Ezio Auditore is back in this direct sequel to Assassin’s Creed II (AC II), and it’s a welcome return – the character is simply too cool to squander on a single game. Series fans gave resounding positive response to Assassin’s Creed II, which polished up a lot of the concepts introduced in the first title, and introduced some new gameplay elements to boot. Ubisoft has run with the ideas established in AC II, fleshed them out further, and once again, introduced some new concepts that fans that have grown with series will appreciate and enjoy.
Newcomers to the franchise will be thrown right into the middle of a story with a number of complex elements, but Brotherhood does provide a brief overview of the events directly leading up to Ezio’s Roman romp. For those new to the franchise, it will probably be worth spending a little time reading through a wiki and catching up on the core storyline elements.
For AC II veterans, Brotherhood picks up pretty much where that game left off. Without spoiling the introduction, let’s just say that Ezio has plenty good reason to travel to Rome Circa 1500AD, and hunt down the Borgia Templar that are running the city.
The storyline is one of the cornerstones of the series and if you enjoyed the story delivered in the previous two games, Brotherhood certainly won’t disappoint. The same winding and sometimes complex narrative is present, briefly broken up by developments in the parallel story of modern day Desmond Miles and his modern day Assassin cohorts.
The voice acting is superb throughout the game, and Ezio is his usual charming, brooding and charismatic self. Many of the supporting cast from AC II return, and they are also well executed characters, each with their own convincing personality. Leonardo da Vinci also returns, with a few more gadgets for Ezio.
Visually, the game appears exactly as expected – that is to say, stunning. The gorgeous landscapes and cityscapes that have become signature have of course returned, and this time there is the vast city of Rome to explore. The citizens of Rome are varied and brought to life with convincing voice acting and conversations. The ambient sound effects are superb (and should definitely be enjoyed through a surround sound system) and overall one really does have the immersed feeling of battling in the middle of a bustling medieval city street. Brotherhood is said to have an area three times the size of Florence from AC II. There is plenty to explore as one moves between the dense central metropolis and the outlying countryside regions.
Navigation through the city is mostly done with the signature parkour free-running style that has become signature to the series. It is often spellbinding to witness the fluidity with which Ezio can scale a building and leap across dangerous divides, with nothing but a narrow beam to land upon. Ubisoft has perfectly integrated the rhythm and precision platforming style of gameplay into their open world. Mistakes aren’t often deadly, although they can be damaging and time consuming. Despite the simplicity of the controls, impatient players may find themselves pressing jump at the wrong moment, and interrupting Ezio’s flow of movement.
Horses can now be ridden within city walls, making crossing the large distances less of a chore and more of a hilarious charge through crowds of NPCs. Of course, guards are also afforded the luxury of a horse and a heavily armoured rider can be a tough opponent.
In terms of gameplay, Ezio is a full-fledged killing machine these days, having laboriously spent most of AC II developing his skills. Now running riot in Rome, not much can stand in his way. Most of his tricks earned from the previous game are available right off the bat. This will probably be welcomed by fans of AC II (and of course it makes sense) but new players might be slightly overwhelmed until they get into the swing of things.
The battles are the usual spectacles. Ubisoft delivered on their promise to make the enemies more aggressive, but Ezio still seems to have little trouble coming out on top. One of the major AI differences to be noted is that enemies will frequently attack Ezio whilst he is the middle of an attack or killing move. These attacks can break his flow and of course will deal damage. It therefore becomes more important to watch your back, and anticipate that enemies won’t be holding back. Of course, once Ezio gets into a frenzy, killing blows can be strung together with exhilarating flourish and brutality. Ezio has also been afforded with a couple of new moves to add to his already brutal arsenal, and there are new weapons and armour to unlock, discover, and purchase.
Where AC II had players tracking down important characters and eliminating them one by one in order to advance the story, Brotherhood instead uses a more open mechanic. Ezio will have to liberate Rome of Borgia influence by killing a Borgia guard captain, and then burning down the associated Borgia tower. There are twelve such sequences to complete, and each is varied and interesting. To make things complicated, Ezio can’t simply storm in and slowly overwhelm the Borgia forces. Should the Borgia captain catch a whiff of open conflict, he will flee, only to return later with the changing of the guard shift.
