Reviewed: April 8, 2011
Released: March 22, 2011
Itís been quite a journey to get to this review. Assassinís Creed: Brotherhood is the third installment in the Ubisoftís signature franchise, yet it lacks that numeric distinction, a hint that this is more of a 2.5 release, a continuation of the exploits from part 2 than a standalone chapter. Perhaps a more blatant clue is that the game picks up mere moments after the last one ends, both in the dream world with Ezio and the real world with Desmond, the bloodline descendant who is reliving ancestral dreams lodged away in his DNA and unlocked through a device called an animus.|
Of course this is all old news for those who are familiar with the series, but it was only three weeks prior to Brotherhood that I even picked up or played either of the first two Creed games in a crazed marathon session to get myself up to speed before Brotherhood arrived. I seldom get to play many games I donít review and for some reason I was never given the opportunity to review the first two games in the series.
The original Assassinís Creed was an acquired taste. It took awhile to grasp the concept of the present and the past all merging together in some secret lab, and while the game definitely introduced some cool concepts, things got really repetitious when you had to travel back to the same three cities over and over again to perform all sorts of mundane fetch quests.
Things really picked up in Assassinís Creed II with the introduction of Ezio and a much larger playing area Ė basically most of Italy. While there were still plenty of fetch quests the environments and population were much more developed and the gameplay was extremely polished, not to mention an incredible story with a cliffhanger worthy of Empire Strikes Back or Back to the Future II.
In Brotherhood, we get to finish the adventure that Ezio (and Desmond) began as we ride up to our villa in Monteriggioni Ė you know, the one that we spent hours and hours and thousands of flourens rebuilding and upgrading in the last game. Ezio returns to his palatial estate with family, friends, and even a romantic interest, and just when life couldnít get any better Cesare Borgia launches a massive attack on the villa. After a valiant attempt to defend his home Ezio is forced to flee, thus losing everything you, as the player, had built up in the previous game.
Meanwhile, back in the present day, Desmond and his tech support team are escaping the Templars who had just discovered their base of operations at the end of the last game. In a brilliant arc of storytelling, the team decides to setup their new base inÖwait for itÖthe villa in Monteriggioni. While only minutes have passed in gameplay time, more than 500 years have ticked by as Desmond explores the same city Ezio was defending only moments ago. This initial level offers a unique opportunity to play as Desmond and explore the villa as well as some new residual assassin powers that he has developed during his time in the animus. These abilities come in quite useful, as he and Lucy must work together to access the family crypt beneath the villa and reroute power so they can activate the animus in their new hideout.
In another interesting design decision, you are now able to leave the animus at anytime within the gameÖor not. Returning to the present gives you the chance to stretch your legs and talk with your team and access a computer to read emails Ė a nice way to flesh out the story and perhaps learn some cryptic secrets, or you can chose to remain in the 1500ís for the duration of the game.
So, welcome to Rome and the 1500ís. You only got a small taste of this massive city when you came to retrieve the Apple from the Pope in the last game, so prepare yourself for one massive city that is as big (perhaps bigger) than all of the cities in part two combined, and with the exception of a few border areas that unlock later in the game, you are free to explore as you see fit.
At itís core, not much has changed. You still seek out ď!Ē on the map to initiate a memory then complete the assigned task to sync your DNA. What is new is that there are now degrees of synchronization. Merely completing the memory will earn you 50% sync but if you can complete the memory while meeting certain restrictions or criteria you will get a full 100%. These restrictions range from easy, to hard, to nearly impossible.
For completionists, there are more fetch quests that you might care to count. Flags, feathers, and treasure chests litter the city of Rome, but now you can buy maps to find them all; not just the chests, and chests now hold more than just flourens. You can now find all sorts of random ďstuffĒ, both in chests and by looting the bodies of your fallen foes. These items are usually part of some shop quest that will unlock special items like a weapon or piece of armor.
