A Really Big Hit
Assassin's Follow-up is a Killer Game
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Just a year after the excellent Assassin's Creed II, some thought Assassin's Creed Brotherhood would be a nice bit of Christmas filler before the real ACIII came out. However, Ubisoft have produced a lot more than that. This is a veritable smorgasbord of open world gaming, combining the things we love about ACII with a host of new offerings. In fact, Brotherhood is so jam packed with stuff to do, it's in danger of becoming distracting.
Brotherhood begins exactly where ACII left off. Ezio is living happily in the villa, we the players, lovingly restored during the last game. Don't get attached because it all kicks off when the Cessare Borgia rolls into town and a well-placed cannon ball reduces the town and the villa to rubble. With his lover gone and his uncle dead, Ezio is on the road to revenge.
At this point, the game enters the modern world and we're back with Desmond and the animus team. Don't worry though, these sections have been improved. The animus has been moved to avoid the Templars and set up beneath Ezio's villa, as it stands, in the modern day.
Ubisoft has recognized the fact that these scenes just slowed the action of ACII and has gone some way to rectify this, adding an action sequence, some items to find and some snappy dialogue.
Back in 15th century Italy, Ezio dons his assassin's hood once more and heads to Rome. Once here, he aims to free the people from the corrupt reign of the Borgias.
Although, we've lost a villa, this is replaced by an entire city. Rome is our playground for Brotherhood and the villa economy is applied to the whole city, which is divided into districts. Each district is controlled by a Borgia tower and the game features mini stealth missions to kill the Borgia captain of that district and destroy the tower.
Once a tower is destroyed, that area of the city is freed, allowing you to invest in shops and even buy famous landmarks, such as the Coliseum. Renovating faction buildings allows you to create more courtesans, mercenaries or thieves in an area, which offer the usual tactical advantages. But all renovations increase the earning capacity of Rome, which gets deposited in the bank and can be withdrawn by Ezio to reinvest.
As we've come to expect with the Assassin's Creed series, the city is stunning. Each area feels different and change organically, from an upmarket area to the shabbier districts, which are scattered with familiar Roman ruins. This time you can ride horses through the streets to get around and Ubisoft has added tunnel entrances, which must be renovated to allow Ezio to fast travel across the sprawling city.
Despite being restricted to just Rome, Brotherhood still provides a greater area to play with, leaving you feeling like you've never quite explored every corner.
Killing in the Name of
While Ezio's running over the rooftops of Roma, he has some new moves up his sleeves. The combat now includes 'kick,' which can be used to break a foe's defensive stance, allowing you to then perform a killing blow. In addition, 'killing streak,' allows you to execute a string of nearby foes in quick succession.
Don't go thinking that the combat is a walk in the park. The AI has also been tweaked. Guards will gang up on you. And while you are kicking one guard, others will attack you from behind, rather than politely waiting in the wings, kung fu movie style.
Ezio also has a few new weapons up his sleeve. Poison can be used to send a foe wild, causing a distraction and even hurting nearby enemies. The arsenal now includes a crossbow, which has an atrocious aiming system, so I haven't made much use of it. I opt for the throwing knives and a war hammer, when finesse has gone out the window.
Friends, Romans, Countrymen
When the combat's all getting a bit too much, it's time for Ezio to put his brotherhood to good use. That's right, it's not called Brotherhood without good reason. This time around, Ezio has a team of assassins, who are recruited from citizens keen to get rid of the Borgia.
Pigeon coops are dotted around the city and bring up a new screen, which allows you to manage your assassins. Individuals can be sent out across the cities of Europe to complete contracts, which are based on real historical events and all further Ezio's cause in Rome. A percentage of success helps you decide which recruit to use for each contract. Successful hits bring in extra cash and skill points, which can be spent upgrading an assassin's armor and weapons.
Apart from the whole assassin management mini-game, the recruits come into their own when Ezio is out and about. By pressing a button, Ezio can summon assassins to help him kill foes or carry out a hit on his behalf. There's nothing quite as satisfying as seeing an assassin drop from a rooftop and silently kill your target, as you sail by.
Assassins can die and new ones will have to be recruited and trained up to replace them, so they're not simply cannon fodder. In short, the "brotherhood" side of things, adds a whole new level of strategy level to missions.
The Beautiful and the Damned
Ubisoft has managed to provide a rich sandbox gaming experience, worthy of the likes of Rockstar. There's so much to do, it's baffling. I spent about three days in one area, upgrading shops and hunting treasure, trying to complete shop quests. Then there are the usual Tomb Raider style missions, offering precipitous leaps, in return for phat loot.
The missions have been crafted with a rare level of creativity. The sheer variety of things to do means you never feel like you're grinding your way through the game. From trailing key figures across the city, to infiltrating a Borgia palace to rescue your lover from being tortured by Lucretia Borgia and sneaking into a bacchanal style party to assassinate a major player, the missions keep you interested. And if they don't, there's plenty more to do.
Leonardo Da Vinci makes a return, creating new weapons for you. Ezio also has to sabotage Leonardo's war machines, in a series of missions, to stop them getting into the hands of the Borgia. Apparently, each machine is based on actual designs from the original Renaissance man, as the Ubisoft team continues to deftly weave historical fact and fantasy.
The game isn't completely bug free, but that seems to be a curse of the DLC generation of gaming. Why quality test, when you can just patch the game? However, Brotherhood's major flaw is the story. Somehow, the power of the narrative of ACII has been left behind. I don't really care about the story, I'm just playing the game, whereas the personal crisis of ACII really had me rooting for the characters.
That said, what Brotherhood lacks in story, it more than makes up for in gameplay. There are some serious gaming hours here and I haven't even covered the multiplayer. In fact, Brotherhood bodes well for the real ACIII. It offers us far more than a stopgap between sequels and is a serious contender for Game of the Year 2010. If this wasn't on your Christmas list, consider picking it up right now, as it deserves every single one of its 4.5 GiN gems.
Editor's Note: Game reviewed on an Xbox 360.
Chella is GiN's UK-based product tester. A self-confessed Cornish pasty addict, Chella is never happier than when she's slacking off to play a five-gem game. : email@example.com.