The last time we saw Ezio, the lead character of Assassin's Creed II, he was just starting his adventure in Florence. However, in our recent Tokyo Game Show demo, we got to take control of him back in Venice. The session started with Ezio dropping into a Venetian street incognito and in need of some new threads and weapons. Thankfully, we were able to find a shop that provided a solution to these problems, allowing Ezio to get some new, slightly heavier armour and a mace to go with his hidden blades and sword. There were other options, though, including a scimitar and a warhammer. The Venetian section in question was about halfway through the game's purported 27-hour main storyline, so while you won't get to play with all the new toys from the beginning, it's likely that you'll have a wide variety of weapons to choose from for much of the game.
Having kitted up, we headed to a tailor's shop, where Ezio could buy packs of dye that would change the primary colour of his clothing. The colour of his outfit didn't seem to have an effect on gameplay, but it does seem to add another layer of customisation to his look, making ACII a much more personal experience than its predecessor. Walking from shop to shop, we saw the new crowd-blending techniques in action; if you keep pace with any group of pedestrians in Venice's crowded streets, you'll blend into them, being invisible to guards if they're on the lookout for you. Mingling with people is, of course, an ideal opportunity for a spot of petty larceny, but as in real life, this comes with its risks; if your mark spots you and starts a ruckus, the spell is broken and those pesky guards will be onto you.
With clothing and weapons sorted, it was time to see the main part of the mission--an assassination. This mission, one of 130 or so in the full game, starts with Ezio being instructed to take out five archers placed on rooftops around your target's house to make the initial approach possible. This was accomplished with few problems--the new high-speed scrambling made ascents up to the rooftops easy enough since the city wasn't yet aware of Ezio's presence, shown by the notoriety meter that sits next to his health indicator.
Dispatching the archers was a simple affair; the fact that they were often perched on the edge of rooftops made eliminating them relatively easy, though working out the best path to avoid taking cover required a little more time. The range of weapons allowed for some fairly brutal kills, and the layout of the level made simple, stylish, and quiet kills just as much fun.
Once the archers had been dealt with, there was the meat of the assassination: breaking into the target's compound and taking him out before he realises what's going on. Approaching at street level, all the entrances were blocked by packs of four guards, one of whom was heavily armored and was wielding a halberd. A quick scout of the surrounding area revealed a group of courtesans in a nearby square. For a fee you can hire them, which provides you with mobile cover as the four of them walk around you, providing a crowd for you to blend into, and they can then be sent off to flirt with guards, allowing you to slip past unnoticed.
This distraction allowed Ezio to take on the other set of guards on the perimeter. This task seemed fairly daunting--especially given the presence of another brutish fellow complete with halberd--but fortunately the game's director was on hand to demonstrate the most effective way of dealing with the group. First, he disarmed the brute, and then he swept his legs out from under him, before delivering a precise fatal blow with the stolen halberd as he hit the floor. This was enough for the lesser guards, it seemed; while the reach on the weapon meant that getting one more down was possible, the others fled in terror back out into the city.
Having breached the compound, it was time to track down the target. We scrambled up the outside of the building in which he was ensconced and tried to find the most effective stealthy route to him, taking out guards silently where necessary. This was tricky but was helped out by a few tricks that Ezio has up his sleeve that Altair lacked. The first of these is the ability to leap from ledges onto unsuspecting enemies and swiftly dispatch them in flight using the hidden blades; if you have two foes sufficiently close to each other, it's possible to take them both out at once. After dispatching a few guards perched on the top of the building to make sure there was no one watching above our mark's head, it was easy enough to scramble around the building and take out two of his three personal guards before he was even aware anything was afoot. This was followed by a short chase around his palazzio as he attempted to flee as we dealt with the last guard, but this was thankfully short-lived, and a cutscene ensued, ending the demo.
Assassin's Creed II is looking like an excellent follow-up to the massive-selling original, and the team behind it is working hard to address gamers' and critics' comments regarding the first game's flaws. They seem to be managing this with a certain degree of success; the game does look to be a lot more varied, though all the fundamental building blocks from the original remain. We'll bring you more on Assassin's Creed II as it nears release, so keep it tuned to GameSpot.