So, I finally got around to playing Assassin's Creed Brotherhood; managed to snag a used copy of it (with the DLC unclaimed!) for a fair price. I wasn't quite sure what to expect with this one. When it was first announced I kind of rolled my eyes and scoffed at it because it came across as a bit of a cop-out; an AC2.5 instead of the AC3 I was anticipating. Friends who played it on release told me it was actually pretty good, so I decided to give it a go when I had the money. Which is what I did, and it was... mostly ok! Mostly. This will be a thrilling post.
Just in case anyone is arriving even later than me to this party, ACB is basically another Ezio game. It uses the AC2 engine with a few new bits and bobs glued onto it; mounted combat, siege engines and assassin minions being the main additions. Aside from those changes, it features the same graphical style as before and another great score by Jesper Kyd. Gameplay is same old AC2 by the numbers – a good or bad thing, depending on how you felt about that game. There isn't anything here that will change your mind if you didn't like it (with perhaps the exception of multiplayer). If you're totally new to the AC series then I'd recommend starting at the beginning and working from there. ACB is a direct sequel and much of the storyline will be lost on you if you haven't been following the series up until now. If you don't care about story, this one offers the best standard of gameplay so far.
In my mind there are two things from ACB which stand out, one good, one bad. The bad thing is a sudden presence of forced-stealth missions (eg. an enemy sees you and you immediately die). What I always loved about Assassin's Creed is that it was ever only a semi-stealthy game. If you wanted to play the creep, you could skulk around, avoiding enemies and taking them out silently. If you didn't want to bother with that business, then you didn't have to; Ezio/Altair were pretty fearsome fighters and could hold their own in close combat. The stealthing was optional and good thing that it was. These games are streamlined for frantically jumping across rooftops, climbing around like a monkey and quickly escaping angry people. What they don't lend themselves very well to is avoiding detection in the first place. Thankfully there wasn't a huge amount of this faffery overall, but when it did rear its head I found it bloody irritating and I died constantly. It also painfully highlighted the Borg Collective that Rome's city guards seemed to be a part of. One guard spots you a splitsecond before you jab a knife in his face and all of sudden the entire legion is clamouring for you like you're one of Oprah's favorite things. But anyway, this is a fairly personal complaint. I haven't seen anyone else bitch about it so it must just be me.
Desmond! Desmond was the good thing. Well, actually, Veronica Mars (or Gossip Girl... Or Lucy, if you must) was the good thing. Desmond is still about as vivid as a block of cheddar. I suppose I should mention at this point that the sci-fi aspect of AC is what excites me about the series' story rather than the stuff set in ye olden days which I find fairly forgettable. While I do think Ezio is far more fascinating than Altair from the first game, I never really felt a massive connection with him. From reading about this game while it was being previewed I somehow got the impression that Desmond's story wouldn't feature here at all. It was pleasantly surprising to discover that ACB contained more Desmond-related stuff than any of the others – going so far as to have two fairly extended sequences where you play as him, along with another fantastic ending. Presumably this is all leading towards the inevitable Desmond-only game(s) which, as you might have gathered, I am eagerly awaiting.
Like I said before, this is basically AC2 with some new things tacked on. Of what returns, I suppose my main lingering gripe is the presence of Quests for Wankers. These are the ones that make you slowly walk from one spot to another or do some other mundane faff that in any game other than Heavy Rain would take place in a cut-scene. It's just plain ol' filler and if through some preternatural power of failure you manage to balls it up then it becomes the bane of your existence (or at least the bane of the next 10 minutes). Aside from that, it's mostly fond memories that make a show here. The platform/puzzle dungeons from AC2 were probably my favorite part of that game and there's some more of those here – though one is just a glorified rat maze. The renovation stuff also comes back, this time taking place in the actual city of Rome itself. I was never massively turned on by this as it eventually just swells into a meaningless flood of money that you need to somehow get rid of. Finally, there is another set of side-quests here in which one compiles a movie clip containing details about the Templar vs Assassin mythology. I thought these riddles were somewhat trickier this time around though overall, this aspect of the game is just as entertaining as it was previously. The eventual pay-off is superior to what we were given in AC2 however I must say that my experience of it was marred by a silly glitch.
