Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood [PS3]

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood picks up at the exact moment Assassin’s Creed II leaves off, and if you were there alongside Ezio in the revelatory final moments, that alone tells you almost everything you need to know about it. Brotherhood‘s single player campaign is, largely, more of the same.

That’s not necessarily a negative criticism; just an observation. Nobody expects a shooter to break new ground, and just because Assassin’s Creed is the only series in the stealth-sword-fights-stabbing-horse-riding-whacked-out-sci-fi genre doesn’t mean it has to reinvent itself every iteration, either. If you like the Assassin’s Creed formula, despite its little flaws, you are going to like Brotherhood. It does it, big and bold and beautiful.

The core quest line is surprisingly long, and the large number of optional side quests benefit from the same loving treatment of narrative and gameplay variation as the last entry. There’s no scrimping here, and Brotherhood is most definitely a new chapter rather than, as some feared, an expansion.

As usual, the extra-Animus sections in which one explores the world of near-future protagonist Desmond hold far more intrigue and plot twists than the Renaissance shenanigans. The slow drip of information from Ubisoft‘s secret canon is driving accusations of Lost Syndrome, although viewing the series as a whole, a definite feeling of forward motion and consistency is obvious – especially to those who explore thoroughly. Subject 16’s puzzles make a return and prove as mind-bendingly frustrating as their completion is satisfying.

New additions include the ability to recruit and train a small army of assassins right up to chopping off their finger and pushing them off roofs. These quickly become one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal, equipped with many of the same moves and tools as Ezio himself, and never suffering any of the control issues an excited gamer will. Just one is enough to take out or thoroughly distract a garrison of guards, and if you’re in a hurry, with an airy wave of his hand Ezio can call down a hail of arrows to get the job done quicker. Using the guild carefully and thoughtfully lends a whole new line of tactics to longer missions where stealth or health are considerations.

Integration with the rather charming Facebook game Project Legacy is a nice bonus, and Ubisoft’s UPlay service makes a return, ensuring completionists make at least one social network connection, but neither feels forced or marketing-driven from the user end.

There are detracting factors, of course; Ezio is still the same rather shallow and ineffectual protagonist, apparently incapable of plotting his way out of a damp tissue without one of the many far more interesting NPCs to hold his hand. The economy is easily broken with minimum effort (although this thankfully reduces any need for micro-management when you just want to get on with the stabbing). A small number of bugs and glitches occasionally rear their nefarious heads.

Take the time to invest in the latest, greatest and thoroughly overpowered equipment from Leonardo Da Vinci’s workshop and you’ll find yourself able to breeze through even the final few story missions.

But all things considered, an excellent offering, dripping with atmosphere and polish, delightful to the sense and satisfying to the stealth action fan.
[img_big]center,500,2010-11-16/acrome_sp_s_02_rome_colliseumpassionplay.jpg,The glorious Colliseum[/img_big]

Now for the elephant in the room: multiplayer.

I have no way of knowing whether multiplayer is something Ubisoft have always had in mind or whether, like Naughty Dog‘s Uncharted 2, they stumbled across a bit of genius while compiling tech demos. I like to imagine it happened spontaneously, that the baffling transformation of a gameplay design centred on the concept of a lone knife in the dark into one of the most unique and satisfying multiplayer experiences of our times was almost accidental. That it rose from the sea foam like Aphrodite, fully formed and the epitome of beauty.

There’s a lot of hyperbole flying around about the Brotherhood experience and quite a lot of it is justified. While it may not be the first or best example of stealth multiplayer it is now the most prominent, and for many shooter fans, the change of pace is exhilaratingly refreshing. Gone are frantic dashes and mounting kill counts; the leader in any given round might have spent ninety percent of their time hiding in a bush.

Strangely enough this takes very little time to adjust to, and there are modes which are a little more lenient towards a balls-out assault approach for the incurable run and gunner. But in the main, Brotherhood is teaching a set of virtues missing from many other best-selling multiplayer experiences – patience, tactics, communication, co-operation, co-ordination. The online multiplayer community as a whole can’t help but benefit from the education of a generation divorced from the wild variation found outside the dominant paradigm.
[img_big]center,500,2010-11-16/ACB_SP_S_05_GunCounterKill.jpg,Take that! And that![/img_big]

Commendable innovation aside, it plays well, and that is the most important part. In the most common scenario, you’ll find yourself inching your way across a seemingly immense level, taking a circuitous route favoured by NPCs, leaning into the screen to observe every movement of the shuffling crowd. One of these identical characters is your target, and picking which one is tense enough without the ever-present threat of being spotted yourself.

The restrained, quiet action that plays out is heart-poundingly tense and runs the whole emotional gamut, ending in the smug satisfaction of a successful kill with full stealth bonuses and the non-judgemental observation of the Animus that “You have taken the lead”. Of course, that means up to four of the eight agents in the suddenly claustrophobic arena arena are now on your tail, and whether you see them before its too late is – well, you very likely won’t, that’s all.

Game: Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft

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