The Average Gamer

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood Review (360)

AssassinsCreedBrotherhood_LogoSmallI was totally expecting this latest Assassin’s Creed game to be a blatant cash-in. With Ubisoft’s financials not looking too rosy in their last financial report, you could almost forgive them for wanting to milk their über popular franchise cow on a yearly basis (Assassin’s Creed II came out in Nov 2009). Assassin’s Creed 2.5 was my expectation. Fortunately, I was wrong.

As with the previous games, I’ve played this one to death before writing this review. Every assassination completed, Rome 100% renovated, full set of trained Assassins in my guild, all weapons destroyed, all flags and feathers collected etc. It took me 32 hours to complete the single player campaign. Not too bad for a quick cash-in! You could probably knock off a few hours off that as I did partake in a fair bit of wandering through Rome and general larking around – parachuting off tall buildings and running along the tops of viaducts.

Home, Sweet Home

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood picks up right after the end of Assassin’s Creed II, so if you haven’t played it, go do it now, as you will miss some of the back story. Anyway, ignoring the fact that a whole year of my real life has just whizzed by between games, I carry on where I’d left off with my old mate Ezio. In no time we are out on the hunt again after being made homeless by another dastardly ruffian. Hmm, I’ll kill him later no doubt.
This time Ezio has been tasked with saving Rome from the evil Borgia, carrying out a bit of DIY on most of its buildings, killing the odd person and recruiting his own Assassin army. This is all very much like Assassin’s Creed II, apart from the Assassin army bit; that’s new. Once you’ve reached a certain point, sorry memory, in the game you can recruit up to 9 civilians to train to be part of your Assassins guild. This involves assigning them to various missions (go tail a spy or kill an important person) to earn experience. Unfortunately, you never see what happens during these missions. It’s more like a text based adventure where you just read about what happened. To help you decide who to send, there is a mission success percentage calculator. Junior Assassins tend to only contribute a small amount (20-30%) to the success percentage total whereas an experienced Assassin can complete whole missions on their own without fail. This success percentage calculator does make it really easy to never fail a mission, as you only attempt ones with 100% predicted success. A simple tactic of sending 4 experienced Assassins and 1 junior Assassin on the hardest mission possible, with a 100% predicted success rate (naturally) blasts the junior Assassin through about 7 of the 9 skill levels in one go!

Attack, My Pretties

Once you have recruited your Assassins you can then call upon them (assuming they are not away on missions at the time) to help when you’re out and about in Rome. Whilst it’s great to have all this backup at the touch of a button, it does make the game really, really easy. For example, when you see a huge amount of guards, just call in an arrow storm and bam, everyone’s dead. In the 32 hours it took me to complete the single player campaign I lost just 1 Assassin in battle. Yeah, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is not a hard game to play.
Another change from Assassin’s Creed II is that there is only 1 city to explore. Whilst the missions to destroy Leonardo da Vinci’s weapons do indeed take you away from Rome, they are only short-lived excursions and the cities are really small anyway. To compensate for this, Ubisoft have made Rome absolutely massive. The city is so big that you need to travel either by horse (which are now commonplace across the city) or the sewers which Ezio can use to effectively warp around the map. Personally, I found myself running about the city, as there is so much to do that you rarely get bored by just running. The main problem I found was I would frequently get distracted from my original task by collecting a flag or 10 along the way. Be warned, just like Assassin’s Creed II, this game will make entire days fly by. It’s a total time sink as you get immersed in this wonderful environment of a city thronging with life, activity and beautiful music (Jesper Kyd’s in-game soundtrack is as awesome as always). Or, you could look upon it as a city packed full of potential targets for an Assassin ;-)