Remember how you got to rebuild your villa in the last game? Well now you single-handedly get to finance the rebuilding of Rome as you wander the map buying all sorts of now-famous landmarks like the Coliseum. Sadly, that is all you do is just buy them, as no visible repairs are made to these iconic set pieces. Youíll also need to repair the citywide aqueduct system. All repairs and upgrades will increase your income, which can be withdrawn from any bank within the city. Itís a nice little side game that lasts the duration of the adventure.
Rome is currently under the iron grip of the Borgia who has setup bases in several areas around Rome. These include a tower and a captain, plus a dozen or more guards on high alert. Before you can make any improvements such as rebuilding a stable, shop, brothel, or sewer access tunnel, you must first free that zone from Borgia control. This means first killing the captain, then blowing up the tower by climbing to the top. These represent some of the more challenging moments in the game. Once the tower is destroyed the number of guards in that area is reduced and the tower is converted to an Assassinís Tower.
With the acquisition of each new tower you also gain an opening in your new Assassinís Guild. This happens about halfway into the game and creates a whole new addictive diversion. When a slot is open you will have the chance to assist a civilian who is been hassled by the guards. Once free they will offer to join you, thus creating your own private group of killers that you can send out on missions all across Europe, earning experience, cash, and rare items and leveling them up until they achieve the rank of Assassin. There is even a cool graduation ceremony.
One major benefit to utilizing this guild feature is that you can summon assassins to assist you at any given time assuming you havenít sent them all out of town, and that your assassin-summoning meter is fully charged. This three-slot meter slowly fills up over time allowing you to target an enemy and summon guild members to do your wet work for you. Itís extremely rewarding to see your crew leap from a building, climb over a ledge, or even ride in on horseback to slay your targets. There is even one mission where you must kill all your targets in this fashion for 100% sync. Even better is when the meter is full you can summon a shower or arrows that will rain down and take out entire groups of enemies.
Since Ezio lost everything when he escaped the villa he must purchase all new weapons and armor and even replace his cool inventions that Leonardo da Vinci built for him. Thankfully, Leonardo is hanging out in Rome, but he has been forced to build deadly killing machines for the enemy, which triggers several side-missions where Enzio must infiltrate various areas and destroy the blueprints and the prototype device that can range from anything from a bomb-dropping glider to a horse-drawn chain gun, a cannon mounted on a raft, and even some crazy tank. With the destruction of each device and a bit of cash, Leonardo will build you new assassin gadgets.
And then we have the whole Romulus subplot that will take you underground in search of six keys to unlock some special armor. Itís not nearly as cool as the armor you unlocked in the last game, and you wonít even get it until the game is nearly over, but the quest is certainly better than the reward as these levels offer some truly inspired Prince of Persia platforming levels and awesome combat against cultists wearing wolf pelts.
If you enjoyed those hidden Truth symbols and cryptic puzzles from the last game you will love the new Subject 16 puzzles hidden around Rome. These are some of the hardest puzzles I have ever seen in a videogame, and unless you are a member of Mensa you might want to have an FAQ or open link to YouTube handy.
There are some other minor additions that might influence the way you play Brotherhood. The new crossbow weapon is a game changing device that allows for extremely easy long-distance stealth kills, a great way for clearing rooftops or taking down guards on horseback. You can now ride horses in town but the streets are so crowded itís usually easier to run, although you now have the quick travel option thanks to the handy sewer tunnel system. The new parachute is a great way to survive an accidental fall or invade enemy territory, and of course, you will now want to loot every dead body you find. In addition to a few flourens you almost always get health, poison, or extra ammo for your ranged weapons. Itís a great way to avoid having to travel back to a shop to replenish supplies.
Combat gets upgraded with new skills, combos, and the new chain kill system and there are plenty of tutorials and a new animus training program to teach these to you, complete with rankings, medal awards, and achievements. The chain system is pretty fluid and triggers once you perform a finishing move. Simply flick the stick toward your next target and hold the button for a single-hit kill and repeat until everyone is dead. My record is 13, and itís pretty satisfying to see the ground littered with bodies after essentially making one long string of fatalities. There are also cool new finishing moves based on your primary and secondary weapons, so depending on your main weapon you can finish up a combo with a gunshot or a throwing knife.
