As I re-entered the shoes of Desmond Miles and his Italian ancestor Ezio Auditore da Firenze in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, I’ve got to say I’m quite impressed how Ubisoft was able to pull this off. They have released another expansive AC adventure with interesting tweaks on the gameplay, but without pushing the story along tremendously. Keep in mind, you shouldn’t be expecting the full-blown follow-up that we will see in Assassin’s Creed III (likely releasing this time next year). Regarding the narrative, there’s a slight amount of story development that builds on the shocking finale of Assassin’s Creed 2, but even just a continuation of Ezio’s story is still a captivating tale. But frankly, if you haven’t completed the first two games, you are really doing yourself a disservice by starting with Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and not fully digesting the amazing tale that’s involved here.
(Spoilers Ahead if you haven't finished AC2 yet.)
After Ezio infiltrates the Sistine Chapel to assassinate Rodrigo Borgia and reclaim the pieces of Eden, Desmond (in the mind of Ezio) discovers that an ancient being (known only to him as Minerva) was addressing him directly after accessing the vault in the late 1400s. Desmond is told of several temples around the world that can help him halt the impending disaster that would annihilate the human race. Back in 2012, Desmond escapes from the clutches of Abstergo, thanks to the recently acquired skills of Ezio, and leaves their safe house with Lucy as well as an Animus 2.0. This is where Brotherhood picks up. Desmond and his group of friends setup shop in the ruins of Villa Auditore to dive back into the mind of Ezio. Ezio is suffering at the hands of Cesare Borgia, the son of Rodrigo Borgia. After losing all of his wealth, possessions and even the Apple of Eden due to Cesare’s vengeance, Ezio sets out to establish the Assassin brotherhood once again and overthrow the powerful Cesare. It’s a bit of an obvious ploy to strip down Ezio for the purposes of rebuilding him in the video game, but still believable.
(End of the Spoilers.)
What’s really quite intriguing about Brotherhood is Ubisoft’s pension for experimentation on the Assassin’s Creed formula. Everything you loved from Assassin’s Creed still exists in the direct sequel; they have just added a smattering of tweaks to the design. The mission structure is fairly identical, forcing you to complete goals in specific chapters and opening up more of Rome as you progress. But the most notable tweak is the ability to recruit new assassins and send them to do the dirty work of killing your enemies, hence the name of the game. As you overthrown the "towers" in the city of Rome and shift the balance of power back to the Assassin’s guild, you will start to inspire the public and this opens up slots for Ezio to recruit new assassins. Additionally, Ezio has a new ability to assign each assassin a contract and send them gallivanting all over Europe killing the guilty (or innocent). As a budding recruit completes more tasks, they start to rank up for better weapons, armor and skills.
To further the usefulness of your loyal followers, Ezio has the ability to release waves of assassins on targeted guards in the area as well as using all waves to fire a devastating barrage of arrows. These waves obviously have a recharge time, but it’s pretty incredible to basically send a group of scrubs after the guards and slip in a door unnoticed. Ezio is clearly a powerful leader and Ubisoft is making that evident with the ability to control these groups of assassins. Unfortunately, this does make the second half of the game vastly simpler to complete than the first, especially since Ezio is also ranking up as well. However, these minions are not invincible. They can die just as easily as Ezio through overuse or simply being overmatched in the situation.
Another tweak comes in the form of tying game goals into getting 100% synchronization between Desmond and Ezio. These are typically time based or silent kill based goals that emphasize utilizing Ezio’s entire skillset to kill without being noticed, quietly and efficiently. In addition to challenging even the more skilled AC gamer, nabbing 100% opens up more side missions to play. Side missions are also more closely tied into wealth building and quests for shopkeepers. This has been achieved be loading up your fallen enemies with plenty of goodies to loot, some of which are consumable weapons and others that can be given to shop owners for access to higher quality equipment.
Building wealth (in the form of Florins) is slightly more advanced in Brotherhood as well. As you unlock portions of the city, you can purchase shops that will help you earn a modest amount of money continually throughout the game as well as get a discount on their merchandise. It may not appeal to those seeking action, but it’s definitely worthwhile for anyone wanting access to more powerful gear. I often found myself straying from the main storyline to search of collectibles or earn enough money to purchase my next store. That in combination with the awesome Leonardo Da Vinci side missions is enough to distract anyone from pursuing Cesare. Leonardo was commissioned (forced) by Cesare to build amazing killing machines that are likely going to be used against the Roman population if they get out of line. Fortunately, Leonardo knows a great assassin that can give him a hand on the destruction of those machines.
Ezio has also received some new fighting moves, courtesy of Ubisoft, and the ability to ride his horse within the confines of Rome. Rome is actually bigger than all the cities from Assassin’s Creed II combined, so it’s definitely worthwhile to ride around on your trusty steed. Unfortunately, there’s no galloping within the city limits, but there is a fast travel system included in the game that goes though the tunnels under Rome. However, Ezio can leap off the horse and attack enemies. Ezio also has gained the ability to kick enemies as well as shoot them with a nifty crossbow. I really liked the silent efficiency of the crossbow, but it takes the fun out of sneaking up behind a rooftop guard and sliding that hidden blade into their gullet.
