In this fast-paced action game, we start again as Ezio Auditore da Firenze, as in the previous iteration of the franchise. You begin in your villa, Monteriggioni, victorious after your last battle (if you haven’t played Assassin’s Creed 2, I won’t spoil it for you… but you totally should play Assassin’s Creed 2). You’ve come back to find all things beautiful and in order. Then, as you’re checking out your defenses, that’s just when the Templars attack! They manage to snag the Piece of Eden in your possession and take it with them back to Roma.
Enter Desmond Miles – your character and the modern day decedent of Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad from the first Assassin’s Creed. You find yourself back in the van in modern times once again; back with your real-world companions. Only now, you’re trying to find a place to set up a base of operations below ground where Abstergo Industries - the modern day Templars - won’t find you. You and Lucy make your way through catacombs and tunnels trying to find your way inside a what looks to be a fortified location of significance when it finally hits you: You’re in 21st century Monteriggioni!
From here, the vast majority of the game (like all Assassin’s Creed games) is played within the Animus, the virtual-reality machine used to channel the ancestors of Desmond Miles for their “genetic memories.” Other than a few clever quips from Desmond, you don’t really experience much in the real world until nearly the end of the game. There are a few useful cut-scenes that help you learn more about how the modern-day Assassin’s Order is fighting the modern day Templar’s Order by reading everybody else’s email, but short of that, I really think Ubisoft could have integrated a lot more modern day gameplay into the overall experience. Having you in modern day Monteriggioni without the ability to really do little more than explore in the dark is a wasted opportunity to connect the past with the present.
Inside the Animus, the game is played – with the few side-mission exceptions – entirely in Roma. Within Roma there are jaw-dropping, gorgeous graphics that highlight a great attention to detail, even with the pace of the game. The cut-scenes are stunning and even the the non-player-characters (NPCs) are well designed and animated. You even get to drive the vehicles (gondolas)!
As with all Assassin’s Creed versions thus far, you have a pretty wide-open world. There are areas to explore, there are guards to utterly destroy, and there are relevant memories which push the story along. One of my favorite facets of this franchise is that I don’t have to move the story along any faster than I want it to go. If I want to explore ancient Roma, I can explore. If I want to move the story along, I can move the story along. Though the primary gameplay moves quickly, the player is ultimately in control of throttle.
Making its return in “Brotherhood” is the money side of the game, though it’s nowhere near as integral as it was in Assassin’s Creed 2. You can buy businesses, you can buy armor, you can buy paintings, and all of these things increase your armor. Unlike the previous installations, however, not all armor is for sale. Some of the armor and weapons are for “sale.” Some of them you have to complete “shop quests” for, which essentially boil down to finding materials for the shop keeper before they can get you the items you want. I found this a tedious aspect, and an annoying barrier to getting the armor that I wanted. It really didn’t add to the game, but it did force me to engage in some repetitive tasks I would have preferred not to do.
A new ability in “Brotherhood” makes it so you can recruit assassins, which is a very useful strategic feature of the game. You can recruit assassins by busting up fights and saving townspeople, winning them to your cause. As time goes on, you meet up with carrier pigeon stations to send your assassins on missions in different territories, which is the component that helps them level up. While you have some minor control over them – you have a handful of wardrobe choices and weapons choices – the ultimate goal is to direct them, so to speak, and get them to level 10 Assassin. Once they’re up to the level of a true Assassin, they have already gained all skill points and weapons, hence your only control being over their wardrobe. That said, you don’t recruit assassins for their ability to accessorize – you recruit them to kick ass.
There are three distinct ways in which your recruited assassins can help you in the game. First, you can call on them in a fight, giving you strength in numbers. Second, you can use them to collect items while they’re on your missions, which will all you to use those items in shop quests. Finally, there is a special attack that your assassins – who are presumably following you around at all times – can do: Arrow Storm. When you call on your assassin brothers to perform the Arrow Storm attack, they will fire arrows into any group of baddies in your targeted area. All surrounding enemies die simultaneously and without raising your notoriety or causing you to be discovered. It’s quite useful to learn this attack and use it whenever you need, but be careful because it is timing-based.
Now the time has come for me to discuss my least favorite feature: Multi-player. I love multi-player games. I play them all the time. Multi-player in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is very repetitive, very boring and very frustrating. Imagine you’re in a city full of competing assassins. Your job is to find and kill your target without being detected. The thing is, it’s far too easy to put yourself in a position to detect your enemy. Sitting on a chimney on a rooftop somewhere will almost instantly expose anyone coming to get you. I don’t know what a good multi-player experience for Assassin’s Creed would be, but this wasn’t it. Perhaps some co-op missions would be more suitable, similar to what you see in the Crackdown franchise. I know I’d love to play Assassin’s Creed with some friends online. There are some games you play for the gorgeous scenery and the storyline, and there are other games that you play for the multi-player experience. This game is the former. Any multi-player – or other game mode – that does not include the storyline, leaves me struggling to see how I would enjoy it.
Finally, there is the training mode. In this version there is a mode where you’re in the “white room,” sneaking around and training with virtual guards as targets. Training mode is very hard and I found it unnecessary when considering that most of the skills in Assassin’s Creed are fairly simple to understand.The scenarios cooked up for training mode were much harder than most of the situations I encountered in the actual game.
One big criticism I do have of this, and previous games in this franchise, is that the controls are sometimes clunky. For example, sometimes it’s not obvious which way you want to hold the stick to get the character to jump. This is especially noticeable during the timed bits of the game – of which there seem to be fewer in this version than last. The lack of confidence in controls can be frustrating to the point of cursing and throwing the controller. Some serious refinement is necessary, though for the most part, this doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the game overall, just during brief times wherein you’re struggling with inaccurate and counter-intuitive controls.
The long and short of this game is that it’s a blast. Despite a few minor annoyances, this game is gorgeous, it’s got a deep, rich storyline, and I found the characters to be easy to relate to for the most part. I truly cannot wait for the Assassin’s Creed: Revelations.
I highly recommend this game, though I don’t recommend starting the series with this entry. Instead, I strongly suggest you play Assassin’s Creed 2 prior to Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, as you will miss out on most of the story that is continued in this iteration.