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Friday, July 1, 2011

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood Review

Written 1/13/2011
Note: This is for the PS3 version of the game. Screenshot and video courtesy of Google Images and Youtbue respectively, and credit goes to the original capturers.
Assassin's Creed Brotherhood is the direct sequel to 2009's Assassin's Creed II. While Brotherhood does improve upon its predecessor in some areas, it also introduces some rather irritating technical issues that really shouldn't have seen the light of day. Even with those issues though, this is a very worthwhile game that any Assassin's Creed fan must experience. Be warned though, if you haven't played Assassin's Creed II, you will be completely and utterly lost in Brotherhood. So make sure to finish that first!
Visuals and Presentation

Visually, Brotherhood is a carbon copy of Assassin's Creed II with slightly less variety in the campaign. It uses the same engine as the two previous console games called Anvil, but at first I seriously thought the game was using a highly modified version of Unreal Engine 3. Character models and textures are all top-notch, but the real stars of Brotherhood are the environments and animations. The city of Rome is designed as a sandbox, obstacle course, and racetrack all at once, and it's all very beautiful. It's as though the city has a life of its own and tries to impose its will on you as to how it will and will not let you progresses. The animations in Brotherhood are easily the best in the series; especially in combat! Ezio now mixes and matches his weapons in combat to deliver some of the most brutally efficient executions you will likely see in any game. For example, one execution has Ezio parrying a strike with the sword in his right hand, kicking his attacker in the gut, then he grabs his attacker on the back of the head while he's leaning forward in agony and uses the gun attachment in his hidden blade to blast his attacker into nothingness. It's all done so quickly and smoothly that you'll be shouting “DUUUUDE! Did you SEE that?!” to anyone nearby like I did. It's something that really must be seen to be appreciated.

The visuals in multiplayer are mostly the same as in the campaign, with much of the fidelity of the animations removed for the sake of gameplay. Where the animations are lacking in multiplayer though, it's more than made up for in the environmental variety. In the campaign you'll be in the city of Rome and the surrounding farmlands mostly. In multiplayer, you'll visit at least four cities and one carnival ground. Each map is strikingly different and allows for slightly different strategies in each. Overall, Brotherhood is quite a pretty package in both the campaign and multiplayer.
Visuals and Presentation Rating:4.5 Star

Just as in the visuals, the sound in Brotherhood is a carbon copy of Assassin's Creed II. Each voice actor from Assassin's Creed II reprises their roles in Brotherhood and the performances are still as great as ever. The new additions also mesh very well with the current cast. The writing is very well done for each character and seems to play into each voice actor's strength. The music is also well done, but tends to be limited to either high-action or exploration tracks without any real transition between the two. That's fine in the case of Brotherhood, but the sudden changes in music can at times be a little jarring. It shouldn't prove to be a massive distraction to the typical gamer though.

Sound Rating:4.5 Star

Everything in Assassin's Creed II is present in Brotherhood, and then some. You can still climb everything that looks climbable, fight purely defensively, offensively, or a mix of the two, and use the courtesans, thieves, and mercenaries as distractions. What's new are the additions of execution streaks, trainable assassins that you can call on in battle, and multiplayer. Execution streaks allow you to quickly dispatch of entire groups of enemies in mere seconds with the right amount of timing and coordination. You begin by killing an enemy with a counter, then moving the left joystick in the direction of your next desired kill and continuing the attack. Ezio will then sidestep or slightly dash to the target and one-hit him. You can continue doing this, with any weapon I might add, until you are hit, your enemies get out of range, or you wait too long to attempt the next kill. It's a very efficient and satisfying way to annihilate the opposition.

Next is the new Assassin's Guild. As the name implies, Ezio decides it is now time to bolster the waning number of assassins left in the world by recruiting the people under direct Borgia oppression and giving them the power to combat that oppression. Once an assassin is recruited, Ezio can visit a pigeon coop or assassin's tower to give that recruit a contract that will reward him/her with XP and money. Once a recruit reaches level 10, he/she is ready to become a full assassin, and even gets the same fancy duds Ezio wears. Aside from being another source of income for Ezio, the assassin recruits can be summoned to his side temporarily at any time. The only times assassin recruits cannot be summoned is when they are away on a contract or if the mission you're on expressly prohibits them from appearing. It feels particularly good in large battles to summon six trained and highly lethal assassins when you are being overwhelmed.

The last and by far biggest addition to Brotherhood is its multiplayer. Story-wise, Abstergo has amassed a large number of Animus machines with an equal number of Templars to use them. In a nutshell, Abstergo plans to train the Templars how to fight the Assassins by teaching them how to fight like Assassins themselves. There are four gametypes in Brotherhood's multiplayer: Wanted, Advanced Wanted, Manhunt, and Alliance. In Wanted, each player is given a proximity radar and a contract to kill a specific player. You must then stealthily move around the map using crowds, hiding spots, and your wits until you find the player and assassinate him while drawing as little attention to yourself as possible. As fun as that sounds, be warned, you also have a contract on your head, and another player is actively hunting you. Also, the higher you are on the scoreboard, the more contracts you have on you. So it is entirely possible to have four players hunting for only you if you're currently in first place. Talk about stressful! Advanced Wanted is the exact same thing as Wanted, with the only exception being that your proximity radar much less accurately leads you to your target, thus forcing you to make much better observations to correctly find and assassinate your target.

