Anyone who has been following the release and reviews of Assassin's Creed II will note that this review is slightly behind those on other sites. The reason for that is distressingly simple – once the game was inserted into the PlayStation 3, this reviewer found it absolutely impossible to tear himself away long enough to put fingers to keyboard. Assassin's Creed II is not a perfect game – and we'll certainly discuss some of its faults here – but it is absolutely bloody brilliant, a must-have for anyone who likes history-based games, platformers, sandbox games, action adventures, and people who just want to have a whole lot of fun while videogaming.
Though this game is a sequel, it is unnecessary to play the original Assassin's Creed in order to be up to speed with the new one. The majority of game takes place during the Italian Renaissance, though that all occurs via the "genetic memory" the main character, Desmond Miles, unlocks while sitting in something called the Animus 2.0. (the original Animus being used in the original). And that little bit of insanity is just about the worst part of the game. Very happily, the game doesn't spend a lot of time in the near-future (when Desmond lives). While the not-travelling-back-in-time-but-playing-in-the-past is, perhaps a necessary evil, in order for some of the high-tech things that occur to take place without destroying the illusion of the game, it is one of those weird, over-the-top moments that instantly turns off all non-gamers. Seriously, try to explain the Animus and that storyline to anyone who doesn't play games, you'll lose them immediately, but if you solely focus on the Italian Renaissance stuff they'll be enthralled.
In ACII, while Desmond Miles may be the main character, that's only because it's his genetic memory – the memory of his ancestors which lie in his DNA – that is being accessed. The player actually spend much of their time as Ezio Auditore da Firenze, a poor lad coming of age during the Italian Renaissance who witnesses the brutal murder of much of his family at the start of the game. Ezio's mission is to uncover the plot that led to his family's demise, part of which has to be accomplished by finding Codex pages strewn over the country. Desmond's mission as Ezio is to uncover the evil secrets of the Knights Templar and locate the various "Pieces of Eden" which the Knights desperately want their hands own for their own nefarious purposes.