At its best, Assassin’s Creed II does what the original rarely managed: it makes you feel like a slick, medieval super-hero, flying across those iconic Tuscan rooftops, hurtling from a balcony, diving on your victim and administering the coup-de-grace, all in one fluid stream of motion.
Of course, there are still side missions. There are hitman missions you can take, chests to rifle, feathers to gather, posters to deface, officials to murder, pockets to pick and pages of a mysterious codex to collect, amongst other tasks. But while all these activities are beneficial, they no longer feel like the meat of the game. The plot no longer feels like a means to justify a set of side-quests, but the engine that moves the whole game on its tracks.
And what an engaging plot it is. For a start, Ezio is a more likeable hero than Altair. He’s more charming, more human, cheekier and even more romantic. He’s the second best dashing rogue we’ve had this year (Nathan Drake retains a fairly comfortable first place).
What’s more, Like the best historical thrillers, Assassin’s Creed II weaves together real people and events – Lorenzo de Medici, the Pazzi conspiracy, papal shenanigans and the Knights Templar – with fiction to create something that, while barely plausible, is consistently entertaining. Even the modern-day stuff, all very Dan Brown-esque, works a lot better this time around.
As the action moves from Florence to the Tuscan countryside to Venice, it’s hard not to get hooked in the conspiracies, counter-conspiracies and sudden, violent twists. True, the game’s depiction of Leonardo da Vinci won’t please most scholars. Sure, playing Assassin’s Creed II won’t make you an expert on Renaissance Italy any more than reading The Three Musketeers will make you an expert on 17th Century Anglo-French politics. All the same, as long as there’s enough blood, thunder, action and romance, a dashing hero, some swaggering villains and a cast of likeable personalities, who cares?
The settings help, too. With Florence and Venice, plus chunks of Tuscany and a taste of Rome, Ubisoft has some of the most attractive locations in the world to work with, and there’s something about scaling the Duomo or infiltrating the Doge’s palace that adds to the whole experience.