Game Review: Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood

 

When I initially started playing Assassin’s Creed II for the PS3 about 5 or 6 months ago, I wasn’t sold on the concept.  I’m generally not a fan of open-world, sandbox-type games for a variety of reasons.   For one, they tend to be long-winded games that I just don’t have the time to play thoroughly (I like to complete everything 100%).  Even more so, the game length is often superficially extended through meaningless side-quests, which can sometimes lead to a meandering that loses focus on the overall objective of the game.  Obviously, I went into AC2 with a lot of preconceived expectations.   By the time I had engaged the pope in a fistfight at the end of the game, however (yes, you read that right), my feelings toward Assassin’s Creed had dramatically changed.  While I started as a skeptic, I was surprised to find myself wishing there was more to the game when all was said and done.  Clearly, many others felt the same way, leading to Ubisoft’s release of Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, the direct continuation of Ezio Auditore’s story that started in AC2.

I’m going to start off this review with a very blunt and straightforward statement: If you didn’t like AC2, nothing about Brotherhood is going to interest you.  Sure, there are a few tweaks and changes here and there, but, ultimately, it’s the same game as Assassin’s Creed II, just in a slightly different setting.  For some people, that’s great news; for others, you may as well save your money and go for a different game.  If this is your first foray in the Assassin’s Creed universe, be warned – many elements of this game rely on already-established concepts (be they story or gameplay elements) from the previous outing.  In AC2, you can pick up the story without having played the first game.  In Brotherhood, I got the feeling this would be much harder to do.  This game is definitely meant for the fans who couldn’t get enough of the Renaissance Italy seen in the last game.

 

"Brotherhood" is essentially "Assassin's Creed 2.5." It's not a spin-off or an expansion pack, but neither is it a full-fledged sequel.

 

Brotherhood’s story is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the game, but not because it’s bad (by videogame standards, it’s pretty decent).  It just simply isn’t to the same caliber as AC2.  The previous game told a great tale of mystery, conspiracy, betrayal, and coming-of-age.  Brotherhood is almost exclusively a tale about revenge.  Sure, there are other aspects, but they often get lost in Brotherhood‘s cacophony of “Free Rome and kill the tyrants!”.  In AC2, every villain gets set up pretty well.  You are gradually introduced to them and you get to learn why they are so terrible.  In Brotherhood, you are often told to kill a target…because he’s a bad man.  That’s it.  The development just isn’t there for some of the missions (even the ones that play heavily in the story).  Oh, this random guy makes signs for the Borgia?  Stab him in the face.  This guy handles Cesare’s finances?  Impale him.  In AC2, the events leading up to killing your target meant something (probably because your character, Ezio, was invested in it).  In Brotherhood, it feels more like a checklist to get out of the way before you face the only villain that gets any real development – Cesare Borgia.  Like I said before, the story isn’t bad (especially if you like historical fiction – a lot of these people were real), it just lacks the emotional investment of the second game.

Gameplay, however, is where Brotherhood shines.  While the story may not be as good as AC2‘s, the gameplay has definitely improved.   All of the fun stuff from the previous game remains (free running, scaling, assassinating people that look at you funny), but a lot of it has been slightly tweaked so that it flows better.  With the addition of the crossbow, you can finally take out people from a distance (without alerting everyone in a five mile radius).  The money system has been greatly improved as well.  In AC2, the money system was great, but it was underutilized.  By the time you got halfway through the game, you had already purchased everything you could possibly spend money on.   Not so with Brotherhood. No longer will you run around Italy with more florins than you know what to do with.  The economy in Rome is immense and requires a great deal of money to upgrade – so much so that you will actually go out of your way to check treasure chests when you come across them.

The biggest improvement in Brotherhood‘s gameplay, however, is the open combat.  In past games, open combat consisted of holding the block button until an enemy attacked and then pressing counter (Either that, or spamming the strike button).  It worked well enough at the beginning of the game when you were still learning, but it got incredibly boring about halfway through (I learned to hate open combat by the end of AC2).  In Brotherhood, combat has been retooled.  Sure, you still hold the block button until an enemy attacks, but once that happens, things get crazy.  You can smoothly and quickly go from one enemy to the next in a sort of “execution combo.”  While in this mode, you can keep racking up combos or go back to the defensive if a second enemy decides to strike.  It’s not a perfect system and it doesn’t hold a candle to Arkham Asylum‘s combat, but it’s easy and actually makes combat work (and it’s mostly fun).

 

Combat finally involves a whole lot more killing and a lot less standing around.

 

Of course, this game is not subtitled “Brotherhood” for no reason.  This time around, you have allies.  The previous two Assassin’s Creed games made allusions to an order of assassins, but you were always on your own when it came to carrying out your missions.  Now, however, Ezio has taken a leadership position and orders around a bunch of Assassin Recruits as his personal minions.  It opens up a new realm of playing possibilities, as you can call in your recruits to kill a target in real time or send them out on far-away missions to level them up (Your recruits start as worthless allies and work their way up to full-fledged assassins).  It’s kind of gratifying to stalk your prey, throw up a hand signal, and watch as a hooded man jumps out of a hay bale, kills your target, and quickly flees.  At the same time, however, it does make an already somewhat easy game significantly easier.  Leveling up your recruits is also easy and, while they can technically die, it rarely happens.

