Version tested: Xbox 360
Spoiler alert: We've tried not to give much away here, but if you haven't finished ACII and don't want so much as a hint of what's to come, best come back when you're done.
Battle of Forli is a bit of an oddball in the world of downloadable content. Apparently culled from the original game in order to meet the deadline, it's essentially another excuse to sell diehard fans a 'deleted scene' to plug a gaping hole in the story.
It's a tactic that's catching on, and done properly, it's not necessarily as ugly and cynical as it appears. Gears of War 2's Road to Ruin DLC certainly proved that point forcefully with a slab of content that was well worth the asking price and pleasingly replayable to boot.
Ubisoft has similarly grand plans for the Assassin's Creed II DLC. Rather than simply bolt on an episode that has no real connection to the main storyline, both Battle of Forli and next month's Bonfire of The Vanities slot seamlessly into the existing game, effectively 'patching' in what was missing from the boxed release - for 320 Microsoft Points a pop, equivalent to £2.70 (PSN price TBC).
Let's face it, there was a fairly significant plot hole for Ubisoft to fill. Those of you who've already put the game through its paces will recall Rebecca Crane suddenly chiming in to inform Ezio that the next two sequences were 'corrupt'. Slightly ludicrously, the story skipped forward to the climactic sequence, and everyone was left wondering what happened in-between.
Well, wonder no more. Thanks to the magic of extra development time (and the lure of extra cash), the first of these corrupt sequences has been 'repaired'. The DLC allows you to rejoin the story in 1488 in Romagna. Ezio must journey to Caterina Sforza and battle his way into the Rocca di Ravaldino, the citadel inside the walled city of Forli.
Circumventing its watery defences as gaming's most athletic man, you spend much of your time battling alongside both Caterina Sforza and Niccolo Machiavelli - characters encountered briefly in the run-up to Sequence 12.
With most of your focus on protecting them from hapless guards, Battle of Forli quickly settles into a succession of regulation angry mob encounters, allowing Ezio to hack, slash, and occasionally shoot his way through a determined mob, while also keeping one eye on the respective health bars of Caterina and Niccolo.
Should either perish the game returns you to the last checkpoint, making the task at hand much more of a nannying process than usual. And stripped of your more powerful weaponry (such as your spear, axe, mace and longsword) the combat is, in theory, somewhat more challenging than it might otherwise be. You're forced to focus on attacking with double hidden blades, poison blade, throwing knives, pistol and smoke bombs.
The combat feels easier than ever, amplifying some of the foibles of the parent game - such as the ability to assassinate multiple characters in quick succession, making many of the 'battles' little more than perfunctory exercises. By simply hitting the attack button repeatedly at the start of the rumpus, you can take out at least three guards before they're even aware of the danger.
With up to half the aggressors taken care of, mopping up the stragglers involves little more than a few minutes of dodging and countering - or just repeated attack-button-mashing. The removal of any kind of requisite skill strips these encounters of any real tension. Once you're onto your fourth or fifth identical battle in a row the interest value ebbs away.
Bizarrely, Ubisoft Montreal has conspired to make Battle of Forli even easier by including ammo recharge points, allowing you to use all your high-powered weapons with abandon. With a few carefully lobbed smoke bombs, even the most fearsome enemy can be removed from the equation with a single button-press. It makes absolutely no sense.
After the third (of six) mini-missions, the concerted melee battling changes course and you're sent off on a rescue mission. But when you get there, the game once again spams you with a few enemies and a half-hearted series of encounters ensues.
It's not much better for the final two memories, which both involve simple chase sequences that last no more than a few minutes each - and that's assuming you fail a few times. As is so often the case with Assassin's Creed the chase is generally better than the kill, with your targets falling prey to simple one-hit assassinations and nearby guards offering precious little resistance.
Once you've powered through all six memories, all that remains is one single 'Special Memory' which marks itself mysteriously in the top right of the map. Upon climbing a tower, it transpires that you can board the same flying machine that you used once in the main game and spend some time kicking guards off buildings for larks.
As usual, staying airborne involves careful navigation between the various fires across the city, but unlike in the main game there's no context, no mission and no real point to it other than to give you something else to do. And while it's mildly diverting to take to the sky for a while, there's no quick restart option if you crash, meaning you have to trudge all the way back across the map and climb the tower in order to have another go.
While Battle of Forli is reasonably priced for a piece of DLC, you don't get an awful lot of entertainment for your money.The missions lack challenge and variety. The kicker is that the entire sequence is over and done with inside one hour, leaving you with little more than some cinematics to watch - but frankly, you could probably catch those on YouTube for free and go out for a beer instead.
By any objective measurement, this a poor attempt at adding a new sequence to an excellent game which already boasted a generous amount of content. Had it added more explorational elements, or another secret location to discover, it would have been worth the effort - but to simply stitch together forgettable melee encounters and chases with new cut-scenes is some distance from being enough.
5 / 10