Assassin's Creed Brotherhood
Back in 2007, the first Assassin's Creed was undeniably immersive but it also suffered from a great lack of variety. Two years later, its sequel had us entirely convinced by correcting the main flaws of the game. This week, we were invited to try a playable version of Assassin's Creed Brotherhood at Ubisoft's headquarters in Paris. Because the development time of this third installment was so short, many people feared the game might be a little disappointing and would never be considered as a true sequel by the fans. To find out what we thought of the single player campaign, join me inside.
When Assassin's Creed Brotherhood was first announced about six months ago, many people started to believe that releasing a sequel so soon after the second episode was bound to be a bad omen for the future of the franchise. Let's face it, Gamersyde also shared the very same fear, especially since we had really loved Assassin's Creed 2. Considering that the storyline was going to focus once again on the character of Ezio Auditore instead of choosing a whole new one (along with a new era), it was fairly understandable to have reasonable doubts about the quality of this new game. What's more, the choice to include only one city (Rome) - while the series had always been famous for the diversity of its locations - was obviously something players were concerned about. And even though we were later told that some additional locations would also be included (like Spain for example), they should be taken as "bonus" sequences like the Vatican epilogue of the previous title, and not like real open environments.
However, if you are afraid of getting bored too soon in this one and only city, it is probably worth reminding you that Rome will be about thrice as big as Florence, which should guaranty enough variety in the end. The Italian capital having been built as a combination of very different districts or neighborhoods, each of them will have a fairly unique look, its own architecture and specificity, so basically, its very own atmosphere. Sure, because the story takes place in the sixteenth century, it obviously implies that the architectural style will sometimes be a bit reminiscent of Florence and Venice. That being said, Rome has a good share of famous monuments and particularities (the Coliseum is really impressive for instance), so the pleasure of discovery and wandering around should be kept perfectly intact. It is even possible to take a stroll in the countryside since not every part of Rome has been urbanized yet.
Assassin's Creed Brotherhood begins exactly where Assassin's Creed 2 ended, that is to say (warning: minor spoilers coming in the next few lines) inside Vatican City, as Ezio is facing a strange messenger from an ancient past who warns him (well, Desmond in fact) about the future of Mankind. Rodrigo Borgia is still breathing after Auditore decided to show mercy and it is not long before you take control of the assassin to accompany him back to Monteriggioni with his uncle Mario. The beginning of this new adventure is simply a pretext to set the plot and remind you of the game's basic controls: climbing, running, horse riding, helping people or even trying the town's new canons. Finally comes the assault of the Auditore villa by the Borgias, a sequence that was first revealed at E3 last June, and that you can watch again just below to refresh your memory.
Once back in Rome some time later, Ezio's desire for vengeance will have to wait as the master assassin realizes he will not be able to save the city without the help of a real army. One reason is that his wounds from his last battle have left him a bit weaker (which explains why his health bar has diminished so tremendously). But the main reason is even much simpler: Caesar Borgia is without a doubt the most powerful enemy Ezio has ever encountered and he should not be underestimated. Therefore, Ezio's first task is to build the resistance and recruit an entire brotherhood of assassins to support him in his mission. Hence the title.
Now is the perfect time to tell you a bit more about one of the new features of the game: the enrollment of men and women, ready to fight to give Rome back its original grandeur. In fact, this works quite simply: you first need to help the inhabitants who are being persecuted by Borgia's men and then ask them to join you in your quest to free Rome. You will then be responsible for their training and will have to make them gain some experience (by sending them on missions all over Europe, each having a specific difficulty level). By getting stronger, they will also become important assets that you can rely on during your own missions. The main point of all this is then to be able to use them as support (or diversion) to make things a little bit easier for you. Be careful though, because losing one of your fellow assassins means losing him/her forever, experience gained included. We unfortunately did not get to see much of this aspect of the game as we were just shown the very premises, but it seems like a nice addition that adds a bit of depth to gameplay. The interface is pretty simple to use and the customization options, though limited, are welcome.
Also new is the way the combat system is now handled. It has indeed been improved a bit more by making it more paced and dynamic. In previous Assassin's Creed titles, the player was encouraged to wait until his opponents tried to hit him in order to counterattack and take them down. Now, you are rewarded if you manage to keep a certain rhythm, much like what you had to do in Batman: Arkham Asylum. That being said, the beginning of the game did not allow us to fully realize the new potential of the system as button-mashing seemed to work just fine against the first enemies. It can't be denied though, that combat has clearly become more exciting and spectacular, but we will need to see if the strongest foes will also make it interesting.
As for the rest, you will find about everything that you have come to expect in an Assassin's Creed title. The game's mechanics (climbing, running, swimming) have not been modified the slightest, except for a few new moves and gadgets, but it is not something to complain about given how solid they were in the first place. You will be pleased to learn about the return of the secret locations (inside some monuments or in the catacombs of the city) during which you will be able to put your platforming skills to the test. The one we tried was just as well-designed as in the previous game and the different atmosphere such moments convey offers a nice break in the structure of Assassin's Creed Brotherhood.
The player will also be required to take down all the Borgia towers scattered around the city in order to ensure the support of Rome's inhabitants and to get interesting discounts in the shops. The "rebuilding system" of the city that was only available in Monteriggioni in Assassin's Creed 2 has now been extended to the whole capital, which brings nice rewards to the player. Da Vinci will also need your help to destroy the weapons he was forced to build for the Borgias, a way to propose different types of missions. I could go on describing all the activities that are available in the game but it would be hard to be thorough. Suffice to say that there are many things to do, and even though all are not that original, it should keep you busy for some time.
Technically speaking, the PS3 build we got to play for a few hours was already a few months old. As a result, we had our share of minor bugs and glitches during our playthrough. At first sight, it is hard to see major differences between Brotherhood and Assassin's Creed 2 in terms of visuals, but we have been told that the final version actually features more detailed textures and less aliasing. We will have to see it for ourselves to confirm such statement but the graphics of Assassin's Creed Brotherhood are still very good in their “present” state, thanks to a great artistic direction.
Some will probably argue that this new episode looks too similar to last year's installment but then again, you must keep in mind that Rome is a lot bigger then any city ever created in the franchise. Some will also find the game's horses a bit pale in comparison with those of Red Dead Redemption, but well, they are still ok. All things considered, the developers have done a great job at making the 16th century Italian landscape realistic and believable. The streets of Rome are very lively, crowded with people going on about their lives, talking to each other, etc. Again, it really feels like being back in time, something that almost no other game has ever managed to create in such a realistic way.
Added to that, we should also mention the effort that has been put on the game's mise en scene. The characters become even more endearing, and though we have seen some better facial animations out there, they are detailed enough to make the cutscenes more emotionally charged. The events that unfold are also much better paced and the sequences set in the present time finally give Desmond more importance, and gives him a chance to show what he is now capable of. Moreover, being able to revisit some of the important locations of the story a few centuries later is a welcome addition. Eventually, a few words on the soundtrack which is as immersive as ever, with different music styles to match the various situations the game has to offer.
Assassin's Creed Brotherhood manages to propose a lot of content without sacrificing narration, which, after just one year in the making, is an achievement in itself. As long as you don't expect a huge leap in terms of graphical improvements, you should not be disappointed, especially if you have always appreciated the attention to detail given to the historical background. With 15 to 20 hours to complete the single player campaign and the time you will spend on multiplayer, you should be busy for a while. From the looks of it then, Assassin's Creed Brotherhood definitely seems worth spending a few bucks, something we will hopefully confirm in our full review soon.
About the game
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