If you are not using a gamepad or 360 controller you will probably find the keyboard and mouse controls atrocious. There is simply no way to replace an analog stick with the WADS cluster and the 2 and 3 button combinations required for many of the moves, even just climbing, requires a steep learning curve, and even after hours of gameplay I still wasn't comfortable with the system. You'll definitely want to invest in a gamepad, especially if you plan on playing multiplayer.
As far as presentation, Brotherhood looks and sounds amazing; not that the previous games were bad, but this game really steps up the level of detail, quality of animation, and overall polish. The draw distance is crazy, and the views from all those dizzying viewpoints are jaw dropping. The level of detail in the stitching on the clothing or the reflections in the armor, the flowing capes, or the muscles working beneath the skin of the horses or the awesome animations as your hired assassins swarm your targets is breathtaking.
The PC version obviously runs (or can run) at higher resolutions than the console version and with much greater detail. The level of bump-mapped textures just on Ezio's clothing is remarkable and worth close analysis. The tearing issues from the console are also gone, but keep in mind you are going to need a graphics card that costs as much, if not more, than a core 360 or PS3. Botttom line - the PC has some nice touches to the visuals if you already have the rig to run it.
The audio is just as good as the visuals with fantastic music (Iím listening to the official soundtrack as I type this) that really sets the mood, and the sounds of historic Rome with the bustling crowds and random chatter and comments as people witness you doing crazy things is a great touch. The primary dialogue is nicely scripted with all the appropriate flourishes of the period and itís expertly voiced by a profession group of actors. For a truly authentic experience play the game in Italian and turn on subtitles.
Brotherhood is most likely a 20-hour game if you were able to go from memory to memory and avoid all the diversionary content, but that is impossible so prepare to spend at least 30-40 hours from start to surprising finish, and even then you can probably go back in and do some clean-up work on those fetch quests if you want to grab the flags, feathers, and chests.
Probably more enticing than mundane item quests is the new multiplayer feature in Brotherhood. I was playing in the Beta long before the game released so I knew just how much fun this part of the Brotherhood was going to be. Admittedly, Iím not the biggest multiplayer gamer out there, but in my opinion this exceeds any level of addiction, excitement, suspense, and fun, Iíve ever had with any other online game.
The designers even go as far as setting up a convincing scenario as to why this multiplayer game exists Ė apparently it is a training simulator for modern day Templars to hone their assassin skills. While there are four game modes, the premise is the same for all of them. You take on the appearance of one of many preset character models and are dropped into one of many levels, each populated with hundreds of characters matching those models you chose from. You are assigned to kill a specific target and someone is assigned to kill you, so your objective is to blend into the crowd and remain undetected long enough to kill your target while avoiding your own personal assassin.
The level of suspense is almost unbearable at times as you close the gap on your target trying to casually look like just another NPC, but also knowing that your attacker is doing the same. Nobody knows who is who until they do something non-NPCíish like running or climbing up a wall or darting across a rooftop. You get experience for killing and bonus experience for doing it with style, and as you level up you will unlock all sorts of cool perks and abilities like smoke bombs, disguises, and firecrackers.
Wanted and Advance modes are independent killing sprees while Alliance and Manhunt adds cooperative elements in paired assassin and team modes. If you are tired of all the run and gun gameplay of most online games out there and love sneaking and stealth kills then Brotherhood is going to be your new addiction.
Assassinís Creed: Brotherhood isnít as much a sequel as a completion to the second game, and while this is certainly the best game of the three so far, you probably donít want to jump into the story without having played at least the second game first. Brotherhood polishes the presentation and fine-tunes the combat and gameplay to create a masterpiece of action and adventure with a rewarding storyline. The whole concept of the animus and reliving memories embedded in DNA creates so much potential. I canít wait to explore other ancestral memories from the 1600ís all the way to the present. And until that next big adventure arrives, Iíll be perfecting my own assassin skills in some of the best online multiplayer currently available.
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