Though Assassin's Creed 2 takes excellent advantage of the foundation laid by its predecessor, it still has its own share of shortcomings. Striking from the shadows with a well-thrown knife or shivving your victim in the back is quite enjoyable, but otherwise combat is laughable. No matter what the situation, simply blocking and countering is almost always a sure-fire path to victory. Should you find yourself surrounded, don't fret - your opponents are courteous enough to take turns attacking you. It's like they all went to British boarding schools, or something. After you - oh, no, I couldn't possibly, after you! Oh, but I insist, after you! Oh, I say, chums, shall I go now?
The free-running works beautifully most of the time, making it incredibly easy to leap from handhold to ledge to rooftop...to mid-air to pavement with an undignified splat. It's just a bit too easy to miss your mark while you're bounding around. The speed and liquidity of Ezio's athleticism add to the sensation of movement and freedom, but a bit of hesitation would be appreciated, especially when a wrong step means you'll have to spend a few minutes working your way back to your starting point. It's a minor complaint and easy enough to get around - just take your finger off the A button and you'll be fine most of the time.
One of the more interesting new features in the game - your family villa - is also sadly a bit broken. Fixing up the villa by buying artwork for it, opening shops, or restoring buildings attracts tourists, which in turn adds gold to your personal coffers. The upgrades don't come cheap, but they increase your property value to the point that the tourist money begins pouring in, providing you with more than enough cash to fund your nefarious deeds. Restoring your family homestead is in keeping with Ezio's personality and makes for a nice diversion from finding collectibles and killing folks, but it renders in-game pricing virtually useless. Can't afford that new bit of armor? Just wait a few minutes for the villa's bank account to update.
None of these issues are game-breakers, though, especially when balanced against everything Assassin's Creed 2 has to offer. Sharing Ezio's journey is emotionally gratifying and more than enough to keep you playing even when you grow weary of trying to track down collectibles or blend in with the crowd to dodge a guard. There's also just something undeniably cool about hanging out with Leonardo da Vinci. Maybe it's the accent.
Bottom Line: Assassin's Creed 2 suffers from a few growing pains here and there, but for the most part takes the franchise in a positive and satisfying direction.
Recommendation: Yeah, the first one was aggravating, I know, but don't hold that against this one. You'll find a lot to love, I promise. Assassin's Creed 2 is the best kind of sequel.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
Susan Arendt found it hard not to stab those bloody minstrels square in the face every time they got in her way.