Ezio is back and this time he's bringing friends to the party!
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood has had a short development cycle compared to most games, just around a year. In that year however you might have expected, even like me that they couldn't do much with the formula from Assassin's Creed 2 or even make the game better than the previous. I was wrong, very wrong. Now before you start thinking that this is some high priced DLC, let me get right down to the point - it isn't.
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, should have been called, Assassin's Creed 2: Brotherhood because it picks up right after 2. I'm not going to tell you a thing about the story other than its better realised and told than it was in 2. I'm going into a total lockdown about story events in this one because I've seen a few reviews already and they have spoiled some of it for a lot of people.
What I want to really concentrate on is how this game differs from 2, yet remains the same core experience that Assassin's Creed 2 brought to the table. Brotherhood manages to refine the systems that were introduced in 2 and add a tonne of new content to the mix, not only that - it does it nigh-on flawlessly too. So if you can't be bothered to read the review, the score reflects that. It's nearly perfect and that's something Ubisoft's core dev-team for Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood can be proud of right there.
The same traversal mechanic remains from Assassin's Creed 2, only it's been smoothed out and seems a lot more responsive this time around. There are key differences in the buildings though, the level/architecture design team have gotten a lot better in their puzzle-based viewpoint tower design for instance, with multiple routes of entry to many of the towers...and plenty of dead end climb spots to make you think. Parkour is a lot of fun in this game, even more so than Assassin's Creed 2 and with the design of Rome you can expect to spend hours just clambering over some amazing buildings.
Talking of Rome, it's huge and not to give the game away, there's more than just Rome in Brotherhood. It isn't just set in the city or in Ezio's memories but that's as far as I'm going to go with that one. Ubisoft have spent so much time adding new content, designing interesting multi-stage missions and even side memories that it's going to be hard to keep track of everything for the review. So I'm going to touch on the most salient points of the game and leave a few things for you to discover.
Rome is in one hell of a state since the Borgia have taken over, the people are oppressed and the streets are in disrepair, many of the great monuments are broken husks of their former glory. Thankfully Ezio can spend his personal bank gained from various missions, treasure chests, trade item sales and other means to renovate a lot of the city.
Starting with the stables you quickly move to renovate shops and other locations around Rome. The more shops you renovate, the more Rome's economy improves and gains you a nice sum of Florins every 20 minutes of real time. If you go to a bank (don't forget to renovate the bank too) you take withdraw the money. It's very similar to the system that was in Assassin's Creed 2 and your own private city/villa of Montegerroni.
Shops gain access to new items based on the city's economy and your place in the story. As per usual some locations are locked down using the memory system of the Animus and you can't access them until you get further on in a particular part of Ezio's life. Shops also now have Quests that require you to collect a certain number of trade items before you can unlock a specific item for sale in the shop itself. Trade items can be found on the bodies of the guards and bandits, as well as in chests and other locations.
You can only renovate shops in areas that are free from Borgia control, and to free them you must assassinate the Borgia captain that governs the area. No two captains are the same and they all have differing personalities and conditions, some are highly paranoid and will run like hell if they so much as work out you're around. Others will stand and fight and never back down. In some cases if the tower is part of a Memory, you can have an additional condition attached to achieve 100% Synch and unlock bonuses and even repressed memories in the Animus.
Some of these conditions might be: don't get hit, throw the captain into a scaffold to kill him and do x in y amount of time.
These can also apply to core memories as well as side memories. There's a lot to do in this game, to reiterate - it is huge. The core story will take around 15 hours if you rush through it, if you take your time and explore, you can extend this by a significant amount. This isn't a rush job of a game.
Once you kill the captain you can ignite the Borgia Tower and free the area from the influence of these tyrants. Shops and other locations become unlocked; you can renovate them and improve Rome. The more you improve it, the more Florins you'll get per 20m. No two Borgia Towers are the same and you'll have to work out just how to climb them to get to the top.
They act rather like Viewpoints (which are also back, they have the same mechanic too) and count towards the total number that you can synchronise.
There are side missions galore in the game; they aren't one off missions either. They are usually quite unexpected and provide extra money and valuable insight into the story. You can renovate the 3 core faction buildings.
