Once again I’m reposting one of my Assassin’s Creed reviews. As with my review of the first and second games, this was originally posted on Dooyoo.co.uk and lingered there long forgotten until I decided to ressucitate them here. Rereading these reviews has got me thinking about the storytelling elements in these games and I’m considering writing some of these thoughts up as a blog post. We’ll see. This time I am discussing Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, probably my favourite in the series, but my response at the time was a bit more muted. Enjoy!
It is rare that gamers are treated to a franchise as original or well developed as Assassin’s Creed. Arriving on consoles in 2007, the series has manifested in six incarnations on four different systems and each time it has surpassed expectation. The world Ubisoft Montreal are building is fleshed out with every release while the story becomes more captivating without become incomprehensible. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is probably the finest entry in the series so far.
For all the newcomers, Assassin’s Creed is a cross between period adventure and futuristic science fiction. Each entry follows the journey of Desmond Miles, a drifter from the not too distant future. A man with a distinctive pedigree, Desmond is the latest in a long line of significant, historical assassins. Using a device known as the Animus, he is reliving the memories of his ancestors, searching for clues to a puzzle unfolding in his own time. Eventually both Desmond and the player will discover an ancient conflict between the Assassin’s Order and the Knight’s Templars, each side fighting since the crusades over some oddly anachronistic technology. It’s a compelling setup that allows the series to approach both narrative and gameplay in ways quite different to many modern games.
Brotherhood presents itself as an epilogue to Assassin’s Creed II. Once again we follow Desmond’s renaissance ancestor, Ezio Auditore and return to the rooftops of 15th Century Italy. Where Assassin’s Creed II turned some significant pages in the series’ overall story, Brotherhood really is a case of “what happened next?” As Assassin’s Creed II was drawing to a close, the game strongly hinted that Ezio’s role in larger events was finished. Brotherhood supports this with a story that is more concerned with Ezio’s personal struggles and the time he is confined to. Coming into conflict with Cesare Borgia leads to the destruction of his home and a revolution in Rome, while there are still secrets to uncover that will affect Desmond’s future, it basically amounts to little more than “where did Ezio leave the keys?” While the contribution to the series narrative is minimal, within Ezio’s life the game deals with much larger things; tasking you with bringing about the downfall of an entire city. Ezio himself has grown as a character. Much older than when we first joined him, he seems somewhat weary of his life in charge of the Assassin’s. A greater sense of responsibility has replaced his recklessness and while it’s a somewhat cliché development, it’s still a rewarding feeling to watch a familiar character develop. While the contribution to the series narrative is minimal, within Ezio’s life the game deals with much larger things; tasking you with bringing about the downfall of an entire city.
Series regulars will find themselves to be on familiar territory here. Many of the series’ fundamentals remain totally unchanged and you will still spend most of your time leaping from rooftops, dodging guards and sneaking into buildings to chase down your target. It feels identical to Assassin’s Creed II and rarely breaks from your expectations in this respect. As before, the series is largely centred around climbing and free running. This is fairly simple to perform, holding down a couple of buttons puts you in free run mode. Run at a wall and you’ll climb it. In the past the series has taken some criticism for this control method, the suggestion being that it removes control from the player. Rather, it is about emphasising a different form of control. The player doesn’t necessarily tell the character when to jump, however the player does find the next ledge or foothold, tracking the right path up or down. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but it doesn’t bother me. Where Brotherhood branches out in new directions is in your gradual domination of Rome. Unlike previous games in the series, you are largely confined to Rome here. This isn’t too much of a restriction as Rome is significantly larger than any of the cities in previous games, however it does change the gameplay somewhat. Your long term goal is to remove Borgia influence from the city, this is done by destroying Borgia landmarks. After this is done you can the purchase businesses and beauty spots in these areas. This will provide you with an income, useful for purchasing assassin’s supplies but also creates areas in the city that are a little like safe zones where allies congregate.
Brotherhood, as the title suggests, also lets you take a little of the Assassin’s burden off your shoulders. As in all previous Assassin’s Creed titles, occasions will arise when you can save some oppressed townsfolk from harassment. Doing so will recruit the individual to your cause and give you backup in tricky situations. You can call in around five assassins at a time, useful if you’re heavily outnumbered or need a distraction. You can also assign them to assassinate specific targets, a handy option if you’re having trouble reaching a victim. Between your own escapades you can send the recruits on missions around the world for the assassins. Here they will help turn the tide against templars around the world while you sit back and collect the loot at the end. The benefit to this (aside from cash) is that your assassin’s will strengthen up and provide much better support the next time you call them in to back you up. The combination of recruiting civilians and buying up the businesses gives Brotherhood a juicy subversive feel. At times you really feel as though you’re building an army and spreading influence. It’s not perfect and I’d love to see it tackled a little more organically, fluid amounts of guards and way of taking territories based on influence and enemy strength would make it feel a lot less like risk. However, it’s a hard feeling to cultivate in a game and works well as an extension to Assassin’s Creed II.
Periodically the game will take you out of Ezio’s life and plant you in the future. The future is a lot more compelling this time around and its nice to see Desmond and the modern assassin’s taking more action. The story is allowed to build up a lot more than normal and you get the feeling that Ubisoft are setting the stage for an Assassin’s Creed title that involves a lot less animus. When the inevitable flagship of Assassin’s Creed III sails along it’ll be interesting to see if they can bring the series to a natural, satisfying close.
One area I can find no fault is in the graphics. While I would expect no less from this series, it is one of the most stunning games I’ve seen since Assassin’s Creed II. This is partly because a large amount of effort has gone into producing detailed designs and rendering them well, partly due to style. The game reproduces renaissance architecture and then lets you climb all over it. It’s stunning to climb to the top of the tallest building in Rome and just look around. You can see for miles and it’s genuinely breathtaking. Something few games can claim.
Lastly, I suppose I should take a minute to mention multiplayer. As I’ve no doubt mentioned before, I don’t much care for multiplayer so I’m not the best person to judge, but I did enjoy it. While I didn’t spend much more than a week with Brotherhood’s multiplayer, it was a fun week. The game essentially asks you to choose a disguise, you will then be placed in a segment of town with various other players. A target will be randomly selected and you must track down that target, who will no doubt look like a lot of the civilians hanging around, and assassinate them. Meanwhile someone else out there will be tracking you down. I didn’t stick with it because after my one week, I felt I’d seen everything there was to see. But then that’s how I feel about all multiplayer so don’t let it put you off. It was fun, original and clever; it even contributed to the plot mildly. It’s definitely worth a look if multiplayer is your thing.
Brotherhood is not a perfect game by any means. Its biggest shortcoming is that it remains, at best, an expansion to Assassin’s Creed II. In its defense, it is huge, but with all that extra content it does so little. The building of an underground resistance is absolutely enthralling and I’d have loved to see more done with it but I suppose we can’t get everything. It’s absolutely beautiful, as usual, and the voice acting and writing is all to a good quality. It delivers what it promises, more Assassin’s Creed II, and I would argue that’s worth the price. Just don’t expect a revolution.