Review by Darkmoon06
"Streamlining the good, removing the bad, the best in the series!"
On we go to one of the most popular properties in current gaming culture. If you are unfamiliar with the Assassins Creed series what you have is a game centered around fluid combat, a unique stealth gambit involving hiding in plain sight, and a from left field backstory involving the past, future, conspiracy, and bloodlines. That said this is the third console game in the series (having had multiple handheld and mobile phone outings as well) that continues the story of our protagonist Desmond Miles and the lives of his ancestors in the past.
I recommend anyone who has not played the previous games to stop reading now as this is one series where story is very important to understanding the overarching plot, in particular Brotherhood is a direct sequel to the second game. And so from this point forward I will operate under the assumption that anyone reading further has played the previous games and so will use them as the basis of this review. In some games you could cry foul over this reviewing method but in this case where the gameplay has remained so similar but at the same time been so streamlined it is an effective way of getting a point across to those familiar with the previous journeys into the past.
I will say this beforehand. I do not have a gold account or particularly enjoy the competitive gaming circuit so this review will be based solely on the single-player campaigns merits. Those looking for a precise multiplayer run through should look elsewhere and I apologize for the inconvenience.
Gameplay - 10/10
Let's just get right down to it, for all intensive purposes Brotherhood is ACII in both design aesthetic and overall gaming experience. The general systems behind combat, free-running, and stealth have not been greatly renovated. But don't fear for this does not mean the series is stagnating, rather, instead of performing a complete overhaul of the gaming technicalities Ubisoft chose to take a far more subtle approach. They took the system we know and love and added small tweaks, little things here or there that add variety to each component. When viewed as a single aspect all of these seem negligible but when you step back and take them in as a whole you come to realize they make a different experience. They didn't revolutionize the system, they took a system that worked, and then they polished it to perfection.
Gone now is the tedious structuring of sidequests and the main story, the long battles of you waiting to counter your foes as the only effective means of elimination, and the repetitive nature of the sidequests themselves. Instead they are replaced with a story that flows naturally from one point to the next, a revised battle system with all the old toys still in place but a new system added so that combat is intuitive and fluid, and sidequests with real heart; each and every one of them offering back story to the main plot. I should also mention here that to anyone who appreciated the future components of previous games but felt not enough was done with them you will be pleasantly catered to, naturally I'll say no more about that but I am aware it was important to many. Desmond gets his time to shine in actual gameplay sections, not just story.
Without taking any of the missions into account the gameplay can be broken up into three segments; combat/stealth, travel, and exploration. These are the three tenants on which the series have been based on since its inception and like all other aspects Brotherhood has made the experience a more cohesive whole. This is a sandbox game meaning that it takes place in a giant overworld which you can travel around at your leisure either doing as you wish or completing sidequest, once you've had your fill you travel to a predetermined point on the map to initiate the next story mission. As many of you may know unlike previous games Brotherhood takes place almost entirely in one city, but do not fear, Rome is massive.
Combat is simple enough, at any point you can initiate combat with any of the many guards or should you do something that angers them they will come after you. At that time you can either fight back or retreat, attempting to lose the guards chasing you so that you may hide until they give up. The latter can be hard to describe in detail as it is largely improvised, how you run and hide is completely dependent on your current surroundings. Combat on the other hand is easy, you lock on to your opponents with the pull of a trigger and you enter the combat interface. In past Assassins Creed's the only real way to fight the enemy head on was to wait for them to attack and then counter, now however combat is streamlined. You can take the initiative and though enemies can still block it is far easier to break their defense with a series of attacks including a kick maneuver or to disarm your foe. Once you've killed one person you can then enter into a kill streak, by aiming the right stick at the next foe and attacking at the right time you will then kill them without need for a fight. Other inclusions are the ability to utilize the gun freely mid-combat and a more complex deflection system. You can also fight through less direct means using throwing knives, a crossbow, the pistol, and poison darts. Overall the aiming mechanism for these ranged weapons has been drastically improved.
