Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood Reader Review
The Assassins Creed series is very much like marmite, you either love it or you hate it. While the series has had a somewhat rocky start with mixed reviews across the board for both the original and the sequel, things are about to change. While some of you may be under the impression that Brotherhood is vain attempt by Ubisoft to make a quick buck, this could not be further from the truth.
Think of it as Assassins Creed 2.5, an epilogue if you will to AC II's 'more questions than answers' ending. However, this fact does not make Brotherhood any less of an incredible gaming experience that only proves to enhance on AC II in almost every way. Granted the formula is much of the same, ride to this well known historic European city, climb all over some medieval architecture then plunge your hidden blade in to some unsuspecting templar baddy and leg it before anyone's the wiser. The simple fact is, the formula works.
While you may have thought that the Italian stallion Ezio Auditore's part in the AC series was over you'll be pleasantly surprised to find out that players will once again be stepping into his boots as Desmond makes his way back into the Animus to find one of the fabled pieces of Eden. Instead of travelling around Italy like in AC II you're limited to the city of Rome throughout the Ezio portion of the game. While this may seem quite a small area, it really isn't. The game world is 3 times that of AC II's Florence and takes a considerable amount of time to get from one end to the other. This is helped by the fact that horse's are now usable inside cities as well as Ezio's ability to 'Fast Travel' using various tunnels you must renovate around the city.
As well as the expansive main storyline there is a multitude of side quests for players to complete around Rome. While the first two games fell prey to repetitive side missions Brotherhood redeems its predecessors by providing a wide range of diversely interesting side missions. In the short time I've had to play Brotherhood I often found myself heading straight for side missions rather than the main storyline, something I rarely did in the other two games. Some of the best side missions are those that revolve around Leonardo da Vinci, in which you are first tasked to assassinate an overseer to steal his map leading you to one of Leonardo's many war machines he's been forced to make for the templars. Upon obtaining the map you're asked to exit the city of Rome where you are then transported to a small area somewhere in Europe. An example of one of these sequences sees Ezio beating the crap out of an architect, burning the plans for the war machine, in this case a wooden tank that looks a bit like a flying saucer, and then stealing said war machine to wreak havoc amongst the templar encampments housing the machine before finally blowing it to smithereens.
The AC series has always been top notch in the combat department in terms of cinematic spectacle, with its vast array of medieval weaponry and brutal counter attacks but Brotherhood really goes the extra mile in providing great combat gameplay. The typical silent assassinations are now more encouraged than the previous games due to the '100% Synchronization' challenges which crop up whenever you start a mission, giving you a specific parameter to complete in order to gain 100% Synchronization for that memory. These challenges may range from not being detected at all in the mission, to killing off your target using only your highly trained assassin goon squad that you'll be able to call in whenever you please.
However, with these additions come new combat mechanics and weapons. Amongst these are the chain executions. These moves are quite easy to perform, requiring the player to perform one counter kill and then push the movement stick in the direction of their next victim and press the attack button for an instant kill after the 1st counter kill is complete. While this makes combat slightly easier enemy AI has been much improved in Brotherhood, with guards being more on the aggressive side this time round causing them to attack more frequently or even at the same time to catch you off guard and provide a much more of a challenging fight compared to huddling round the player, scratching their backsides waiting for someone to pluck up the courage to attack.
Another new move Ezio has at his disposal is the good ol' groin kick. Kicking in combat causes Ezio to deliver a swift kick to an enemy's groin, lowering their defences so you can go in for the easy kill. Its a nice addition and definitely a massive help against the Brute enemies who can now break through your blocks, regardless of their attack. While these new moves are a welcome addition to the already robust combat system the new weapons add even more to the experience. Amongst the new weapons are the two handed weapons, which you're now able to buy and equip instead of having to disarm a Brute every time you wanted to use a Longsword only to have Ezio throw it away like a used hanky when he's dispatched all his enemies. However, the greatest addition in my opinion is the hand crossbow. This one handed, one shot machine of death is a great addition to any assassins armoury, not only providing a means to pick off targets from long range silently but also gaining the ability to be used in melee combat to perform counter kills like any other melee weapon.
One of Brotherhood's most prominent features is the inclusion of the Brotherhood of Assassins system. Throughout the game Ezio can recruit random citizens, male of female, to his merry little band of Assassins. By running around the city of Rome you'll occasionally run into distressed citizens who are making a nuisance of themselves with the local guardsmen. Its Ezio's job to swoop in like some medieval Spiderman and save them. After doing so, they will pledge their lives to Ezio and will in turn job the guild of Assassins. The guild mechanics are what make Brotherhood truly unique. By interacting with pigeon coops around the city you'll be transported into a unique set of menus where you can customise all the assassins in the guild, of which they'll be up to 12 at a time, and level them up. Each Assassin gains levels by completing contracts around western Europe that vary in difficulty, from pickpocketing a local guard to assassinating a nobleman.
Each contract varies in the time it takes to complete them and the rewards you gain from sending your minions off to do them. With each contract completed the player will receive some florins as well as experience for the Assassins who completed the job. However, the best part of the Brotherhood system has to be the ability to call in your group of Assassins Robin Hood style at any point in the game. Don't want to bloody your sword against that group of guards? Make your Assassins do it and they'll swoop in from different angles, assassinating the targets that you assigned then attempting to escape the scene. The only downside about calling in your minions to do your dirty work is that the Assassins are just as susceptible to damage as any other character. Put them into a fight they're not equipped for and you'll see them get easily cut down in seconds and once they're dead, they're gone forever.
Now, Brotherhood would be a great game if all it had to go on was its singleplayer element but its the multiplayer element which really sets Brotherhood apart from its predecessors. Multiplayer borrows many gameplay aspects seen in various games and mods throughout the ages such as The Ship and Trouble In Terrorist Town but with its own Assassins Creed twist to it. Players choose from a number of different characters at the start of the match and are then thrust into a small game area about the size of AC II's Monteriggioni which is populated by close to 100 NPCs that all look like one of the player's characters. The aim of the game is to assassinate the other players but this is made difficult by the fact that your only indication of where your target is is a vague compass at the bottom of the screen.
The idea is to blend into the crowds of NPCs and wait for the opportune moment to strike. The gameplay provides an extremely tense experience rarely seen in other multiplayer games where anyone could be a potential threat and your only hope to survive to act natural. Granted you'll get the occasional prat running around on rooftops firing off guns willy nilly but discretion is the name of the game here. Not only that but as with most modern multiplayer games AC:B has taken a leaf out of Call of Duty's big book of multiplayer mechanics and added the ability to customise each of the characters in multiplayer with different gear and colour schemes as well as choosing a customisable range of perks and abilities to give you the edge. These range from smoke bombs and firecrackers to hidden pistols and disguises that all help to add just that little bit more to the multiplayer experience.
While you won't necessarily by swayed to becoming a fan of the series through Brotherhood if you didn't enjoy the previous games Brotherhood is a solid game which improves on practically every aspect of the AC franchise as well as providing a truck load of content for players to run around, climb over and dig their assassin blade's into. Ubisoft have truly shown that it is possible to, against all odd, turn a franchise around in one fell swoop. Brotherhood is AC's saving grace and not only does it live up to the hype but it also proves to be one of the best games out this year.