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Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood


Right out of the gate, donít expect to be playing Assassinís Creed III when popping in Brotherhood for the first time. Brotherhood was never destined to be the epic third entry into the franchise we have been lusting for after completing the storyline in Assassinís Creed II. If you set your expectations lower before playing Brotherhood, you are much more likely to enjoy the game for what it is, an extension of Ezioís story from Assassinís Creed II as well as a developer playground for new gameplay elements. Itís quite crafty of Ubisoft to release this type of entry into the lineage of the franchise. They already have the majority of the assets created and any risky choices they make can be purely viewed as testing the waters for what people like and possibly dislike before deciding what to implement in AC III (already scheduled for release in 2011). It also gives the ACII fan base a way to continue playing, even if they have to rebuild Ezio from scratch again.

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If you havenít finished playing through the main story in Assassinís Creed II, then you donít want to read the recap ahead. Spoilers Alert! After Ezio / Desmond kicked Rodrigo Borgiaís butt at the end of AC II and learned of the grander scheme of the Ancients, Borgiaís son (Cesare) immediately gets revenge by attacking the Monteriggioni based villa and wiping out everything that Ezio accomplished. Cesare also snatches up the Apple of Eden before running back to hide in Rome. Ezio is tasked with crafting a method to rip power away from Cesare and free the Romans from the tyranny of the Borgia family (who are incidentally backed by the Pope). Itís a tough gig, but Ezio is definitely the right man to recruit a new team of assassins and take back the city of Rome.

This is a cute way of ripping away all the great equipment and wealth you acquired in Assassinís Creed II, a necessary evil for the player to progress though another round of video game character building. On the plus side, his skillset is more evolved from the start and this becomes immediately evident when launching into fighting off a group of soldiers. In order to take down Cesare, Ezio must take down the 12 towers around Rome that are figureheads of the 12 smaller communities. When a tower is set ablaze and the captain of the guards is silently (or perhaps loudly) assassinated, the area falls under the influence of Ezio. Just like the villa, he can renovate the area and start making some Florins while helping the citizens at the same time. Just like previous games, you repeat this pattern until getting to Cesare himself, but there are plenty of opportunities to get distracted with side quests (some from our old friend Leonardo Da Vinci) and collection tasks.

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However, Ubisoft Montreal has introduced us to several new gameplay elements, the biggest being the ability to recruit an assassin and send him out on his own missions. Each time you take down a tower, Ezio gains a recruitment slot for a new assassin; perhaps inspiring someone in the public to take up arms by Ezioís actions at the tower. Assassins act very much like advanced minions. You have the ability to target enemies and send your assassin (or group of assassins) after them. Just like Ezio, they rack up the experience and gain access to better equipment. From the menu system, you can send out your minions by assigning contracts to them. They run off to complete the contract and gain experience while you practice your high dives or bug Leonardo for a ride on his flying contraption. Frankly, it makes the game a bit simple if you become over-reliant on the assassins, but itís highly entertaining to watch in action. Iím also curious why ranking up your subordinates doesnít play into a greater good, like establishing a larger family of assassinís that can grow without Ezioís direct supervision. Perhaps we have to wait for Assassinís Creed III to see something like that implemented.

Other gameplay tweaks include assigning extra objectives for getting 100% synch, the ability to ride a horse around the city, simpler ways to kill guards silently like the crossbow and a larger amount of loot on the bodies of your fallen enemies. You can also attack guards and other enemies from your horse, but I didnít find it to be a very effective use of attacking groups. I also preferred the fast travel system over racing between areas on horseback. New side quests have been opened up due to the extra loot, mostly for shopkeepers looking for specific items. While it fairly obvious that itís just a blatant farming task most typically found in an MMO, it can be a fun side distraction and often reaps more rewards in the form of better equipment.

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The multiplayer modes (Manhunt, Alliance, Wanted and Advance Wanted) included in the game are also new to the series as a whole. They are completely faithful to the general design of the game rather than opting for a straight out swordfight-fest. The modes specifically reward those who figure out who the enemy is and kill them completely silently. The radar is intentionally inaccurate for instance, only allowing you to isolate the general area of the enemy rather than the exact location. In Manhunt, all the players are split into two teams, one searching for the assassins that are hiding in plain sight. Itís extremely tense when you are hiding in a group of citizens walking down the street and the people hunting you are swarming around without figuring it out. Overall, I found the modes to be entertaining, especially when played with patient friends. I also didnít experience any performance issues in the matches that I tried out.

There are a few multiplayer achievements in the set, but the group is mostly targeted at the player running through the single player campaign. Itís a fairly challenging set and is definitely more rewarding for those that enjoy collection or getting 100% synch on missions. You may want to look through the achievements before playing the single player game as it possible to miss several of them without knowing.

Graphics

The visuals in Assassinís Creed Brotherhood are on par with, if not better than, the visuals from Assassinís Creed II. Character models, specifically the main players in the narrative, were painstakingly crafted and brought to life (and death) by Ubisoft Montreal. The backdrop of the city is absolutely gorgeous and you still have the amazing scope / detail found in the last game. It also still inspires a case of the dizzys as well, so watch out if you get motion sickness from climbing the highest towers. The game runs very smoothly and you can tell Ubisoft took advantage of the extra year between titles to fix some of the graphical bugs / hitches that popped up in the previous game.

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Audio

The soundtrack will remind you of some of the tunes from Assassinís Creed II,vut the original tracks were crafted by the same composer, Jesper Kyd. Unsuprisingly, the gameís soundtrack was also released separately and it definitely warrants such a release. The high quality of the musical overtones while navigating through the city or within the actual cutscenes is stellar. Voice acting is also top notch and you will immediately recognize the same actors / actresses that voiced the previous game.

Conclusion

I was skeptical of Assassinís Creed: Brotherhood for a variety of reasons, but specifically I had a preconceived notion that this game was a blatant cash grab from Ubisoft while waiting to release Assassinís Creed III. While itís obvious that this has been a rapid success (if 1 million copies sold in a week is any indication), Iím thoroughly convinced that Brotherhood is exceptionally entertaining and thatís without pushing the AC narrative along significantly. However, I didnít appreciate the annoying cliffhanger in regards to Desmondís tale. It seemed tacky and only served to be more confusing than useful.

That story quibble aside, you would be hard pressed to find an Assassinís Creed II fanatic that wonít enjoy leaping through Rome in Brotherhood. Add in the guild building tools, new multiplayer modes and various gameplay tweaks and we have a title that will give us plenty to accomplish while waiting for Assassinís Creed III to come along in November 2011. If you are any type of fan of the AC series or simply enjoy stealth combat games, you will find plenty of enjoyment when playing Assassinís Creed Brotherhood. You are looking at about 20 to 30 hours of gameplay in the single player story and more replay value if you enjoy the multiplayer mode. Highly Recommended!



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