Author: Lydia Sung
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Tuesday, November 16th, 2010
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Games/Reviews/acb_360/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.
Assassin’s Creed II suffered no shortage of ‘wow’ factor, though it’s difficult to really describe the end of the game as anything but ‘wtf,’ to quote Desmond. Not that the ending was bad, mind you, just utterly unexpected.
The story opens with a quick recap of the events that occurred between Assassin’s Creed and the following Italian Renaissance-themed sequel. Although suitable for the denizens of newcomers no doubt drawn in by the whole multiplayer section, the recap pales against the magnitude of the continuous tale spun across two lengthy games.
Once that’s done, you literally pick up where Assassins Creed II left off – yes, exactly where the ‘wtf’ ending left Ezio. Of course, the advanced arsenal and abilities you worked so hard to acquire are taken away relatively quickly, only to be repurchased later on.
More emphasis is placed on present day in Brotherhood, following fugitive Desmond Miles and his three Assassin friends. The story frequently weaves between Ezio and Desmond as a common but effective method of storytelling. Lucy, Shaun, and Rebecca get more screen time and dialogue, reminding us that there is still a bigger picture to consider, beyond the protagonist and his slow-spreading psychosis.
While the small team deals with “present day” problems in 2012 (dun dun dun), the majority of the game occurs within the Animus as Desmond’s ancestor. The Auditore boy returns to Monteriggioni, confident the Templars had been defeated, and proceeds to do some side quests for the townsfolk, followed by a steamy cutscene with the lovely Caterina Sforza, whom we first met in Assassin’s Creed II. Life is absolutely perfect, except his decision not to kill a certain someone comes back to bite everyone in the ass. Bad things happen, and he winds up in poverty-stricken Rome, where the oppressive and incestuous (Oh yes, there’s a cutscene for that.) Borgia family is in power. From there, Ezio must rebuild and ultimately retake control from the Templar forces.
You’ll pick up immediately on the visual improvements, particularly in recurring characters. The details adorning their intricate noble attire are beautifully rendered, and more importantly, their faces look normal, even natural. The environments were also handled with greater care this time around, so many places you’ve visited in ACII actually look better in Brotherhood.
Unlike ACII, the story occurs within a much smaller time frame, though the effects of your actions are still satisfyingly apparent. Free the city region by region by taking out guard towers and removing Borgia influence, then renovate nearby vendors to access their services. This time, the locals will actually cheer when you massacre guards.
Like before, Ezio turns to society’s degenerates – thieves, courtesans, and mercenaries – for aid, but the new thing in Brotherhood is the Assassins guild, or Brotherhood of Assassins. Rebellious civilians are found pretty much everywhere, and helping them out recruits them to your cause as rookie Assassins. The Brotherhood is probably one of the most interesting new gameplay features, adding a bit of micromanagement to the mix.
Recruits gain experience the more you call on them to fight, gaining skill points as they level. You can go with auto-level or allocate points manually, and each Assassin can be customized individually for higher durability or damage output. As a team, they’ll look cooler over time and acquire group abilities that are just so damn cool to watch. ‘Arrow Shower,’ for instance, rains arrows down on every bogey within range, allowing Ezio to waltz on through while his adversaries crumple around him. These special actions are regulated by a small bar in the updated HUD, with appropriate cooldowns.
Even without Ezio’s posse of trained killers, Brotherhood boasts a more fluid combat system than its predecessors. The ol’ counter and evade actions feel more responsive than before, and a new guard break maneuver has finally been implemented. I can’t describe the satisfaction of finally being allowed to beat the living crap out of someone rather than being on constant defense. Fighting feels more like fighting, not mini-QTE encounters, and the finisher animations are drool-worthy.
The enemies are also noticeably different. Guards behave more naturally, with rank being the major determining factor. Ducking behind walls when a sentry is already suspicious isn’t going to make him suddenly forget he saw you, and the peons without heavy armor tend to bolt once you’ve cut down a few of their buddies. Other hostiles like thieves (the bad sort) and a clan of feral murderers are a bit less predictable. Fortunately, this means more fleshy targets to test your shiny new crossbow and improved pistol on. Heavy two-handed weapons are also a permanent item, because Ezio isn’t already the most conspicuous Assassin in Italy with flashy costumes and enough weapons hanging from his persons to supply a small army.
As a whole, missions have a more cinematic feel, often providing step-by-step waypoints or locking you in with tighter invisible walls. You’ll find fewer plot-related missions, so the overarching story in Brotherhood moves at a quicker pace than ACII. That said, you can easily pour hours into the game without ever advancing in the main story, thanks to new explorable landmarks and tombs, assassination contracts, guild quests, and galloping over beggars and bards atop your horse, which can now be ridden into town.
Vendors do update regularly as you progress in the main quest line, but certain weapons and items are only unlocked by Shop Quests, which involve collecting rare materials by looting chests or people. Flags and feathers provide yet another distraction, if you like gathering stuff.
For overachieving completionists, ‘full synchronizations’ add an extra challenge to every memory. Basically, full synch is achieved by fulfilling secondary objects in a memory, generally things like getting through a memory without losing health, complete a level within X minutes, or kill a target without being detected. Pull off enough of these and you’re rewarded with Ezio’s repressed memories, described as ‘a memory within a memory.’ Thinking about Inception? The idea is not entirely dissimilar; Desmond unlocks Ezio’s hidden memories under the noble’s surface memories, basically side missions that provide deeper character insights.
Now, multiplayer is definitely something we haven’t seen in Assassin’s Creed before. In the introductory cutscene, we learn that players are actually Templar subjects recruited to test an Animus training program. You choose from a variety of available character skins called Personas, and only one of each Persona is allowed in a match at any given time. Gameplay utilizes the very basics of Assassin’s Creed, with a modified HUD to better aid the player in killing and surviving.
Here is a multiplayer experience unlike any other, tearing away from the fast-paced fragfests we’ve become accustomed to. Modes range from team-based killing to the ever popular free-for-all murder game, with a scoring system that favors style and technique over sloppy takedowns – quality over quantity.
Adrenaline builds slowly while you stalk the streets and rooftops for your mark, as others search for you with the same murderous intent. The game is about patience, careful observation, and having quicker reflexes than your opponent. Tip off your quarry and the chase is on, but running after a target might catch the unwanted attentions of your pursuer. Think of it as a sadistic combination of duck-duck-goose and hide-and-go-seek. My one complaint lies with the cumbersome menu navigation, which could have been more streamlined for easier access to player information, Persona profiles, and other features.
Brotherhood was obviously designed with AC newbies in mind, yet the story is a stark reminder that Assassin’s Creed is still heavily driven by the single-player experience, and the plot itself is more obscure than ever. That said, the ending is such a freaking doozey that the final scenes of Assassin’s Creed II seem sensibly tame by comparison. In that respect, you really wouldn’t be spoiling much by playing Brotherhood first and tackling previous installments later, since no one knows what the hell is going on at this point.
To clarify, this game is wholly enjoyable, and the multiplayer is both terribly addicting and refreshingly unique. The gradually developing plot, however, is difficult to love. Ubisoft is obviously setting up for something big, and I’m praying the ultimate conclusion isn’t another mind f**k.
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