The third chapter in Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series has arrived with a pair of bloody knives in its hands. Instead of jumping forward a few hundred years as the change from the first to second game, Brotherhood starts right near the end of Assassin’s Creed II. The developers made a huge amount of positive changes from the first game to second. Will they continue to sharpen their skills in this title, or was their execution too messy to be considered any good? Let’s find out.
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is a direct sequel to the events of Assassin’s Creed II. In the meta narrative of the game, you control Desmond Myles, who’s playing as Italian Renaissance murderer Ezio Auditore. After a brief recap of the end of Assassin’s Creed II, Ezio and the remains of his family are attacked by the resurgent Borgia clan. In the past, Ezio is driven out of his family’s ancestral home. In the present, Desmond and his conspiracy set up camp in the ruins of the village. It’s a very neat trick of storytelling that shows Ezio’s running out of the village and Desmond’s running in. Ubisoft has been setting up Desmond to inherit all of his ancestors’ abilities through his diving into past lives, and they are starting to pay that off. You will have several opportunities to jump and climb as Desmond as well as Ezio.
Back in the past, much of the game will take place in Rome. During the siege of your family’s villa, the powerful artifacts of the first two games were lost. Ezio will be tracking those down while avenging himself upon anyone that looks at him funny. In both the past and present worlds, there are all sorts of puzzles and hints at the overarching story of the game. The only downside is that the story doesn’t move forward as much as the leap from the first game to the second. This almost feels like an expansion pack to Assassin’s Creed II rather than the full-blown Assassin’s Creed III many gamers were hoping for. Regardless, this story features everything. There are themes of love, devotion, duty, cowardice, humor, and abuse of power running throughout. In addition to the single player story, Ubisoft has added a story-based multiplayer component. You’ll play as agents of the Abstergo Corporation, the game’s main villains, going into the past to execute the rebellious Assassins. I’ll go into greater detail later, but the assassination modes online are some of the most intense and entertaining gameplay I’ve experienced this year.
This series is known for impressively rendering ancient cities and filling them with people. You will run, climb, and jump all over the Roman Renaissance. The long distance views are incredible, and the close-up texture work is detailed enough to tell a hand hold from a loose stone. Ubisoft added a new wrinkle to the city control in Borgia-controlled towers. To liberate Rome, you must burn them down. The game rewards this act with a beautiful slow motion swan dive just as the tower crumbles in flame. It’s pretty if you do it in the day, but it is amazing at night.
The game engine handles the teeming cities without a hiccup, but it does this by lowering the detail on the huddled masses. It is a bit jarring when you can identify the important characters easily by the fact that they have actual details. This and the occasional body that ends up hanging off a roof by their toes are the only real graphical issues. Those minor hiccups are not enough to detract from a game that so consistently offers up amazing views.
If you took high school Italian, or are looking for a crash course in Italian swears, you’ve come to the right place. I heartily recommend turning on the subtitles as soon as you can. Reading a bit of text more than makes up for deciphering the rampant foreign language using context clues. The voice actors do their job well, and many performances will invoke emotions. There’s actually a lot of humor in the dialog. Listening to the doctors hawk their leeches and impromptu amputations is funny. The music and sound effects, including the speech of the guards and bystanders, do become painfully repetitive after a while. It’s a relatively minor gripe, but the size of the game means you’ll be hearing the same things way too often.
Control and Gameplay
The main objective of control in this game is maneuvering your character throughout the Italian city streets and the building rooftops above. Ubisoft doesn’t change a lot of the formula from the previous games, so if you’ve played them you know what to expect. Sometimes you won’t be able to get a handhold where you thought you could, or the climbing might be a little slower than you want in some places. What they have done is streamline the experience in a lot of little ways. The horseback travel that most people don’t like is still here, but the developers added the ability to call a horse at any time once you’ve liberated some stables. This means that if you have a long trip, you can summon transportation rather than just hoof it. They’ve also tuned up mounted combat to make it an interesting experience. There are also a series of tunnels that you can renovate and use for a direct, point-to-point fast travel experience. The combat, always more of a side-show to the sneaking, climbing, and stabbing, has been sped up as well. The enemies are now much more aggressive, and you won’t have to wait forever between their making attacks. The best way to kill a guard in combat is not to flail at them, but to wait for them to attack you and perform a timed counter-kill. Further speeding things up is the “kill streak”Â mechanic. During the execution animation, you can flick a control stick in the direction of another enemy and tap X to execute them. This speeds things up, much like the free-flow combat of Batman: Arkham Asylum. Outside of the main game, there are also a few rail-based shooters and even a boating section where you have to use war machines created by Leonard Da Vinci to take out the legions of the Borgia.
As with both of the previous games in this series, there is a ton of single player replay value just in item collection and city exploration. However, all that takes a back-seat to the new multiplayer mode. Many people were probably wondering how you could take a game about social stealth mechanics and have a bunch of people running around and trying to kill each other. Ubisoft takes an elegant, addictive, and gripping solution. If you think back to playing “Murder”Â in high school, you’ll have an idea. Each player chooses a character and adds a few perks if they have earned them. The game then drops those players into a moderate-sized region of the main game. You are assigned other players as targets, and have a compass to help you close the distance. There are two great hooks with this: The first is that other players are hunting you as you are hunting them. The second is that the game world gets populated with hundreds of copies of your character model. Suddenly, you aren’t just looking for the guy in the green shirt “â€ there’s dozens of them. You need to follow the compass to get close enough to strike. If you just start sprinting at the target, everyone who can see you can tell that you aren’t one of the drones, and that makes it so much easier for the person hunting you to track you down and put a dagger in your neck. There are multiple modes of this, each a fun variant. I haven’t felt so tense and so enthralled playing a deathmatch in…perhaps ever.
