Face-Off: Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood • Page 2

No more tiny Templar.

Missing from the performance tests are some internal scenes (though there is a clip or two in the like-for-like analysis). Similar to Assassin's Creed II, these underground scenes are all about testing Desmond/Ezio's agility. These operate in an effectively identical manner on both systems and rarely deviate from 30FPS, and they also serve to highlight how overall atmosphere has improved in these scenes thanks to Brotherhood engine upgrades - dynamic lighting for example appears to be a significant step-up from the last game.

Other additions to the Anvil engine seem to be about addressing the shadowing issues we saw in ACII (jarring at times if you look at the HD version of our time-lapse video, where shadowmap cascades would transition to a lower resolution in a very noticeable manner not so far ahead of Ezio. In Brotherhood, we still see the cascade, but the shadows are dithered, perhaps to better mask transitions in resolution and the noticeable jumps between shadowmap quality are not as apparent.

We also see an additional layer of depth in the scene with screen-space ambient occlusion (SSAO) added for both characters and environments, so they appear to sit more comfortably within the scene. With this and all the other enhancements to the core Assassin's Creed engine, both 360 and PS3 benefit equally.

The spectacular opening to the game, where Ezio's adopted hometown of Monteriggioni is ransacked by marauding Borgia forces, also suggests that Ubisoft's tech team have also worked to improve the implementation of object and environmental damage in the game.

The improvements to the engine are just part and parcel of a raft of changes that make this game a significant upgrade from its predecessor. Just like ACII, it's a case of evolution over revolution, but the improvements are welcome and don't seem to have much - if any - effect on game performance. It's testament to the quality of gaming production values in general that other improvements go unnoticed - the game voices sound at home in the environments, compared to ACII where game voices sounded too much like they were coming straight from the sound booth. Dialogue quality is improved too.

However, many other engine issues haven't really been resolved. Xbox 360 still offers a smoother performance level but both games still suffer badly on occasion from some pretty obtrusive tearing. In this respect, not much has changed from Assassin's Creed II: while tearing is not so noticeable in many games, it's effectively a constant companion in the city scenes here and crops up regularly elsewhere too. Other bugbears haven't been addressed either - the levels of pop-in in terms of both textures and geometry are still really rough-looking and in this case, both versions seem to be just as bad as each other.

However, with Xbox 360 inching ahead from a performance perspective, it's the PlayStation 3 that claims the content honours. Yes, it's day one, exclusive DLC time – beloved by the platform holders and mostly reviled by gamers. Available only on PSN, the Copernicus Conspiracy is a free 300MB download that sees Ezio taking on a range of courier, assassination and protection missions from none other than noted Renaissance scientist Nicolaus Copernicus. The DLC actually integrates into the game, so take it from me - it's a really good idea to download and install the upgrade before you progress too deeply. Don't expect to be able to instantly access the missions either, as they crop up during the course of playing the game and you can't jump straight to them.

The inclusion of the missions is also rather stealth-like. A star icon appears on the HUD, indicating that a Copernicus mission is on offer. Here's a look at the very first one, which kicks in during sequence three. It's a standard protection mission with an emphasis on chaining together killstreaks (rather similar to the VR Training you're forced to sample early on in the game), followed up by the standard escort drill as you escort Copernicus to the safety of his lair.

The Copernicus Conspiracy free DLC missions exclusive to PS3 add additional content to a game already bursting at the seams with things to do.

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is a beautiful game and the scale of the world it creates is almost intimidating in how vast it is and how much gameplay there is to dip into. As you play through Ezio's memories, new side-missions and distractions regularly appear, creating a sense that there is an almost overwhelming amount of "content" on offer in addition to the main quest.

So on the one hand, you can't really argue with more free gameplay - this is obviously a Good Thing. On the other hand, the low-key way in which the Copernicus Conspiracy is presented and the fact that the missions seem to be variations of stuff you might have played elsewhere in the game means that it's quite easily missed, and isn't exactly a deal-breaker if you'd prefer to go for the Xbox 360 version.

Of course, we should not omit mention of the multiplayer mode - Ubisoft Montreal has worked really hard in creating an online game that works rather well and is great fun to play (and how long until we see an AC MMO?). This is well on the way to becoming a Face-Off cliché, but it's definitely the case that technical differences matter little compared to your preference of online gaming venue.

If friends lists are not an issue, the Xbox 360 version edges it with its more refined performance, but content completists may wish to opt for the PS3 version for the additional missions. It's a tough choice to make but rest assured, both releases are well worth your time and money...

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