Publisher: Ubisoft / Developer: Ubisoft / ESRB: Mature
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The single-player game picks up immediately where AC2 left off, both in Renaissance Italy and the modern day, reuniting us with our old friends Ezio Auditore da Firenze and Desmond Miles. In Italy, Ezio returns home to his villa to retire from the assassin’s way, only to come under immediate attack from a new enemy, who just so happens to be the son of his old enemy. So, with his villa in shambles and his lady love in captivity, it’s off to Rome with the rest of the Assassin Order. But Rome is under the influence of the evil Borgias, and to make any headway there, he will have to both take down the Borgias’ influence and build up a brand new Assassin Order.
And if you’re wondering, there’s a lot going on in the modern day, too. But I’m not going to tell you what.
As a whole, I found Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood to be lighter on plot but heavier on characterization than previous entries in the series. You get to know Assassins ancient and modern in more depth than you have before, and it really helps keep you engaged in what’s going on. And trust me, there’s more than enough going on to keep you occupied. Many old faces return, and watching how they interact as the story progresses is one of the game’s unexpected strengths.
One caveat: this is a game where the Pope is the bad guy, so if you’re a strict Catholic, this may not be for you.
Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood rests on three pillars: a sprawling, 10-15 hour campaign in a beautifully realized Renaissance Rome; the brand new VR Missions, which are a set of very deep challenges; and the franchise’s first foray into multiplayer.
The basic elements of the campaign will be familiar to series veterans: Ezio must use his parkour, stealth, and combat skills to sneak into places he shouldn’t be and eliminate people he doesn’t like. Aside from the rich storyline and its main quests, the city of Rome is crammed with side missions. Some of these will look familiar — namely, the ones involving assassination — but a good number are new, and involve some of the new game mechanics.
Chief among these is the ability to recruit new members into the Assassin Order. Once recruited, you can send your disciples off into the distant corners of Europe on assignments. Each assignment yields a certain amount of experience, split evenly between however many guys you sent. Over time, they will level up, and you can upgrade them. And you’ll definitely want to do this, because the ability to call them in as reinforcements is a big help sometimes. Oh, and you remember that part in the trailer when Ezio’s assassins shoot down all the enemy guards for him? Yeah, that’s called Arrow Storm, and it’s amazing.
Leonardo’s War Machine missions also provide a cool change of pace and style. Basically, under threat from your enemies, Leonardo Da Vinci has built some retro-futuristic weaponry, including machine guns, aerial bombers, and tanks. Yes, tanks. This Renaissance Italy has tank fights. Didn’t see that one coming, did you? While leaning towards the silly side, they are well-built missions and definitely add to the variety of the experience.
Finally, the brain-twisting puzzles and parkour-heavy caverns return as well. If you liked these from AC2, then somebody at Brotherhood was listening, because both of these are much deeper and more challenging than they were before. Let me put it this way: I solved every single puzzle in AC2 without help, but these were way more challenging.
And on top of all this, every time you get a mission, you’re given a bonus challenge as well. For example, don’t be detected, or don’t kill anyone but your target. Completing these challenges open up some new memory quests that you will definitely want to check out. The main game experience can seem a little too easy at times, but if you try to complete these challenges, the game becomes brutally difficult. I don’t know how it’s physically possible to accomplish some of these. If anybody gets a full 100% on every single mission and challenge, I promise you right now, I will bake you a cookie. One cookie.
And if all those challenges aren’t enough for you, check out the VR Missions. These are non-narrative challenges that come with bronze, silver, and gold medals. They usually sound pretty easy, and then you try them, and realize the error of your ways. These are stupidly addicting and seriously add to the long-term playbility .