 

Being able to call in Assassins is cool, but it often leads to simply sitting back and watching your minions strike.

 

In order to prevent Brotherhood from getting too easy, however, Ubisoft has created a great addition to the AC series – full synchronization.  In past games, it was pass or fail – you either completed a mission or you didn’t.  In Brotherhood, each mission has two parts.  There’s the primary mission, which is still pass or fail, but there’s also a sub-mission, which you can try to fulfill or completely ignore.  For instance, you might have to kill a certain target, but to get 100% synchronization, you have to kill him while riding a horse.  You don’t have to kill him this way, and you can still complete the mission by, say, poisoning him, but to get full synchronization you need to do it from a horse.  It adds a huge layer of depth to the game and definitely provides some replay value.  (A couple missions can get frustratingly difficult when you add full synchronization to the mix.)

Finally, there are the present-day missions (forgot about those, didn’t you?).  Due to some sci-fi trickery, the Assassin’s Creed series has two distinct storylines – one in the past and one in the present (technically, the future, as the “present” in AC is 2012).  All of the present day storylines thus far have starred Desmond Miles.  These were the portions of AC2 that I hated the most – they seemed forced, out of place, and none of the characters were all that interesting.  Brotherhood actually spends a lot more time in the present than any of the previous games did, but, fortunately, it’s handled better.  The characters’ interactions are slightly more engaging (Shaun continues to steal the show), and you can do a lot more than simply walk around and talk to people.  In fact, there were a couple moments that reminded me of Uncharted as the player must explore a bunch of old ruins in the present day.  These aren’t the best moments of the game, as Renaissance Italy is simply a more captivating setting, but I’m glad I wasn’t groaning every time I was in the present, like I did in AC2.  Of course, as with all of the AC games, the story ends in the present day and on a cliffhanger.  Brotherhood‘s cliffhanger is easily the most maddening of the series, but there’s not much you can do about that.

 

You can leave the Animus and go exploring with Desmond at any time; though, apart from getting a couple trophies, I'm not sure why you'd want to.

 

Ordinarily, I would end the review here, but Brotherhood adds a game-changer to the Assassin’s Creed series that must be talked about — multiplayer.  As with many things Assassin’s Creed, I was initially a very big skeptic of multiplayer.  The single player in AC2 was great, but how do you translate stalking an NPC and killing him in multiple ways into a multiplayer experience?  Additionally, I have a problem with the trend in the gaming industry of tacking on unnecessary multiplayer to a series that didn’t need it (BioShock, anyone?).  Nevertheless, Brotherhood has a multiplayer that is surprisingly unique.  Whereas some games add a multiplayer that you can basically get anywhere (like any shooter on the market), Brotherhood offers a mix of gameplay that I simply haven’t seen anywhere else.

Multiplayer’s standard affair is a combination of stealthily hunting your target whilst simultaneously being hunted by another player.  The fun thing is trying to be stealthy.  There are a variety of different ways you can play (not all of them successfully), but the multiplayer does require some skill.  Chasing down and killing your target outright won’t get you very far, as the game rewards you for executing kills with more finesse.

For the most part, Brotherhood‘s multiplayer is simultaneously fun and tense, but I do have a few complaints.  Firstly, not all of the available game modes are winners.  The standard “Wanted” is great, but other modes are best avoided (like “Chest Capture”).  Additionally, the multiplayer has a very high learning curve that seems a little one-sided.  Like most multiplayer games these days, the ultimate “point” of multiplayer (besides having fun) is leveling up.  There are many rewards for leveling up, and while you do get some decent rewards early on, it’s kind of aggravating to start out with next to nothing while you fight opponents that have a variety of tools at their disposal.  There were many times when I thought I had successfully and smartly used my environment to my advantage, only to have some higher level character spot me with Templar Vision (the multiplayer equivalent to single player’s Eagle Vision) and then shoot me from across the map with a hidden gun.  It makes it more challenging, but the multiplayer just isn’t as perfected as the “big” online multiplayer games.  Is it still fun?  Most of the time (when someone isn’t spamming a move).  At the end of the day, however, multiplayer’s biggest draw is the fact that it is completely unique in the gaming world (that’s the biggest reason why I occasionally return to it).  Was it a necessary addition to the Assassin’s Creed series?  Not really.  I wouldn’t be heartbroken if it didn’t make the cut for the next AC game, but, at the same time, it still makes for a fun addition to Brotherhood.

 

"Oh, hey! You're going to kill someone? Me too! Sorry about snapping your neck earlier."

 

Overall, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is a fun game but not necessarily a “must-have.”  A few new additions to the series doesn’t shake up the formula that much, but it does mean that there’s a lot to do (especially for completionists).  Multiplayer will keep you busy for even longer than single player, but how much you enjoy it is a rather subjective experience.

 

 

Pro’s

  • Gameplay tweaks result in better combat and stealth
  • Renaissance Italy is still a great setting
  • Full Synchronization adds a lot of depth to the single player experience
  • Unique Multiplayer

Con’s

  • It has a few technical issues that weren’t present in AC2 (frame rate takes a noticeable dip in crowded areas and a new gadget sometimes fails to work when you need it)
  • Despite a few gameplay tweaks, very little has changed between this game and the last.
  • The story is pretty mediocre.
  • Multiplayer is imperfect and can be a little one-sided at times.

 

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~ by digitallysmitten on February 20, 2011.

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