Assassin's Creed II's core gameplay is exactly what was needed to revitalise the series; unique, narrative-driven and yes - hardly ever repetitive. Ezio can pick pockets in the streets of Florence or Venice, but you'll be pleased to hear almost the only time he'll be doing it is as a sandbox tool for earning a bit of cash.
Strings of missions again cumulate in familiar, dramatic assassination tasks on the game's key targets - each of which are brilliantly fleshed out - and once more Ubisoft Montreal has done a brilliant job of making these real high points of the game.
Ubi's cinematic set pieces include the usual sieges, chases and stealthy stalking, plus firm favourites such as Ezio's carnival killing, in which you're tasked with timing your hidden gun blast for the exact moment a firework explodes. Awesome.
Away from the key missions Assassin's gameplay systems have each seen welcome improvements. Sprinting from the guards in the streets is again made a thrilling endeavour by the brilliant, skate park-eque design of the four key cities, and interface is given a tasteful upgrade with fewer annoying alarms and more markers and chevrons to show you exactly where the danger - and safe points - lie.
Platforming is faster, fluid and more beautiful than before. Unlike the first game there's now some skill involved in parkour actives thanks to the welcome introduction of a 'grasp' ability to grab higher ledges - though we're baffled by the decision to have this share a button with the 'let go' function.
The six linear, Prince of Persia-style platorming side missions are excellent, the notoriety system adds genuine consequence to breaking the laws of the Creed and the staggering RTS-style villa gameplay is an impressive addition to the universe.
In fact it's difficult to name any area of Assassin's Creed II that isn't head and shoulders above its 2007 predecessor. You could argue that out-and-out sword combat falls short of the rock-paper-scissors bliss found in the excellent Batman: Arkham Asylum, or that the cut-scenes are still sprinkled by the odd wooden awkwardness. But the scope of Assassin's Creed II's great achievements - excellent stealth gameplay, varied and entertaining missions and a narrative-rich plot wrapped around well-designed, gorgeous environments - almost entirely overshadows these complaints.
Assassin's Creed II is one of the best sequels of the generation. There's enough quality content here to rival all the GTAs in the world, while the core storyline delivers a blockbuster experience that'll match any of this year's top linear action games.
If we were Assassin's Creed 1 right now, we'd be absolutely red with embarrassment.
A massive, brilliant sequel that one-ups the original in almost every way.
- Deeper, more meaningful game systems
- Varied, narrative-filled missions
- An excellent story... explained
- Villa gameplay works brilliantly
- Batman's combat is better