Courtesans, Mercenaries and Thieves - once you have these you can then begin to assign a faction to an empty building in Rome and they'll appear close to that location. Not only that but you can get Courtesan missions and more from the 3 factions. There are even challenges that you can do to improve your standing in the faction, such as ... assassinate x guards from hiding spots and so on.
As I said, there's a LOT to do in the game.
Renovating Rome, exploring, finding the hidden Lairs of Romulus (not saying anymore on that) killing Borgia captains and building your economy are just a small part of it. There's also a management-lite part of the game when you unlock the Assassin's Guild, where Ezio recruits the oppressed people of Rome to join his order. After saving a citizen of Rome you can recruit them into the guild and this is where the game really gets interesting.
There are Contracts to take and each one net the assassin(s) experience, once they level up you can assign a skill point between weapons and armour. This way you slowly grow your assassins so they become finely honed killing machines. Each contract is rated based on its difficulty and the harder it is, the better the assassin must be. You can see how well they'll do with a handy percentage meter that runs from 0 to 100.
100 percent success and they'll come back after x-minutes of real time and net xp and money for the cause.
Lower odds mean they could be killed. They're not immortal, so you need to be mindful of how you manage that part of the game. You can hone them and use them when you're out in the field too. Once you have an assassin flag (it requires 2,4,6 assassins to be recruited per flag) you can call them in with the left bumper.
They will appear and deal with your assailants before running or melting away into the shadows. You can let them fight it out, or you can directly help them in battle - it is up to you. Remember that they can die and unless they're particularly badass they may well do so. You'll need to recruit another citizen and invest time and money into them.
Assassins away on missions cannot be deployed like this, so it is wise to always have a backup team on standby.
If you get 3 flags (6 assassins) you can call in an Arrow Storm which basically kills every guard in line of sight.
Assassin flags have a recharge meter and it clearly shows when you can call on them again.
You can manage the guild from Assassin Towers or Pigeon coops, and you can also get contracts to perform yourself. So there's even more to do in Rome, you won't get bored with this game's single player. Rome is big too, so there are horses, horses from which you can fight...leap...assassinate and ride around the city looking badass on. They aren't just for show, they're not as well realised as the horses from Red Dead Redemption, but they do their job.
There's also a handy dandy VR training sim that lets you hone your skills, compete on leaderboards and earn gold medals for bonuses in Brotherhood. You can visit this at any time and you can also replay memories from within the DNA menu, so you can get that all important 100% synch on every mission eventually.
Unleash the blade within the voice
Key to Brotherhood is Ezio's upgraded combat arsenal, new weapons and new systems have been implemented to make you more of a badass. Taking the lead in combat is important now; if you get first strike you can actually cause your enemy to falter...even the big brute guys from 2. You can perform a kick to break their block and should you manage to perform an execution, you can implement a new trick called a Kill Streak. This allows you to target another enemy close at hand and dispatch them with one brutal hit.
As long as you can keep this chain up, you can murder hordes of guards and feel like a badass whilst doing it. So far I've managed 14 kills in a row without being touched once. Key to this is countering successfully when you see a guard moving in for the kill.
Ezio's arsenal of weapons has the crossbow, first seen in Assassin's Creed and much more, things that I can't talk about. The gun is now part of combat and at any time without selecting it you can hold down X and let loose a barrage of lead in your smarmy Borgia opponents face, shocking all who see it. The crossbow though, is a pure joy to use and has good range and is completely silenced, perfect for stealth missions. You can now store a heavy weapon permanently too - as long as you buy the right sheath for it from the shops.
The combat is tonnes better than Assassin's Creed 2 and the guards are no longer pushovers, but they're also no longer as uber-badass as they once were as long as you learn the combat system and counters. You can really show off your prowess and brutally slaughter the enemy with style.
There are also other toys that you'll get hold of, toys that you might have seen in the various videos - but I consider some of these spoilers so I'm saying nothing about them. Apart from they're cool and provide even more options to creatively dispatch your enemies.
