Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Review: Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood

Available for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Retail Price: $59.99

Like many people, I enjoyed the first Assassin's Creed for what it was but felt that it was lackluster in it's mission variety and repetitive in nature. Assassin's Creed was leaps and bounds ahead of the original, and the good news is that Brotherhood is a continuation of that winning formula. Coming out a year after the previous game might make this seem like a glorified expansion at first glance, but Brotherhood is anything but that.

The story shifts back and forth between Ezio, returning home to find that war has broken out and his arch nemesis does some nasty things that warrants Ezio's motive for revenge and overthrowing him, and to Desmond in 2012 as he and the rogue scientists attempt to unravel the past in order to escape the murderous templars in the present. The plot is not overly engrossing, however it's the characters that bring everything to life and Brotherhood really excels in this area. Ezio is a compelling character a always, and the game is filled with a rich cast of colorful characters that are both new to the series and returning from the previous game. The difference in this game is that you are not supposed to run through the story on your own; you are expected to recruit assassin's to assist you througout the game and they are yours to summon whenever needed. Sadly, the AI is not spot-on and sometimes they are not as useful as you would hope, but they do come in handy when you are getting slaughtered in battle.
A character in and of itself, the city of Rome is vibrant and bustling with interesting and sometimes amusing people. Beggars line the streets, prostitutes beckon you to hire them and groups of vigilantes gather in the public squares, all adding to a sense of realism that made the previous game so endearing. The bulk of the game is spent in Rome, which may feel like a step back from Assassin's Creed II, where you would travel between cities, but Rome is so vast and populous that you'll easily overlook this. The story missions are well paced and full of intense action, and the platforming segments in the shrines are fantastic as well.

A concealed firearm will ensure that your enemies go out with a bang!

The gameplay is largely unchanged from Assassin's Creed II and the free-running mechanic works as well here as it did before, so anyone familiar with the game can dive right in. Rome is a huge city with plenty of rooftops, so it's sometimes fun to just run around and take in all the sights. In addition to the story missions, there are various things you can do around town to earn money.

Like Assassin's Creed II, there is an economy system here in which you purchase shops and they add to your treasury balance, which is essential for upgrading your weapons and armour. A new addition that's a nice touch are the areas of the city that are under the tyrannical rule of Borgia and his armies, and you can liberate these areas by destroying their towers and killing the captains. This adds some of the most intense and exhilarating moments in the game, since these tasks ramp up in difficulty fast. Graphically, this game is a sight to behold and it is easily on par with Assassin's Creed II. The character animation, cutscene quality and design of the city are all well done and despite some noticeable pop-in, it provides a wonderful sense of immersion.

Like all video games, Brotherhood is not perfect and it does have it's share of flaws. The free-running mechanic is tight and responsive for the most part, but it is not always accurate. There have been several occasions where I meant to jump in one direction and I ended up going the other way, sometimes falling to my death or losing valuable seconds in some of the time-based objectives. This even happens when you are clearly facing a place where you can jump. Additionally, there is some glitchiness with your AI controlled assassins and even some of the friends you need to interact with. For example, they would get stuck in walls, stand there doing nothing or simply teleport to another area. It's not a huge problem, but it does pose some annoyances when you really need things to run smoothly.

Thrown in to add a level of challenge, you can now achieve full synchronization by completing missions a certain way. For example, if you complete a mission in under a certain number of minutes, avoid losing health, or killing someone in a particular manner, you will achieve full synchronization and this will add up to achievement points/trophies. Unfortunately, some of the sequences are lengthy and it's disheartening to know that you've failed this so early into the missions. This does add some frustration, but it's hardly a deal-breaker and some might actually view this as a strength.

The last thing I'll touch upon is the multiplayer, which is something very interesting and unique. You are thrown into a large area with other players, given a person to assassinate, and likewise someone is after you. The objective is to kill your target before you get killed, and the style in which you do it will determine how well you do. For example, if you run up and knife someone in the back, you've achieved your objective and move on. But if you do it with style and stealth, you earn more points. This is a refreshing change from all of these online shooters that mainly focus on kill streaks, so being a hardcore online player doesn't ensure that you'll do well here. It's definitely something different. On the other hand, the pace will definitely feel slower to those who prefer the breakneck pace of online shooters, so this is an acquired taste. If you don't like multiplayer, you don't lose out because the single player campaign is 20+ hours long and there is plenty to keep you busy.

The speed at which this game was released certainly attracted some sceptics, however I am happy to say that Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is every bit as fun, challenging and beautifully done as the previous game. Those expecting an entirely new game with a new plot and cast of characters might be disappointed, but anyone who loved Assassin's Creed II is really missing the boat if they don't pick this up as well. Highly recommended.

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