Rome Raider

Following on from Assassin’s Creed II there are 6 tombs to explore which are all hidden throughout Rome. As early as the first tomb, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood had me feeling like I was playing the Tomb Raider game that I’d always dreamed of. Ezio is effortless to control, majestic in his movement and spectacular in his execution. Exploring each of the 6 tombs is fun and surprisingly varied. Whilst there are only so many things you can do in a room with lots of pointy objects – walk, run, jump, swim, ride, sneak, climb and kill – Ubisoft have admirably tried to vary the place of each Tomb. Each one has its particular set of puzzles, from navigating and fighting, to acrobatics in order to get to the Tomb’s treasure. On top of navigating your way around these vast areas without a map, there is also a challenge per tomb if you are to achieve 100% memory synchronisation. Some are fairly easy to complete, like not letting your health drop below 5 squares. Others are more challenging – complete the tomb in less than 8 minutes. All of these challenges add to the longevity of the game.

One area that did surprise me in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood were the changes made to the beggars and musicians. Amazingly they are less annoying and intrusive than in the first 2 games. Hurrah! As many of you will already know of the pain of having a perfectly good tail or kill spoilt by some pesky musician, or even worse a swarm of musicians herding around you to play a terrible song. I usually got into all sorts of trouble after introducing them to my hidden blade. The momentary peace and quiet, from the now dead musician, was bliss though ;-)

One of the reasons I love playing the Assassin’s Creed games so much is they make you feel like you can take on anything – animal, vegetable or mineral. No wait, I mean climb any building or kill any amount of people. It is almost a superhuman approach to gaming. You feel so good causing total mayhem around Rome with consummate ease. You can climb everything in sight, with the exception of Rome’s large rock faces which weave their way across the landscape. Exploring Rome with Ezio is enormous fun. Ubisoft have also tweaked a number of Ezio’s skills. For instance Ezio’s climbing action is much more efficient, making it even easier and quicker to climb a building than ever before. Battles have been improved, with Ezio able to quickly kill guards one after the other, rather than having to wait to counter attack or slowly hack them to death. It is a case of evolution rather than revolution of Ezio’s skills and abilities. Having sunk so many hours into this series I still find myself looking at real life buildings and think “Yep, that’s climbable!”

Must try harder

Now on to what’s not so good in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. The dialogue is stilted and unconvincing, especially the conversations between Desmond and Veronica Mars Lucy Stillman. If the dialogue was as well written as Prince of Persia’s (also made by Ubisoft) you would actually care more about the “real life” sections of this game. Also the only reason the supposedly sarcastic character Shaun Hastings is still alive and talking in my game is because you can’t kill people as Desmond. He can run around like Ezio, but there are no convenient throwing daggers or swordw lying around in 2012. Bah. Danny Wallace (who voices Shaun Hastings) is quite a funny writer, but I just want to kill his character every time he opens his stupid trap. He states the bloody obvious, is really irritating and adds nothing to the game. I really hope Ubisoft chop him from the next game.

You hear the same lines of dialogue repeatedly from the NPCs. This happens most notably from the town criers who repeat the same proclamations over and over again. Also when you are recruiting your Assassins Ezio mutters the same bit of dialogue “the liberation of Rome gas begun” to them. How about varying the dialogue a little, Ezio? Mass Effect 2 from Bioware demonstrated perfectly how to perform the same bit of dialogue so it doesn’t become repetitive (probe launched, probe away, launching probe) all beautifully voiced by Tricia Helfer.
Whilst Ubisoft have further developed the graphics engine behind Assassin’s Creed to make it produce some very pretty environments and characters, there are still a few issues. Firstly, the game suffers from some fairly horrendous pop-up. It is as bad as Grand Theft Auto 4, with parts of buildings and bits of the landscape blocking into existence right in front of you. With the city of Rome being so huge, it looks to have pushed the graphics engine to its limit.

I got stuck inside a bush after falling into off a building. Yes, inside a bush, with no way of escaping it. The world map also developed a habit of showing icons for things I’d already synchronised (i.e. completed), like viewpoints and assassinations. Guards and my own Assassins (who I love and cherish very much) would get stuck inside walls, flailing their arms and legs in a vain attempt to escape their bricky predicament. I was surprised just how glitchy the game was, given the quality of the previous instalments.

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