Review by rengekicounter

"Allow Me To Use A Portmanteau: AssBro"

This game is a study in contrasts. There are usually two sides to the coin that are an Assassin's Creed game: one, sheer brilliance; the other, complete incompetence. It goes without saying that Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood conforms to this standard, much like its predecessors.

Many would initially dismiss Brotherhood as a cheap cash-in: a multiplayer game with a single-player mode shoehorned in, slapped together with a $59.99 price tag. Well…they're wrong.

Yes, Brotherhood does have a single-player mode long enough to consolidate its semi-sequel status. Ubisoft claimed that it would last 15-20 hours – and they're right.

Over the course of the 15-20 hour single player campaign, you will experience awe, boredom, confusion, frustration, and – just maybe – fun.

Story:

The story itself is a mixed bag. As always, there are two narratives running parallel to one another. One is Desmond's, in the present – he uses the Animus in an attempt to locate the enigmatic, all-powerful “Piece of Eden”. The other is Ezio's, in the past – he is Desmond's Renaissance-era ancestor, who Desmond is controlling using the Animus. By revisiting Ezio's life, Desmond and his (extremely hipster) companions hope to unravel the conspiracy behind the Templars. The Templars are an influential organization that has worked behind-the-scenes throughout history with the goal of – you guessed it – taking over the world. Desmond comes from a long line of Assassins, who have opposed the Templars.

Ezio's drama continues from where it left off in Assassin's Creed II. After being thoroughly confused by the goddess Minerva, the master assassin returns home, to Monteriggioni. Shortly after, though, it is attacked by the Borgia – a powerful family associated with the Templars – and destroyed. Ezio is forced to relocate, and Rome seems like the best choice. The once-illustrious city has been brought down by Borgia influence. It is up to Ezio to rebuild the assassin brotherhood, drive out the Borgia, and liberate Roma – not an easy task. Throughout the way he will be aided by famous figures such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Niccolò Machiavelli.

Ubisoft dropped the ball when it came to the story in this game – it feels like filler. Gone is the epic scale Assassin's Creed II had: Ezio begins the game as a master assassin, and his only goal is to defeat the Borgia in a single city, Rome. Desmond's narrative is woefully underdeveloped; Ubisoft chose to focus more on the in-the-Animus story. There is one exception, though: the ending, which is more “WTF-ish” than that of Assassin's Creed II.

The game's method of dragging out its story is repetitious and utterly trite. There are many missions that require the player to simply walk from point A to point B. By walking I don't mean “parkour”; it's literal walking. All you'll do is follow an NPC around town whilst listening to expository dialogue – sometimes, the game doesn't even grant you that. If you should stray too far from the individual who you're following, the game will arbitrarily fail you, and throw you back to an ill-placed checkpoint from where you are forced to repeat the entire process. This is not good design. It is merely padding.

Gamplay:

The game plays exactly like Assassin's Creed II with a few extra bells and whistles. As always, you are able to run, jump, and swim everywhere you go. You can switch between low-profile activities like walking and high-profile activities like running with the push of a button. There is only one city in the game this time, however: Rome. That's okay, though. The city is massive, dwarfing any previous efforts we've seen from the series. To aid you in moving about, the game has implemented a fast travel system and allowed you to ride horses wherever you please. This definitely helps in navigating the massive city, although chances are you'll spend most of your time leaping from rooftop to rooftop.

Combat has been reduced to laborious button-mashing. Somehow, Ubisoft has found a way to make the game even easier! Ezio comes equipped with the standard movesets from previous games. He is able to attack, dodge, taunt, counter, disarm, and more. What's new is the inclusion of killstreaks; basically, if the player presses the attack button after Ezio kills a guard, he will instantly kill another, regardless of health. If the player holds down the attack button, he can execute a double kill. This, coupled with the fact that guards usually tend to stay in a circle around Ezio and attack one at a time, makes combat insultingly easy (and that's not even counting the ability to summon your brotherhood of assassins with the push of a button!) The player can choose from a variety of weapons from which to cause havoc, including swords, daggers, maces, a crossbow, and of course, Ezio's signature double hidden blades.

What is it that makes the game challenging? The myriad of glitches, control problems, and bad AI. As per usual, the large amount of freedom the game offers runs parallel to its horrible controls. Ezio will run, jump, and move counter-intuitively in general; this will lead to lost health, botched plans, and many, many headaches. The AI is as nonsensical and stupid as ever. Case in point: there is one mission where Ezio must sneak through a church. To do this, he must blend in with the congregation – a simple affair, one would think. Not so! One hundred percent of the congregation is comprised of red-robed, hat-toting listeners. You'd think that a single white-robed, sword/axe/whatever wielding individual would stand out, but nope. It must be Ezio's master assassin powers at work, eh? As mentioned earlier, the guard AI is horrendous. Enemy cavalry will shuffle around awkwardly before knocking down some of its allies in a desperate bid to attack. Groups of guards won't notice if one or two of their members wind up dead. A body will fall from the sky in front of them, and they *might* examine it for a few seconds before continuing onwards, completely ignoring the armed assassin looking from above.

