In 1986, French software company Ubisoft was founded by the Guillemot family. In 2001, they took a crack at the Prince of Persia franchise. In 2007 they were supposed to release another entry in the series, called Prince of Persia: Assassin. However, as the developer felt the new direction didn’t fit the Prince of Persia brand, they scrapped that idea, but kept on with the whole assassin theme and gave us the original Assassin’s Creed. That game was a critical and financial hit, so a sequel was clearly visible on the horizon. And only two years later, in 2009, we got Assassin’s Creed II.
I guess we should quickly go over the first game before we get into this. In Assassin’s Creed you follow Desmond Miles, a bartender who gets brought in by a big company to help them with an experiment in which, with the help of a machine called the Animus, they can look through his DNA to access the memories of his ancestor, an assassin named Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad. As you run around as Altaïr, murdering your way through the holy land, you find out that there’s this long war between two factions, the assassins and the Templars, and that they both want something called the “Piece of Eden”, a magical device that could let you take over the world. And Abstergo (the company Demond’s stuck at) turn out to be Templars and then want the device to do their evil rule the world thing.
Assassin’s Creed II picks up right where the first one ends, with Desmond in bed. He is awoken by Lucy, a spy and fellow assassin who breaks him out of Abstergo. They then go on the road, meet with two other assassins, and then put Desmond in a different Animus, so they can find the remaining Pieces of Eden before Abstergo. They don’t follow Altaïr this time though, as some clues they found from a previous test subject point them towards renaissance Italy, in which Desmond luckily has an ancestor. And this is where the main chunk of the game takes place, as you follow Desmond’s 15th-century ancestor, Ezio Auditore da Firenze, as he goes from a young nobleman in the city of Florence to highly skilled assassin. It’s one of those plots that engages from start to finish, telling an epic tale over the course of many years, with twists, turns, drama, action, and a strong emotional core with Ezio’s character arc.
In this adventure, Ezio will meet many interesting characters, both real and made up. From legendary painter and inventor Leonardo da Vinci, whose friendship with Ezio is one of the game’s highlights for me, to Ezio’s very own uncle (and cheeky reference man) Mario Auditore.
Now, all of this story stuff sounds great and all, but what is a video game without, well… gameplay? So what kind of game is Assassin’s Creed II then? Well, it’s a mix of stealth, hack n slash, platforming, and even a bit of Sim City… we’ll get to that, I promise. Let’s start with the stealth aspect. It’s not like Metal Gear, where you can put a box on your head and snicker as you sneak past all the guards. It’s a bit more precise, as you only have a few hiding spots per area, and often have to rely on corners, ledges, and anything else in the environment to obscure you from your enemy so you can go in for the kill with your hidden blade, as depicted below.
But let us say you fail in your sneakiness (Solid Snake and Sam Fisher would be so disappointed), what would you do then? Well, in some missions you would fail, as there are occasions where the game outright tells you that you lose if you get detected. But in those times when the game doesn’t say that, what can you do? Well, luckily for the player, Ezio not only is sneaky, charming, and devilishly handsome, but he also knows how to fight. From fisticuffs to swords, he has the ability to take on opponents directly without much hassle. In some ways, the combat can remind one of the Batman: Arkham games, as it can often boil down to a lot of counters and some timings, but for the most part, I’d say that Assassins Creed has a style of its own. Press a button to attack, press another to dodge, hold down one button and press the attack button to counter attack, there is enough versatility to keep it interesting. Here’s a little look at me having taken down multiple dudes and awaiting the next one:
Ezio can also use other tools than regular swords and knives to take out his foes too. He can use the aforementioned hidden blade, he can use throwing knives, he can use poison, and a few other goodies to dispatch of his enemies. But it’s not all stabby-stabs and murder, as I also mentioned that this game is part platformer too! And that still holds true. Let’s say that you have enemies on your tail, or you just want to navigate around the various big cities you’ll be exploring, what should you do? Sure, you could run on the streets like a boring person, but you could also climb up on things. Step aside Spider-Man, there’s a new climber in town, and his name is Ezio Auditore. Ezio can grab on to various ledges and imperfections in the scenery and use it to traverse without having to… walk, ew. And doing this can help you escape enemies, reach certain treasures that might on a higher altitude, or get to the top of the game’s many towers/vantage points to get a better look at your surroundings and clear your map.
And now we get to the point that either most of you or none of you were looking forward to… the Sim City aspect of this game (I told you we’d get to it eventually). In the game, you have a safe haven in the town of Monteriggioni, owned by Uncle Mario. However, as cool as it can seem to have your own town, it honestly looks like shit when you get there. Luckily, there’s a man there willing to help you out. With the help of a map of the city, you can get a look at what needs to be fixed. You can then select through a list what you want to be upgraded within the city. Keep in mind, you have to use your own money to fix the place up. But fixing it all up will also earn you an income into a treasure chest. It’s the definition of spending money to make money.
Graphically speaking, the game has aged… okay. Faces look a bit horrifying (except for Ezio, who still looks pretty good), but for the most part, the game looks quite good, especially considering just how much it has to be able to render at any one time.
But what stands out the most (for me) among all the things within the game (which is quite the feat considering how good everything is) is the score by Danish composer Jesper Kyd. The man perfectly nails the era without compromising on creating a score that can create a lot of tension, excitement, and a lump in my damn throat. From the highly exciting Venice Rooftops to the serene yet slightly eerie Sanctuary to the emotional masterpiece that is Ezio’s Family, Kyd created something truly masterful with his music in the game. And to stay on the sound stuff for a bit, the voice acting is pretty stellar as well. Sure, the Italian accents can be hit or miss at times, but for the most part, they still work decently, and the actors still do very well in terms of emoting properly. Extra props go to Roger Craig Smith who plays Ezio, giving a nearly flawless performance that captures every part of the character’s development amazingly. His chemistry with Carlos Ferro who plays Leonardo is also something that I love.
So in the end, does Assassin’s Creed II still hold up 10 years later? Absolutely. A few minor nitpicks aside, this is what set the standard for the series, this is what really established the typical Ubisoft sandbox (for better or worse), this took what the first game set up and improved on it a lot. Back in 2009, it was great, and in 2019, it is still great. I highly recommend Assassin’s Creed II to pretty much anyone looking for a damn fine historical adventure. And remember: Nothing is true, everything is permitted.