Many things have been said about Ubisoft’s strange, if not highly suspicious, announcement of a new Assassin’s Creed game to be released just one year after the previous episode. We, at Gamersyde, like many others, never thought for one second that it would be anything more than a slightly bigger than usual add-on, along with a multiplayer mode. Ubisoft also chose to promote mostly this mode, proving our doubts. And now that we got to play the game, it’s with surprise that we can say that Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is nothing less than the best one released yet, and after the already excellent Assassin’s Creed 2, it’s saying a lot! More inside!
Brotherhood continues Ezio’s story right where we left it at the end of AC2, after an intriguing sequence showing our hero fighting his nemesis for this episode. So it’s in the deepest underground part of the Vatican that we take control of Ezio, and after a few events (see our first 10 minutes video) the game opens at Monteriggioni for a tutorial sequence, allowing us to get back into the game. The frequent visitors of the site already know what happens next, since it was shown back at E3, with the troops of Cesare Borgia assaulting the Auditore Fortress, with the expected sad ending.
It’s after these tragic events that the other hero of the game gets to show his athletic prowess. Desmond is of course back, more than ever even, since it’s now his job to find a way inside the tunnels under a slightly more modern Monteriggioni, the only place where they can get away from Abstergo’s spying systems. When he’s done, it’s back to the serious stuff with another dive inside the Animus, this time to Rome!
After another story sequence, the game finally gets back to its usual ways, which is a good mix of linear main story missions, exploration of the huge city, various side missions, discovery of the tomb levels (now all about Romulus’ cult), and all the stuff that made Assassin’s Creed 2 so good.
But still, Brotherhood isn’t just a copy/paste of its predecessor, transposed to another city. One of the new things is a revised fighting system, making it much more dynamic since it allows to chain one-shot kills as long as you have the reflexes to do it correctly. With a lot of training it’s now totally possible to finish a fight against 10 enemies in about 30 seconds, something that was just impossible before. Since the fights haven’t always been the strongest points of the series, and even though they still aren’t perfect, it’s a very welcome change, along with the other big novelty of that episode.
This new Assassin’s Creed game isn’t called Brotherhood for nothing, since it puts the spotlight on one of the more or less most important features of this new game: The assassins’ brotherhood. Introduced after a few hours of gameplay, the brotherhood allows Ezio to hire up to 10 assassins, to train them and to get them to help him during the most difficult parts of the game. The hiring itself always works the same way: Ezio rescues someone from the Borgia guards and they end up joining the brotherhood. It’s now Ezio’s job to send them, along with other assassins depending on the mission difficulty, to various assassinations in Europe. If these missions are successful, the would-be master assassin gains XP and levels, allowing him to get a better armor or a more efficient set of weapons. After 10 levels, he’s finally promoted to full Assassin, but is still of course devoted entirely to Ezio’s cause.
When they are not on a mission in another country, the assassins as a team are available by simply pressing their assigned button (LB on the 360), sending them on the current target for an instant assassination, or a long fight depending on the circumstances. If all three teams are available, a long press on that button will unleash an arrow storm, killing instantly all guards around. It then takes some time for each team to be back again. Except for a few rare instances where their AI wasn’t good enough to allow them to go to their target, these allies are a major asset for Ezio, letting him concentrate on his major target, and letting them deal with the smaller fries.
The last big new feature of the game is the new type of tower. Instead of just having to scale them to “synchronize” the different portions of the map, these towers are now guarded by a Borgia captain and his guards. These missions reminded us a bit of the major kills of the first Assassin’s Creed, where planning and improvisation where more important parts of the gameplay. They aren’t as big or difficult of course, and it’s very much possible to just fight his way through the guards and to the captain (though sometimes they’ll try to flee, leading to a long chase sequence), but a stealth kill after some major hide & seek from the guards just feels so much better.
There are of course many other small or not so small new features, but their discovery is another important part of the game so I'll keep my mouth shut!
Graphically Brotherhood certainly doesn’t disappoint either, which is also quite impressive considering how little time the developers had to get new features into the game’s engine. Even though the engine is mostly the same, a new “moody” lighting system for each part of the city is now in place, adding a slight, but important, change of coloring to the game. The end result is a much more contrasted image, with deeper blacks and colors, especially compared to the slightly washed out look of Assassin’s Creed 2. These changes are a bit abrupt at times, with just a fast fade between the two color tones, but considering the benefits, it’s not really an issue. Brotherhood’s framerate (on the 360) also seems slightly better than its predecessor’s, but maybe it’s just our memory. Some slowdowns and tearing occur during the busier scenes, but thankfully it rarely affects gameplay itself.
The audio part is on par with AC2’s, which is to say that it’s excellent. Jesper Kyd is back with another set of excellent and appropriate music tracks, and the dialogs are as good as ever. We encountered a sound mixing issue where from time to time the sound signaling the end of a brotherhood mission would play with a much higher volume than usual. Not a major problem, but still highly annoying when it occurs during cut scenes. Maybe this will be fixed in the retail version, but we couldn’t try it.
What else can be said except that Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is a major hit? Except for one or two confusing missions, almost nothing negative can be said about its gameplay, its story or its directing. With a play time of 15 to 20 hours for the main story and quite a few of the side missions, and many, many more hours to do everything else, Ubisoft proves that their bet was the right one. The end credits certainly show a rather amazing number of people involved in the game, from 4 distinct studios around the world. And with such a brutal ending, it’s almost with sadness that we now have to wait not one but two years to get the sequel. Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is a game that we can’t recommend enough, and without a doubt one of our favorites of 2010, or even for this generation of consoles.