And the glitches? Don't even get me started. Enemies have died randomly, guards have stopped attacks mid-animation, the brotherhood occasionally does nothing when called, beggars might be carrying 837 florins with them, the camera freaks out when Ezio counters a spear attack with another spear, and more. Even now, these little nitpicks haven't been ironed out with patches. Some of the more troublesome glitches include Ezio's tendency to jump randomly whenever the grab button is pushed and not being able to register some graspable surfaces. The most egregious example has been the music disappearing from my game completely. Oh, and sometimes Ezio strikes blood while attacking nothing. Well, at least we know who to call in the event of “The Happening”.

Replacing the (rather small) Monteriggioni upgrade system from Assassin's Creed II is Brotherhood's Rome rebuilding system. Ezio's goal is to liberate the entirety of Rome from Borgia influence by destroying their towers while reopening shops and…that's about it. What should feel epic is simply busywork to the nth degree. Destroying a Borgia tower involves killing its captain, climbing to the top of the tower, and burning it. Shops and landmarks can be bought with some florins and two button presses. In turn, you can (obviously) buy things from these stores, including weapons, dyes, medicine, art, and more. Repeat ad nauseum, and you've fully rebuilt Rome.

To its credit, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood comes with a veritable cornucopia of side-missions, ranging from assassination contracts to flashbacks in Ezio's life. The best examples of such are probably the missions where you must operate and destroy Da Vinci's war machines – they provide a welcome break from the usual run-n'-stab gameplay. The brotherhood system itself is a little underdeveloped. First, you'll recruit a potential assassin by saving him or her from guards. Next, you'll either send them on missions to level up (to increase their effectiveness) or call them in battle to aid you (not that you'd need it). Sending them out on missions involves you picking a location on a map, then waiting a pre-defined amount of time before they return – IF they return. Once they level up, you can choose to put points into their offence or defence. The whole affair is a little bland, and could have been handled better.

Oh, and the pointless flag-hunting is back. Yay.

The multiplayer – which may or may not be the main attraction of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood – is a surprisingly decent attempt at bringing the Assassin's Creed experience online. Indeed, the multiplayer may actually trump the single-player in terms of tension and thrills. From the start, you have a variety of modes to choose from – but they're more or less the same thing. It all boils down to a game of cat-and-mouse: you must assassinate your target while avoiding assassination yourself. There are a multitude of character skins to choose from; in maps, these skins are copied ad infinitum, and are used by NPCs. As such, blending in with NPCs is key to survival. Looking for irregularities in character movement while making yourself appear autonomous is an exercise in psychology and observation. Getting the timing and precision of a kill just right is not only elating, but rewards you with extra points. Escaping from your pursuer using any and all means necessary is heart stopping – imagine, Assassin's Creed where dying is an actual probability! Switching it up with things like partners makes the game even more interesting.

The multiplayer is not without its faults, of course. Some of the perks are a little unbalanced. The games will – eventually – get a tad repetitive. Also – this isn't really a fault on the part of the game, per se – you might get into a match with players running around wildly and hitting their targets loudly, which completely destroys the pace and atmosphere of the game.

Sound:

Again, an area that has a dichotomy in terms of quality. Jesper Kyd has, once again, composed a brilliant score – one that breathes life into Rome and her citizens. His tracks are a combination of drums, guitar, vocals, synth, and more – and they come together beautifully. His soothing ambient music is the perfect companion for exploring Rome, while his battle and escape pieces boom with intensity.

The voice acting is both completely mediocre and insanely baffling. The voice actors themselves are decent – most of them manage to convey emotion some of the time. Other times, their voices descend into a dull droll while conversing or explaining something. What is truly puzzling is the dialogue during Ezio's time. Apparently, Italian Renaissance men were fond of speaking Italian-accented English with Italian phrases sprinkled in randomly. I can't fathom why they decided to do this – either have the game in complete English (since the Animus is supposed to convert languages!) or in complete Italian, with English subtitles. As it stands, the sudden changes between English and Italian are so frequent and so disconcerting that one can't help but suffer from inertia.

The sound effects are stock, and at times, placed poorly. Guns sound like guns. Maces reverberate with a satisfying noise when crushing opponents. There are a few boo-boos, of course. Sometimes, the sound doesn't sync up at all with what is happening on-screen. There is also the instance where Ezio bats away an enemy's hand with his sword – what we hear is the sound of steel clashing with steel. This dissonance is a tad jarring.

Graphics:

Brotherhood's graphics are essentially a carbon copy of Assassin's Creed II's. That is to say, they have not been upgraded much. While the architecture of Rome itself is striking – boasting impressive vistas constructed of everything from wood to marble – the same cannot be said about the people who inhabit it. Character models lack detail and personality. The crowd – the heart of Rome – feels monotonous. The game also has a short draw distance, so expect people to phase in and out of the world randomly. At times, it is unclear where a climbable point on a building is – in a game all about parkour, this can be troubling. Ezio's climbing animations are fluid while his combat animations are brutally cool – I just wish the master assassin would stop clipping through his victims.

Closing comments

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is an interesting multiplayer experiment – that much can be said. However, it bears all the hallmarks of an Assassin's Creed game: a brilliant concept, tied down by an ocean of poor design choices and glitches. The game feels quite rushed – more than usual – and I wouldn't have minded if one of the parts – single-player or multiplayer – were sacrificed to bring up the quality of the other. If you think you can wade through the multitude of problems, glitches, and bad AI, then by all means, pick this game up.

FINAL SCORE: 6/10


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 01/14/11

Game Release: Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (US, 11/16/10)


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