Manhunt is basically a very violent and bloody version of hide-and-seek. Two teams of four spawn on opposite sides of the map, with Team 1 as the hunters and Team 2 as the prey. Team 1's sole objective is to hunt down and assassinate the members of Team 2. Team 2's sole objective is to stay hidden from Team 1, and cannot kill their hunters, but only stun them temporarily and escape. Team 1 gains points by killing Team 2, and Team 2 gains points by effectively hiding. After the first round finishes, the roles of each team is reversed and Team 2 is now hunting Team 1. After both rounds conclude, the team with more points wins the game.

In Alliance, three teams of two spawn at opposite corners of the map. Team 1 may only kill Team 2, with Team 2 only able to kill Team 3, and Team 3 only able to kill Team 1. It almost sounds like a love triangle of death doesn't it? The game basically proceeds in the same way as Manhunt with the restrictions I've just mentioned. You're basically the hunter and prey at the same time in Alliance because you cannot kill your hunters but you can kill your pray. Once two rounds end, the team with the most points wins the game. In all, multiplayer in Brotherhood is incredibly unique and fun, and could almost be worth the cost of the game on its own!

Unfortunately though, not everything is sunshine and rainbows in Brotherhood technically, primarily in the campaign. At one point in the game, you're given a batch of parachutes with the ability to buy more at any time. At any random time though, the game decides that you no longer need or want them and disables them entirely and sets your amount of parachutes to zero; forcing you to buy more. Even after buying more though, it's no guarantee that they won't be disabled or set to zero again when you need them. Not only is this terribly annoying, it can really limit what you can do in certain situations. For a sandbox game like this, that can be a real tragedy. Also, there are certain places in the city that will have Ezio acting as though he is looking over a cliff when in reality he's looking down over a single step at the cobblestone. Once that happens it can be pretty difficult to make Ezio move normally until you can find a way over this imaginary “cliff” and can be especially infuriating when you're trying to tail someone.

Another annoying bug occurs when you have an invisible target that the only way you can kill it is to randomly swing your weapon until you get lucky enough to hit it and make it appear. It's not as detrimental as the previous two bugs, but it definitely breaks the immersion of the game. Finally, this could just be me, but directing Ezio in free-running seems a bit less accurate than in Assassin's Creed II. When trying to jump diagonally to one side or another, Ezio seems to either overcompensate or just miss the mark. Again, that could just be me, but it definitely affected my gameplay. Overall though, the technical issues can't hold Brotherhood back from being an excellent gameplay experience!
Gameplay Rating:4 Star
WARNING: Massive spoiler alert!
First and foremost, if you haven't played Assassin's Creed II to completion, stop reading this section right now and go finish Assassin's Creed II. Brotherhood begins at the very moment Assassin's Creed II ends. Ezio has just finished defeating Rodrigo Borgia and meeting the mysterious Minerva; who tells him of a great calamity that will befall mankind unless Desmond can change things. Sounds confusing? Like I said, go finish Assassin's Creed II. After leaving the Vatican with the Apple of Eden, Ezio and his uncle, Mario, return to the Auditore villa to discuss their next course of action and have some well earned R&R. Unfortunately, there's never any real rest for the weary in these sorts of stories, and the villa is attacked and destroyed by Cesare Borgia. He destroys the villa, kills Mario, mortally wounds Ezio, and steals the Apple of Eden.

And that's probably the most exciting thing to happen story-wise in Brotherhood until the last hour or so of the game. I'm not saying the rest of the story is bad, which involves Ezio undermining Borgia influence in Rome while searching for the Apple of Eden, but it definitely does not hold as much of an impact as Assassin's Creed II's story does overall. I don't really want to say much more for fear of ruining the truly spectacular ending, but trust me when I say that the end is definitely worth enduring some of the more mundane portions of the story. It also leads in excellently to the inevitable Assassin's Creed III.

Story Rating:3.5 Star
Replay Value

Depending on how much you enjoy the multiplayer in Brotherhood, its replay value can range anywhere from a solid 50-75 hours to next to nothing. The campaign by itself will last you between 25-30 hours if you do absolutely everything available (which is really quite good for a game like this), but after that the only thing left to do is restart it on a new save file. So most of the replay value in Brotherhood is in its multiplayer. Considering how original that multiplayer is though, you can get quite a bit of time out of the game if you're craving something different.

Replay Value Rating:4 Star
Final Thoughts and Overall Score

Even though the game's technical issues hold it back from being a truly perfect game, Brotherhood is still an excellent package and a great entry in the Assassin's Creed franchise. The inclusion of the incredibly unique and fun multiplayer is sure to help keep your mind off of waiting for Assassin's Creed III. The game is available for PS3 and 360.

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood Overall Score: 4 Star

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