Crispy Gamer

E3 2009: The Five: Assassin's Creed II

Two years ago, the first game in the Assassin's Creed series sold more than 5 million copies worldwide. Now, Ubisoft's historical stealth-action franchise returns with more DNA-powered time travel. Assassin's Creed II takes gamers to 15th-century Venice. Here's the scoop on the sequel.

1. Unlike Altaïr, the previous game's hero, Ezio isn't already an assassin at the game's start. The nobleman's quest for justice comes after his family's been dishonored and he turns to the art of assassination to revenge.

E3 2009: The Five: Assassin's Creed II

2. Venice's most famous features -- spiraled architecture and intricate canals -- will offer players more options for stalking and killing their prey. Ezio will be able to swim as well as pilot the city's iconic gondolas. After he befriends genius artist/inventor Leonardo da Vinci, he'll be able to soar through the city on the legendary Italian's bat-wing glider. While perched on a roof, Ezio can also swoop down and drill a death blow into enemies' chests.

3. Blending into the city's bustling crowds isn't just a means of escape. You'll be able to kill from any hiding spot in Assassin's Creed II. Those convenient haystacks from the first game return, and you'll be able to yank sentries into them to deliver fatal blows. You'll also be pulling enemies off ledges while hanging out of sight, sending them to a watery death.

E3 2009: The Five: Assassin's Creed II

4. Expect Venice to look far more populated than the Crusades-era Jerusalem of Assassin's Creed. The Venetian squares and streets I saw sport livelier, more varied crowds -- with performers, dancers and musicians -- as well as a new night-and-day cycle. The passing of hours does more than just add realism. Guards will be more alert at night, so infiltrating secure areas will be even tougher.

5. Though he won't be an assassin, Ezio will have better hand-to-hand skills than Desmond Miles' previous ancestor. I saw more nimble dodging, as well as weapons being snatched from enemies' hands to be used against them. He wasn't just facing off against standard grunts, either. A burly spear-wielder fought with a completely different style than two other swordsmen. Tiered enemies, new disarms and more weapon options point to a better overall combat experience. Ezio dispatched his enemies with flair, a welcome change from Altaïr's dour battles.

The Crispy Forecast: Surprisingly sunny. I wasn't a fan of Assassin's Creed. The last third of the game seemed to abandon all the mechanics that you'd learned. Stealth was replaced by a series of combat sequences, even though combat was the game's weakest feature. It looks like Ubisoft has listened to feedback: It will be a pleasant surprise if Assassin's Creed II winds up being a significantly better sequel.

This preview is based on a developer-driven demo of the game at E3 2009.