Assassin's Creed II is the follow-up to Ubisoft's 2007 hit that attracted a mass audience if not unanimous critical acclaim. The sequel is an expansive and bloody romp through Renaissance Italy that plays up every popular aspect of the first installment while righting many of its flaws.
The PC version was released months after the game came out on consoles, and much has already been said about the digital rights management issues that have affected the experience since its release. The DRM measures require users to maintain an internet connection while playing Assassin's Creed II in any mode. If you lack a constant, reliable connection, you might want to give this game a pass, even though it's a single player experience.
Ubisoft's DRM servers also went down directly after launch, restricting access to new gamers. However our recent experience with the game remained uninterrupted. We did purposefully cut off our internet connection to confirm that the game will pause until a new connection could be established. It does. While disconnected, we were also unable to access the "bonus content" from the game's main menu due to an inability to reach Ubisoft's servers.
Once you get past this strict and inconvenient method of piracy protection, Assassin's Creed II is the same great experience that console gamers enjoyed last year. The two "missing" memory sequences that were later made available through download on consoles are available right from the start. PC gamers who have yet to experience this sequel will notice right away that Assassin's Creed II has evolved from an ill-defined action game into a fully featured open world experience. Everything from the new monetary system to the ability to buy armor and weapons makes it a richer, and ultimately more satisfying game than its predecessor.
The plot of Assassin's Creed pulls together a bit of The Matrix, a lot of historical fiction, and throws in elements of the madcap conspiracy theories found in a Dan Brown novel. The series also has the benefit of being crafted by some of the most talented hands in game development. With only a handful of exceptions, the environments, animations, and art are beautifully portrayed. In addition to its good looks, the sequel's gameplay builds so much upon the foundations of the first game, that in retrospect, the first Assassin's Creed looks like little more than a technical demonstration.
Both fans and detractors of Assassin's Creed will be pleased to know that the sequel fully addresses and ties up many of the loose ends from the last game. It picks up exactly where we left off, with the kidnapped bartender Desmond locked in his cell at Abstergo. This corporation is the modern-day face of the Templars and they're after Desmond's valuable genetic memories. The magic of modern technology allows Desmond to relive the exploits of his Assassin ancestors. His genealogy puts him at the center of a war between the Templars and Assassins.
The game starts off with a bang, springing Desmond from jail and introducing him to the Assassins at their secret hideout. Here they have access to the same technology that allows Desmond to relive the past. In the last game, his brain was forcibly used to reveal powerful artifacts hidden in 12th century Jerusalem. This time Desmond temporally relocates to 15th century Italy by choice to learn the ways of the Assassins through the life of Ezio Audituerre de Firenze.
It's a convoluted setup, but it's also a great excuse to skip around in time, taking control of a character for only the most interesting moments of his life. Players are introduced to Ezio at the moment of his birth as part of a clever lesson on movement. It then jumps to his formative years as a womanizer, a street fighter, and the son of a wealthy banker. He isn't a wholly likable character, but the game steers us towards a revenge plot that provides the player plenty of motivation to stick with the story. The Renaissance setting also adds a much needed dose of color and humor to the series.
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