by / December 3rd, 2009 /

Assassin’s Creed 2 – X360, PS3

The bad news for anyone who completed last year’s original Assassin’s Creed title is that the brooding hero of that game, Altair, is not the star of the sequel. The good news, however, is that even if you loved the original, which State did, the follow-up improves on it in practically every way.

While we begin the game playing as Desmond Miles, or Subject 17 in the Abstergo laboratory, the mysterious, modern-day captive from the first game, it’s not long before we’re strapping ourselves back into the Animus (the super-computer that places us in memories from past lives) and sneaking and stabbing our way through another memorable action adventure.

This time around, the action has moved from the 12th Century Holy Land to renaissance Italy in the 1470s, when the Medici clan held sway in a powerful Florence, while other fiefdoms fought and murdered for superiority. Instead of Altair, this time around, you’re plunged into the sandals or Ezio Auditore, the son of a prominent Florentine banker, who is also far more than he seems. When his family are wrongly imprisoned and sentenced to death, young Ezio is hell-bent on revenge, while simultaneously uncovering the secrets left by his ancestor and the hero of the first game, Altair, in a series of Codex pages.

The labyrinthine plot is superb, grabbing you by the scruff and not letting go as you uncover the big picture, a snippet at a time, of the age old battle between the Templars and the assassins. The graphics are even more beautiful than last time around, with stunning cut-scenes adding to an already breath-taking in-game vista of visual delights. The sound too is impressive, with decent voice-acting (although the Italian accents do sound a bit like the Dolmio ad after a while). The real winner here, though is the gameplay.

If the original game had one flaw, it was that the missions tended to get repetitive pretty quickly, but the game developers have addressed that this time around, and then some. There is huge variety in the tasks Ezio has to complete, from racing fellow ne’er-do-wells around the rooftops of Florence to serious platform action in exploring massive tombs, creating diversions and, of course, assassinating targets.

The playing area is huge, and the game’s creators have added in the murky world of finance: Ezio can amass a fortune as he goes, upgrading his weapons, armour and even his newly adopted home town. There are more characters than heretofore, including a young Leonardo da Vinci, and our hero also has the ability to control the actions of groups of natives, from mercenary fighters to courtesans, as he goes about his nefarious work.

The first Assassin’s Creed was a visually stunning, engrossing adventure, and this sequel is bigger, bolder and better in every way. Superb.