Monday, 14 March 2011

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood [Review]

The annual leapfrog contest had taken a turn for the worse...
Before going into the main review, I feel I must concede that I had reserved judgements about Brotherhood; Assassin’s Creed 2.5? The lack of an unoriginal setting or protagonist worried me. Whilst Assassin’s Creed II was a joy to play, and Ezio de Auditore a formidable vehicle with which to unleash Ubisoft’s unique blend of killer capabilities, I felt his story was done; yes, there were a few loose ends, but an extra batch of downloadable content could have cleared that up, leaving the way for a brand new assassin (possibly in a Victorian London locale?). Luckily, any doubts I had were assuaged almost immediately - and that was before I got stuck into the online mode.

Brotherhood follows on from its predecessor in the manner the second game took towards its chronology; months and years can pass and you’ll never know any different unless you happen to notice the date given at the start of each sequence. Much in the same vein, it’s difficult to tell just how soon after the ending of ACII this is set based solely on differences in location and character. The story opens much in the way I assumed life would be like for the protagonist following the end of the last game; a legendary assassin, capable of saving the free world… retiring to a quaint country home. Of course, it doesn’t last; else this would be a review of Country Living Simulator 2011. The menacing, murderous and incestuous Borgia clan have come to wreak havoc upon Italy, taking over Rome, and inevitably the burden falls to you to free the city from the shackles of tyranny. With just one city featuring in Brotherhood, the game might at first feel heavily downsized from ACII, but this is soon rectified by its scale, with all its emphatic beauty and historical accuracy making it a pleasure to travel through. On the other side of this, of course, having one larger city does inevitably lead to a lot of travelling; by the time you reach the final memory sequence you’ll know the citadel like the back of your palm. Of course, that doesn’t negate the large amount of running around on horseback you encounter, but it does help to alleviate the stop-start nature of having to look at your map at every corner.

No animals were harmed during the making of this game. Probably.
Whilst Brotherhood’s single player may feel strenuously similar to ACII for the first few memory sequences, a multitude of subtle improvements have been made. The ability to fight on horseback removes the need to stop at every guard post to bump off a few troublemakers - ride, swing, and stab, ride, swing, and stab. It’s a well-implemented system, not to mention efficient. An almost excessive amount of side quests also help to keep you busy during the course of the game; everything from repairing aqueducts to burning towers to rebuilding shops. A feature you might remember from ACII, the shop system has been upgraded here, further stressing the economic fluency of the game - for each area, first the captain must be assassinated, and then his watchtower burned, in order to release it from Borgia control. Then all shops and merchants in the area become available for renovation, which, whilst carrying an initial outlay, provides several advantages: discounts, new items and, most importantly, a higher revenue stream in the bank.

With all this talk of rebuilding cities, purchasing upgrades and such, you might be forgiven for thinking you’ve suddenly started reading a review for the next Elder Scrolls game. Brotherhood contains elements of an RPG, admittedly, but at heart it’s purely about the adventure. The abundance of side quests is merely a momentary distraction for those with short attention spans (or perhaps the obsessive trophy collector), while the real meat of Assassin’s Creed sits purely in its main campaign. An even greater variety of mission styles greets you here than with Brotherhood’s predecessor; stalking your opponents, infiltrating enemy structures and gatherings, straightforward ‘running and gunning’ - even impersonating masked officials in order to reach your target. The depth and detail of the bustling city of Rome will not fail to astound as you work your way through the memory sequences, which are never a chore. And at around fifteen to twenty hours’ worth of campaign to be had at, there’s plenty to get stuck into. Roll on the inevitable downloadable content (the first of which is rumoured to concern Da Vinci)! 

Who said men can't multitask?
While Brotherhood’s ending will leave a bittersweet taste in your mouth - suffice to say we can expect at least one more instalment - there’s no reason it should stop you exploring the main addition to the series. The online-only multiplayer offered at the title screen is a first for the Assassin’s Creed games, and sets up a ‘cops and robbers’ style environment contained within a range of moderately sized maps. Filled with identical character models of various classes, the primary objective of the [admittedly few and far between] game modes centres on identifying your target amongst the masses. If done right, this can result in tense and thrilling games, stalking your prey for the slightest hint of human error that might give away their position. Of course, there’s always the odd fool who’ll run across the rooftops and alert everyone to his presence within seconds - but the game rewards subtlety; more points are given for the killer your target never sees coming, until his carcass lies on the dusty pave below, whilst minimal score is awarded to those who gallivant about in broad daylight. In effect, this means just a few well-placed assassinations can win the game against someone with ten kills who blunders about noisily. Brotherhood rewards the art of the kill; the style, sophistication and subtleties of the Creed. And it is in this way that it succeeds. Call of what?

It’s to Brotherhood’s credit, then, that it does its online component so well. With such similarities in character and style to ACII, the multiplayer might even be argued as its main hook - and it’s a hook which will hold Ubisoft’s series high, high up for as long as it might see fit (that is, until next time). The single player campaign is simply a bonus, and a ridiculously in depth one at that. To say that Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is well deserving of its praise would be quite an understatement: it’s a gleaming, bloody blade of triumph for Ubisoft’s killer series. 

Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, Windows, Mac OS X
Genre: Historical action/adventure, stealth
Ubisoft, 19/11/10

See also: Assassin's Creed (2007), Assassin's Creed II (2009)


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