Review by Suprak the Stud
"A Great Game, But Only a Good Assassin's Creed"
The Assassin's Creed series has been one of the biggest and most impressive names to come out of the latest generation of consoles. Sure, the first game didn't really seem to know what to do with its amazing engine and ended up packing the game with boring, repetitive filler between the amazing assassination missions, but the second game managed to improve upon all of its shortcomings and solidify the series in "must play" territory. Due to the entertainment offered by Assassin's Creed II, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood was a game I genuinely was looking forward to playing. It promised new content, a brand new multiplayer mode, and the return of all the hide-y, sneak-y, stab-y fun I could handle. And while the game does all these things and does them fairly well, in many ways this feels like a bit of a step back for the series. With the inclusion of multiplayer and the even further diversification of gameplay, the early portions of this game seemed to indicate that this would be the biggest and best Assassin's Creed game to date. Unfortunately, along the way the game also seems to lose sight of the core concepts that made the first two games so different from the rest of the market, and this feels like the first game in the series that fails to capture the essence of an assassin.
The end of the last game looked pretty dire for Desmond and crew, and pretty wrapped up for Ezio and friends. It could have been completely wrapped up had Ezio not suddenly and inexplicably spared the life of his biggest adversary, but he must have known a sequel was coming and didn't want to remove the biggest source of conflict. But hey, crazy people trying to take over the world as part of a secret society totally know when they've been beat and after Ezio roughs him up at the end of the last game, Rodrigo Borgia slaps him on the back and wishes him nothing but the best of luck in his future killing people endeavors. Nah, I'm just kidding. He sends someone to Ezio's home, blows up his villa, and steals the Apple of Eden. Woops. Maybe next time don't let the big bad get away because you suddenly got squeamish about killing people, Ezio. Now, Ezio must go to Rome and retrieve the Apple of Eden, all the while combating the Borgia and fighting against Rodrigo's new right hand man Cesare.
The story in the past two Assassin's Creed games was never particularly the strong suit of the titles, and this trend largely continues in Brotherhood. The story is divided into two distinct segments, focusing on the lives of both Renaissance assassin Ezio Auditore and his modern day ancestor Desmond Miles. Desmond's story has never been particularly interesting, as you really only get bits and pieces of information about how the world is mostly controlled by the Templars but without any proper context to make any sort of impact or connection. The same thing is true this time around, and if you leave the animus and dig enough you can eventually get some hints as to how it is going with other groups of assassins and learn a bit about the dynamics between you and your team, but none of it is really interesting enough to be worth pursuing. The entire cast is just fairly generic and vanilla, and I don't know why I should be putting effort into getting some of their back story when there isn't anything interesting to learn. The ending provides a bit of a kick in the teeth, only because it comes absolutely out of nowhere and isn't in anyway explained or rationalized, but presumably they're saving that for the next game so they can draw this out even longer.
Ezio's story was at least interesting in Assassin's Creed II, what with him being a fully developed character which a well established backstory, motives, and personality. Apparently the developers of the game thought that would be enough to get him through Brotherhood, because that is essentially all the game brings to the table. Don't get me wrong; it isn't like this is some side story and there is definitely enough meat here for this to qualify as its own game. It's just that it feels largely like filler, and is the equivalent of a Senator rambling about what he had for lunch when he's trying to filibuster to take up more time. There are portions of the game that I found really interesting and Ezio and a couple of his returning supporting cast are strong enough characters to pull the game through its more dull portions, but for a large part this feels like a mostly recycled version of the last game, but without the actual character development that came along the way.
There are some minor (and not so minor) additions to the game, but as a whole this is pretty much the same thing as Assassin's Creed II. While that might sound like a complaint, it really isn't because for the most part Assassin's Creed II was excellent and really didn't need a major overhaul. You have the same open world sandbox environment to go out and explore, and the basic gameplay is essentially unchanged. Ezio has the ability to parkour his way through the city, making travel quick and enjoyable. Travel is helped even further by the addition of transfer points, which allow Ezio to move quickly to even the far reaches of the city. There are a lot of minor little changes like this, and all of them end up even further improving the gameplay and remedying little problems that were present in the last game.
There are a bunch of enemies roaming around the map, and you can either use sneaky stealth stab kills or run around like a maniac and start open battles with the guards. Both control well and work quite nicely, which should be no surprise considering the same was true in Assassin's Creed II. The actual story is broken up into a series of missions, and in between the story missions you have a whole bunch of stuff you can do in the city. There are some clever puzzles to solve in the form of things left behind by the last subject in the animus, and a lot of the latter puzzles will really test you puzzle solving ability. You can also find and collect flags and feathers, look for treasures, do optional side missions, or perform in bonus training scenarios in the animus that have you running obstacle courses or trying to link together long combos. The variety here is even more impressive than what was in the last game, a truly amazing feat considering how much content they managed to cram into the last one. Even more amazing is that everything is actually well designed and entertaining, with very little of the extra content being boring or feeling redundant.
The early portions of the game feel somewhat slow, like the game is trying to reacquaint you with the essentials, but after a long wait you finally get your first real target. After doing the necessary dance to figure out who exactly it is you're looking for and where exactly he is hiding, you finally find your way to a huge party the guy happens to be throwing, and the assassination mission is everything I've come to love about the series. After surreptitiously maneuvering Ezio to the heart of the party, I managed to blend in with crowds of people until reaching a group of courtesans, who I then used to distract and poison a couple of guards. While my target was distracted by their sudden incoherent flailing, I emerged from my spot on a bench, snuck up behind him, took his life, and then did a back flip in real life because OH POWZERS WAS THAT AWESOME. I managed to get out before any of the other guards even noticed what was going on, leaving this nice image in my head of everyone else there discovering this was the worst party they've ever been to all at the same time, without any real knowledge as to what happened. I loved every single minute of that block, and was excited to see what other well designed missions the game had in store for me.
And the answer was a resounding, "eh, not much." This was the only real time in the entire game that managed to capture the big, fun assassination missions from the past games. I mean, there is no shortage of people you have to assassinate because the game is full of soft squishy enemies just waiting to get punctured by sharp pointy objects. However, there is a lot of difference between "assassinating a target" and just "killing a dude." Far too many of these assassination missions require you to reveal yourself or force you into a combat situation, and while these certainly aren't bad I found myself missing the larger emphasis on stealth the previous games had. The design is just much weaker this time around, and almost all of the assassination missions were either way too easy, requiring little thought or planning, or threw you into an open combat situation where absolutely no stealth was required or even possible. There were still a handful of smaller targets with nicely designed assassination missions, but for the most part they were in the minority and the series seems to be slowly going away from the core concept that made the earlier games so successful.
Beyond the lack of really impressive and well designed assassination missions, Brotherhood's other main problem is that the game lacks any real challenge. While this might speak to further design problems, part of this is a result of Ezio's ever increasing arsenal of weaponry. The crossbow in this game acts as a one hit kill uber weapon, and even the big scary guards can be cut down with a single bolt. Even without the crossbow, you have a gun, throwing knives, and smoke bombs and about halfway through the game you would've thought guards would stop rushing Ezio as his combination of weaponry pretty much ensures he can wipe out ten to fifteen guards before he even needs to pull out his actual swords. Even if the guards make it to actual combat, Ezio has counterkills that work on most enemies and act as a one hit kill. Kicks to the groin completely wipe out the defenses of any enemy (not joking), and the new chain kill can be used to wipe out whole groups of enemies.
After an initial counter kill, attacking again and giving the game some general direction as to where you want to go, you can kill another enemy with a one hit kill and can continue doing this until one of the enemies hits you or you run out of enemies. I'm not trying to say the combat isn't fun and enjoyable, because it definitely is and striking down groups of enemies never gets old. These additions even further refine the winning formula from the second game, but with all these tools at your disposal the game ends up feeling like it is missing any real challenge. Typically, a character might have one move that is overpowered that can be used in extreme situations. In Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, you are what is overpowered. Ezio's a freaking tank that you brought to a fight against an army of scooters. The hardest missions in the game are the special one shot vehicle missions where you have to pilot a tank or a bomber, and that is because a tank is actually less deadly than Ezio. I'm not saying they had to nerf Ezio, because crushing weak groups of enemies is certainly fun, but they failed to increase the abilities of the enemies to match Ezio and there aren't any enemies in the entire game that will cause you to even break a sweat.
The game is actually made even easier by the titular brotherhood mechanic, which starts off as a cool idea but fails to materialize into anything particularly meaningful. After a certain point in the game, Ezio has the ability to begin to recruit other assassins to his cause. While an assassin school does sound like an awesome concept, there really isn't a ton of stuff you can do once you find someone to recruit. The people that end up joining you are generic, entirely replaceable ancillary characters that could be swapped out for a random townsperson and you wouldn't have the slightest idea. Once recruited, you can send them out on various missions throughout Europe, and even Ezio couldn't jump the chasm between how interesting this sounds and how interesting it actually is. Really, all you do is send out the recruits on their missions from a list of selectable missions and wait for them to come back. It feels less like Ezio is a trainer and leader of assassins and more like he is an accountant for an assassin firm, knee deep in paperwork and assassination target requisition forms. There are really only two reasons for sending them out in the first place. First, upon the completion of a mission you earn cash, because apparently Ezio is running a pyramid scheme and collecting the greater part of the recruits earnings. There really is no need for this small contribution of cash considering how much more you make just being a landlord, and for the most part the amount made is so small you won't even notice it. Secondly, they gain experience and become more powerful in combat.
The last part is important because you can call recruits into battle or to assassinate specific targets. Even at low levels, this acts pretty much as a one hit kill against any single target, and against larger groups you can call multiple assassins in to help you in the battle. Alternatively, if you have six assassins on hand (assuming you haven't sent some off to do your work across Europe), you can call for an arrow storm which can wipe out huge groups of enemies within the span of a few seconds and without even putting your assassins in any sort of danger. This ability even further tilts the advantage in your favor, and even tricky targets can now be taken out from afar without even exposing yourself to any danger. This does make it easier to stay unnoticed and it seems like an interesting new facet to gameplay, but honestly it isn't entertaining in the least. Sure, you can call assassins out to take out people while you sit back, but why would you ever want to do that? That is the fun part of the game, and now I'm supposed to be outsourcing my fun to AI allies? Maybe Ezio is just getting lazy in his old age, but having other people take out your targets for you kind of defeats the purpose behind the game. As such, the mechanic ends up falling flat because there is absolutely nothing interesting you can do with your assassin recruits, and it ends up feeling like a waste of what might have been a good idea.
Beyond the brotherhood and refined combat, there are also a handful of other new things thrown in that distinguish it slightly from Assassin's Creed II. Missions now have special objectives you need to complete if you want to reach 100%, giving an extra wrinkle to the game and encouraging you to complete the missions in the ways that Ezio would have actually completed them. You might need to use a member from the brotherhood to attack your target or you might need to reach a location undetected, and it gives a little extra challenge to a game that desperately needs it. It was a nice addition, even if some of the descriptions end up spoiling things that happen later in the mission. "Don't lose more than five health squares," you say game? Well, either this simple investigation missions isn't going to go as smoothly as was suggested or the game is giving me a freebie. Nothing is a major spoiler, and it isn't like they're giving away the ending, but the do sometimes disclose information about something that'll be happening later in the mission that isn't immediately obvious from its starting point.
Additionally, it isn't just the assassins that got a guild in this game, as the courtesans, thieves, and mercenaries all have their own building as well. In addition to gaining all sorts of middle management positions and presumably a 401k retirement plan, these also provide various bonus missions and challenges to complete. The bonus missions are essentially simpler versions of the story based missions but they give you a little extra to do in the city. Beyond that, there are some minor challenges associated with each guild that unlock little bonuses or weapons. The challenges are all fairly straightforward, and involve things like using one of the groups ten times to killing 25 guards from horseback to pickpocketing a certain amount of money. While none of these challenges are that complicated, they do add even more stuff to a game already full of stuff. The bonuses they unlock are nice as well, and completing a certain amount of courtesan challenges allows them to distract and then poison some guards, while completing all of them unlocks one of the best small weapons in the game. There is just an insane amount of content in this game, with so many different missions or challenges or other little things to do. Even more surprising is the fact that most of it is quite good, and I found myself going back to do just about everything I could just because it was fun.
For the first time in the series, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood also includes a multiplayer mode. The multiplayer actually focuses on the sneaky stealth gameplay and, because of that, stands out as truly unique in comparison to a lot of other multiplayer experiences. You are thrown into a map with a ton of NPCs that look like you, your opponents, and other generic character models thrown in just for giggles. Then, you are given a picture of your target and a compass that roughly shows you where your target is and then game says, "alright, now kill them." Unfortunately, other people will be coming at you at the same time, giving you a lot of strategy you have to play around with. Sure, you can just run towards your target like a drunken buffalo, but both your target and your pursuer will immediately be able to identify you because none of the NPCs are jumping around on the rooftops like a moron. You could try and blend in with the crowd, but this slows your advance down tremendously and your pursuer might find you before you find your target.
This leads to a far more strategic, more methodical multiplayer experience than most people are probably used to, but for the most part it really works quite well. There is a bizarre sense of enjoyment that comes along with standing in a crowd, pretending to be an NPC before jumping out at the last second to smash your target with a hammer. A variety of skills and abilities unlock along the way, allowing you to morph an entire group to your avatar to confuse your opponents or draw a gun and fire on your target from afar. It is far more advantageous to play cleverly than to run around blindly, as doing so will not only alert your opponents to your whereabouts, but it will also net you fewer points if you do manage to find your target. Extra points are awarded for killing your enemy from a blend spot or doing so without ever entering high profile, rewarding smart, methodical players over hyperactive little kids. The clever design and sense of reward that comes from actually playing well makes the multiplayer very replayable and gives Brotherhood far more staying power than previous titles in the series.
Still, while the multiplayer is a nice addition it isn't quite substantial enough to justify a purchase on its own. Enjoyment is highly dependent on having a group of individuals that also are fairly decent at the game, and even just a couple of bad players can cause a match to devolve into people running around on roof tops and abandoning any semblance of strategy. The targeting system is also a bit off at times, and too many times I would miss my target not because I had been fooled but because the targeting reticule had spazzed out at the last second and switched over to some poor, unsuspecting NPC. Now his NPC kids are going to go hungry because the targeting system had an aneurism. Nice going, targeting system. Even when everything is working and you have a good group to play with, the gameplay does end up dragging and feeling repetitive after a while. Tricking opponents and hiding in groups is good enough in small doses, but I never could play for extended periods of time because I found the repetition boring.
While there still is a lot here to like, I feel like the Assassin's Creed series is starting to lose its way. These games used to be about assassinations, about sneaking into some location undiscovered, killing your target, and absconding off into the night without anyone else knowing what you did. Now that singular focus is gone, and it feels like Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is a game off of its ADHD medication. Sure, the assassinations are still here, but they are really not the focus any more and the game seems more intent on-OH JEEZ WHAT IS THAT SHINY THING OVER THERE!? It isn't that the game isn't fun, because it definitely is. In fact, it's a lot of fun. There is a lot of stuff to do and the addition of a solid and unique multiplayer makes this the most complete Assassin's Creed to date. If you enjoyed the past titles, there is absolutely no reason why you should miss out on this one as it really isn't all that different. But with a muddled story and a lack of a real focus on what the game wants to do gameplay wise, Assassin's Creed Brotherhood definitely feels like a game that is confused. It feels like I just went to a concert, but the band I saw refused to play all of its big hits so they could play stuff from their newest album and do somersaults on the stage. I just hope the next game in the series has a bit more of a focus on the actual assassinations, otherwise they'll need to change the name to Guy Doing Whatever the Heck He Feels Like Doing At the Moment Creed, and that just doesn't have the same ring to it.
Brotherhood of Assassins (THE GOOD):
+Same fun, runny, jumpy, stabby goodness as the past titles
+First game in the series with the inclusion of a multiplayer mode
+Multiplayer is fun and creative, and manages to feel like a real extension of the single player campaign
+Lots of minor new additions work well, including guild specific tasks that level them up
+Tons of extra content or hidden stuff to find and explore
+A couple really well designed assassination missions really capture what I loved about the last game
Brotherhood of Time Wasters (THE BAD):
-Story is decidedly underwhelming, and feels like it basically is just stretching out stuff from the last game
-Assassination missions are no where near as compelling and well designed as they had been in the past
-Multiplayer, while entertaining, can get repetitive over time
-Titular brotherhood mechanic ends up feeling like a waste
-At times, it feels like Ezio is too overpowered and nothing provides a real challenge
Sisterhood of Traveling Pants (THE UGLY): At some point in the game, Ezio comes across one of his minor assassination targets and because he learned absolutely nothing about what happened from the last game he decides he isn't worth his time and let him go. WHAT ARE YOU DOING, EZIO? Do you not remember when you did this last game and the guy came back to explode your entire town? It is possible this won't amount to anything in the next game and it was done because historically this person didn't die yet, but I think we sort of got away from the whole historical accuracy thing around the time we started sending messages through time while battling a super secret hidden global organization bent on taking over the world.
THE VERDICT: 7.50/10.00
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 05/20/13
Game Release: Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (US, 11/16/10)
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