It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the Assassin’s Creed series. I bought a 360 for the original and its sequel was one of my games of the year. So it was that the announcement of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood filled with me with dread. Like many, I first assumed it would be a multiplayer focused title, with the single player served as an afterthought. However, what Ubisoft have produced is a mammoth title, with an innovative take on multiplayer and the most expansive single player this side of Red Dead Redemption.
Ezio’s story seemed to wrap up pretty neatly at the end of AC II, but he’s back in a tale that takes him to the streets of Rome and right into the heart of the Vatican… again. The story in this release doesn’t have the same drama as the location hoping, decades spanning tale we were treated to last year, but it still rises above most videogame offerings in no small part helped by the exceptional voice acting which rarely, if ever puts a foot wrong. Brotherhood also allows us yet more time with Desmond pushing his journey in new and unexpected ways.
Although Ezio moves from his villa in Monteriggioni, Desmond soon takes up residence, allowing a quick parkour session over parked cars and mopeds at night. It’s a small touch but getting to free run through a location with modern trappings is a nice change. However, Rome is the main attraction here and while it does offer a number of impressive sites (wait until you climb to the top of the Castel Sant’Angelo) Brotherhood falls short of the diversity of its predecessor, with regard to Venice and Forli in particular. Pop up also appears more noticeable, likely to be the result of the admittedly huge main location.
One area that Brotherhood completely outclasses the previous games is the secret temples. While they provided a welcome break from the city scaling antics of AC II, here they often outshine the main campaign in terms of spectacle. Racing through a cathedral under construction before scrambling across the rain slicked roof or infiltrating a fortress using the underwater canal network provides a more directed take on the assassin’s abilities setting up some truly memorable moments.
One of Brotherhood’s great improvements is that you can now replay any memory you’ve already completed meaning that these great sequences can by enjoyed multiple times without having to replay the entire campaign. They also give you the opportunity to shoot for ‘100 % synch’ by fulfilling certain conditions the game places on each memory. These include taking little to no damage, not getting caught or by assassinating a character a particular way.
In previous instalments of the franchise, the player had no choice but to get their hands dirty in the executions. Brotherhood changes this. As you burn down Borgia towers, you unlock slots to recruit initiates to the Creed. It would have been enough to allow Ezio to summon a helper every few minutes or so but instead they included a management system that many will lose hours to. Each assassin-in-training can be dispatched on missions around Europe or called in to help you, rising through the ranks to eventually become fully fledged assassins with a garb that mimics your own. It’s very empowering to walk into a restricted area and be challenged by guards, only to hold up your fist and have your minions leap from the shadows and dispatched you foes. When you finally accumulated three marks, Ezio can call on an “arrow storm” that instantly downs all guards within your vicinity. However, while it certainly is very satisfying, eventually the novelty wears off and you may be left wondering where the challenge went or even if the trade off is worth it.
The single player campaign is solid, but it is ultimately a selection of iterative improvements rather than a huge advancement for the franchise. If you want something completely new, look to the multiplayer. Unlike Halo, Call of Duyor numerous other popular multiplayer titles, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is about patience and observation. Each player is assigned a target and must sift through an arena of identical clones, searching for their mark. Higher ranked players can have up to four players tracking them and the key is not drawing attention to yourself. Running around and causing a ruckus will not only paint a target over your head but, should you get a kill, you will earn far fewer points compared to a stylish stealth kill. This is reinforced by the fact that it’s points, not the number of kills that matter and I regularly played games where the winner had two, three or even four kills fewer than some of the other players.
The most surprising part of Brotherhood is that the multiplayer not only works, but is hugely satisfying. However, it does have two issues which hold it back from greatness. The first is matchmaking. It can take up to six or seven minutes to find a game and start playing and even then, matches will often close up within the first minute of playing, booting everyone into their own lobbies. This is also a problem with party play and I have yet to have a smooth multiplayer session when playing with friends. The other issue is its levelling up mechanic. Progress through the multiplayer is slow but the rewards for each new level are great… too great. Regardless of skill, a level 1`player will rarely be able to touch someone in their 20’s. It’s going to turn off many from jumping in even a few weeks after the launch and is set to become a haunt of hardcore elites only. You have been warned. The game also implements leaderboards, attached to challenge rooms. If a number of people on your friends list have Brotherhood, then expect to spend a long while trying to beat each others score in movement, combat and stealth challenges which do a great job of showing of the depth of the mechanics at the heart of franchise. Even if you’re a veteran of the series, I’d recommend trying these out as you’re guaranteed to learn tricks you didn’t know existed.
Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is a good game, in fact it’s a great game, but it doesn’t reach the dizzy heights of imagination of its predecessor. It does make improvements to the formula, but I can’t help but feel a whiff of fatigue about the franchise. It’s also brought by a later sequence which is horrifically broken and will have more than a few players cursing at their televisions. I still love Assassin’s Creed, but as the credits rolled, I was left feeling deflated rather than the excitement I had become used to. Maybe it’s because AC:II was such a huge leap over the original, which in itself was a game like none before it, but riding through the contado of Rome, I couldn’t help the feeling of “been there, scaled that”.
This post originally appeared here