Television advertising is unlikely to affect the buying habits of hardcore gamers, tuned in as they are to gaming websites, magazines and industry news. Despite this, the UK advertisement for Assassins Creed Brotherhood featuring gorgeous shots of the in game engine and an unexpected but evocative soundtrack from Tinnie Tempah worked on me. It wasn’t just the artful direction and the wise decision to include actual gameplay, thus showcasing Assassin’s Creed’s still gorgeous game engine. Rather it was the indication that Ubisoft was serious about this game as a major release. The advertising push suggested this was no interstitial release, not an Assassins Creed 2.1, but rather a major new title with meaningful additions to storyline and gameplay.
Once you begin to explore the Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood “package” (a clumsy term that emphasis the breadth of content included) you realise how much effort and thought has gone in to the game. Well considered tweaks to gameplay, satisfying new additions, whole new modes and greater polish on the main missions combine to make this one of the most impressive and surprisingly robust releases this year. It’s made all the more impressive by how Ubisoft could have put in half the effort and additions and still garnered public and critical praise.
To start with the major additions, multiplayer is a major new feature. While popular singleplayer franchises often struggle to expand their campaign gameplay into a multiplayer framework (e.g. Resident Evil 5), Ubisoft confidently stays true to the spirit of Assassins Creed. In a time of increased homogenisation of online multiplayer games where deviation from the Modern Warfare model is rare, Assassins Creed: Brotherhood introduces a whole new style of play. The closest recent analogue is the Fragile Alliance modes in Kane and Lynch, but the concept is so different to everything else that it’s staggeringly brave for a developer to implement it in such a big budget release.
In the standard multiplayer mode, players move around a busy city (or harbour, or street party) and blend in with the crowd to get closer to their human targets. Each player is assigned a contract to kill another human player and they must do this while being on the lookout for the player assigned to assassinate them. Gameplay becomes a subtle guessing game where player movement and behaviour is key in differentiating human targets from AI controlled NPC’s. Much of the combat of the singleplayer game is absent, kills come in the form of a sudden and unexpected knife in the back or a hand reaching out from a bale of hay to pull you in and break your neck. The tension is high, the scope for advanced strategies to emerge is great and the pacing and length of the matches seems well judged. The occasional moments where you recognise your pursuer and the gameplay changes from a stalking mode to a desperate chase across rooftops as you run for your life are thrilling and offer a kind of gameplay not really present in any other games on the market right now.
The controls and abilities of Ezio, the main character of this title are significantly different to Altair, the hero of the first Assassins Creed. While the basics of the free running and combat remain, the number of weapons, skills and abilities has increased greatly. In typical Metroid style, you lose many of your key abilities from Assassins Creed 2 following injury and have to retrain yourself. Despite this there remain a huge number of skills and weapons available to you from an early stage and in truth the new player will be a little lost. Only those who have played the previous titles will know tricks like dropping enemies’ bodies from roofs to distract guards, throwing money on the ground to attract crowds or kicking dirt in enemies faces to stun them. Some of the new abilities are also poorly explained; I know that there’s a system for killing enemies with one hit following a parry and chaining these together, but to date I can’t get this to work for me consistently.
To help with this the game has a training mode similar to Metal Gear Solid’s VR training missions. Played out on clean white environments which are supposedly computer generated worlds but greatly resemble Mirrors Edge, these missions train you in the main skills of the game. Missions to kill enemies stealthily in an allocated time frame, or defeat chains of enemies without being hit both help the player learn the systems of the game and are great fun in their own right, offering medals based on performance. In the combat in particular its clear that some consideration has been taken of how effective Arkham Asylum’s training missions were at teaching a satisfying combat system, but Assassin’s Creed’s combat is more varied if a little less polished.
Once you’ve started getting in to the main game the amount of varied but enjoyable missions makes this an extremely difficult game to stop playing. Climbing towers to open up the map is as exciting and visually rewarding as ever, but add this to renovating and rebuilding shops, assassinating local generals, bombing Borgia towers, chasing pick pockets, solving conspiracy-laden logic puzzles and a million other micro objectives and you have a varied and staggeringly comprehensive game to enjoy.
Along with this, you have a full and complete storyline. I’ve not finished it yet, but so far the effort and work that has gone in to crafting the singleplayer experience is as great as every other part of this package. The story itself is fair, but the games unique setting and your investment in the stunning game world pull you in. While other games are happy to simply ape Hollywood movies and steal movie locations and dialogue, it’s clear that the developers here are looking to the real world and to history for inspiration and it enriches the game hugely. While Black Ops is set in the Michael Bay version of reality, you can’t really pin down which movie Assassin’s Creed is most like, and thats most certainly a good thing.
All of this written and I’ve barely mentioned how smoothly this game picks up the story from the end of the last title. It begins at exactly the moment Assassins Creed 2 finishes and never skips a beat. I also haven’t mentioned the brilliant stand alone platform sections which take all that was good about the best Prince of Persia games. I haven’t even mentioned the sections in the modern world with Desmond and the rest of the present-day assassins. That’s because I’ve written enough about this game, it’s time for you to go and play it.
A few provisos before you do. This is still Assassins Creed, albeit the very best version of the franchise so far. If you hated the first or second, be warned, the basic underlying gameplay is still the same. The controls are convoluted and until you learn them you will not feel like a cold blooded assassins but a Clueso-esqe stumbling buffoon. This underlines another strength of the game though. Unlike the first Assassin’s Creed which got more formulaic as you progressed, this just gets stronger as you go. New features open up like your assassin team mates and you learn the skills you need to make Ezio a more efficient killing machine.
Reviewers have been shocked by the quality of Brotherhood, a title they thought would offer a basic, short campaign and an experimental multiplayer component that probably wouldn’t last. Ubisoft have delivered so much more than that. They’ve made a masterpiece.
10 renovated Aqueducts out of 10