In 2007, Assassin’s Creed was, to me, a game that did little more than encourage idiots to ask, in the loudest and most moronic tone they could muster, ‘have you got ‘dat Assassin game on ‘de PeeEssFree?’ To which I would silently wander off in search of the case, in the vague hope I’d be able to beat myself to death with it before I made it back. Its premise alone made it incredibly popular. And on top of that, it was rubbish. Whilst Ubisoft managed to forge a fancy-looking, appealing concept, they forgot to forge anything else after the first mission, and then evidently leant on the Copy and Paste function 24 times.
That in mind then, you can imagine everybody’s surprise when, last year, Ubisoft did the UNTHINKABLE. They listened. People said Assassin’s Creed was a bit repetitive in the same sort of way they said The Nazi’s were a bit mean. But people have complaints about games all the time, and their inevitable sequels rarely fulfil previous pitfalls and relevant expectations, however glaringly obvious they tend to be. But ACII did. Just about. It wasn’t repetitive; it was fun and fresh and importantly, still kept hold of the few engaging qualities of the original. Christ, so developers have ears? And the base ability to action simple requests? Who knew.
And here we are, a year down the line, and the build up to Assassin’s Creed: BROTHERHOOD’s release would indicate that Ubisoft quite clearly found a multiplayer component lying about in their wardrobe, sellotaped it to ACII and skimmed Brotherhood all the way to the distribution centres. Laughing. Probably. They seem like cheerful people. Either way, there are two rebuttals to such comments. The first was my initial reaction, one I’d sort of prepared myself for before even playing the game. The second is quite different, and only came apparent a sizeable chunk of the way through the Campaign. So is Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood merely Assassin’s Creed 2.5, as all the evidence would suggest? Or is this a full-blown threquel? Or is it neither? Let’s look.
So to say Brotherhood ‘picks up where you left off’ would be to say something immensely accurate. Well done. You start in the same room, literally moments after the culmination of ACII. You’ll remember the heaps of armour you amounted, that’s all back. You’ll fondly recall the sharp-edged weaponry that spent more time in other people’s necks than anywhere else, you get those back too. You may even remember your villa, your sprawling settlement you built from the ground up. Even if you don’t it all quickly comes flooding back, as your first moments are spent lavishly wandering around your estate, meeting the locals and showing off about your big house and your moustache, and making jokes about how poor they probably are. Course, this lasts for a solid 17 seconds before the non-fictional Borgia army roll in and start wrecking the place up, waggling their size tens everywhere. Before you know it, you’re without armour, weapons or even a home. The Apple of Eden you worked so hard to procure has been stolen by Cesare Borgia, who also happens to have flailingly killed your Uncle in the process. Back to square one. And pretty pissed, by all accounts. After tracing Cesare back to Rome, you find the city in ruins, whilst your Assassin buddies are regularly getting a bit of a hiding by the Borgia boys, who control huge parts of the city with their towers and their red capes and their pushy attitudes. Laboured with the task of sorting out everybody else’s shit, as was evidently per in renaissance Italy, you set about not only hunting down your Uncle Mario’s killer, Apple thief and general worst enemy Cesare Borgia, but also rebuilding Rome and attempting to reassemble your incompetent band of useless no-hoper Assassins. There ain’t no rest for the wicked. Or for swaggeringly athletic historic Italian contract murderers. Apparently.
Brotherhood reunites all the old core mechanics, the blending in with crowds, the endless parkour, the interesting yet robotic combat system. Whilst perhaps being tweaked, no noticeably large changes have been made here. Although this is essentially a super great thing, it does also mean that no one’s even attempted to iron those niggles out. Perhaps they were afraid they’d burn it if they tried. At times, the controls are lithe, a nimble pleasure to use that let you easily leap across the map, ascending buildings and fluidly cascading rooftops as though you were a 14th Century Italian Spiderman. With a somehow larger chip on his shoulder.
Sometimes, however, the controls perform a bizarre temperamental mood-swing, and go from allowing you to jump from obstacle to obstacle with precise, flowing movement, to wildly deciding you didn’t really want to grab the next pole, rather in fact jump in the opposite direction and plummet 100 feet to your hilarious untimely death. It’s a little odd that they’ve managed to nail a control system that works beautifully 70% of the time, wearing a slick suit and doing party tricks that impress everyone, whilst the remainder toddles around being an arse and getting in everyone’s way, knocking things over and making crude jokes about awkward situations that involve you randomly leaping off a ledge for no apparent raisin, and breaking both your legs.
The story is, in places, just as mind-meltingly topsy turvy twirly as it ever was. It being based in true historic locations and times adds a certain hook to the proceedings of the narrative, and the game’s portrayal or certain characters is interesting in comparison to how they’re depicted in actual history. Some famous characteristics are clearly conveyed, whilst there’s a large degree of artistic license used elsewhere.
‘You’d be arrested for the largest mass-poisoning since Lucrezia Borgia invited 500 of her closest friends for a wine and anthrax party’
Points if you recognize the quote.
This then all lead to my conclusive initial reaction. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is simply Assassin’s Creed II, with more story and a multiplayer that will likely leave me unfazed regardless of how mesmerizing it is (I don’t play well with others.) And this (aside from my personal perspective on multiplayer) is no bad thing. In fact it’s a very good thing. Because ACII is a solid game, with a storyline engaging enough to warrant a continuation, and gameplay addictive enough to make you want to revisit it and play with it all over again. Brotherhood is nothing more than a furtherance, a Series 1: Episode 3 sort of affair, but this is perfectly acceptable. Well done Ubi, you’ve released a game you already made last year, and somehow it’s STILL GOOD.