The emphasis on story in this title means that the actual difficulty level of this game is kept low. You won’t find levels where you struggle repeatedly to accomplish your objectives. That doesn’t mean that the game doesn’t offer a challenge. Each mission, from quick one-off events to longer, story-critical challenges have two different completion criteria. That provides an extra challenge for players who want to do more than just finish the mission. Many times the full synchronization challenge would be to complete the mission without being seen or letting your feet touch the ground.
Combat is also surprisingly easy for the most part. You can extend your life bar by unlocking additional sets of armor, and even if you’re taken down to nothing in the health meter, it takes a follow-up attack to kill you. You can quickly pause the game and take a dose of medicine, which adds about a quarter of your health back to your life. The only truly difficult aspects of the game are the timed chases, where your quarry can get away if you don’t make the correct, split-second control input. There are a few sections where you can get turned around and accidentally jump off a wall in the wrong direction and kill yourself, but much of that is avoidable by taking your time and not forcing the jumps.
Balance: Very Good
People who have read the novels of Dan Brown, who are up on their religious mythology, and who generally like conspiracy theories in general will find a ton of stuff to like here. There’s an optional mini-game where you’re hacking into the memories of a fellow test subject to find another hidden aspect to the shadowy players behind the thrones of the world. The story itself provides hook after hook to keep playing, and the attention to actual historic detail sent me to a reference book on more than one occasion. The way the game weaves fact, fiction, and science fiction together can give you a bit of a headache, though.
So the story is a complex, convoluted mess that ends up being presented in a wonderful fashion. What about the gameplay? There is very, very little to set it apart from Assassin’s Creed II. Aside from the ability to train up new Assassins, much of this game feels like a re-hash. In fact, a great number of assets, including voices, animations, and locations are recycled completely. Some of them have new twists, but there’s a lot of the old stuff in here. This game almost comes across as a huge bit of fanservice for those people that like the first and second game.
The formula for addiction boils down to, “Is the reward for this activity obtainable, gratifying, and repeatable?” Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood resolves this by providing a constant flow of small objectives that are subtly rewarding. At any given time, the game map will show four or five icons leading to scalable towers, targets of assassination, citizens in danger, and more. Each of these challenges typically take no more than five or ten minutes, and always ends with some sort of benefit to Ezio. The game always has a challenge for you and doesn’t hesitate to reward you with a cutscene, a weapon, or even just cash.
Brotherhood introduces the option to recruit and train new assassins as well. You can use these newly initiated followers to perform your hits, help in combat, and even travel to distant nations to spread the teachings of your blade. Victory allows you to upgrade their skills and weapons, while failure means death. You never see these missions, and sending someone out of Rome does remove them from your available pool for some time, but you will deeply enjoy managing their careers. Taking a page out of the Fire Emblem series, if one of your young protégés fails a mission and dies, they are lost forever, adding an impressive amount of tension and strategy to what mission you’ll send them on.
There is always something to do, and the feel of just one more event often kept me up past my bedtime.
First, a word of caution to parents: The M on the box means Mature. Aside from the obvious violence, there’s quite a lot of swearing. If you don’t mind your teen’s taking up Italian curse words, feel free to invest. Be aware that there is also a sex scene (nudity free) in the first half hour, along with a lot of sexual situations and dialogue throughout the game. I doubt it’s anything you haven’t seen on prime-time TV, but you should know this going in. The last barrier to the appeal of this game is the controls and setting. I’ve spoken with a few people who just don’t want to jump all over the city. Others want more Hitman and less Tomb Raider. While all of that is understandable, if you are on the fence about this game, I completely recommend it. The story is building towards a very good conclusion, the game itself is beautiful, and the multiplayer is ridiculously good. As soon as you hear your friends talking about their experiences, you’ll want to have it for yourself. The matches contain dozens of unique, memorable events from game to game, so different and removed from the typical “I got shot, respawned, and shot someone else”Â of many of today’s competitive multiplayer games. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is an experience that shows how compelling interactive media can be.
Appeal Factor: Very Good
The first game in this series was slightly tense and humorless, but the sequel and Brotherhood make up for that with a lot of funny moments. It’s not comedy for the sake of comedy, but when the story you’re experiencing is so involved in the abuse of power, murder, and conspiracy, a bit of lightheartedness goes a long way. Take this, for example: There’s a section where you must rescue Catarina Sforza from a prison. The achievement for doing this is called “Principessa in another Castello,”Â a direct reference to the Super Mario Bros. series.
Touching moments exist as well, as during a flashback-within-a-flashback, Ezio is coached on how to best woo a young lady by his older brother. There is also a Facebook tie-in game that actually allows you to earn extra costumes and other in-game items. Players with their eyes and ears open will find a lot of stuff to look for and smile at.
Miscellaneous: Very Good
Control and Gameplay: Great
Balance: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Very Good
Miscellaneous: Very Good
FINAL SCORE: GREAT GAME!
Short-Attention Span Summary
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is a wonderful gaming experience, even if it doesn’t do much to separate itself from its predecessor. There is an astounding amount of stuff to see and do and an incredible sense of history. You can approach the game as if it were a pure action game and just look to stab people, or you can go into it as a conspiracy theorist and look for all the references to secret societies controlling the destiny of humanity. Multiplayer is a fresh and gripping experience that boils down to a simple game of tag, but is executed flawlessly. A few graphical hiccups can’t hide the breathtaking views and masses of people wandering through the world. Dialogue is nearly as impressive, but some gamers might be turned off by the sheer amount of spoken Italian, so turn on the subtitles. The story is wonderfully told both in the past and present, and leaves you wanting more. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is one of the most entertaining video games that has come down the road in a long time.