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Previews

Assassin's Creed II Hands-On

Preview: We play the Tokyo Game Show demo

We saw Assassin's Creed II at Gamescom in Germany earlier this year and were blown away by what we saw. But any attempt to lunge at the controller got us a slap on the wrists. Fortunately, Ubi was back in town and this time willing to hand over the pad to us writer types.

We got the chance to ninja-flip through a short playable demo of Ubi's incredible-looking sequel - the same demo being shown at the Tokyo Game Show, we were told.

Set in Florence, the same stunning setting we spoke of in this eyes-on preview, the demo kicks off with a cutscene in which we're given a mission briefing - to assassinate some apparently no-good bloke, so no surprises there. But first we're told to go on the hunt for five archers who guard the target's residence.

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We head straight for the rooftops where the five archers are marked with large red targets on the radar in the lower right of the screen. Again we're stunned by the detail and combined smoothness of the game. The tiled roofing of Florence's distinctive architecture stretches for what looks like miles into the distance, with ladders, windows, poles, plants, baskets and countless other details littering our view of a truly epic-looking city.

If you've played the original the controls are instantly familiar. You hold the right trigger to make the new lead character Ezio sprint, while holding the A button to make him clamber up walls and flick from platform to platform automatically. Just like the first game, it looks slick and makes getting over the town's intricate rooftops as easy as ever. You just push the stick in a direction and Ezio does the rest.

Hunting down the archers was a real test of our stealthy tactics. First you have to spot them and observe their movements, then do your best to sneak up behind them and tap X when you're close enough to launch Ezio into an assassination move that wipes out your victim with the minimum of fuss.

If you're clumsy on your approach you'll be spotted and forced either to retreat and try approaching from another angle, or enter a full-on punch up, which can get pretty messy.

Again, the fighting system is all very familiar. Hammering X performs a series of sword slashes, but enemies have a tendency to block those. A better option is to counter a foe's attack by tapping X at just the right moment to activate a small animation that results in the swift (and stylish-looking) death of your opponent.

In one battle with a guard wielding a giant axe, our sword was smashed from our hands and we were left to fight without a weapon. Axe beats fists, of course, but the fight wasn't over, because with a similar timing system to the counter move, we were able to take hold of the axe as our enemy swung it our way and disarm him, before planting his own blade into his skull. Revenge is sweet.

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With the archers defeated, we moved in on the building where our target resides - a square structure surrounded by a moat wide enough to stop us from simply leaping from an adjacent building directly onto its roof. We'd have to go in from ground level.

The guards at the bridge entrances, however, are pretty bad ass, we were told. Facing them in a direct fight was an option, but not an ideal one. Instead we paid some nearby thieves for help. After handing cash to the rogue group, we just lock onto a guard and hit a button to make the thieves spring into action.

They approach the guards and start kicking up a fuss. This acts as a distraction while we snuck right past unnoticed. That worked well so we clamber up to the roof of the target building and look down on our target surrounded by guards.

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