As mentioned this is a sandbox game so naturally traveling around it is important. Rome is a large city and roughly half of it is made of a tight collection of buildings while the other half is rural plains. The plains can be traversed by running, using a horse, or later on once you have unlocked the sewer systems fast travel can be performed clear across the map. The more interesting part is getting around the tight-knit clustered buildings of Rome where the series staple gameplay freerunning comes into play. Freerunning is the ability to cross land quickly and to climb up just about any surface, meaning oftentimes you'll be crossing the city via the rooftops and not the streets.
This game mechanic has been picked up by a number of other series since the first game and while the Assassins Creed variety is still imminently playable I do feel this is the one area there wasn't enough change to. Though there are many more locations where you can freerun for an extended period this time the actual mechanic has not been tweaked in any way. Many games have taken the system and smoothed out the rough edges so it's sad to see that the series that started it is still clunky at times. While moving quickly and climbing buildings is a breeze it can still be very difficult to jump off a surface at an angle, this is never enough to offer more than a momentary annoyance but it is there.
Actually exploring this environment is a big part of the game as well, not just crossing it. There are tons of secrets to be found and of course the bread and butter of sandbox games, collectibles. Thankfully this time the collectibles are much easier to find and after the main campaign is over you can actually buy a map so they become visible on the map which greatly enhances the length of the game instead of feeling like an impossible task. This also allows you to improve your freerunning abilities all while in the context of gameplay instead of feeling like forced tutorials. One of the big components of exploration is buying property. Though those only interested in playing the core game can of course ignore this just like all other optional pieces it adds an extra layer of depth to the game. As you progress you can destroy Borgia (the enemy) towers in an area, this not only lessens the number of guards in that area but opens up nearby shops for sale. Buy shops and they will make you money every twenty minutes, use that money to buy more shops which give you more money. This in turn will allow you to upgrade your equipment taking the place of the last games Villa enhancement in what I believe is a more engrossing minigame. One other thing to do to increase your skills in a series of training programs you can choose from the menu that load preset situations for you to test out your skills and try to complete as quickly as possible.
Other than that the core game is split into two further sections. Sidequests and the main story.
Naturally sidequest are completely optional but unlike the first game where they often felt annoying or AC2 in which they became repetitive they have now been neatly woven into the game. They ostensibly take the part of helping out each of your factions around town by completing a number of tasks. You never really know what your going to get when you approach a mission marker; maybe you have to follow someone and listen to a conversation, maybe you have to chase someone down, assassinate someone, chase them on horse, help rebuild a ward of the city, keep your people safe from an assault?
Every mission offers something different to enjoy and even repeated objectives are presented in different ways each time. Similarly the most repetitive (and previously one of the worst side quest) the pure assassination contracts have been reworked to be highly entertaining. No longer is every single one made up of going somewhere, locating a target, and sneak killing them. Each one now has a unique setup for instance one might be on a roof, another might be a skilled freerunner, another might be surrounded by guards, and still another will be riding on horseback. Additionally all of these sidequests are now given story elements instead of just being a thinly veiled excuse to prolong game length. Once these quests are finished along with guild challenges (performing certain in-game actions a number of times) you actually get unique in-game items for their accomplishment. To avoid spoilers I will just mention that the Lairs of Romulus take the place of Assassins Tombs from AC2, areas where you have to solve freerunning puzzles.
And lastly is the main quest which I don't feel needs any particular explanation, it's the main quest. Instead I'll tell you about the new gameplay elements they have added to the quests to make each more interesting. You may complete the mission however you see fit but if you want to achieve 100% synchronization (gameplay completion) then you have to ensure to accomplish a certain requirement. Sometimes this is something easy like killing the target with a certain weapon but other times it can be more difficult, like infiltrating an enemy base without being seen, or fighting the enemy without being struck more than X number of times. At first this sounds limiting but it soon becomes apparent it adds a great deal of depth to the game and often goes a long way toward making you feel like an assassin.
These limits also do a good job of imposing a degree of challenge on you. And that's perhaps the one negative I need to leave off on, Ubisoft still hasn't listened to fans and added a difficulty setting. This severely undermines replay value as the game will never be harder on a subsequent playthrough. However I should also mention how minor a quibble this is since a full playthrough getting 100% will take at least thirty hours and all of it will be fun. Short version; regardless of this it will not be a waste of your time or money.