Brand new to the series, Ubisoft has introduced four multiplayer modes in Brotherhood; Wanted, Advanced Wanted, Alliance and Manhunt (both in ranked and unranked format). Since Assassin’s Creed has never been about direct combat and always focused on the silent kill, I pondered how they were going to pull this off and keep the same focus on calculated assassinations. After playing through all the modes, I’m amazed at how well it works, especially for those who have the patience to hunt down their targets.
In Wanted, you receive a picture of your target in the corner of the screen and use the compass to track down your enemy to a specific location. You are rewarded for blending in with the crowds before taking down the target as well as fancy assassination moves. You can also hack and slash your way though the level, but you likely won’t last long. In addition, the more people that you kill quietly, the more “Wanted” you become by the remainder of the players. If you are good enough to level up and progress up to level 12 in Wanted, you unlock the Advanced Wanted mode. This mode makes your compass incredibly erratic and doesn’t give you a vertical location on the target. It’s extremely difficult to isolate your victim, especially if they are blending in with the crowds. It also makes for a very tense situation most of the time.
In Manhunt, all the players are split into two teams; assassins and targets. Each team chooses a character style before the match starts and the hunt begins. Targets have to hide in the crowds and move undetected while assassins have to pick out the human characters in the mix. This allows for more teamwork on the assassin’s end, but it’s amazingly satisfying to watch assassins run right past you while you blend in with the Romans. At the end of the match, the sides are switched and you get to play on the opposite team. Finally, Alliance puts an odd number of teams out into the world and requires them to hunt each other. Team A will be hunting Team B, Team B hunts Team C, Team C hunts Team A basically. This can make you very on edge especially when trying to hunt and hide all at the same time.
Obviously, killing an A.I. controller character in any of the game modes makes you or your team lose points. I played on some great, patient teams that isolated each target before killing them with an aerial attack and I played on some terrible teams that thought this was a Devil May Cry game. Your own character can be leveled up (50 levels) to get better gear and access to more character models. There are currently eight maps to choose from while four more being unlocked by Ubisoft as time goes on. There are also some really exceptional diversion abilities that you can level up such as transforming into another character skin to trick the opposite team. All in all, the added multiplayer mode is really an interesting step forward for the series and I hope Ubisoft can flesh out some of the concepts they have experimented with in Brotherhood before AC III hits the stores.
If you get motion sickness while playing video games, this really isn’t the game for you. Identical to the last two previous titles in the franchise, the dizzying heights of 15th century Rome on a high definition television are enough to send you praying to the porcelain god within 20 minutes of playtime for those sensitive to rapid movements in video games. But it performs much better on the Playstation 3 than Assassin’s Creed 2, specifically in the fluidity of the visuals and quicker loading times. The game is native 720p and can be upscaled to 1080p as well.
Character models, facial designs and character animations have all been improved. Ezio and the rest of the main characters all have that little bit of humanity that developers try very hard to capture in video games. However, the walking animation when you are attempting to blend into the crowds looks a bit robotic. The city of Rome is beautifully manicured and very artistic in design. Each pocket of the city has its own charm and is can simply be fun to leap from rooftop to rooftop checking out the city below, especially the landmarks that you may already be familiar with. Unfortunately, I did run into a couple graphical glitches related to object detection. Ezio actually fell through the ground after a couple errant jumps and I had to exit to the PS3 menu to restart the disc to continue. Thankfully, the saving system seems to keep track of your most recent accomplishments, thus avoiding losing your work.
Jesper Kyd’s killer soundtrack to Brotherhood will remind you of Assassin’s Creed II, but there are very subtle differences in the music. Ubisoft thinks it’s so good that they actually released it separately on CD (for those of us that still use compact discs). The moving orchestral pieces really do an exceptional job of setting the mood, specifically during the crescendos of high profile assassinations. If you have played the previous titles, you will notice the same set of voice actors in Brotherhood. Kristen Bell (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) returns as Lucy Stillman, Nolan North (Melrose Place) as Desmond Miles and Roger Craig Smith as Ezio. The voice work is up to par of the previous title, but still a bit flat in line delivery during Desmond’s time. Other recorded lines when roaming around Rome have been reused from Assassin’s Creed II and there’s little new material for anyone that’s not a main character.
Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is a strange hybrid between the shorter narrative of a typical expansion pack and the vast amount of missions, side quests and collectables of a feature length game. It improves on the Assassin’s Creed II design greatly with a variety of tweaks and offers some entertaining multiplayer for those that have the patience for it. My only quibbles with the game is that the difficulty becomes unbalanced in the latter half due to the strong team of assassins and the narrative doesn’t move along very far in relation to the grand design of the main storyline.
Still, it’s definitely going to satiate the Assassin’s Creed fanatics this year and, assuming you have played the previous games, is probably one of the more satisfying games of 2010. You are looking at about 20 to 30 hours of playtime, depending on how much of a perfectionist you are. Pick up Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood if you are looking for a great action adventure, stealth game or are simply craving the next chapter in the Assassin’s Creed series.