Ezio’s back – and this time he’s bringing some friends.
The Assassin’s Creed franchise is one that’s been largely acclaimed but without quite delivering the defining title to put it up there amongst the names you quote when discussing the console greats. By adding multiplayer, Brotherhood certainly appears to be a more accomplished package, but how can the single-player hold up to its predecessors? Pretty damn well is the answer. It’s bigger, slicker and even more beautiful than ever before.
Brotherhood picks up directly from the end of Assassin’s Creed II, where the modern-day Desmond Miles – a man strapped to a genetic device that allows him to replay events from his ancestors’ lives – crossed minds and paths with his 15th Century assassin forefather, Ezio Auditore da Firenze. Desmond conveniently sets out the back story for those new to the series: the fight between the Templars/Asbergo Industries and Assassins, and the powerful Piece of Eden artefact that could turn the battle for good. It also sets things up nicely for those who have played the previous game, because it instantly teases you with potential answers and hints towards the Desmond/Ezio convergence taking a further turn.
The action actually starts with Ezio in his trance-like state, apparently trapped within the Animus device (albeit in the year 1499). A quick skirmish acts as neat tutorial, but really there’s absolutely nothing about the controls or core gameplay that has changed, so AC veterans will be instantly at home. This, if you’re not sure, is a good thing, because one of the key features of the franchise has always been its seamless gameplay and the fluency with which you can free-run through vast locations, stealth kill enemies or drop into a full face-to-face battle with guards. The free-running can still be a little fiddly for newcomers but you’ll be gliding effortlessly across the rooftops of Rome in no time.
Once again the location itself is lovingly detailed and the draw distances leading to some sublime backdrops offers some effortlessly impressive environments. And once again the screen flickers from time to time with interference from the Animus device as a gentle reminder that you’re actually playing as a 21st Century bartender reliving these events through his DNA. It’s not a huge step up from ACII, but a step up it is and that means it’s one of the best looking open-world environments on the console.
The hand-to-hand combat is an area that Ubisoft is keen to stress has been greatly improved on previous titles and the AI is a far more aggressive beast, far less inclined to patiently wait their turn and open themselves up for easy – and tediously repetitive – counters. It’s done a fine job too, as the action feels a lot more visceral and rewarding. Enemies attack in number, and will require a little more caution on your part before wading into a fight. Of course you’ve still got those counters and a dodge manoeuvre to nail some sweet cinematic kills, and you can button mash the attack button (with the odd kick to unbalance a well armoured foe) a little but there’s just a touch more finesse about it.
As the game swings into the main storyline, Ezio is sent on a trip to Rome – the home of Brotherhood. Rome is spectacular. Three times the size of ACII’s Florence, it’s a beautiful backdrop and features several notable landmarks such as the Pantheon and Colosseum. You’ll be scaling those towers not just to synchronise the maps, but simply to cop another spectacular view. As the action picks up you’ll also find yourself stalking and killing assassination targets as before, through a series of stealth-based tailing missions and a final kill that’s rewarded further if you can avoid detection – not always easy, but as before you can blend into crowds and hire courtesans to occupy guards and so on.
Fast forward a few levels you’ll really get to see Brotherhood open up – as you finally get some fellow assassins on board to help out. In order to free up assassin’s slots (and you can have up to 12) you’ll need to destroy one of the Borgia Towers that oversee the city to liberate the surrounding area. After rescuing a young woman begin attacked by some guards you’ll find she immediately pledged allegiance to Ezio’s cause and joined the ranks as a novice assassin. These assassins are easy enough to call in; you simply target some enemies, tap L1 and they’ll either jump into the fight or take them out from afar with arrows, before disappearing again when the enemy is vanquished. Their efficiency depends on how experienced or trained they are, but they seemed pretty deadly and you can look forward to a slight RPG element as you build them into lethal assassins.
With huge locations to explore and a plentiful supply of side-missions and extra to add to your ‘to do’ list, there’s certainly a huge amount of potential for Brotherhood to take this franchise to the next level. We especially liked the flashback side-quests that let you play back scenes from Ezio’s past as a reminder of where he came from. It’s still not perfect but there are certainly far more reasons why you should want to explore the wonderful world of Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood than not.
Ian Collen – PlayGamer Magazine
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