Assassin’s Creed II is perhaps my favourite Assassin’s Creed game from the decade-long series. Yes, it’s been a decade since we first strapped into the Animus and took on the Templars in Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed. Some ten years and a dozen or so games later, we’re back where it started, or at least where it really started for some.
Many consider the first Assassin’s Creed game to be a little… Boring? Not me, I loved it. But for many, the series really found its footing with Ezio’s first outing that would kick off a trilogy of games covering decades over the renaissance period: Assassin’s Creed II. To be fair, I can kind of see their point.
It’s strange that we’ve got a remaster of Ezio’s games while Altair is left out in the cold, but alas, that’s another story for another time. In the here and now, I’m guessing you want to know if this remaster/re-release is worth your hard-earned cash. In short: Yes. Hell yes. I’m a big fan of the Assassin’s Creed games, or at least I was a bigger fan back in the days of Altair, Ezio, Connor Kenway and Desmond Miles. These days? Not so much. The storytelling has gotten weaker and there’s a definite focus on pandering to impatient audiences who just want to start stabbing people as soon as the disc touches the console’s lips.
It’s refreshing, then, to go back to a time when things weren’t so simple. A time when the story felt like it mattered. A time when combat wasn’t reduced to pressing a couple of buttons and being done with it. A time when Assassin’s Creed wasn’t just good, but was very good. Maybe even great? That depends on your view, but for me they were definitely great games.
For those who’ve played them before, you’re not seeing much new here: they’re the same games you played back on your PS3/Xbox 360, albeit with a fresh lick of paint. Actually, it might be more accurate to say a couple of new coats of paint, and then a layer of gloss. The games all looked fairly decent for their time on the PS3/Xbox 360, but on PS4 they’re given a whole new look. Granted, you’ll never notice the smaller details unless you had a side-by-side comparison, but it’s the many small improvements that build up a fresh looking game. Cities are vibrant with colours that didn’t exist back in the original releases, and textures have been improved to the point that they wouldn’t look out of place in a current-gen release. Like my dear old granny, these games have shaved off the years by painting themselves to look nicer than they really should.
Characters still look a little ropey when viewed up close in the in-game cutscenes, but when the game’s running and you’re in control, everything just feels, well, clean. It might not be a remaster on the same level as say Modern Warfare Remastered, but it’s worthy of the moniker nonetheless. It’s a remaster in the same sense as an old movie being converted to Blu-Ray. You’ve got a clearer picture thanks to a native HD resolution. You’ve got three games with richer colours that make the originals look like film-noir style games. The colours are perhaps the biggest change you’ll notice with this collection. Despite the games being all about stabbing people in creative manners, the games look quite, well, cheery. You’ve also got a smoother gameplay thanks to the lack of screen-tearing and frame-rate drops – they were particularly awful in the PS3 versions.
Gameplay wise, everything is just as it was. Nothing’s been tweaked or drastically changed, though with that being said, perhaps these games could have done with a bit of a tweak. After playing the most recent releases on PS4, going back to Ezio felt weird. Instead of being able to move fluidly through the cities and scale a building like a full-on ninja, you have to talk Ezio into doing the simple things. For the most part the controls are fine, though it can’t be denied that the traversal in these games is simply dire at times. For example, I was on the run from the law and I wanted to leg it up to a rooftop to take sanctuary in a hiding spot. I ran through the crowd, found an opening with a clear view to a nice climbable section of wall. Halfway up the wall I was being pelted with rocks by my pursuers, so I decided to take a different approach: to jump to the ledge on my left and make my way to safety via another route, lest a rock land on my noggin and send me pummeling to the ground. Oh, shit, I’ve launched backwards off the wall and I’m now about to have my arse handed to me by some gimp in gold armour. So I died. This didn’t just happen once in one game, but several times in each game. It’s something that’s not so much a problem nowadays, so it’s a little annoying to be going back to old problems. Comes with the territory, I suppose.
It’s not the best, then, but I guess that it was good enough back in the day. It took me a fair while to adjust to the old-school way of playing an Assassin’s Creed game, but once I’d shifted the new habits, the old muscle-memory came into play and I was having a ball. Those who’ve played the games will know exactly what I mean, but new players will be clueless to the gameplay, and probably the whole point of the games.
If you’ve never played Assassin’s Creed II, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, or Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, I’ll give you a quick run-down without spoiling the story. Huh, that’s something that doesn’t really matter that much with Assassin’s Creed games. Yes, I’m still annoyed at the lack of present-day stuff. What’s my motivation for being a bloody pirate? Why am I running around London as a pair of cockney twins? What’s with the ‘Ones That Came Before’? I need my god-damn answers, Ubisoft, and I won’t be happy to have them dumped into a comic that 12 people will buy.
Okay… You play as Ezio Auditore, an Italian assassin who rubs shoulders with the likes of of Machiavelli and Leonardo Da Vinci, that latter being quite the character. Ezio isn’t an assassin by choice, but more by necessity after his family was betrayed and he was forced to go on the run from the corrupt politicians. His story spans several decades, and in that time he grows as a member of the Assassin Brotherhood as well as a person. Awww. Sweet, no? No, not sweet. The dude’s a straight-up, ice-cold, lady-slaying killer. But it’s for the greater good, see, as the Templars are running amok to try to get their hands on the fabled relics – Pieces of Eden – that will give them the power to control the minds of the people. It’s your standard Good vs. Evil affair, though there are some grey areas that had me questioning who the real villains of this war were.
The present-day stuff, which was hated by almost everyone for not allowing them to stab people, mostly revolves around platforming and moving the story forward. See, in the present-day, the fight between the Assassin’s in the red corner and the Templars in the blue corner is still going strong, albeit without the use of horses or old-timey language. It’s a war of espionage, corporate power, technology, and science. The Assassin’s may have enjoyed the glory back in Ezio’s past, but the present day isn’t looking so good for the gang of hoody-wearing killers. They’re being pushed to the point of extinction and they’re running out of time to save the planet. There’s a catastrophe on the horizon and only Desmond can make it stop. The present-day story ends with – oh, well, would you look at that. Ubisoft re-released three games with interconnecting stories, but somehow they left out the final frigging chapter of the said story. Bravo, Ubi darling, bravo.
If you want the full-fat experience in terms of story, you’re going to want to go back and boot up Assassin’s Creed on your last-gen machine (or PC, that’s cool) and then head over to the PS4 to follow the tale through three games, then back to the last-gen solution to get your conclusion with the under-rated Assassin’s Creed III. It’s not ideal, then, to only get the filling to the sandwich but not the bread, but it’s better than nothing. If you’re already intimately familiar with the story then it’ll do you no harm.
As far as remasters go, I’d say I’m more than happy with Ubisoft’s effort here. Sure the remaster work isn’t as extravagant as others, but I’d argue these games don’t need to be completely overhauled. It’s their style, story telling and gameplay that doesn’t insult the intelligence of players that made these games popular. To go and totally re-imagine them would to tarnish the memories we have of these games, and thankfully those memories are much closer to hand. And in full god-damned HD and 4K, baby!
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a retail version of the game bought at the expense of the reviewer. This has no effect on the content of the review or the final score awarded. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed on a regular PS4, not a PS4 Pro.