Saturday 1 January 2011

Game Review - Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood

Formats: PS3, Xbox 360, PC

It's that time of year again when we huddle together at home, listening for footsteps on the roof and waiting for a man in red and white to climb down our chimney. Yes that's right, Ezio Auditore de Fireze has returned, and he's come bearing gifts of swift death to the unjust and a new sweet multiplayer mode for all the good little boys and girls! For those who haven't been initiated into Ubisoft's assassin's guild, the AC series is a development of the core gameplay mechanics seen in games such as Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones. The free-running and stealth kill abilities seen therein are unleashed on an open world enviroment, a virtual Rome being the setting this time around.

AC: Brotherhood acts as a stopgap between the core titles, a sort of Assassin's Creed 2.5. continuing directly after the events in AC2, the player must take control of Ezio as he struggles to maintain control of the fledgling Assassin's Guild and the rise to power of a new foe. The game's story feels less well defined in this outing, with less time given to explaining the villain's schemes and motivation and more spent focusing on the tensions within the brotherhood. We also get to spend more time with Desmond and his crew as he adopts Ezio's skills to explore modern day Italy, which is a nice touch. What wasn't as fun was watching his cohorts compete in a 'Who Can Be The Most Annoying Character' competition. It was like watching an episode of Scooby Doo where all the characters were Scrappy.

While the story mode is shorter and a bit weaker than it's predecessor, AC: Brotherhood compensates by giving the player much more to do between missions. Instead of having a small town to maintain, the player is tasked with the renovation of countless shops and landmarks across Rome. The thieves', mercenaries' and courtesans' guilds must all be renovated and by completing various tasks and missions for each guild you may reduce the cost of their services. The presence of Borgia Towers, fortified and heavily guarded areas dotted around Rome, inhibit your ability to renovate and liberate, so the guards must be eliminated before you can scale the tower and destroy it. It is a little tiresome having to infiltrate and scale each tower before you can even have access to the area's map, but each tower is laid out differently and forces the player to put thought into their approach. Once each tower is destroyed, you may begin to recruit some of the city's more spirited citizens to your cause.

The introduction of the recruiting mechanic is another great new addition to the series. The addictive nature of sending your new assassins away on missions and leveling up their abilities is only matched by the joy in seeing them emerge from a hiding place and strike down a troublesome archer just as he's about to raise the alarm. In addition to this, AC: Brotherhood also boasts a heap of new smaller features. There are new weapons, attack and kill animations, improved controls and combat (the new kill streak feature makes fighting a crowd of guards spectacular, if not rather easy) as well as more sophisticated enemy AI. Some of these additions feel a little superfluous, such as the crossbow (surely throwing knives and A GUN is enough?).

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood almost falls short of surpassing its older brother. While the extra features and more varied missions are great, the length and depth of the story let it down. Happily, the single player component of AC:Brotherhood is but a prelude to the absolutely sublime multiplayer. In a online experience that is completely fresh and unique, AC: Brotherhood puts you and five or six other players on a map populated by AI characters. These computer-controlled drones share the same models as you and your opponents, so it is up to you to spot your assigned target amongst them, while simultaneously avoiding detection from whoever is hunting you. This simple concept proves to be one of the better online games I've played, a slow and tense experience at times, a fast and panicked one at others.

Ubisoft have done well to prevent the games from becoming a thoughtless killathon, a renaissance COD if you will, by meting out points according to your actions. You can earn as many points for luring your attacker into killing an innocent bystander as you can by rushing up and killing your target. All the skills learnt in the single player AC games suddenly make sense, as now you are tracking and escaping from human-controlled characters. The inclusion of an ranking and perk system deepens the experience and allows the player to personalise their playstyle.

While Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood suffers from some minor demerits (Glyph hunting is no longer the joy it used to be, and Ezio once again seems more than happy to leap off buildings at unexpected angles), the chance to play the multiplayer component more than makes up for any misgivings I may have for the slightly short singleplayer. So why not give in to the spirit of the season, because is Christmas all about bringing people together and teaching them how to brutally murder other people?

Lukao gives Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood 9 conveniently-placed haystacks out of 10.
Lukao, CeX UK Contributor. Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo
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