Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood PS3 Review – Get Double-Shanked
Genre: Action Adventure
Players: 1, 1-8 Online
Release Date: Nov. 15, 2011
Rated: M – Mature
The first Assassin’s Creed was one of the first games of this current generation that I ever played, and to this day has remained a core part of my gamer identity. When ACII came around, the series continued to embed itself in my mind – which is why I was surprised when I didn’t rush out to purchase Brotherhood the day it came out. I’m extremely happy to say that mine not having sped out the door to wait in line at some midnight release party was, indeed, a grave mistake.
The franchise follows Desmond, a young man born into the life of the Assassin Brotherhood, living sometime in the not-so-distant future. The three games thus far are actually his experiences inside a highly advanced virtual reality simulation machine, called the Animus, as he attempts to relive the genetic memory of his master assassin ancestors. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood continues the memorable story of Desmond’s Renaissance-era kinsman Ezio Auditore de Firenze, a master assassin and insatiable Italian ladies’ man as he continues to battle against the all-powerful and ancient Templars over control of Italy – this time moving away from the Venetian and Florentine locales of ACII to the massive landscape of Rome. Ezio’s home and headquarters of Monteriggioni is bombarded by Templar forces early on, retaliation by the Pope for the events having transpired at the close of the previous title. The master assassin follows his new nemesis, Cesare Borgia (nephew of the Rordrigo Borgia, Pope and leader of the Templars) and one of the coveted Pieces of Eden across Italy to Rome in a struggle to wrestle control over the country away from the Templars and regain the Piece of Eden, which can be a truly fearful weapon in the wrong hands. While the prospect of moving from the multiple-city settings of the first and second installments in the series might go to solidify one’s perception that Brotherhood isn’t as viable as a true continuation of the AC canon, that prospect should be gone for good once doubters get their first view of Rome; it’s absolutely colossal, and could easily fit the entirety of the cities of Venice and Florence inside its walled borders. Even after playing for 10-15 hours and unlocking all the map-revealing Viewpoints, there’s a fantastic chance that there’s a location inside Rome that you haven’t discovered or explored quite yet.
While one city might not seem large enough to contain an entire Assassin’s Creed adventure, there is no shortage of things to do while playing. Most of the most successful features of the first two games are still alive and kicking, as well as many brand new aspects that give Brotherhood a special and complex feel. This time around, allying with the three factions from ACII (Mercenaries, Courtesans and Thieves) is much more important, and interaction with these crucial characters provides the vehicle for which many of the main story gameplay sequences are driven through the plot with. And the story is, once again, far too well written and paced to be a product of an open-world setting, but still suffers from some of the more minor weaknesses of the genre, such as having an abundance of errands and side missions to distract you completely from the main storyline. However, most time times there seems to be the perfect balance of optional tasks to complete and core missions, but often the addictiveness of Brotherhood’s metagaming drags the player away from furthering the story simply because it provides simple and satisfactory thrills and distractions. But again, as in the previous two games, the world breathes with historical and cultural passion, and indeed makes itself just as much a part of the storytelling as the main characters and NPCs do.
The developers were also intent on delivering fresh new mission types was one of their goals, and while some of the quests seem to have familiar feels at times, more often than not the missions (be they side or core) are exciting and offer substantial challenges. Much of the challenge comes from vying to achieve 100% synchronization (aka completion) during the game’s quests, which is a result from having completed a task a certain way or within certain limitations. Besides the rich (albeit short) main storyline, there’s hours upon hours of side missions, mini-games and other activities to participate in while touring the Roman vistas.
Aside from this game’s version of hidden Templar Lairs (secret stages that yield rare rewards upon completion) and side missions given by members of the various factions, the main attractions of this game’s metagaming comes from rebuilding Rome, monument by monument, and recruiting and training new members of the Assassin’s Brotherhood that can fight alongside Ezio at a moment’s notice. Rebuilding Rome takes on a form similar to the renovation of Monteriggioni in ACII, while taking it to a much grander and world-changing scale. Renovating more buildings strengthens Rome’s economical and architectural infrastructure and helps to bring in more income for Ezio every 20 minutes. Making Rome pay for itself essentially is the whole key to completing this monumental task, but most of the time the player will be able to renovate as they explore, pushed along organically by the story, and barely ever requiring tons of backtracking or out of the way exploration.
One of the features that this game introduces to the franchise is actually being able to recruit potential assassins to help Ezio fight his battle against the Borgia and is also one of the features that I hope carves a piece of virtual land out for itself in the series’ source code. Essentially, Ezio finds certain righteous, vigilante citizens in need of assistance (lest they get overwhelmed by Borgia guards) and grants them the opportunity to join the Brotherhood and live by the assassin’s violent but necessary creed. These recruits can then be sent on contract missions of their own, gaining experience, expendable skill points and customizable upgrades to their weapons and armor along with an ascending named rank within the Brotherhood through an easy-to-use and smooth-running interface. Also, these nubile assassins are available to be called to assist the player at any time, either stealthily ending the lives of prized targets or unleashing a volley of crossbow bolts on a guard patrol with the press of one of the shoulder buttons. While the recruitment mini-game isn’t incredibly complex or technically vast in its presentation or execution, it’s highly addicting and simply becomes one of the many organic tasks that the player takes on throughout their quest, much line the rebuilding of Rome.
