In some video games there comes a time where you know that you are going to be in it for the long haul. No other game will be played until this one is done. No TV. No Internet. Nothing.
For me it was when the protagonist of Ubisoft’s recent game, Assassin’s Creed II, stumbled while climbing up a building near the beginning of the game. With literally no weapons and assassin’s outfit, I knew that this was going to be somewhat of an evolution story. Ezio was a rookie. He didn’t even know his father’s lineage—what his father truly was in the family controlled city-states of Renaissance Italy.
In the previous game, you played as Altiar an ancestor to Ezio. However, you started that game as a complete assassin. It’s not so this time around. In what amounts to the first underpinnings of the Italian mafia (Ezio’s accent even reminds you of east coast mafia movies), you’re just nothing but a street-brawling, womanizing son of an upper-middle class family. Just what is it that daddy does?
He’s an assassin.
More importantly, he’s a protector of the “Truth” behind the Garden of Eden and it’s famed forbidden fruit.
Oh, from here on out I must warn you. This will not be a completely spoiler free review. I don’t give too much away like specifics, but there is a game progression.
Technically, you’re not playing the game as Ezio, but you are actually playing the game as Desmond who is in turn playing as Ezio. Confused? Baby, you’ve seen nothing yet. Desmond is also an descendant of Altiar who lives in a very near future from our own. Apparently, a certain group of scientists (we’ll call them the evil Templars who suppress the truth and use it for their own gain) have discovered that the memories of all our ancestors reside in our DNA. They’ve created technology that lets someone “re-live” their ancestors past.
In the first game, these Templars have abducted Desmond (because by genetic makeup alone he is an enemy) to learn the truth behind some historical events that did not go their way. Namely, they are looking for pieces of a device that when separated are pretty powerful but combined well, it’s not pretty. They want to combine it.
This time around it’s a day later for Desmond and he’s on the run with another assassin descendant, Lucy. Conveniently, they have a portable animus with better features—literally called Animus 2.0—and Desmond needs to jump back into another ancestor’s memory. We return to Ezio. Thank goodness—for now.
Ezio is a bit of an uninspiring bumbler. The second oldest of four children, he pretty much lives off his family’s wealth and has almost no ambition in life except for wine, women, and song. this is where you begin.
And the beginning may take up to four hours. In what possibly may be be the longest interactive narrative and tutorial for a game ever made we get to learn along with Ezio how to climb buildings with ease, fist fight, and equip some armor. His motivation? In a surprising turn of events dear old dad and his two brothers are arrested for treason (think only one outcome), mommy goes into a state of shock, and sis decides grow brain and become the family accountant.
Only at the end of the memory sequence (think levels) when Ezio dons the traditional assassin blade do you realize that he now has a motive, mission, and will to live. We get to follow him over the course of twenty years discovering who he was along the way all the while stabbing people. Lots and lots of people.
For someone who may be well versed in the controls and playability of the first game the opening sequences of this title may be a bit of a bore. It’s saving grace is the wonderful opening narrative that sets the tone for Ezio and his surrounding environment. By the time Leonardo da Vinci fabricates your assassin blade for Ezio and then makes another one for him you know that you want to experience the full effect of being an Italian Assassin.
Big Time BFFs
Leonardo? In one of Ubisoft’s best moves, da Vinci becomes a confidant and gadget maker for Ezio. The scenes and missions with him are truly enjoyable. Towards the end of the game, you realize that Ezio would do anything for Leo. Renaissance bosom buddies. In other words, da Vinci would be Ezios wingman, but Ezio would not be his. They do mention that little known orienttion of the Italian genius, but it’s very minor.
Over the course of the next twenty-five hours (and twenty in-game years) Ezio assassinates, races, follows, climbs, and learns more about how Italian politics is really nothing compared to the conspiracy pulling their strings. Everyone wants a piece of the take even when they don’t truly understand what that “piece” is.
It’s a fixer-upper
Ezio cannot be an assassin all the time and that’s wonderfully handled in the family villa. You restore it to its former glory by collecting items (that have meaning and worth this time around) investing in the village surrounding the city, collecting art from the various cities, and investing in new weapons and armor.
Speaking of income, Ezio is also a little bit of a thief. He can steal from almost anyone, loot dead bodies, and take money from various treasure chests all over the place. This adds so much to the character. Altiar had a sense of honor and ideals where he only stole when necessary. For Ezio, it’s more than a necessity. it’s a way of life. As a side note, there are some in the game who can steal from you.
No one ever got away with stealing from me–and they never stole again.
Anything you can do…
There are some other things that Ezio can do that Altiar couldn’t. He can blend with any crowd of two or more people not just monks. He can hire groups of people to do various tasks: thieves harass, mercenaries fight, and courtesans, well, you know, distract. Ezio can throw money on the ground as well to create a mini-riot of pheasants and guards—another excellent diversion tactic. In the areas of fighting, he can bare-knuckle almost any opponent and disarm them eventually using their own weapons against them.
There are a lot of weapons is this game, but really only two or three matter. The rest are good for one or two fights to see what they do and and then they’re off to the weapon’s room in the villa for display. The same goes for armor.
The amazing thing about the final armor and weapon is that they have this almost epic quality in their use. The task of solving six assassin tomb riddles to acquire the gear is one of the highlights of the game—but the last tomb is one of the worst frustrations. Timed events with clunky wall-running control is not a winner.
All roads lead to…
The end of the game has you facing the most powerful person in the known world at that time. It actually was a little bit of a shock (And also relied a little too much on Hollywood end-movie cliche.) However, by this time Ezio has discovered who and what he his. His mission is in full effect. Revenge and free will preservation are his motives–even if he fully doesn’t understand a lot of the history behind it.
We do get to see the history in its full glory. There’s one line delivered by a key character in the end that’s not directed to Ezio but to someone else that has a huge impact on the future of this da Vinci-code laden universe. I suppose that I should have seen it coming but it took me by surprise. “No. Way.” is what I think I uttered.
The only problem with the narrative is that we are left with Ezio in the dark. This may not really matter because all this time the story has been about Desmond. See, there’s this bleeding effect that the Animus has: the patient starts to learn the skills of their ancestors.
Any guess as to who the next assassin in the third game may be?
Next time on in search of…
On a final note, the historical detail behind the cities and their prominent features is amazing. Every painting you collect is real and includes a description of the piece and its artist. I don’t believe that the Renaissance is an area that’s been fully explored in a game setting before. Ubisoft are truly masters of putting you in the place of interesting underused time periods when it’s late fifteenth-century Italy or the time of the crusades. The cites in Assassin’s Creed II are alive with people not just walking around but drunk, playing games, celebrating Carnivale (amazing!), painting walls, carrying all sorts of textiles and produce, and trying to hawk a few florins from you with a song (hint: steal from them instead).
After every assassination, Ezio shows the life he has just taken some respect by uttering the phrase, Requiescat in pace. It essentially means rest in peace. The story may be over for Ezio at the end of Assassin’s Creed II (actually there will be some DLC that’ll fill in some gaps in the memory timeline), but it appears to be just beginning for Desmond.
In the beginning, God…?
I played this game on the PS3 to completion eventually earning my first Platinum Trophy for getting every trophy in the game.