Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Assassin's Creed was a brave stab at creating a medieval sandbox experience- and almost succeeded. Whilst the parkour and main assassination missions were spot on, the tedious subquests, flag collection missions and simple drought of genuine assassinations relegated it to gaming's lower divisions. Rather than can their new IP, Ubisoft decided to stick with it... transplanting the freerunning and freekilling mechanics into a vibrant new Renaissance setting.
After hooking up with some modern-day Assassins, bland and unlikeable bartender Desmond delves into the ancient memories of Ezio Auditore de Firenze: an Italian playboy wastrel who learns honour and respect by becoming an unstoppable killing machine. The core gameplay mechanic of scampering around rooftops and brutally murdering hundreds of grunts to uncover an insidious conspiracy is very much intact, but Ubisoft have really gone to down on giving us a much more varied (and truly expansive) experience this time around.
The repetitive timed subquests and flag collecting minigames have been replaced by a staggering range of purely optional missions; ranging from beating up cheating husbands, racing thieves across dangerous courses, discovering secret glyphs and... of course... a varied range of assassination challenges that frequently require some lateral thinking. Killing 10 armoured brutes in one minute sounds like an impossible challenge- unless you think outside the box and fall back on some nifty gadgets. Each and every event earns you money that you can spend upgrading your arsenal (which I can't wait to get into later on) or adding buildings to your own private villa. The new reliance on earning cash money and bettering yourself is an addictive and worthwhile addition to the franchise- and brings a jawdropping amount of content and value to the table.
Update: The new Complete Edition also contains the two DLC packs and hidden Templar locations, delivering even more bang for your buck. Prepare to lose a significant amount of time to this one! - Ed
Assassin's Creed 2 gives us a lot of new toys to play with. New standard weapons can be bought and upgraded (including a bewildering array of swords, knives, maces and hammers), but the real meat of the game is to be found in the new gadgets. Healing packs let Ezio patch up on the fly, smoke bombs allow for quick escapes (or mass carnage in broad daylight if that's your bag) and poison lets you silently stick a gormless guard and watch them murder his friends in a narcotic frenzy. However, the finest addition to the arsenal is the double hidden blades, which allow you to instantly kill two enemies at once. Just sidle up to your targets and press X... and watch in utter horrified delight as Ezio gracefully inserts six inches of steel into their necks. Seriously, this is one of the best virtual kills in the entire history of videogaming- and is well worth the price of admission!
Ezio's also a lot more limber than stuffy old Altair, with a new range of jumps and grabs at his disposal. Sadly, this massive new selection of techniques and aforementioned weapons do contribute to a few control issues here and there (especially when engaged with multiple combatants), but the 'puppeteering' mecanics have been vastly rejigged from the clunky original. The freerunning is still a case of pointing Ezio in the right direction and hoping for the best- but it's now a minor frequent irritation rather than an infuriating dealbreaker.
Unfortunately, the huge range of epic weapons and cheap healing medicine conspire to make Assassin's Creed 2 an exceptionally easy game. After a few weapon upgrades and a little hands-on practice, it becomes almost casual; requiring little or no effort to fight off legions of guards or complete your objectives even if you completely botch things up and engage in open street warfare. The enormous amount of content (including the optional villa upgrades and missions) means that players won't blow through it too quickly, but there's a distinct lack of any genuine challenge that will quickly bore veteran gamers.
The other major flaw is the storyline. Whilst Ezio's quest for revenge is actually a very personal and enjoyable little tale, the overarching story of futuristic Templars and forbidden technology is one of the most laughably overblown and glutted plot arcs out there. Imagine Uwe Boll looking for film ideas by rifling through Dan Brown's wastepaper basket and you're probably somewhere near the mark. It's too serious and po-faced to be shrugged off, but too hilarious and hammy to be taken seriously... especially when combined with one of the most disappointing endgame sequences in a triple-A title. I usually let a bad story slide if the developers don't make a big deal out of it- but Ubisoft are determined to hammer it home at every opportunity.
The Short Version: Assassin's Creed 2 is a superior sequel that improves on the original in every conceivable way. Whilst the challenge becomes astoundingly casual after a few upgrades, the huge amount of varied optional missions and content make for a lengthy, addictive and rewarding experience. We'll do our best to save you money, but you'll need a lot of time to witness everything that Ezio's adventure brings to the table.