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Well it’s a year on from Ubisoft’s last entry into the Assassin’s Creed franchise and it’s once again time to step into Renaissance man Ezio Auditore Da Firenze’s shoes and go jumping across the rooftops of Italy. But how does this entry stack up against its predecessor? Is it the instalment we’ve been waiting for or is it merely a glorified expansion pack?

Lets get the obvious out of the way first. If you’ve played Assassin’s Creed 2 and you were hoping for Assassin’s Creed 3, you’ll be disappointed. Brotherhood is most definitely a direct sequel to Assassin’s Creed 2 in the most literal sense; you actually pick up the very second you left off in the last game. For those that don’t know, Ubisoft have confirmed that Assassin’s Creed 3 is in the works but no details on where it will be set, what time period etc.. though if Brotherhood is any indication, it seems likely that we’ll be playing as Desmond in his present day.

In any case love it or hate it, Brotherhood takes us back to renaissance Italy, this time to Rome, a location touched on in the last half hour of Creed 2 and one which many fans were disappointed that more of Rome wasn’t featured in Creed 2. If you’re among those fans, then you’re in luck as virtually the entire game takes place in Rome this time around. A brief overview of the story then! (I’ll keep this spoiler free!)

The year is 1499, just coming to the new year and the start of the next century. Ezio, fresh from his encounter in the vault of the vatican with something that I won’t mention so as to avoid spoiling the last game for anyone who hasn’t yet played it *Hint hint!* He returns to the villa Auditore, apple in tow only to be attacked the next morning by Cesare Borgia, Rodrigo’s son along with a god damn army. Long story short; you fight off the army, lots of people die, the villa along with most of Monterigioni gets destroyed, someone important dies and Cesare makes off with the apple. Oh and worst of all you only had time to flee with one hidden blade and nothing else! This definitely evokes the same sort of feeling Metroid players will remember from each iteration of the prime series. Now I jumped the gun a little here in saying that the game picks up in the Vault where the last game left off. It actually starts, as the last one did in present day. Desmond and the rest of the Brady bunch have scarpered off to Monterigioni to set up shop there, a safe haven from the Abstergo agents. This is where I think we get a glimpse of the next game in the series. It has always been apparent that the series was heading towards a game in the present (or at least Desmond’s present) day and this always worried me a little. Whilst the idea of being an assassin in a futuristic setting seemed cool, the bits in the previous 2 games where you do play in present day are by far the most boring in the game. They just didn’t have the fantastic atmosphere of renaissance Venice or Florence that Ubisoft managed to create, for me half of my enjoyment whilst playing the games was looking at the environments and marvelling at the incredible sight of the Duomo or the basilica in Venice and that kind of wonder was always missing when playing as Desmond in the present.

That is until this time around. I see now how Assassin’s Creed 3 might take form. Whilst I’m sure there will be parts set in a modern day city, I think it fits with the narative that Ubioft have set up having Desmond visit sites from the ancient world and it keeps that same wonder you get whilst playing in the middle ages. Now lets get down to brass tacks; Brotherhood will immediately feel just like Creed 2 and for many this will feel like a bit of a let down if they were expecting the next leap forward. And in many ways this is very much an expansion pack, you could even take the cynical route and say that this instalment is a shameless cash-in to squeeze some more money out of the franchise before the final push for AC 3. Now that statement probably has some truth to it, Ubisoft are of course a business and they need to look after their bottom line. However, I for one and glad to see another instalment in the franchise before AC 3 and its great to see Ezio return one last time. The game in no way feels like it was a shameless cash-in with no feeling behind it, infact a lot of effort has been put in once again to ironing out creases in the gameplay, notably the combat which has traditionally been a sticking point in the Assassin’s Creed franchise. And whilst it is not perfect, it is the most complete it’s been so far, there’s actually some fantastically brutal new animations for the counter kills, the ones involving either the gun or the heavy weapons like maces are bone chillingly brutal!

For people who are still in two minds as to whether or not this is just an expansion pack or whether it could have been done as downloadable content, rest easy. I managed to easily get 20-30 hours out of Brotherhood, only marginally shorter than AC 2, it really is a full blown game in its own right. There have been numerous game play additions to this instalment too: new weapon types such as double handed swords, heavy axes, and the ability to use your gun with your sword drawn add a new dimension, not to mention the crossbow which I found to be an invaluable additional to the arsenal and was indispensable to the stealthy sections. You also have the ability to recruit and train new assassins to form a team that can help you out along the way. This at first sounded like an unnecessary addition and whilst I rarely used them during combat (how insulting to imply that I need help kicking ass!) I actually found the minigame-like process of assigning their stats and sending them out on contracts, eagerly awaiting news of their success (or failure depending on how good they are) to be thoroughly engrossing. Many new additional mission types have also been added. You now have the chance to track down Abstergo agents, recruit new assassins, courtesans and thieves to the cause and best of all for me, you can now track down and destroy 4 of Leonardo’s fabled war machines in some of the best moments in an Assassin’s Creed game I’ve played. These sections are incredibly stealthy, borrowing from the Metal Gear series (There is infact a cardboard box you can find in Rome as part of a little back-and-forth tribute Ubisoft and Kojima productions have to each others games). These sections are tense and exhilarating and were among my favourite parts of the game along with the welcome return of the tomb raiding sections, this time taking the form in infiltrating the 6 lairs of the Romulus sect.

Which brings us neatly on to the games’ worst aspect; the multiplayer. Now I understand if this comes as a shock to people new to the game but I have a sneaking suspicion that anyone who has played the multiplayer might go along with me here. To fill people in who may be unaware; the multiplayer focuses around assassinations where you are assigned a target to kill and you are also some other player’s target. You don’t know who it is that’s tracking you and you must find your target by the use of a proximity compass and a faceshot picture to help you out. I was initially very excited about this aspect of the game; it’s an original concept in an industry that is built on ripping titles off left right and centre and I haven’t seen any real innovation in multiplayer for some time now. However, in Brotherhood it just feels almost tacked on. That’s not to say that Ubisoft put no effort in, it just seems unnecessary in an Assassin’s Creed game, this single player is what its all about here. Its unfortunately plagued with random spawn issues where you’ll respawn right next to your target, there’s also a lack of variety and the whole thing feels quite one-note. I could only play this mode for a few hours before I’d decided it simply didn’t have enough replay value for me which seems a shame when this aspect was touted so heavily from the start. Perhaps Ubisoft didn’t really want to go this direction but felt that with the success of online-heavy games like C.O.D they simply couldn’t ignore multiplayer any longer.

In any case to sum up; I can;t recommend Brotherhood enough both to long time fans of the series or to new comers. Whilst I miss the variety of the sunset shades of Florence, the sweeping landscapes in Tuscany or the luscious views of Venice, Rome is wonderfully a realised city, far bigger in size than any of those in previous games. The story is nicely fleshed out (though not quite as satisfying as AC 2) and Ezio really does feel like the worthy master. The new additions are more than welcome and add a great deal to the experience. I was hesitant to admit it at first but now I think I’ve firmly made up my mind that Brotherhood is the best entry into the Assassin’s Creed series yet.

On the ‘Sam & Alex Pointless-O-Matic Ratings meter’….


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