Of course, there are several additions to the general flow of the gameplay. Additions that, initially at least, seem rather vague and nondescript. You know, like the G-Man in the first Half Life, or James Cordon’s acting career. Easy to forget it’s there.
First noticeable addition comes early on, when you’re politely informed that it’s going to be your job to make the city look less like Tom Selleck’s been living there, and more like the presentable town that renaissance-era hit-men would openly reside in. And that sort of thing costs a lot of money. Once you burn down a Borgia tower, its surrounding area is liberated, allowing you to reconstruct broken down shops and similar buildings. Each time you wap out the hammer and start going to town with it like you’re an incessantly annoying C4 home-improvement presenter, Rome’s income is increased, a revenue which is apparently entirely yours, and available to pick up from the bank. I don’t quite understand why the banks are content with giving all of Rome’s money to a hooded stranger with a passion for parkour and mending things, but hey I’m not arguing. At first you’ll be fixing an odd tunnel here and there, perhaps a blacksmith or a bank depending on your funds and what you need. Before long though, you’re strolling into town with the manly bluster and stride of Charlie Dimmock, fixing up every building in sight, taking your money, buying an extravagant new chest piece of armour and riding off into the sunset, leaving the town’s bewildered inhabitants in a shell-shocked gaze of awe. Whilst at the outset its presence is met with a bit of indifference, once you’ve got the cash to do it with extreme financial disregard, it becomes a fun and interesting new aspect to perpetually killing Borgia captain’s, burning down their towers and rebuilding Rome. Aside from just shops, you’re rebuilding bridges and aqueducts, landmarks and helpful fast-travel points.
Another, and perhaps the most interesting of the sporadic extras Brotherhood provides, is the ability to recruit Assassin’s, train them up, send them out on missions, and then have them run in and save your sorry un-stealthy behind when you’re in trouble. The process is simple, find a stumbling peasant cornered by Borgia, begging for his life. Impressively slaughter all the Borgia, and induct your newly found brethren into your Brotherhood. Job’s a good ‘un. Problem is, all your would-be Assassins are still stumbling peasants, and are likely to just get stabbed. Like someone living in London. From here on, you must use a menu system to send your faithful assassin’s out on missions, each with a difficulty rating and the real time it’ll take for your boys to do the business. Each time a mission is completed; your recruits will earn XP and will level up, eventually being given the title of fully fledged Assassin. I found this all strangely engaging. For hours I sat in the menus, sending my band of fresh-faced trainees out on increasingly difficult missions, mainly so that when I called them into action during the game, they didn’t all run in and immediately get their eyes stabbed out, leaving me to replace them. The point is though, an aspect that sounds relatively plain and run of the mill, generally due to fact ‘menu system’ sounds as exciting as ‘Powerpoint presentation’, gripped me, and kept me playing longer than I thought I would. And that doesn’t happen very often these days.
These additions, along with Leonardo’s War Machine’s, which are essentially extra missions of stealth and capture and escape, as well the Guild Challenges and the several other less central side missions, individually seeming more like fancy little touches than actual gameplay hinges, add some sort of management aspect to the game which, although present before, didn’t excel like it does in Brotherhood. Instinctively looking at your position in the map, calculating what you can do whilst you’re there; story missions, side missions, restoration, recruitment, go to the bank and get your well-earned cash out, burn a Borgia tower, you plan these things and work out what you’re going to do next. This varied gameplay in that sings to the tune of; go here, do this, but also do this and this, and then go here, and maybe do this, but leave this till later, for want of an analogy that actually makes sense, engrossed me in Brotherhood in the same sort of way I became entangled in the world of Red Dead Redemption. The kind of experience you think about when you’re not playing, about what you’ll do next and how you’ll do it. The kind of experience that has you doing everything but the main missions that you specifically decided you’d do that day.
And it was that little lot that lead me to my second reaction to Brotherhood. Disguised under the blanket of looking exactly like its predecessor, playing exactly like its predecessor, and generally being exactly like its predecessor, there are enough movements under the bonnet of Brotherhood for it stand on its OWN TWO FEET. It is a different, better game, you just have to look at it really hard. For a long time. And a magnifying glass will probably come in handy too.
Regardless. Brotherhood drew me in and gave me a strong 15 hours of gameplay without doing ALL the extras, or the ones I managed to not get sucked into, screaming and clawing against my will. Even the multiplayer’s had an interesting, angular screwdriver taken to it, and although suffering one or two fundamental flaws (one of them being you have to play with other people) its appearance in the series is a thought-out one. I had almost presumed they were going to make it purely combat-based, and that would work in multiplayer as well as Chris Moyles would work in comedy. Not at all well. But it’s different and most of the time it works. Especially if sitting in lobbys or getting stabbed by people disguised as NPCs is your thing.
SO. Should you get it?
If you enjoyed the second one, yes, what are you doing without it. If you didn’t, no, stay away, this isn’t for you, what are you even doing here, get out. If you haven’t played ANY Assassin’s Creed, get the second, it’s a good place to start and is deliciously cheap these days. It’s a must play series, or at the least, a must-try series, and one of my favourites of the year.
In news; Ubisoft have recently stated that, with Assassin’s Creed being one of their most popular series’ (more so than Imagine Interior Designer, surely not!?) they plan to keep it going for the next TEN YEARS or so. I don’t know about you guys, but that has the distinct smell of overkill to me. You’ve gotten away with it this time Ubi, don’t turn this into Assassin’s Duty: Modern Brotherhood Ops. Shiver.
Now, all of you. Get out.