Although it had its shortcomings (despite being named “Director’s Cut Edition”), the PC version of Assassin’s Creed was one of the better titles of 2008, and the game’s excellent overall sales, as well as the good reception from the community and “critics” alike, where enough to calm down the suits in Ubisoft who though it was a bad idea to “blindely” finance a trilogy. 2 years have passed by since them, and now Assassin’s Creed 2 invites us to once again join the ranks of those who firmly believe that “Nothing is true. Everything is permitted”.
While in Assassin’s Creed you coamed the Holy Land looking for your victims, this time you’ll jump forward in time some 300 years, landing in Renaissance Italy of 15th century fame. An Italy which is formed by city-states, where banks have an important thing to say regarding how things are run, powerful families wage war against each other through mercenaries and the conspiracies and murders for grabbing power are not uncommon. More importantly, the events in Assassin’s Creed 2 stretch over a period of 23 years, so you won’t get cracking right off the bat, but you’ll slowly turn into a master assassin alongside our hero, Ezio Auditore da Firenze.
It is a good life we lead brother
Unlike Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad, Ezio is a young noble who at the start of the story lives a careless existence with his family, being more preoccupied with attending to the needs of Florence’s young ladies than his father’s extra curricular activities (about which you can find out more from Assassin’s Creed 2: Lineage). This blissful life is brutally shattered however when the Auditore’s are betrayed, and the father Giovanni, is hanged for treason together with Ezio’s brothers. And of course, for the sole heir of the Auditore family, there’s only one thing left to do: get revenge on those responsible.
But wishing someone dead and actually pulling it off are two entirely difference matters, especially when you’re dealing with the Knights Templar, so Ezio will need all the help he can get, whether it’s from his uncle Mario or a young artist and inventor call Leonardo da Vinci. This is in fact one of the game’s big upsides: the way it weaves historical figures and events into the storyline.
That’s because you’ll also meet Niccolò Machiavelli, Caterina Sforza, Girolamo Savonarola or Lorenzo de' Medici, to which you can add letters or revelations about Dante Alighieri, Marco Polo, Michelangelo, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Henry Ford, Gandhi, Ioana de Arc, Hitler, Rasputin or even J.F Kennedy’s assassination. What is truly impressive is that these famous names and events are so naturally integrated into the plot that you’re first reaction will be “Whoa, cool!”, instead of “Yeah, right”, which tells a lot about the work put forth by the writers involved.
Personally, I was particularly delighted with the way the producers portrayed Leonardo da Vinci, from the voice acting (Carlos Ferro does an amazing job), clothing and joyful personality to the more subtle details, like the fact that he wrote and painted with his left hand. More importantly however is that during the game he will become Ezio’s closest friend, helping him out in every situation with his most prized asset: his intelligence.
And if you aren’t a history buff or didn’t care much about the past during school, not to worry (much), because Assassin’s Creed 2 will offer all the essential information you need to know about that time, the cities you’ll visit – Florence, Venice, San Gimignano, Rome (The Vatican), the historical landmarks (The Duomo in Florence, the Sistine Chapel, San Marco’s Basilica, The Doge Palace and so on) or the characters that you’ll meet, allies and foes alike. Some of the monuments will even have special glyphs on them, which once deciphered will help you uncover “The Truth” (you’ll fiind out more about it in-game, it’s too big of a spoiler).
Some puzzles are pretty easy, but I found others to be quite the head scratcher, and even though they don’t influence the story of the game, discovering the Truth will put a lot of things in context, especially once you reach the end of the story. Not to mention the “Da Vinci Code” vibe you get when you solve a new riddle.
Barring the fact that the edifices are excellently recreated in regards to detail and historical accuracy (for instance, Michelangelo's famous ceiling from the Sistine Chapel wasn't done when you get to visit it), each city has its own distinct visual identity which increases the immersion, from the bleak colors, dusty streets and the towers of San Gimignano to the splendor and Renaissance architectural marvels you'll find in Venice of Florence. As a side note, the Carnival in Venice is one of my favorite parts of the game, thanks to the way it was created and the joyous atmosphere it resonates.
The musical score signed by Jesper Kyd is once again sublime, and just like City of Jerusalem will always be for me synonymous with the first Assassin’s Creed, so to will Ezio’s Family be for the sequel, a track which meshes perfectly with the entire game. Venice Rooftops is also a joy to listen to when free-running or when being chased by the soldiers and you’ll almost be tempted to smack a sentinel upside the head just so you can hear it again. The really good news is that the action sequences aren’t the only ones getting this treatment, because even a simple walkabout on the streets of Florence of the meetings with Leonardo in his workshop have their own flavor thanks to the soundtrack.