Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood

Has any other recent AAA release delivered the sudden, "What the..." kind of ending that Assassin's Creed II sprung on us last year? Though the series carefully treads the line between a modern-tech narrative and an ancient setting, the bizarre conclusion that capped off the second installment was perplexing and frustrating to a fault. But at the same time, it was no doubt intriguing, and most gamers were left wondering how Ubisoft would tie the loose strands together.

Brotherhood doesn't provide enough of those answers to truly satisfy, but it still carries on the series' legacy with tremendous form. The continuation of Ezio's ascent to the head of the Assassin clan in the 16th century absolutely pops with polish throughout, and the new game mechanics and world are wonderful additions to the franchise.

It's telling just how confusing and potentially convoluted the Assassin's Creed tale has become that Brotherhood begins with a five-minute recap of the series to date, but it also serves as a warning that I suggest you heed: do not start Brotherhood if you haven't at least played Assassin's Creed II, as Brotherhood immediately picks up from the title's conclusion. Ezio believes his journey to recover the Apple of Eden and rid Italy of powerful evildoers is at an end, and when he arrives back at the family villa in Monteriggioni, he quickly settles back into his daily routine: he walks around the city, performs a couple quick chores, and even enjoys the company of a lady. All in a day's leisure, right?

Naturally, Ezio's remaining days aren't filled with sunshine and rainbows, as an ambitious would-be ruler -- Cesare Borgia, with help from the pope -- storms the city, sending Ezio to Rome to pick up the pieces and establish new alliances. Brotherhood's narrative doesn't quite stack up to the gripping origin tale of Assassin's Creed II, but it's not far off, as the quest to rebuild the Assassin guild is filled with great character turns, sharp dialogue, and worthwhile missions that presumably complete Ezio's journey. And descendent Desmond's modern-day adventure takes some memorable turns as well, with exciting platform sequences and even some decent dialogue exchanges with Lucy.

But as with the last game, the real star is arguably the massive world, and in this case, Rome shines as the greatest Assassin's Creed game setting to date. The gorgeous city is filled with notable landmarks (including the Parthenon and Coliseum) and is still a blast to traverse, as Ezio scales walls and leaps rooftops with ease. More notably, the city offers a large variety of side missions that offer worthwhile narrative threads, ways to further invest yourself in the world, or even just entertaining conquests.

Numerous side missions spring from the narrative, including optional quests pertaining to other key members of the brotherhood, but the most interesting developments are tied to the new gameplay additions. Ezio can now recruit select citizens off the street and bring them into the guild, summoning them as needed for an assist and even sending them off on unseen missions around Europe. As they fight and complete tasks, you can level up their abilities, making them even more deadly and efficient associates. And Brotherhood greatly expands Assassin's Creed II's ability to fund local shops by letting you purchase and renovate individual stores and landmarks in Rome -- indeed, you too can own the Pantheon -- offering great personal investment in the world.

But such options are off the table until you burn down the nearby Borgia control tower, which offers yet another exciting opportunity on top of many others. It's so easy to get distracted when tackling the narrative missions, but that's not a bad thing: were it not for deadlines, I would've toppled every last Borgia tower, funded every shop in Rome, and helped those poor courtesans fight back against unruly Johns. But however you choose to tackle the campaign, don't miss the gripping Cristina missions, which flash back to key events from Assassin's Creed II and spotlight Ezio's descent from naivety to cold-blooded cool.

Unfortunately, while Brotherhood seemingly wraps Ezio's tale, it's very much a middle chapter in the grand scheme of the series, and though the ending offers a handful of clues, it lacks any sort of meaningful resolution. It's my only significant gripe with an otherwise excellent campaign, but it's starting to feel like watching LOST during the dregs of the fourth or fifth season; I'm constantly wondering, "Do they even know where this is going anymore?" With luck, we'll find out in the next properly numbered sequel.
Typically, that'd be the whole of the Assassin's Creed experience, but Brotherhood introduces an all-new online multiplayer suite which, against expectations, is actually pretty excellent. In fact, it's the best original new multiplayer experience I've played in some time. Each of the eight-player modes has you pick one of a dozen or so character models, all of which are duplicated many times over through the game world. Once the match starts, you're given a contract to kill one of the other players and provided clues as to their general whereabouts, but once there, it's up to you to observe every character's mannerisms to try and detect the correct target before attacking. Plus, you're always being hunted as well, but you can't kill your hunter - you can only stun them and escape.

Points are awarded for stylish and stealthy kills, and the end result is an extremely tense experience that forces players to balance quick actions and careful planning. All four play modes riff on that same core theme but offer distinct variations, such as two-man teams, or four-player squads that alternate rounds between attackers and their prey, who earn points by hiding or blending into the environments. But the best of all may be Advanced Wanted mode, which ditches many of the indicators and forces you to rely almost entirely on your observation skills to detect your targets. It's super tough, but incredibly rewarding.

It shouldn't be surprising, though -- both Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood and its predecessor dabble in so many diverse gameplay aspects and seem to always come up aces, with minor issues (including some pop-up and animation issues here) quickly forgotten in the thrill of the hunt. Brotherhood is the best showcase yet for the series' formidable quality and range, with an excellent campaign and an equally intriguing online approach, and while I hope the next one actually answers some questions, I can't begrudge Ubisoft in the slightest for giving us one more memorable voyage with Ezio.


Post a Comment