As Ezio frees regions of Rome, so will he be able to upgrade infrastructure such as shops, aqueducts and iconic landmarks. As such, one can plot Ezio’s growing influence across Rome, and it turns out to be a refreshingly organic process, dissimilar to the sequence-by-sequence pace of AC II. Ezio can tackle Borgia towers in almost any order the player sees fit, although some will be limited by storyline progression.
There are three factions to ally with, the courtesans, the thieves, and the mercenaries. Ezio can also set up outposts around Rome for any of the factions, which will in turn spawn useful groups of allies to use during fights. Furthermore, Ezio can of course establish his own brotherhood of assassins. These assassins can be sent off around Europe to train and level up, and then called in as a battle aid. This works well later in the game when trying to take inventive approaches to assassinating a target. It is undeniably pleasing to watch your group of assassins descend from the rooftops amidst a group of unwary guards – a full battle breaking out whilst Ezio uses the distraction to close distance to his primary target.
Tomb explorations make a return in Brotherhood, this time in the form of the Followers of Romulus missions. These operate on a sliding scale of ‘explore the ancient ruins’ to ‘kill everything in sight’ and they are a great isolation from the main open world gameplay. The tombs and ruins that Ezio explores are detailed and atmospheric, and offer plenty of platforming goodness to test player skill. Having completed all six Romulus missions, Ezio will be able to gain access to a nice surprise…
Another addition worth mentioning is the 100% synchronisation challenge. This basically adds a stipulation to every mission for 100% sync (such as ‘don’t lose any health’); something the completists will appreciate, although there is more than enough already present in the game to keep the most studious gamer happy.
Overall the Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood single player experience is a fantastic continuation of the series that could easily stand by itself as AAA release. It definitely rewards players and fans of AC II, and it certainly won’t leave newcomers wanting.
Of course, there is also the multiplayer element to discuss. This was a bold experiment by Ubisoft with a game that has only been thought of as a rich single player experience until now. Some were skeptical that the multiplayer would turn out to be a weak, tacked-on, novelty experience, but Ubisoft did not disappoint.
Quite simply, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood multiplayer is heaps of fun. There are three game modes that players will sink their teeth into – Wanted, Manhunt, and Alliance and advanced modes of Wanted and Alliance. All modes work on the same basic premise – hunt and be hunted. Manhunt and Alliance are simply team-based versions of Wanted, and the advanced modes make target spotting tricker, rewarding players whom have learnt the true tenets of stealthy assassin gameplay.
In wanted, up to eight players will be set loose on a map to hunt down their designated target, whilst being pursued by an unknown assassin. Players will choose from a wide range of assassins to use as their game avatar. Each is equal in ability, although levelling up will unlock a variety of perks and abilities. The gameplay is simultaneously frantic and demanding. Frantic in that things can happen so quickly – one’s target is spotted and hearts skip a beat as one tries to manoeuvre in for the kill, using stealth abilities such as crowd blending, to approach. Of course, one’s own killer could also be closing in for the kill – players will have to learn to watch their back for suspicious activity.
One false move gives the game away and a chase ensues. Often these end in spectacular kills, which are in turn followed up by a veritable bloodbath as all assassins close in on one another at the same spot – abilities such as smoke screens are fired off causing panic and confusion among players and AI alike – and of course, one extra conniving player always takes a hidden gun shot from a rooftop. Reset, and the action all begins again. The only real complaint is the short length of the matches – it always feels that five minutes longer would have been perfect.
The multiplayer must obviously be experienced first-hand. Things appear to be well balanced by Ubisoft. Servers typically match players according to level when possible. Even if a high level player winds up in the company of those lower, the tide will turn against them quickly, as the balancing will assign more hunters to the high level individual. Hopefully, the multiplayer mode proves to have legs, and a community of players still exists many months down the line. It’s simple too much fun to allow it to drift into obscurity.
The multiplayer mode is the cherry on top of a fantastic single player experience, and will likely be the reason gamers continue to fire up Brotherhood long after having completed the roughly 20 hours of single player action. Fans and series newcomers should have a great time with Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.
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Reviewed on Xbox 360