Speaking of long-term playability, how would multiplayer work in the shady, stealthy world of Assassin’s Creed? Ubisoft figured out that question for Sam Fisher, and for ACB has crafted an intriguing, usually satisfying, occasionally frustrating experience. It’s definitely unique; a complete change of pace from your FPS shootouts. Observation is key as you skulk among innocent citizens dressed identically to your targets, making it vital you watch for human-like movement. NPCs don’t get on the rooftops, so that’s a giveaway, but when you get up-close and your compass indicates your virtually on top of your target, it’s still not always clear who it is, and therein lies some of the frustration. You’re rewarded by points not just for kills but for methods: for disguise, silence, and more. Earning points and leveling up then unlocks a range of abilities, perks, and streaks that you assign to particular profiles you might want to take into different game types. Only two modes: Wanted and Manhunt (free-for-all and team attack) are available until you’ve leveled up, with two others added, and no doubt more to come. It definitely requires a different mindset to your multiplayer approach, but fits with the vibe of the universe, and can be incredibly rewarding when after tracking a foe across rooftops, through the maps, you finally make the takedown. Good times.
Combat was overhauled for this entry in the series, and it’s for the better. The game used to be about waiting for your enemy to attack so you could parry his move. Now, whack a guy a couple of times, and you will kill him. That does make one-on-one encounters pretty easy, so the game balances it by making sure you are almost always overwhelmed by bad guys. The balance to this is that if you target an enemy while you are executing another one, you will immediately execute the next target. You can chain this indefinitely and there are some challenges to reward that accomplishment. The balance to that is that enemies can still attack you, and interrupt your chain, while you are executing. It makes combat fast, furious, and addicting, and once you call in your assassin buddies, you will be kicking ass and taking names. And I’ll repeat: Arrow Storm is amazing.
Sadly, the parkour controls feel far less precise than before. Since it’s running on the same engine you’d think the gameplay would be basically the same, but it’s not. You will spend hours of time falling over and over again because Ezio decided to jump to his death rather than to the ledge right in front of him. Fortunately, the checkpoint system is spot-on, so you’re never punished too severely.
However, the game also assumes that you’ve played AC2 and remember all the controls. If that doesn’t describe you, prepare for a steep learning curve. Even if you do remember, there are so many new mechanics that it all gets pretty bewildering at times, and I often found myself discovering new moves by accident instead of by tutorial. Once you figure it all out, the mechanics are deep and satisfying, it’s just going to take you a while to find them all.
The game at first glance looks a lot like Assassin’s Creed 2, and that’s because it is. It’s the same engine and recycles a lot of the same assets. Fortunately that means it still looks good. That said, facial animations, while improved, still look pretty flat. The city of Rome in particular is gorgeous, brilliantly blending ancient ruins with Renaissance living, and frankly, I want to move there. It may not be the best looking game on the market, but it has a gorgeous color palette and more people on screen at once than anything this side of the Total War franchise. The end result is a game that looks as unique as it plays.
The voice acting is superb, from the authentic Italian to Nolan North’s sonorous notes. The script has moments of both gravitas and levity and the cast is more than capable of handling both. The musical score is amazing, setting the mood perfectly whether you’re in desperate combat or touring around Rome. Little things like overheard conversations also breath life into this world, and you really will feel like there’s a whole city living around you.
When Ubisoft said they were going to kick out a new title only a year after the last game, I was worried they were just cashing in on Assassin’s Creed’s good name. Let me tell you, it feels fantastic to be wrong. The single-player is huge, involving, well-written, varied, and I’m going to say it — better than AC2. On its own, that would make for a worthy sequel. But throw in the VR Missions and the multiplayer, and you have the most complete package in the whole franchise, with more than enough replaybility to keep you coming back for months to come. If you’re wondering: yes, you will need to play this to understand AC3, whenever that releases.
The series consistently delivers one of the most unique experiences in gaming today, and Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is the best so far. Whatever doubts you might have, be assured, they’ve been laid to rest. And stabbed in the back. And skewered on a pike. And shot by a crossbow. And thrown off a cliff. And dumped in a haystack. And given a 9.5/10.