Despite its slow beginning hours, Ubisoft’s follow up to Assassin’s Creed makes up for its poor early pacing with its commitment to adding more variety and depth to the franchise. Combining the visceral pleasures of free running and precision stealth kills with thought provoking plotting that considers the dichotomy of faith and reason in the Italian Renaissance, Assassin’s Creed is audacious in its willingness to tackle topics that few mainstream video games have done more than graze: religion and philosophy. Not many games would charge the protagonist with assassinating the Pope in the heart of the Vatican. Oh, and then follow up that sequence with musings on the mysteries of cosmology.
Ubisoft has taken full advantage of the medium’s ability to create worlds from the ground up and taken to recreating historical periods that are often not those focused on in contemporary gaming environments. Does the world need another game set during World War II? Instead, the first game allowed the player a view of Damascus during the time of the Crusades. Now players explore the streets and canals of Venice at the height of the Renaissance. Visually astonishing, both thoughtful in its narrative and brutal in its gameplay, Assassin’s Creed II is one of the best games of the year.