Sunday, November 28, 2010

"I Wanna Fly Like An Eagle... and stab some roman guards???" My in depth review of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood

The story of Ubisoft's blockbuster franchise Assassin's Creed is an interesting and fun one. I love it's creativity and originality. The gameplay has always been about running around ancient cities like a crazy parkour master with hidden knives up your sleeves.
Obviously if you've played the first two games you know what I'm talking about.
Assassin's Creed 1 introduced us to the world of Assassins, Templars, and the DNA reading Animus. Assassin's Creed 2 expanded on these concepts and added some more fun things to change things up. Now the latest installment of the series has come in the form of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. Not a truly direct sequel and more of an expansion AC:Brotherhood definitely feels like cheap filler when you play it.

When I heard that this game was coming out I felt a mixture of excitement and hesitation. I love these games yet the fact that it wasn't going to take us to a new time period and fully continue the story I was certain this was just a cheap attempt at making some extra cash for Ubisoft.

However, when I bought the game and played it I was still glad to be playing a new AC game. However I can admit that I still think Brotherhood is very unnecessary. Once again you follow the adventures of bartender-turned-assassin Desmond Miles as he goes on the run with his fellow assassins to evade the deadly Templar controlled Abstergo Corporation. Most of the game, like the others, takes place in the Animus. The magical machine that reads people's DNA for genetically recorded memories of a person's ancestors. And once again we find ourselves, as Desmond, living the life of Renaissance Assassin and lady's man Ezio Auditore da Fireze. The game starts directly after the ending of the second one with Ezio fleeing the Vatican after discovering a chilling message for the future inside a secret vault built by Those Who Came Before (an elaborate name for what is basically Aliens or perhaps Stargate's Ancients). After having a relaxing bath and a massage with a happy ending by a lovely countess, Ezio's happy ending is literally blown to pieces when the evil Templars attack his villa (destroying all those hours of work and money players put into rebuilding it). Ezio then decides to head for Rome to put an end to the Borgia Templars once and for all.

It is in Rome that the entire game takes place. I guess after everyone complained about not being able to run through Rome in the last game resulted in a game that takes place entirely in Rome. Though it's almost as large or if not slightly larger than Venice from the last game you will find Rome to be more than enough for any player to explore.
The rest of the game basically plays out like the rest of the series has since the beginning. Ezio is given a mission, kills a guy, and keeps doing that until we find out what strange alien artifact the plot is centered around. This isn't bad at all, in fact I love the story like I have the previous two. The problem lies in the gameplay itself.

This is something I briefly touched on on Twitter after running into what I felt was the worst thing about this game. The repetitive nature of having to take down Borgia towers and renovating shops just to get goods I need such as armor and medicine. Sure, don't get me wrong, the first couple towers I took down were fun to take out but after a few hours of looking around for a fast travel point or a shop to simply change my clothes I was forced to either run to the other side of Rome or take out the tower and spend money at shops just so I can spend money at shops.
It is things like this that made me feel like the game took two steps forward with the franchise after taking ten steps backward.

Another complaint I had was the fact that even though I beat the second game and essentially "synchronized" with Ezio by the end (you know after unlocking Altair's badass black armor from the second game?) during the beginning of this game you are brought back to square one. I understand this is meant to make the game challenging and whatnot but it simply doesn't make sense. Why is it that I basically have to do all this stuff I already did in AC 2 all over again?
This is even seen in the simple act of climbing buildings. In AC 2 you learn a trick called a "leap catch" where you can jump up to a normally unreachable ledge to continue climbing. In the beginning of Brotherhood you have this skill (as it should be) yet after the prologue you don't. It turns out that in Brotherhood this skill has to be bought via purchasing a "climbing glove". Why? Because they had to bring players back to square one? Then why is it that in AC 2 we have the ledge grab skill at the beginning of the game when in AC 1 we had to learn that skill? Or why do we have the hidden pistol at the beginning of Brotherhood but not the double hidden blade? Both were unlocked via codex pages in the second game. All this ends up being about is basically rendering all the things you've done in the second game completely pointless. I know that's a heavy thing to say, but seriously did they have to go that far?
I know it's only a little skill but I didn't get the damn thing until after beating the story quests.

Horses are another problem that really shouldn't be a problem. Unlike some games (I won't say which one) AC has managed to have relatively decent horse controls. No stamina bar just gallop when I tell it to gallop. And horses are useful in Brotherhood because Rome is so big, yet they seem to move about as fast as Ezio sprinting (unless it's a guard trying to escape your blade, that's fair right?) The only good thing about traveling in Rome is the creation of fast travel points around the city.

Then there's the overall feeling of the game itself. You could say I'm being nit-picky here but I couldn't help but mention it. Brotherhood doesn't even feel like an addition to AC 2. It feels more like AC 1 to me and that's not a good thing. I always felt that AC 2 was its own entity, something radically different from the first game yet it still had the same DNA. Brotherhood feels like the slow yet prettier sister to AC 2. It's good to look at and and will ensure you have a good time, but you can't help but notice there's something wrong with it.

The best parts of this game, however, come from not the missions in Rome but the additional games in the Animus menu and the story of our modern assassins. I always loved the modern chapters in AC 2 where you can interact with Kristin Bell and her assassin buddies. They were people I wanted to get to know more about. In some instances I felt that the story of Ezio in AC 2 got in the way of the modern story. This is one of the things that Brotherhood has reworked and it's fantastic.
In this game you can leave the Animus and interact with the modern assassins in a way I never expected. You can speak to them, run around the modern version of the Auditore villa, and the hacking of computers to read emails makes a grand return.
I found the sub-plot about Desmond suffering from the "bleeding effect" of his ancestors' memories merging with his own to be quite fascinating and the simple act of having him make minor yet noticeable mistakes as he struggles to keep his time lines straight was one of my favorite character moments.

It is these small tastes of modern times in these games that make me hope for an AC game that doesn't take place in the Animus. Don't get me wrong, I like Altair and Ezio, but these games continually say that they're about Desmond, yet he is probably the character you see less of than any other in these games.

Another fun feature are the virtual training missions in the animus. They are basically a series of time trail competitions where you either have to win a race or fight a ton of enemies to get a gold medal. I loved the fee running races in particular of all of these. However the combat training simulations are very weighed in favor of your enemies as the guards you face in them will attempt more cheap moves to force you to fail. This is seen mostly in the challenges that involve you not getting hit once, which is impossible when a guard has got you in a neck hold seven times out of ten.

All in all it's going to please the hardcore fans of the series (I was relatively pleased regardless of all my complaints). However I do still believe this wasn't really a necessary game. In the end it will probably be considered a minor jolt to the system as we wait for the actual third game to come out.

In the end I give Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood 3 throwing knives out of 5 for it's solid yet unnecessary story, characters, and fun new additions to gameplay and ridiculous retractions and tedious additions.
And remember: Nothing is true, everything is permitted

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