Which brings me to another point. This game is buggy. Well, I should probably clarify that; my playthrough of this game was buggy. I spoke with friends about it and they didn't seem to have any issues, but I'm a bitter arse so I shall pose a list. I fell through the ground and died, in the middle of a mission. An NPC escort got stuck on the terrain, requiring a restart. There was the aforementioned bug with The Truth, which caused me to miss out on some dialogue about what was revealed. A Borgia Tower wouldn't ignite and I had to leave the area to wait for the captain to respawn so I could kill him again. Also, I played this on the PS3 and was rather irked by some noticeable frame rate issues in busy areas of the city (I haven't played it on the 360 so I can't speak of its performance there). At first, this all put me right off the game, however I stuck with it and am now glad that I did. The final parts were great enough to dispel any negative feelings over the earlier problems I had.
So, enough moaning. ACB adds new stuff to the AC formula and pretty much all of it is good. The biggest addition is the ability to recruit and deploy assassin minions. This also features a text-based mini-game which allows you to send your assassins on missions around Europe. Should they be successful, they return with money, experience and sometimes items. If unsuccessful, they shan't return at all. This is admittedly a somewhat shallow affair, but is ultimately engaging. The assassins themselves can be summoned to take out a target or aid you in combat. Honestly, they almost trivialize some parts of the game. I didn't use them very much, but they did prove useful on occasion (especially their Arrow Storm ability which basically kills every hostile target in the vicinity for you).
Also, there are a new set of missions revolving around Leonardo Da Vinci and his various siege engine creations. These take place in separate maps from the main game and generally involve infiltrating an enemy base, destroying the blueprints for the machine, stealing it and then causing destruction on a massive scale whilst escaping the area. They're basically the action/adventure counterpart to the platform/puzzle dungeons and are relatively entertaining. Many of them involve the forced-stealth style of play which I whined about earlier so they weren't necessarily my favorite part of the game but were fun nonetheless.
Horses play a more prominent role here. There's a few new moves such as attacking from horseback, leaping from one horse to another, etc. This is alright but never really does anything special. In truth I almost never used my horse as he just wasn't very well suited to maneuvering Rome's terrain. I found that while you do move much faster when mounted, losing the ability to scale walls and obstacles tends to just slow you down in the long run. Overall though, it's all good stuff here.
Lastly, there's the multiplayer. I'll admit that whenever I hear of a traditionally single player game adding a multiplayer mode I automatically assume that it's just going to be some tacked-on travesty borne of a cave-in to pressure from the publishers. Not the case here! Multiplayer in ACB offers some unique fun that you can't really find in other games. You and several other players are plopped down in an area filled with NPCs who resemble each of you. You'll be given a target to assassinate (a player) and multiple other players may be tasked with assassinating you. The person who has the highest score when the time is up wins. While you get points for killing your target regardless of your methods, those points are potentially quadrupled depending on how inconspicuously you manage to do it. The key to success here is generally to do the best NPC impression you possibly can – walking around, blending with groups of NPCs and slowly stalking your prey (while keeping an eye out for someone tailing you). There’s a few additional play modes, but that's basically the core of it. You level up the more you play, unlocking various items and abilities that you can use to improve your offensive or defensive prowess. It does occasionally have the problem of mismatching players, so you might end up in a match filled with high-level opponents who'll just steam-roll you. This can be frustrating but, in all, the multiplayer is satisfying, well-designed and something we haven't seen before.
And there you have it. Reading back over this I think it may come across that my feelings are more negative than positive. This isn't strictly true. ACB is a good game, the only real problem it has is that we have played it before. While the new additions to the formula help keep player interest afloat, the cloud hanging over Brotherhood's head is that it simply isn't Assassin's Creed 3. Thankfully it was saved from being a boring cash-in by a dev team which is obviously working very diligently within their yearly release deadlines and I certainly won't be the first to admit that AC Revelations is looking quite exciting. Essentially though, it is more of the same. This might be a good or bad thing depending on your inclinations but by definition this, unfortunately, prevents it from being a great thing*
*unless you're, like, really inclined (70 degrees or more)
+ Like AC2
+ Tons of content
+ Great soundtrack
+ Storyline more substantial than expected
+ Fascinating multiplayer
- Like AC2
- Bugs and FPS issues
- Some poorly designed missions
Note: I should add that had I not had a such a bad run of it with the bugs and glitches, I would have awarded this an 8. I mentioned in the review that people I spoke with had no such issues to report so it's possible I was just unlucky. Irrespective of this, I have reviewed my own experience with the game and scored it as such.