Florence is such a beautiful city, who wouldn't want to make a return visit? Assassin's Creed II: Bonfire of the Vanities provides a good reason to do a little more sightseeing, though it involves one of Renaissance Italy's less reputable chapters. In 1497, Dominican priest Girolamo Savonarola and his supporters publicly burned books, paintings, musical instruments--any objects he associated with secular decadence and moral decay. Ezio's newest adventure places him squarely at odds with the powerful leader and doesn't sidestep the religious extremism behind these events. It's a great setting that ties in nicely with similar themes in the original Assassin's Creed, which unabashedly tackled the religious and political motives behind The Crusades. Your role amid the ongoing conflagrations is to off nine key figures Savonarola holds in his thrall. Some of these assassinations are enjoyable and, unlike Assassin's Creed II's first downloadable episode, get back to the open-air basics that make that game such a delight. A couple of missions, however, aren't as much fun, forcing you into very specific stealth actions that don't mesh well with the game's control scheme and inconsistent AI.
The real standout issue you're likely to notice is the embarrassing array of audio bugs infesting Bonfire of the Vanities. Characters will begin their lines before the last line has completed, overheard quips will suddenly echo as if you're in a narrow canyon, and some sound effects, like crowd noises, are clearly missing, making the add-on's final moments eerily silent. It's too bad these issues are so noticeable, given the excellent voice acting that breathes life into the new dialogue. Fortunately, the new visual assets are reliably impressive. Bonfire of the Vanities extends Florence's southern border and fills it with new architecture to marvel at and divine gardens to ogle. And should you want a breathtaking bird's-eye view, you should climb the new towers and make the always-spectacular leap of faith from these great heights.
The assassinations themselves are typical for Assassin's Creed 2, but they're spread around the region, which gives you a chance to flit about the rooftops while avoiding--or catching--the guards' watchful eyes. Unlike the combat-heavy Battle for Forli add-on, Bonfire of the Vanities emphasizes the main game's joyful platforming and is woven into the existing game, rather than bolted on. And the majority of the missions are enjoyable, giving you plenty of chances to wander between unsuspecting sentries and sink your dual hidden blades into them. And with each assassination comes another satisfying deathbed monologue in which the victim is freed from Savonarola's grip and sees the error of his ways--just in time for Ezio to recite the requiem and move on to his next victim.
A few of these assassinations aren't as compelling, however. While one of them pleasantly stresses Assassin's Creed II's unique "social stealth" mechanics, a couple of others take a much more traditional approach to sneaking. The game's loose controls and fickle AI aren't geared for the kind of precision these missions require, which leads to plenty of trial-and-error frustrations. An assassination on a boat is the most egregious offender. Getting seen by a single guard ends the mission, yet as series fans are well aware, the game's control scheme is geared toward fluid parkour, not accurate stealthing. Thus you are at the whim of the unpredictable AI, which sometimes notices you as you try to slink around the sides of the boat and sometimes doesn't. Given how easy the majority of the game is, this difficult and annoying task sticks out that much more.
Bonfire of the Vanities retails for $4 (320 Microsoft points), though for an extra $3, you can also get bundled with it three Templar hideouts that were included in the Assassin's Creed II Collector's Edition. These platforming-heavy areas are fun to investigate and worth the additional cash if you don't already own that version of the game. Either way, this downloadable add-on is an imperfect but mostly worthwhile return to one of 2009's best adventures.