But, on top of the many new single player additions to the gameplay, the most celebrated and nervously anticipated area of Brotherhood comes in the form of the series’ first go at introducing multiplayer to the Assassin’s Creed universe. While I remained a little nervous about the concept, Brotherhood does a fair enough job of vanquishing any apprehensions one might have towards a multiplayer component in an AC game. I find myself most enjoying multiplayer modes in games when they fit their mechanics and parameters around the story and unique qualities that a game might have instead of presenting another tried and tired version of “Deathmatch” and “Capture the Flag”. Fortunately, Brotherhood does a fine job of presenting multiplayer modes that capture the essence of what this series is all about: assassination. The main mode of online play comes in the form of “Wanted”, where the player hunts a contract kill of their own while avoiding death at the hands of another player, hunting them for their own gain. There are also team modes such as “Alliance” and “Manhunt” where players band together to avoid death or take down the other team, and points are rewarded for stealth fatalities and remaining incognito and hidden from those pursuing themselves and their teammates. Progression comes fairly fast, rewarding players with new skills and bonuses early on, and allows for tailoring of different skill sets that can be appropriated for the different multiplayer modes (basically being chased or doing the chasing). The one huge frustration comes from the constant hijacking of kills that can happen when faced with all higher-level opponents. Also, occasionally the lock system fails the player and lures them into a sense of nabbing a guaranteed kill, but they instead will often find themselves driving their knife deep into a civilian while their prey frollicks away, carefree. This is one error I hope to see rectified in the next installment, as it is the leading cause of despair in this fantastic new mode of play. Overall, I’ll be pleasantly waiting to see how multiplayer continues to evolve in the next installment Revelations, but for now Brotherhood presents a solid first multiplayer offering for this previously single-player dominated series.
There are certainly some flaws to be found, but not many. However, it’s been my perception that there have been some areas of the games that have been declining in quality as the series continues to grow and give birth to new installments. One of the most glaring problems that are presented is the at-times inaccurate and untrustworthy free-running mechanic, which is disappointing because it’s such a huge part of the gameplay and basic exploration in the series. More times than ever in my time with this series, I found myself flying off the top of buildings and not grabbing onto the correct handholds when trying to navigate through the rooftops and ruins of Rome. Especially when many of the missions depend of tailing a target or escaping capture while traversing complicated freerunning courses, there’s nothing more frustrating than when Ezio just doesn’t do exactly what you tell him to. This, an affront to the expectations of an AC game, simply should not happen. Also, targeting during melee combat can get to be quite tricky, as even though Ezio might be engaged with several on-foot opponents, if a horse-mounted foe enters the fray the automatic lock-on has a tendency to immediately switch targets and cause unnecessary damage to the player (and unnecessary droppings of the F Bomb). Thankfully, these targeting woes don’t seem to cause as much of a problem during multiplayer combat, which is a blessing. But, the rare tragedies of handling Ezio as he freeruns and scales complicated ruins are enough to cause some undesirable breaks in immersion (and dire frustration).
The other problem I find is that, given the snappy development time, the aesthetics of Brotherhood don’t quite hold par with those of Assassin’s Creed I and II, and there are many cases of dull texturing in the environments and clipping geometry on character models. It may be the massive size of Rome and all those living within it that are the cause, but you can distinctly tell the difference in graphical quality when playing multiplayer, or even in the assets that were reused from ACII. While not a huge detractor on their own, it begs the question: as a series goes on, shouldn’t the aesthetics be getting better, not worse?
The few maddening technical difficulties aside, there is plenty of good to be said about this game. Indeed, the prospect of releasing successful and full-bodied sequels for the franchise every year seems daunting; Ubisoft seems to be delivering in a monumentally successful way. With a story fitting of the franchise, a captivating first attempt at multiplayer and new online and single-player support in the form of PSN/Live DLC, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood proves itself truly worthy of the brand name. If the developers can manage to work out the kinks in the controls and the graphics engine, the next Assassin’s outing should be reaching that rare pedestal of gaming Nirvana.
+ Fantastic storytelling
+ Top-notch first-attempt at a multiplayer component
+ A veritable mountain of extra content and side-quests to unlock and spend time with
+ Impressive open-world, historical level design
- Frustrating lock-on AI during battles
- A seemingly degrading quality in visual competency
- Some severely-needed tweaks to be made to the free-running controls