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Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood

Rehashing's a sin?

Ah, middle management. If you're good at something, sooner or later you get promoted out of it and have to admire it from above while you do something less innocent. As Ezio Auditore is discovering in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, it happens to the best of us.

Fortunately for the player, however, Ezio is an assassin, and while Brotherhood makes a big deal out of recruiting, developing and deploying a band of brother assassins, he's not averse to a bit of micromanagement either. This is to say he still likes climbing around cities - in this case Rome, three times the size of the last game's Florence - and stabbing people to death while peering out from under that iconic eagle-head hoodie.

Recruitment is done in a few ways. One of them is to help rebellious citizens who are taking the fight to the Borgia - the bullying Templars who have the city under their control - by diving in and mashing up guards who are threatening them. Once a rebel is liberated he kneels and swears allegiance to Ezio.

Ezio can organise his minions from pigeon coops, sending individuals on contract missions around the world - to poison the food of a German monk, for example. The game shows you their odds of success and if they do make it back then they earn money and experience points which you can invest in their growth. If the odds are too long though they may die, even if they're level 10, and that will mean recruiting a replacement and starting over.

The more recruits you have, the more you can deploy in gameplay. In the demo we're shown, Ezio finds himself in front of a boarded-up shopfront guarded by a pair of Borgia soldiers. He whistles and the two assassins indicated by the two segments on his assassin bar in the top left appear on a nearby rooftop, pause, then rain down from above, assassinating the two guards with simultaneous knife attacks to the throat - that telltale blade noise left ringing in the air.

Single-player campaign footage.

You can recruit new assassins by getting rid of Borgia towers too. There are 12 such towers around the city and each has a zone of influence, which suppresses local trade (like our boarded-up shop) and regulates the citizenry. The one we're worried about at the moment is visible up on a ridge. To reach it Ezio has to clamber up crumbling columns in a pleasingly puzzly, circuitous platform approach that eventually hurls him into the catacombs beneath the tower.

The familiar Restricted Area notice appears on the screen - a reminder that we're still within the framed narrative of the Animus - and the map shows us deep within its red boundaries, meaning that guards will attack on sight. In this case there's one just up ahead at the top of a ladder, facing away. Ezio climbs up and pulls him backwards over the edge, leaving him in a pile at the bottom.

A couple of nearby guards at the foot of the ladder are alerted by the commotion and wander over to investigate their colleague, but before they decide to look up Ezio is already on the way down - leaping through the air to assassinate them both simultaneously.

Further inside, however, a Borgia leader spots Ezio and decides to leg it. Ezio has to chase him down and take him out, or else he will need to wait until the changing of the guard at dusk or dawn to try this approach again. So naturally he makes haste, swerving around guards who block his path, hopping athletically over obstacles and eventually pouncing on his prey in trademark fashion.

Now he's almost in the tower. There are more guards to deal with using Brotherhood's refined combat system, which puts the emphasis on striking first and striking fast. Skills beget kills, and if you make a few successive kills then more will follow in fluid fashion - so long as your button input is sufficiently fluent.