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If you’ve ever wanted to visit Leonardo da Vinci’s workshop, guide a gondola through Venice’s canals or climb the towers of San Gimignano, "Assassin’s Creed II" is the game for you.

Ubisoft’s M-rated game is also for you if you enjoy action, intrigue and colorful characters.

Once again, you take the role of Desmond Miles, the descendant of Assassins, who are locked in a centuries-long struggle with the Templars, who are bent on world domination.

In the original game, the Templars hooked Desmond up to a futuristic gadget known as the Animus and forced him to relive the deeds of a Crusade-era ancestor via "genetic memories." In the sequel, the Assassins help Desmond to escape and then hook him up to their own Animus. This time, he relives the deeds of Ezio Auditore, the ne’er-do-well son of a Florentine nobleman during the Renaissance. When Dad runs afoul of the Templars, Ezio seeks answers and vengeance.

The main missions involve tracking down and assassinating key figures in the Templars’ conspiracy. Along the way, you’ll spend a lot of time dodging guards, climbing towers, leaping across rooftops and running through crowded alleys. Changes to the control system make each of these activities easier and more fluid in "Assassin’s Creed II." Other tweaks have improved the combat system. The biggest change is the addition of a wider selection of weaponry — including maces that can deliver a very satisfying whack to an enemy’s skull.

Stealth is a key element of the game and you get a few new tools to keep yourself hidden. You can hire thieves, mercenaries or prostitutes to distract guards while you accomplish your mission. You can also reduce your profile around town by tearing down wanted posters and bribing town criers so they won’t inform the populace of your deeds.

In addition to the primary missions, you can spend quite a bit of time pursuing side quests, such as beating up errant husbands, delivering messages or searching for treasure or tombs of earlier assassins or pages from a mysterious codex.

"Assassin’s Creed II" also offers a number of puzzles as part of a string of quests that build on the series’ "Da Vinci Code"-like mythos.

Completing many of these side missions can increase your bank account, which is vital because you’ll need cash to purchase better armor, weapons and gear. You can also use it to improve your country villa, where you can establish your own armorer, clothing store, art shop, apothecary, mines, chapel and brothel — which, in turn, help you earn more cash for more upgrades. Keeping on track with upgrades is important because your foes will be tougher as the game progresses.

All of this activity helps create a deeper and more rewarding experience than the original "Assassin’s Creed" offered.

The graphics are terrific. The characters are very well rendered and animated and the environments incorporate an incredible amount of texture and detail. I was thrilled to see three of my favorite Italian cities — Florence, San Gimignano and Venice — so vividly brought to life.

The game is rated M, but most of the potentially offensive matter — blood, skanky babes — can be turned off or avoided. Unfortunately, you’re stuck with the "Da Vinci Code" stuff.

Overall, "Assassin’s Creed II" delivers an exciting and entertaining journey through Renaissance Italy that should please most gamers.

Platforms: Xbox 360 (tested), PlayStation 3

On the Web: www.hassassinscreed.us.ubi.com/assassins-creed-2/


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