Rome is gorgeous, the graphics of this game are a step above Creed 2 and it shows. There is the odd glitch now and then (I've seen only one) in the textures. And sometimes people pop-in from nowhere, but hey...this is really set in a giant computer simulation so you can forgive them some odd behaviour now and then. The level of detail has gone up from Creed 2 and the lighting, colour, everything seems a lot sharper. No grumbles there. The day/night cycle is subtle and beautiful.
The AI has been sharpened; guards can now grapple you much more efficiently and will hold you there for their friends to smack down. You can break this grapple of course; they will also attack in groups rather than waiting for you to kill them off one by one. The various kinds of guards are back, they all employ better tactics this time around and the seeker style guards are just as paranoid.
Your guild brothers' AI is superb and they will actively seek out targets, engage in battle and take down enemies with a variety of attacks. An upgraded assassin is a powerful foe and they can make mincemeat of the heavy guards using coordinated attacks. I called one assassin in and he leapt onto the guard's horse, stabbing him and riding off with the guy's mount before he vanished out of sight.
The AI has been improved in terms of the rooftop guards too, they have better seeking AI and they can be fooled into falling for some traps. Not all. Guards change their patterns during the day and night, so do the citizens as well, with lantern toting crowds and nightlife coming out when the sun goes down.
Crowd AI has been improved too.
The physics of the game have been improved, there's more weight to combat and the bodies don't just slide everywhere when you perform an assassination on them, they slump down in a variety of ways and often remain that way until you move them.
The sound is excellent and there's a lot of ambient atmosphere here in the game, you can stop and listen to the city as it changes between night and day and there's more meat to the battles, the clash of blades and the cries of the enemy as they take damage are great.
The music is excellent, in fact I want the soundtrack to this game on a standalone CD it is that good. It can be extremely subtle, with a strange haunting quality or driving and dynamic matching the on screen action perfectly.
Voice and Dialogue
Brotherhood has superb voice acting all around that complements the extremely well written dialogue. I can't say much more than that really.
Play against and with friends
Not content with giving us some amazing 15 hour+ gameplay for single player that definitely continues the story of Ezio. Ubisoft have taken multiplayer by the throat and made an extremely addictive, experience driven and rank system based assassination gameplay that fits in with the Assassin's Creed mythos as well.
You are an Abstergo (Templar) employee and you are being trained via your own Animus, to kill the last of the Assassin Order using their very methods. The simulated killing ground is your training zone and you are thrown in with up to 6-8 other people for a damn good time.
You get experience for being sneaky and playing like an assassin, remaining incognito as your chosen avatar and dispatching your target with style. It's not as easy as it sounds though because your vr gamespace is populated with clones of the archetypes that you can pick and any one of those npc clones could be your target. You won't know until you strike, get the wrong one and you'll suffer for it.
To help you there's a HUD element that creates a slowly filling circle that lets you know you're close to your target - it doesn't point them out but it does give you an idea. Now it is just a matter of looking at for the target's image in the top right box and matching that to the dozens of similar characters that are walking around, talking, doing their thing. A clever assassin will try and blend in and fool you by trying to act like an npc, or even standing in a crowd of lookalikes.
To make matters worse, you're also the target of one or more killers and the HUD lets you know someone's on your trail. So it's a deadly game of online cat and mouse which is immense fun.
There are other gamemodes, but I've only tried the free for all and team based modes so far. There's no real lag online and the whole thing is awesome fun. You earn xp and rank up, you gain Call of Duty 4/MW2 and Black Ops style perks to add to your character and unlock new stuff as you do so.
This kind of multiplayer is killer, in both senses of the word. It is a heart-quickening feeling to know that you're seconds away from killing your target and that at any time the Courtesan that you think is an npc, could leap on you and slit your throat with her razor sharp fan.
That's the only word we can add to this game, it is simply astounding and an amazing achievement for just 12 months of development. Ubisoft has done the Assassin's Creed franchise proud and created for me one of the best games of 2010, if not the best and you know how much I love Red Dead Redemption.
So, get it...get it today!
Now if you'll excuse me, my dudes are back from their mission and I have some points to distribute!
Requiescat in pace...