Editor’s note: Ryan Smith is a longtime gamer and freelance writer who lives in Raleigh, N.C. A graduate of East Carolina University with a degree in business and marketing, he has written in the past for Local Tech Wire and GameArgus.com. He currently plays Xbox 360 and PC as well as Nintendo DS. He can be reached via e-mail (ryannicksmith@gmail.com)

By Ryan Smith, special to Local Tech Wire

RALEIGH, N.C. – Developed by Ubisoft Montreal, 2007’s Assassin’s Creed was a big hit with the gaming community as well as a majority of reviewers, despite a number of annoying flaws, some of which result from (seemingly) simple laziness.

Ultimately the game succeeded because of its unique gameplay elements such as free running (allowing the player to scale buildings and objects with ease), cinematic 1-button combat, stealth, and an intriguing and original storyline. Despite these features it did also suffer from a few gameplay faults such as impassible water, repetitive mission types, and horrible dialogue sequences.

So what do we get with the highly anticipated 2009 sequel: Assassin’s Creed 2? In many ways a vastly superior game, albeit still far from perfect.

Assassin’s Creed 1 revolved around the story of a modern day character named Desmond who is abducted and forced to experiment with a machine known as the Animus, which allows a human to witness and even participate in the events of their ancestor’s lives. Instead of tracking the events of Desmond’s ancestor Altaïr from the crusades, Assassin’s Creed 2 moves the story forward to Renaissance Italy and the life of Ezio Auditore, another ancestor of Desmond.

Desmond’s role in the story is less pronounced than in the first title, but the quality of the storytelling in the Animus is vastly improved over the first Assassin’s Creed. The animation of the characters during dialogue sequences are very lifelike, when combined with the top notch voice acting the storytelling is some of the best you can find in any video game. This is a huge improvement over the first Assassin’s Creed, with the voice acting that was nothing special, while the camera angles during dialogue sequences were terrible.

Arguably the greatest feature of this franchise is the free running system that allows the character to leap and climb across the cityscape as if it were a playground. It was fluid, cinematic and highly addicting in the first title, while coming up short in the sequel. Overall the free running seems sluggish and inaccurate compared to the first game, even causing the character to plummet to his death rather than make a simple jump. Climbing up buildings is far less fluid, with Ezio becoming stuck much more often than Altaïr’s quick bounding leaps. New features are added into the free running system however, such as a higher vertical leap (which unfortunately uses the same button as dropping yourself off the building, ultimately leading to annoying situations) and the ability to swim(breath a sigh of relief). AC2 also allows Ezio to assassinate his victims in a variety of new ways, such as falling on them from a rooftop, or pulling them down off a ledge. These new features provide a more engaging experience, despite the sometimes sluggish feel of the free running.

Combat also received a number of additions, including two new guard types (instead of the original one), many new weapons and accessories, armor, even allies in the form of hirable mercenaries. The new weapons are highly entertaining with new combos and finisher moves, and with armor and allies Ezio becomes an even deadlier force than his forbear Altaïr. With all these deadly new tools, the new more capable guards provide an interesting challenge, keeping combat entertaining throughout the game. Assassinating targets is also a great deal easier in the sequel thanks to a second hidden blade and a more fluid combat system.

So with the story, combat and even free running receiving updates, what else did Ubisoft add to the new title?

The repetitive submission types are gone (there are plenty of optional side missions to fill that void) and are replaced by unique and never quite the same story missions that flow from the beginning of the game, straight on through the end.

Stealth makes a comeback, allowing Ezio to hide in the crowd or bound away from guards to hide in many of the same types of hiding spots as in the first game, with a few new additions(such as hiding under water). To augment the storyline is a number of puzzle sequences that although optional, can give either special items, or reveal secrets about the storyline. Both rewards are ultimately worthwhile, but many of the puzzles themselves are highly irritating and repetitive.

So although Assassin’s Creed 2 is indeed a far from perfect game, it is a worthwhile gaming experience that not only improves on the flaws of its predecessor, but also adds on some of the most beautiful and detailed environments around, with the open-world gameplay style that fully allows for its exploration. Visiting Renaissance Italy with Ezio and his companions is a fun and addictive experience, provided you can get past its few gameplay flaws. Because ultimately, the story is much more engaging his time around, with plenty of new tricks for this Assassin to keep you entertained for hours to come. Altaïr instantly became an iconic figure with the release of Assassin’s Creed in 2007, but Ezio is a fitting replacement.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars.