Like Lorenzo de Medici's triumphant return to power at the height of the Renaissance, Assassin's Creed II: Discovery finds its way back into the public eye in this beautifully enhanced iPhone and iPod touch remake.
Yet the glory is short-lived, for as the critical priest Savonrola tempered Medici ambitions so do flaws chip away at this intriguing game.
As Florentine assassin Ezio Auditore, you're drawn into a struggle between two factions vying for power in Spain. The Knights Templar have made a daring push against the assassins, wielding the Inquisition as a deadly instrument of power against them.
With your fellow assassins being brutally executed, there's no alternative but to rush to their rescue and stop the Templar power grab.
Saving your compatriots almost always means dispatching their would-be executors, though there's a fair amount of free-running involved too. Kroll meets Canabalt - it's an interesting mash-up of side-scrolling action and speedy free-running.
The lengthy 36-stage story presents three types of scenarios: normal, assassination, and chase. Normal levels task you with finding a person or location without the need for stealth; on the contrary, assassination missions require killing the noted target without getting caught.
A synchronisation indicator in the upper-left corner tracks the number of times you've been spotted: get seen four times and the mission is failed.
Chase sequences differ from both in having you sprint from one end of the level to the other. Sometimes you're running away from enemies, but new levels have you rushing after a mysterious French assassin. It's in these levels that the game shows its biggest weakness.
Moving Ezio is a matter of adjusting a horizontal slider in the lower-left corner. The more you move it left or right, the faster he moves. As you run across rooftops, the objective is to preserve momentum by running fast and timing your jumps. Unfortunately, the limited perspective makes it extremely difficult to figure out what lies ahead.
Like running while looking down at your own feet instead of forward to see what's coming up, you're never given an adequate view of the coming terrain.
It's an enormous problem when you're zipping along the skyline and fail to catch a critical jump in time. Far too many deaths occur because you're not able to note obstacles with enough advance warning.
Pulling the camera back or providing an option to pan forward to survey the level would avoid such frustrating deaths.
To make matters worse, the design of some chase levels is downright aggravating. It's often unclear what you need to do or where you ought to go when chasing after the female assassin.
Your instinct is to follow behind and simply tackle her, yet that's not the goal. Excessive trial and error takes hold: the solution - beating her to the highlighted location by taking a different route - only becomes apparent after dozens of attempts (or when a reviewer tells you).
Nothing is true...
Not every level requires this sort of leap-of-faith platforming and many of the assassination missions entertain. A button in the lower-right corner allows you to toggle between normal and stealth modes, which pans the camera to one side, tags off-screen enemies, and softens your steps.
This intentionally slows the pace of gameplay down, and when these missions grow longer in the second half of the game the enjoyment turns to tedium. Worse still, complicated platforming challenges during assassination levels introduce the same untimely deaths and annoyances found in chase sequences.
...everything is permitted
Normal missions focusing on combat much better. Maintaining an even tempo to your taps of the 'attack' button enables the execution of combos, while throwing knifes allow you to kill enemies from a distance. New multi-touch sword clashes add tense moments, though they're not tuned properly and the outcomes feel arbitrary.
Other new features including hidden Challenge missions and unlockable wallpapers for your iPhone or iPod touch lavish the game with a polish rarely seen on the App Store. Even more, the visuals and audio have been noticeably enhanced to ensure that this is the definitive version of Assassin's Creed II: Discovery.
That, however, doesn't stop it from inheriting the shortcomings of its DS progenitor. The combination of stealth, action, and free-running is an exciting one, even if concerns over the way these elements are structured together dampen the enthusiasm.