Putting it frankly, Assassin's Creed II embarrasses the original. The long-awaited sequel to the flawed but brilliant 2007 Crusade makes such leaps in scope, presentation and yes - gameplay variety - that in comparison its predecessor is left looking... well, a bit simple.
Assassin's II kicks off exactly where it left you; locked in the evil Templar corporation, Abstergo staring at a group of glyphs so complex that only this feature could possibly crack them. Quickly you're thrust into a high speed pursuit through the sterile hallways of the sinister HQ, dodging security guards and madly hammering door panels like a scene out of the Matrix.
What a contrast this action-packed opening is to the first Assassin's boring chatter fest, which invited you to have a jolly good time flicking through the camera angles while a flat-faced man talked about genos and DNA.
In fact, the full spectrum of Assassin's Creed II's makeup seems to have learned an Animus-worth of lessons from the original's shortcomings.
Roaming the Renaissance-era streets of Italy as newly discovered relative Ezio peels away layers of previously unseen depth; disappearing from enemy sight is now a literal, tangible process of hiding amongst the crowds of nobles and city riff-raff - not just holding the A button - and if you commit crimes such as theft or murder you'll soon find yourself appearing on wanted posters around the city.
Assassinating a guard can now be dealt with from above, from the water or even from the inside of a haystack. Fail to hide a corpse and you'll find yourself making a hasty escape from the guards, which themselves can be dealt with in a variety of inventive methods; by a swift toss of a smoke grenade, a hired prostitute distraction or a wall of swarming pedestrians attracted to the cash you've just lobbed on the floor.
Peeling further still, you'll then find yourself assassinating witnesses to lower your profile, purchasing new clothes and upgraded armour at the shops, racing a thief for fun and then perhaps visiting your gigantic, customisable villa, where you can partake in some RTS-style town management and put pretty paintings on the walls.
Basically, in both apatite and complexity, Assassin's Creed is to Assassin's Creed II as a piece of cheddar is to a meat feast pizza.
From its opening scene to its satisfying conclusion (yes, there actually is something you can class as an 'ending' this time) Ezio's tale and the story and characters he encounters demonstrate more imagination than Ubisoft Montreal's ever shown before.
The sequel's story has finally been treated to the Hollywood-calibre plot lines you always suspected were present in the first game, but were never properly presented.
Every character, landmark and assassination target in the game can be studied via the in-game encyclopaedia, and Ubisoft finally offers answers to the first game's massive mysteries including a more than generous amount of fan service paid to our old mate Altair.
Thankfully missions have been reshaped into expertly crafted, varied chunks of story, similar to the well-made scenarios found in GTA IV (though with less car driving and more action).
As a young man Ezio's forced to deliver retribution on his sister's cheating boyfriend in one mission, then as a young man he finds himself leading an army of mercenaries through a Templar-occupied town, or leading a horse carriage pursuit as Leonardo Da Vinci rides shotgun in the back - it's all miles away from the repetitive ear-dropping we're used to from the series.