Story - 8/10
Sometimes I spill a bit of the story in a review because you can get away with it and really not tell to much. Unfortunately Assassins Creed is one of those games where if you say anything beyond the basic premise you've already given away something important. So instead I'll review where you've been up until now and the general idea of where you're going.
You are Desmond Miles, future day everyman whose found himself mixed up in a conspiracy theorist nightmare between two secret organizations. Through a device called the Animus he was forced to relive the memories of his ancestors that have been passed down through blood by the evil organization in this play, the Templars or Abstergo. After the events of the first game he escaped with the seeming goodguys the Assassins and has since gone back into the Animus to locate important artifacts to their cause and to teach him to be a capable assassin. Cue Brotherhood in which we return to his ancestor from the second game Ezio Auditore in his later years as Ezio moves to Rome to eliminate the Templar funded Borgia family. And that's about as far as we go, suffice it to say there's plenty of twists, psycho-babble, and red herrings for which the series is known.
I can only offer one complaint for the story. Later in the game it feels like there is a substantial gap between one point and another with no real good explanation. I can only think this must be due to the one year constraint Ubisoft has no been put under to finish each new Assassins Creed. Let us hope it does not become a bigger issue.
Graphics/Sound - 8/10
Assassins Creed has always sat toward the front of the graphical high class. It's not quite the best looking series around but only the most anal retentive graphics obsessed individual could find any real fault with it. Characters are rendered carefully and the free-running movements are animated beautifully. Grass blows in the wind, crowds move realistically (save when a horse goes running through them), light shadows accurately, it's all one big pretty package. Similarly the artistic style is wonderful mixing the true style of Renaissance Italy with Ubisofts own creativity. While much of the series graphical style remains the same one drastic improvement is in facial expressions, they convey a wide and amazing level of depth for mere pixels. If there's one place where they aren't quite up to part it's the water effects which seem a bit solid instead of opaque, but still move quite lifelike.
As for the sound the vocals still suffer from Mario-ism, that is to say the Italian accents are a bit overblown. Still they are voiced well and if you played AC2 you've gotten over it quite a while back, since the delivery is so well performed it's easy to take seriously. As for the music I actually haven't enjoyed it as much as the previous games soundtracks. Though some tunes are accurate to the times (like the opera music) it just doesn't mesh well with the previous AC thematic/audio styles. They also have a tendency to kick in at inappropriate times like the previously mentioned opera music starting during a fight, or the chase music showing up while you're just climbing a random tower and nobody even knows you're there. I'm also not that fond of the official chase theme, it seems plodding compared to AC and ACII's fast paced rhythm that seemed to heighten the tension of being followed by two-dozen armed guards. Tellingly enough my favorite theme in the game was a reworking of the ACII Florence theme.
Excellent graphics, acceptable audio is how I suppose I would put it. There's little to complain about in the former and the latter while not exceptional doesn't detract in any way.
Re-playability - 5/10
As I mentioned somewhere above the games lack of a difficulty toggle means the game will always be the same game no matter how many times it is played. Of course situations can change based on guard location but that's not a real replacement for different levels of difficulty. That said I could easily see you revisiting the game at a future date but it is certainly not the kind of game one picks up immediately after beating it to play again. Of course with the length of that first playthrough ranging upward of thirty hours if you do everything that can be done that more than makes up for the lack of immediate replay value.
Final Buy/Rent? - Buy Total Rating: 9
Easily one of the best games of the year there's absolutely no reason not to purchase the game, especially if you are a fan of those that came before. It took all the strengths of its forefathers while weeding out the weaknesses. It provides a long experience for an action game that never bores and always has new content to enjoy. The only complaints I have are minor ones involving the lack of difficulty and smoothing out the freerunning, both things that do not detract seriously as the former is tempered by the games fun and the latter is still very smooth despite its limits. If your looking amongst the big titles being released this holiday season you could certainly do worse than Assassins Creed: Brotherhood.
Easily the best in the series.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/30/10
Game Release: Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (Collector's Edition) (US, 11/16/10)
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