Assassin's Creed 2 First Impressions

Desmond is back, and this time, he's diving into the memories of a Renaissance-era ancestor.

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Assassin's Creed set the gaming world on fire when it appeared at the end of 2006, and despite its appearance in one of the strongest years for games in recent memory, it secured excellent reviews, as well as sales. The game put you in the middle of the third crusade as assassin Altair, whose memories were accessible to his present-day descendant Desmond. The game boasted an intriguing story, stunning graphics, and memorable backdrops. These included the Holy Land, as well as the cities of Jerusalem, Acre, and Damascus.

It's no surprise, then, that Ubisoft is prepping a sequel, and we were lucky enough to be invited to meet the game's creative director Patrice Desilets for a first look. He told us that you'll rejoin Desmond directly after the events of the original, and though his role isn't clear yet, he will be more interactive than before. Lucy will also return, again played by Kristen Bell, with the Animus and the nefarious Abstergo Industries featured in the present-day setting as well.

As for the historic setting, Assassin's Creed 2 moves to the Italian Renaissance in 1486. It is set in Venice, Florence, and Tuscany. Again, you'll play as one of Desmond's ancestors, who is called Ezio Auditore da Firenze. Ezio is born into a noble family, but he soon becomes embroiled in a plot against his family, causing him to exact revenge on the conspirators. Ezio's quest will see him go up against the powerful Grimaldi family, a precursor to the modern-day Mafia. In addition to squaring up against the Grimaldis, we know that the Templars will again make a return. One of the central characters is Carno Grimaldi, who is one of the most powerful men in Venice. Although he's obviously well protected, it appears as if his overconfidence may ultimately be his downfall.

Unlike Altair, Ezio isn't a fully trained assassin when you first take control of him. In fact, he's not an assassin at all but simply part of a merchant family. However, throughout the course of the game, you will lead Ezio to embrace the lifestyle of an assassin. Luckily, you're aided by one of the Renaissance's most revered minds: Leonardo da Vinci. The legendary Italian polymath will play a key part in the story, and he's described by creative director Patrice Desilets as the game's answer to James Bond's Q. The inventor created many ingenious designs, and he'll equip you with all sorts of useful gadgets in the game. One of the best creative licenses occurs around da Vinci's famous flying machine, which--it appears--he originally created for Ezio's use. We saw how he used it to navigate Venice from the air as he controlled altitude by using the heat from burning platforms floating on the water.

Soaring above the watery city looked incredible and was a new way to show off Assassin's amazing vistas. The confused guards mistake the contraption for a flying devil and try to shoot you down using arrows. We watched a demo of Ezio flying through several areas of the city, including Venice's famed Piazza San Marco square, but the ultimate aim is to gain entrance to a heavily guarded mansion in which one of your targets is located. Thankfully, landing on the rooftops reduces the risk of being spotted because there are only a few guards. Ezio easily took out a few nearby snipers, pushing one of them into the lagoon, and he then dived into one of the famous haystacks that make a return from the first game.

Although assassinations remain at the core of the sequel, the development team has added a lot of new features. You'll still be equipped with a sword, throwing knives, and a hidden blade, but you'll now be able to wield dual hidden blades. As seen in the E3 trailer, you can also stash a hidden pistol up your sleeve. If that's not enough, you'll be able to disarm foes and use their weapons against them. If you're outgunned, Venice will offer plenty of hiding places, including the canals themselves. You can dive straight into the water, but this is really a last resort because Ezio's underwater breathing is limited.

Hiding places are less safe than in the Holy Land, too, and the paranoid guards will check hiding spots even if you weren't spotted when taking cover. On the flip side, we're told that blending into the crowd will be more natural than before, and you won't have to seek out a group of monks like you did in the first game. There's also a greater level of character progression. For example, you can now buy weapons, armour, and even hire people to perform tasks or fight on your behalf. Ubisoft Montreal has taken on criticism about the repetitive missions in the first game, and consequently there will now be more than 16 mission types in total.

Assassin's Creed 2 is landing on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC later this year. To see Ezio in action, check out the E3 trailer and stay in touch with all of GameSpot's E3 coverage at e3.gamespot.com

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