We should spare a thought for those developers out there right now, working away on sequels (or even threequels), wondering if their vision is really going to take. It's got to be pretty hard work. Do you produce something broadly similar to what went before it, hoping to give fans more of the same? Or do you work to really progress the story and get the critics on board? Let's face it, videogame commentators will generally have more time for something new and exciting - even if the tried and true has been wildly popular...
I never really got into the Assassin's Creed games. I could see them for what they were, of course, and the quality of workmanship on the titles was plain to see. But despite having a bit of a penchant for the cold romance of hired killers, they just never really made an impact. To that end, I was quite excited to play Brotherhood – especially after the hands-on multi Shaun and I got at E3. But what soon became plain is that unless you're intimately familiar with the control system, overall game mechanics and the story from ACII, you might just battle a wee bit.
At the end of ACII, Ezio manages to best the bad bad man known as Rodrigo Borgia. This is a crucial piece of information when you kick off Brotherhood, as pretty soon Borgia's son – Cesare Borgia – is attacking Ezio's castle and killing his uncle right in front of him. Following the storming of the grounds, Ezio heads to Rome to seek retribution.
Desmond is still our man in the future – all of the scenes the player experiences as Ezio, he or she is actually experiencing as Desmond experiencing Ezio. Or, the player is experiencing Ezio through Desmond. Or Ezio... I don't know. Look, it's complicated. Things are explained in full if you play the first two games, so why don't you do that before you play Brotherhood? Although the bulk of the game is played as the cloaked hitman himself, you will also experience some Lara Croft style romps as Desmond. On the whole, these are a bit weird and vexing. Although they hold the narrative together, if you were really getting elbow deep in the AC world for the first time with Brotherhood, you'd really wonder what the hell was going on.
The coolest thing about any assassin is the way he knocks off his foes. There have been a number of improvements to the fluidity and variety of animations in Brotherhood, as well as a range of new weapons. Mona Lisa's painterdaddy is on hand to beef you up with new equipment, and blacksmiths will have stuff you can buy too. The addition of the crossbow heats things up at range, and is a far better alternative to Ezio's more finicky projectile. That said, it can now be used in combination with a sword slash, which makes for some more excitement in battle.
On the whole, the combat mechanics are sound, although – again – for new players there will be some real getting used to the quite complex control scheme. The addition of the ability to boot people in the nads during a fight will bust through most defences, and is particularly handy for armoured guards - whose swordplay is beyond reproach. Counter attacks are also a joy; if you hit your counter button at the right time, you'll be rewarded with some truly astonishing kills.
And let's say you don't want to do all the work yourself. Let's just say that. Well, you can recruit new assassins to your cause as you go. Torching a tower guarded by the men of the evil Borgia and killing its Captain will allow you to add a friend to your party. Once done, you can use your new accomplice to kill targets for you, while you stand back and watch it all go down. The further you get in the game, the more assassins you'll be able to have on your side. Oh, what? Yeah. This is how come the game is called “Brotherhood.”
One of the things I love most about where we have got to in videogaming today is the attention to detail in landscape and environment. Simply put, apart from the awesome battle animations which I have already mentioned, this is why Brotherhood has to score so highly for graphics. Rome is amazing.
The city is absolutely huge, and just teeming with people (admittedly you can get dragged out of the action a bit when they refuse in their lapsed AI to get out of the way of your horse, but that's a minor niggle). Because of the open world style of Brotherhood, you can spend ages just wandering around, finding little tasks to do for people, amassing treasure and medicine, or climbing to dizzying heights. Lazily turning birds, meaty stacks of cloud, impossible vistas and the slow grind of daily life all make the world of Assassin's Creed a delightful place to be. Even if you weren't interested in playing the game through, you could have heaps of fun simply exploring.
We can all appreciate a good cutscene and well-wrought voiceover; Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood has both. I particularly enjoyed the hubbub of the city, too, and creative use of music and sound effects when in some tight spots deepen the overall experience. While there's nothing that really stands out here, the work is consistently good, which is far better than “sometimes great”, I reckon.
There is a stack of gameplay here, both in the singleplayer story (which is heavily connected to Assassin's Creed II) and in the multiplayer, which is a series first. It's good to see a multiplayer mode do some new stuff, and I shouldn't imagine that AC fans will be disappointed. This assumes, of course, that they aren't completely satisfied with going solo.
Brotherhood is ultimately a game for those ACII fans who weren't completely sated. I really can't stress highly enough that anyone coming to the series for the first time should start there, rather than try and get the most out of Brotherhood. It's a good natural progression, with plenty of new features, but it's not exactly the sort of sequel that injects real freshness.
AC: Brotherhood is a quality outing, and the chaps at Ubisoft ought to be very happy with what they have achieved. The game released in New Zealand today, and with titles like this we always feel a little like we're shouting in the dark. The market's core aren't reading NZGamer.com, after all. They're already calling on some new friends to dish out a bit of aerial widowmaking.