Those wanting the fully fledged third instalment in the Assassins Creed franchise will have to wait a little longer, but at least they’ll have Brotherhood to tie them over. Revisiting the ever popular Ezio Auditore da Firenze you’ll be starting right from where the second concluded, stepping out of the Vault. Before long you find yourself home again, only to have all of your hard work building up your city in Assassins Creed II brought to ruins by the hands of Cesare Borgia, son of Rodrigo Borgia. With little time and no preparations to defend the city you flee to a hideout in Rome, where the majority of the game is maintained. As the title would suggest the focus is on forming a brotherhood by gaining the support of characters against the Borgia, rebuilding the city and claiming ownership of its many stores and reducing Borgia influence by killing their guards and taking down their towers.
The story focuses heavily on Ezio, which was surprising as the games introduction has you playing as Desmond with relative freedom. Unfortunately the story focuses very little on Demond’s story, which given the franchises overarching story makes Brotherhood feel a little like a cash in. As usual with the Assassin Creed titles there is an underlying ‘Truth’ hidden in codec’s throughout the city and a convoluted conclusion linking beyond Ezios involvement. However both of these fail to delivery in comparison to what’s been revealed previously, as neither manages to answer questions left unanswered, only managing to add a few more. I absolutely cannot wait to see how Ubisoft conclude the series in its finale, if only to see if they have been making it up as they go along.
Playing as an assassin you’ll be able to manoeuvre across buildings with ease, demonstrating some of the best environmental scaling found in games today. You’ll be climbing towers, running across rooftops, descending upon castles all for the final moment, the assassination. Being an assassin it comes as no surprise that you’ll be assassinating a lot. The majority of missions are that which assign you a target and have you needing to navigate your way to them, typically with a challenge such as avoiding guards, scaling difficult buildings or advancing in silence, and finally perform the killing blow. When not slaughtering the Borgia you’ll be fulfilling tasks to solidify your presence in the city, by escorting, intimidating and stalking those of importance.
Whilst the main missions are acceptable, they often blend into one another having you perform the same task a number of different times with slight variations with who, what, where and when. The games true potential becomes apparent when completing Leonardo da Vinci's various tasks, that’ll have you destroying and obtaining his various inventions. These missions entirely optional shouldn’t be missed as their typically stealth heavy requirements, coupled with being placed in specifically designed linear environments outside of the open world map, are a blast to complete and the highlight of Ezio’s adventure.
When not completing the game's core and side objectives, you’ll be able to partake in various pastimes such as purchasing stores and then aiming to obtain all of the items sold within. By doing this you’ll improve your character, such as increasing the amount of health and armour you posses at any one time. You’ll also be able to unlock a wide variety of weapons, allowing you to assassinate with more preference on preferred style. I opt for a slow, and humiliating, poison. Those that like to collect will be pleased to know the flags of the original have made a return, along with the feathers of the second. Thankfully neither are as frustrating as their numbers have been greatly reduced and maps can now be purchased that’ll pinpoint their location.
At the later stages of the game you’ll also be able to maintain a ‘brotherhood’ (you didn’t see that one coming did you) that you can assign to complete missions, gaining experience and money if successful. These missions are outside of the world in which you play in, and therefore don’t play much significance to the core experience. When not out on missions however you’ll be able to call upon your budding brotherhood, allowing you to lazily assassinate from a distance with little involvement.
If you’re feeling lonely you’ll be able to jump online for the first time in the series and play with fellow assassins, doing what assassins do best! Splitting into two or three teams, of two or three players, you’ll have a choice of several slightly varied game modes. Whilst these modes vary in specifics, the rule of thumb has you either assaulting by trying to find your targets in a crowd of AI characters, or defending by attempting to blend into the crowd of AI, acting as they do. The trick comes in needing to keep your calm, walking in crowds and acting without any stark movements that can be noticed apart from the AI models that look identical to yourself. Countless times I found myself following a target, certain that it was controlled by a human only to find that upon pouncing they were AI... followed by my target striking me in the back. Alternatively playing defensive I’ve sat on benches alongside identical models of myself itching to run at any given moment afraid the enemy is in sight, only to find my panicking dash has run me straight into dangers hands. The premise has been attempted before with mixed success (see The Ship for the best example), and Ubisoft have managed certainly succeeded at balancing the emotions of fight or flee perfectly.
Visually the game is a mixed bag, with aspects of brilliance being in the recreation of Rome in which the game revolves. The details of the city, particularly the monuments, are fantastic and exploring them to a fine detail thanks to being able to clamber all over them only aids this. Character models, apart from the stellar animation, aren’t looking quite as fresh as they once did however, showing the age of the engine somewhat. This can also be seen in the game's particle effects, standing out from the game's environments... and not the good way. Whilst on the topic of presentation, a word of frustration has to be voiced for the user interfaces that whilst pleasing to the eye, thanks to their minimal design, require additional navigation that becomes extremely tiresome. The world map is the worst of this, taking seconds to load up every time you want to quickly glimpse at your general location, or find directions to the next objective.
The Assassin Creed games always deliver in the audio department, and Brotherhood is no different. The background tracks that accompany the game's cutscenes help to immerse even further into the world around you, and the voice work in particular is a highlight. Trying to remain authentic, whilst obviously being nowhere near, Ezio and the other characters spout out lines of Italian in-between every other sentence. A small attention to detail that builds the characters dramatically, whilst at the same time teaching how to swear in a whole new language.
Those wanting more from Ezio, and to revel in the period set in Assassins Creed II for a little longer, will find fond memories in Assassins Creed Brotherhood; however I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d seen it all before and was being dragged along for the same old ride. Features, such as brotherhood recruitment and overtaking the city, are very welcome and special care should be taken to partake in the games side activities, such as the game's highlight that currently stand as Leonardo da Vinci's side missions along. Overall fans of the series will be pleased with the breadth of gameplay available, as long as they go into Brotherhood anticipating a tale that focuses heavily around Ezio.