So yes, this probably isn’t the Assassin’s Creed review you were expecting, so firstly I have a confession to make: In all my ignorant foolishness I thought that Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood was merely Assassin’s Creed II with multiplayer-bells on and, as it turns out, I wasn’t far off the mark, but more on that later.
Disc in drive, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations was all ready to be played, enjoyed and subsequently reviewed, at which point our very own Daisy reliably informed me of my bumbling lunacy and that Brotherhood was in fact a proper game in its own right; storyline and everything. So this is me playing catch up, and I play therefore I review. ACR review coming soon, promise.
For those who are unfamiliar with the series, you play average bloke Desmond Miles, who is revealed to be descended from a long line of eponymous stabby parkour-loons: Assassins. Desmond is initially kidnapped by the Knights Templar, who have now subtly rebranded themselves as sinister megacorporation Abstergo Industries. Desmond is forced into the Animus, a flashy ancestral DNA replay box in attempt to relive the memories of his ancestors and track down various powerful artefacts known as Pieces of Eden in order to control humanity’s destiny.
With me so far? Good.
Consequently you get two concurrent story lines for the price of one: The main story of Desmond and co, and the story of the Ancestor de jour. In the case of Assassins Creed II, Brotherhood and Revelations the ancestor in question is unpronounceable smooth talker Ezio Auditore da Firenze.
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood picks up the trail immediately where Assassin’s Creed 2 left off and as with most games that attempt to evoke sympathy for the main protagonists, we get to experience Ezio’s humdrum peaceful life in Monteriggioni before his annoying saccharin smile gets turned upside-down; running errands such as returning an AWOL horse, carrying some flowers and getting some nookie. Better hope that animus is wipe-clean, Desmond.
Things then go spectacularly sour in Ezio-town and he leaves for Rome, but properly this time, not like the second game, which showed us some corridors and told us that yes, we definitely were in Rome, honest.
Back to Desmond and “the Sunshine Band”, who are arriving in modern day Monteriggioni, complete with parked cars, street signs and plenty of other nice sort-of-convincing touches. All that time leaping around memory-lane has started to take its toll on Desmond and he can now bounce about like a human flea too, albeit at the expense of the odd overwhelming hallucination or three. A welcome addition perhaps for those who found “the Desmond bits” in previous games to be a problem.
I for one didn’t have a problem with the present / future intermissions at all; the fact that the crux of the story is set in the present gives the game a perfectly acceptable raison d’etre and the ‘synchronization’ mechanism (you’re reliving a memory, so you can only do more or less what Ezio did) is a stroke of genius. In fact, I found that in the first game I was almost going through the motions in the past because I wanted to see what happens next in the present.
This time the gameplay between Ezio and Desmond are almost indistinguishable, aside from poor Desmond not having a fancy cloak, mini-map or objective markers in the real, he does instead seem to be invincible, so it’s swings and roundabouts I suppose. The interspersions in Ezio’s memories are also fewer and farther between though you can choose to rejoin Desmond and “the Wailers” at any point using an option in the menu.
Back in 15th Century Rome, there are some fine additions to the game besides the main story and the usual “collect 100 of these tediously placed random objects” goals. The Borgia are oppressing citizens, closing down local businesses and making a general nuisance of themselves, so naturally one of the entries in the “Things to do in renaissance Italy for Assassins” guidebook is to Kill a Borgia Captain in each region and burn it’s tower down in order to stick it to the man and liberate the city of Borgia influence.
Once an area is free of Borgia scum, Ezio can renovate shops, banks, stables and landmarks to improve the economy of each region and more importantly, generate profit. Entrances to tunnels can also be renovated offering a handy fast-travel system throughout the map.
Sim City Roma it ain’t, but it goes a fair way towards the illusion of a living, breathing dynamic city. And what a massive, beautiful city it is too. The usual familiar architectural elements from the last game are here with the most notable addition being “lifts”: gallows-like wooden frames that launch you to the roof in a jiffy, good for those quick getaways after a fudged assassination attempt.
So why call the game Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood? Is it because of the bromance between Ezio and Niccolo Machiavelli? Possibly, though perhaps more likely due to the fact that you can now you can recruit those who share Ezio’s propensity for “smashing the state” into his Assassin’s Guild, who can subsequently be summoned to take out targets of your choice. Most useful for those obligatory “don’t be detected” missions.
Recruit enough assassins and you can call down an “arrow storm” which rains down a flurry of perfectly aimed arrows, eradicating all the guards in your close proximity. Using the deceptively advanced technology of the carrier pigeon, assassin recruits can also be customised and levelled up by sending them away on foreign assassination missions. This takes them out of play for several minutes- but when they return (if they return) they take with them glorious XP and lots of lovely filthy lucre for you to roll around in, as you maniacally laugh yourself into a haunted, restless sleep like the disgusting, cold blooded murdering bastard that you are.
So Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood adds a ton of new content onto an already great series, and sorts out a few (misguided) niggles, so it’s all good right? Well, sort of.
Putting the aforementioned “collect 100 of these tediously placed random objects” objectives aside, some of the side-missions and instance areas are more hassle than the rewards for completing them are worth. The most frustrating of which are the contrived, parkour-heavy “get to the treasure” areas. It’s not that the levels are badly designed- they really aren’t, but in tricky parts the camera will sometimes try to “help” by snatching control of the camera- moving and panning to focus on the area you need to get to.
Great in theory, but in reality it’s like someone grabbing the back of your head and forcing you to look at something and refusing to let go until they’re damn well good and ready. This makes it very hard during tricky jumping manoeuvres: to make a straight jump you have to match the angle that the camera is facing, which is now completely out of your control. With a gamepad this is irritating but with a keyboard and mouse setup it’s total utter bastard infuriating.
Releasing an annual instalment of a game series is a risky business and Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood was heavily criticized for not being worthy of a full game title- that it would have been better suited to being released as a DLC. It’s a fair point too: I’m all for “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” but the similarities between Assassin’s Creed II and Brotherhood are a bit too close for comfort. If you played the second game and didn’t like it, then for crying out loud steer clear- similarly if you liked the other games in the series and don’t really care for the storyline then I dare say go straight to Assassin’s Creed: Revelations and do not pass go.
I however loved Assassin’s Creed 2, so of course I’m going to love this; despite the important plot advancements and new bits it’s virtually the same game. I’m happy to see the multiplayer option there but it seems a bit redundant now that Revelations is here.
With only one game featuring Altaire and the third game featuring Ezio and the gang now out, I can’t shake this feeling that Ubisoft are playing it safe and milking the cash cow. I find myself getting weary of the renaissance Italy storyline and I now want to see where else the Assassin’s Creed ancestry will go.
I approach Assassin’s Creed: Revelations with trepidation, not that I can see where I’m going- my head is fixed on that window it wants me to jump out of…
At the time of writing the cheapest prices for Assassins Creed: Brotherhood are: