Lots of things were written about the original Assassin's Creed. Sadly, amongst the moaning about the repetition and the slightly clumsy timing-based sword-play, the fact that Ubisoft Montreal's ambitious project was actually a very good game seemed to be overlooked by many. Not that this affected sales - the game went on to be one of the highest selling titles of the current console generation. After an impressive E3 2009 gameplay debut we caught up with producer Patrice Desilets to run through the latest build of the game - this was no pre-built demo, but a portion taken from during the game, giving us a real taste of what to expect from Assassin's Creed 2 this November.
Our gameplay presentation using the Xbox 360 build of the game began with new boy Ezio perched on a beam high above the city of Florence. It's a scene in all but location that might as well be from the original game - even the context sensitive button info is displayed in the upper right corner of the screen, with Y activating Eagle Vision, X punching and B dropping from the platform. The city itself looks gorgeous, complete with architecture from the era, circa 1478. After surveying the scene Ezio falls down to the ground, landing in a cart of hay, just as Altair was able to in the original. It's not just as it was, though, with Ezio able to grab people wandering by.
Pickpocketing was possible in the first game, but in the sequel it's been handled far better. You're able to steal money from anyone simply by holding down X while walking close to an NPC - the longer you hold it the more money you'll steal, but the more chance you'll have of raising suspicion and alerting some guards. As in the previous game, do something in an obvious way or be seen doing something illegal and you'll get all the nearby guards after you on a high-speed chase through the city.
Another area that's been hugely improved and built upon is blending. The previous game allowed Altair to mix in with groups of monks (his outfit looks very similar in the eyes of panicking guards), letting him evade his pursuers. This was a perfectly decent mechanic, but it always seemed a little set up and a bit gimmicky. In Assassin's Creed 2 you're able to blend in with any small group of people. Patrice compared the new system to moving from shadow to shadow in a stealth game - it's not only more realistic, but also gives you more options as a player. There are guards that will be able to flush you out from within a crowd so it's essential you move from one group to another quite frequently if possible.
Assassin's Creed 2 will feature shops that sell various useful in-game items as well as health upgrades. Patrice walked Ezio over to a doctor, ignored the option to replenish his health, instead buying some poison for use in our first taste of a side mission in Florence. Side missions are accessed through carrier pigeon stations on roof tops, with Ezio being given the task of killing a rich man without anyone noticing - a task that soon sounded pretty hard given the bodyguard the man had following him around. Patrice used Eagle Vision to identify the target (with the man glowing red in the special vision mode), and followed him to his final destination - in Assassin's Creed II you can move while using Eagle Vision, which is a much needed improvement.
Once in sight it was time to put the poison on Ezio's hidden blade - the weapon able to take out enemies silently. This isn't any ordinary poison, though, with this stuff sending the unfortunate infected chap completely bonkers. With the bodyguard stood close to the target it seemed impossible to take out the man without being noticed, but there was a way that didn't even involve directly killing him. By sneaking up behind the bodyguard Ezio was able to stab the guard in the back with the poison, then retreat to a safe distance. With the poison running through his veins the bodyguard flipped and started swinging his weapon uncontrollably - it wasn't long until he'd slashed straight through the rich man, achieving your mission objective.