more waiting around for groups of monks to walk by. As soon as you enter cover with NPCs, they'll be colored white and grey, the ground beneath your feet will jitter with Animus-electricity, and no guards will be able to spot you unless you do something that draws attention.
What might draw attention? Well, how about pickpocketing all the NPCs who are unwittingly providing cover. As you pickpocket you naturally gain funds that can be spent on items and health at merchant shops sprinkled around the metropolis. Some of these items, like vials of poison, can be used in interesting ways. In one instance, Ezio tracked down a pigeon coop using an indicator on the mini-map as a guide to accept an assassination side quests. The mini-map then lit up with the probable location of the target, and upon nearing him Ezio flipped into eagle eye mode to identify exactly who it was. The target was highlighted in gold and a bodyguard in red, and to help keep track it's possible to leave on eagle eye mode while moving around, though that means the HUD won't be onscreen anymore. Incidentally, if you're the type of player that doesn't like the HUD in Assassin's Creed, you can turn it off entirely.
Instead of mounting a direct assault, it's possible to open Ezio's radial weapons menu and poison your hidden dagger. By sneaking up to the bodyguard and lightly nicking him in the neck, he's sent into a drunken stupor, lashing out at those around him with his axe. To further create chaos, Ezio can sprinkle coins on the ground, sending the peasants into a money hungry frenzy as they scramble to scoop up anything shiny.
Instead of trying to be clever and sneaky with your tools, it's also possible to take action more direct. Gangs of mercenaries roaming city streets can be hired on the spot and sent after targets, letting you slip through. Ezio can perform double kills with two hidden blades as he charges forward, making quick work of any guards flanking doors. In combat, which will still feature a heavy focus on picking the right time to hit and countering enemy swipes, you can select Ezio's small gun. While inaccurate, it's possible to enter into an aiming mode where four lines converge the longer the mode is active, which should mean the shot hits closer to its intended mark when fired. Smoke bombs can be smashed against the ground if you're in trouble for an easy escape, and if you're tired of waiting around for opponents to hit you, a taunt can be initiated to get them to swing.
About five to six hours of the game won't take place in the marvelously detailed cityscapes that sparkle under the game's dynamic day night cycle. Instead, they'll take place underground in sequences that strongly resemble Prince of Persia. As Ezio ventures into dusty crypts painted with worn religious imagery and filled with rotted wooden and broken stones, he'll face numerous platforming challenges that, in theory, require some skill to conquer. The one we saw was early on so not all that difficult, and basically required Ezio to hop and swing through a number of precarious positions in order to listen in on a secret Templar meeting. Then, at the end of each section like this, you get access to a large treasure, which Ubisoft didn't want to give too much away about. More of these types of challenges are in the game and some will be optional, meaning you'll need to explore if you want to unlock everything hidden.
The game's still got a few months to go before its November release date, and it's looking quite impressive. Hearing about the changes from the first game is certainly exciting, since this does sound like it could be a much better product, and as expected the visuals and animations are looking great. Here's hoping it turns out to be a polished and thoroughly entertaining experience.
©2009-08-19, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved