Review by DouglasFett

"When in Rome..."

Perhaps a year late in writing this review, as its safe to assume most A.C. fans are playing the recently released "Assassins Creed: Revelations." Nevertheless, "Brotherhood" deserves a look for what Ubisoft introduced to the series.

Assassins Creed came out in 2007, and despite issues with combat and AI, was a hit. Its mix of [an alternate reality of] history, conspiracy theories, and parkour/stealth gameplay was a major boost for Ubisoft, whose major series [Rainbow Six, Splinter Cell, Ghost Recon] were perhaps getting somewhat tired. Assassins Creed II, released in 2009, was a major improvement over the first, improving just about everything wrong with the first game, whilst moving the setting from the Holy Land to Renaissance Italy. ACII also introduced a new main character - Ezio Auditore de Firenze, who is, generally speaking, a playa AND a boy scout. ACII was an amazing title, as it not only improved upon the faults of the first, but yet strangely managed to keep the gameplay remarkably similar without seeming tired. The overall story was also very alluring - as a guy with a Bachelors Degree in History, I found the idea of Italian Hashishin quite neat.

In 2010, Ubisoft followed up the success of ACII with Assassins Creed: Brotherhood. The big draw that Ubisoft made here was, of course, multiplayer. It was an ambitious and bold move - developing MP for a strictly SP series [Splinter Cell, anyone?] has been hit and miss, and given how many games coming out nowadays that include 'tacked on' MP modes which end up being garbage...well, it was a risk. Not to mention, MP modes that are added to SP games often take away from the SP experience. That being said, this reviewer feels Ubisoft took a worthwhile risk with Assassins Creed: Brotherhood.

1. Graphics/Sound 10/10: The graphics, though only slightly improved over its predecessor, do look sharper over all. Music and voice acting is not bad. The most important thing that could be taken for granted are the sounds the player hears whilst taking Ezio about the game - that is, the voices of all the NPCs. This is a small but notable staple to the series - in every game, the player will be traversing large cities, and a city anywhere is incomplete without what? Civilians. The fact that the droves of civilians encountered in every AC titles all chit chat up a hell storm, the courtesans flirt, guards patrol the streets, whilst the annoying yet oddly charming minstrels and orators sing and blab constantly, and of course the sights and colours of the all feels like the player is actually IN a real city, rather than just some designed environment where NPCs stand around and do nothing until you talk to them.

2. Story 9/10: The game picks up right where ACII left off, just as Ezio has defeated Rodrigo Borgia [Pope Alexander VI in real life - one historical individual among a handful that Ubisoft borrowed from real history and integrated into the Assassins Creed mythos], spoken with an "ancient one," and secured the Apple of Eden. Ezio and his uncle Mario flee the Vatican and return to their HQ of Monteriggioni for some R & R. But their respite is short lived as Borgia troops, under the command of Cesare Borgia, besiege Monteriggioni - Ezio and his allies are forced to flee. Ezio, broken, wounded, and unconscious, finds himself awake in the outskirts of Rome, the powerbase of the Borgias. Ezio finds that the once great city has deteriorated under the Borgia banner, and makes it his mission to liberate Rome, as well as strike back against the Templars. To do this he must regroup with his friends, yet also recruit new allies. Its up to the player to guide Ezio through the many districts of Rome to fight and defeat Cesare Borgia.

Speaking more precisely though...while the main plot of the series has always been about the battle for the fate of mankind - between the Assassins and the Templars - for ACII and ACB, the two factions are not quite as "obvious" as they were in AC1. In the first game, set during the Third Crusade, the two factions, historically speaking, were still alive and kicking. The latter two games however take place several centuries after both factions have been wiped out. Their surviving members operate in secrecy, away from the public eye - the Assassins from the shadows, while the Templars, with all their wealth and influence, operate under fronts. During the Renaissance the leaders of the Borgia family use their own forces as the Templar banner, while during the modern day the Templars operate Abstergo Industries as a front. Finally, it should be noted the story of Desmond Miles continues along as well - he and his team, having been discovered by Abstergo, flee their pursuers and set up shop in modern day Montereriggioni. Once again Desmond is plugged into the Animus...but as the story of ACB concludes, players will find Desmond's story has become even more complex...

3. Gameplay 9/10:

- Sandbox: The AC games, are generally speaking, third person adventures, all set in an open world environment. While the first two games all took place in multiple cities, in ACB the player is limited solely to the city of Rome and its outlying regions. Is this a big deal? Yes and no. On the one hand, the AC games have always allowed the playet to travel to multiple cities. In AC1, Altair could travel throughout the Holy Land, while in ACII Ezio roamed a handful of cities in northern Italy. So hardcore fans might find this to be a turn off. Some might even say the addition of MP limits the size of the SP campaign. On the other hand, Rome is HUGE. We're not just talking about the city here. We're talking about the countryside, outlying farms, the hills around the Tiber, underground tombs and the like. Once again, money plays a crucial factor for the player - florins can be earned by completing contracts, looting corpses and chests, finishing missions, pick pocketing...florins can be used to buy new gear, repair said gear, and even renovate the various shops of Rome, which, storywise, have become rundown by the corruption of the Borgia. Renovating these shops gives the player extra income, which they can pick up from banks throughout the city. Anyway, technically speaking, ACII had more chapters, "sequences" as they're called, than ACB. However, ACB still offers 20-30 hours of gameplay. Players will not be bored here.

- New features: A sequel can't be complete without new gameplay features. Combat wise, Ezio can now chain attacks. During fights with multiple foes, the player, after killing one enemy, can then target another foe for an insta-kill. Players also have use of new weapons and gadgets: the hidden gun [fired from a wrist mounted gauntlet], crossbow, poison blade, and even a parachute [to literally drop out of the sky for aerial kills, or just to fly around in]. Smoke bombs make a return. The biggest new feature to ACB is the ability to recruit assassins. Ezio can recruit up to 9-10 assassins, and like the player-character, they can be upgraded and modified over time. The player can send them on missions across Europe, and if they are successful, earn EXP points to level up, whilst rewarding Ezio with money and items. In addition, Ezio can call on his pupils during combat for assistance, which is pretty neat. Of course, as there is an RPG element to the games, Ezio's students aren't invincible, and can be killed. If they survive real time combat, EXP is gained. As they level up, they unlock more abilities and weapons, and become stronger overall.

- Multiplayer: Finally, the big pull that made ACB controversial amongst its fans. Implementing MP within a strictly single player series is always difficult. Sometimes it really does pull away from the SP campaign [Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow, 2004], and it may even destroy the series' own canon [a more recent example being the recently released "The Old Republic," an MMO sequel to KOTOR 1-2]. Fortunately, Ubisoft managed to pull this off with relatively few problems. The SP experience of ACB is *slightly* shorter than that of ACII, BUT, the MP is an otherwise very original idea. I applaud Ubisoft for maintaining a quality SP campaign, whilst creating an enjoyable MP. So what did Ubisoft do here?

The concept is, the player is an Abstergo agent, jacked into the Animus. You pick from a large cast of characters, Templar agents [whom Ezio had dealt with in the SP campaign] that is, and are dropped into a simulation. Remember 'the construct' from the first Matrix? The training scenario? A programmed environment, not the real Matrix? Same situation. Players are dropped into re-constructed environments from the SP - Venice, Monteriggioni, etc. The goal is to rack up as many points as possible within a 10 minute session, by killing enemy players. There are no enemy AI - yes, every environment is stock full of civilian AI, but they aren't your objective. Just as the player can hide in crowds in SP, so too can players do so in MP. In "Wanted," the player is given a mark - an enemy player - and it's their job to hunt down and kill their target, without the latter knowing who it is that's coming after them. Of course, rival players in the match may also be given the same objective. At the same time, while the player is hunting their mark, they too are being hunted at the same time. So while its not a true FFA, it is a very, very neat take on the concept. Other game modes include Alliance [2v2v2], Manhunt [4v4], Chest Capture [akin to CTF], among others.

Like previous Ubisoft games including Splinter Cell Conviction and Rainbow Six Vegas, P.E.C. [persisent elite creation] makes its presence in the MP for Brotherhood. Generally speaking, the player can level up by earning points by killing their target. More points can be earned per kill via the quality of the kill. Did the player remain incognito as they approached their target, or did they blow their cover by running towards the target? Did the player walk up behind the target and kill them with a melee kill, drop down on them from a perched position, poison them, or shoot them with the wrist mounted hidden gun? Multiple factors contribute to how many points are earned, and these are all recorded. If the player continues to use poison, they'll eventually unlock better poisons [or a slow acting poison that generates more points if used]. If smoke bombs and fireworks are used, so too will the player unlock more advanced versions of those gadgets. Templar vision [like Eagle Vision from the SP] can be used to ID players from the AI crowds, so they can be more easily locked on to - just as with everything else, if its used more and more, advanced versions of it will be unlocked. Making more kills in certain ways - aerial kills, kills from haystacks, etc - will also grant the player more points as they reach higher tiers.

In other words, the P.E.C. is geared towards the player - players are rewarded for whatever methodology of assassination they make use of. Of course, P.E.C. wouldn't be complete without outfit customization. The various Templar agents the player can choose from are customizable, to an extent - the colour of their outfits, and the gear they wear can be modified as the player ranks up. Of course, that's all superficial, purely for aesthetics, but its not unwelcome either. Overall, the MP is incredibly unique - finally, Ubisoft can shy away from their "militainment" shooters for a while to create a wholly original MP that is in no way a waste of time.

- Uplay: Lastly, Ubisoft has once again made use of their Uplay rewards system here. By completing certain objectives within the game, the player earns Uplay points they can use to buy small additions [extra throwing knives, more outfits, more bullets for the hidden gun, more characters to play as in MP] for the SP and MP modes. Whats neat is that Uplay points earned from other Ubisoft titles can be used to buy items for other Ubisoft Uplay titles [IE points I've earned in ACII I can use to buy stuff in Splinter Cell Conviction, and points I earned in SCC I can use to buy stuff for ACB, etc etc].

Overall, ACB is a welcome edition to the Assassin's Creed series. Its a step in *some* direction for the series. The major fear among players is that, because Ubisoft will be releasing an AC title every year, that they may repeat the mistakes of yesteryear and spew out cookie cutter titles - this fear is also sparked by the fact that since ACB introduced MP, that future AC titles will focus more on the MP, and less on the SP. Even the SP of ACB has been criticized for being more filler than anything else, as nothing is truly resolved. However, its the opinion of this reviewer that the story of Assassins Creed: Brotherhood is an 'episode,' a 'Chronicle' to Ezio's life as he grows older and fills the shoes of a Master Assassin, rebuilding the order and continuing the fight against the Templars. The Assassin's Creed series is not like the early Splinter Cell titles, self-contained stories within a larger universe. The AC games are building to something, creating a story, so each title is unique as it chronicles a period of time from the protagonist's life. Despite some issues with the game [same hit and miss "Parkour," somewhat shortened SP campaign, n00bish players in MP who run around instead of sneaking up on targets], ACB is an enjoyable title, and worth the time to play.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 01/04/12

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

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