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The first Assassin’s Creed was an ambitious experiment from Ubisoft that divided gamers. The game granted players unparalleled access to their environment, but conversely restricted the actual gameplay to a handful of restrictive mission types. Two years later, the second game in the series released and ruthlessly eliminated many of the issues that plagued the original release. Better in almost every conceivable way, Assassin’s Creed 2 was a huge leap forward for the franchise that set the bar for action games just a little bit higher. Now, only a year later, Ubisoft has released a third Assassin’s Creed game. Does Brotherhood mark another step forward for the franchise, or is it content to tread water?
Honestly, the answer is a little bit of both. While there are many facets of Brotherhood that feel progressive and unique, the core of the game still revolves around taking missions from various NPCs, building up your city with merchants and brothels, and of course assassinating the bad guys. These pillars of gameplay feel almost the same as they did in AC2, but Brotherhood skirts any feelings of repetition by executing its set pieces on a much grander scale. The opening missions of the game, for example, introduce the combat and horse riding mechanics against the backdrop of a frantic siege. This focus on grand action complements the social-stealth gameplay of past games surprisingly well, and it goes a long way towards making Brotherhood feel as much like an interactive movie as a video game.
Although the fun elements of AC2 return in full force, so do the glitches. Ezio still has a mind of his own when it comes to climbing. Sometimes he will refuse to jump to the next handhold unless you have positioned him in the perfect place, while other times he just will not jump at all. This is a rare and trite problem, but it still warrants mentioning, as the climbing has been a little finicky in every AC game thus far, and it is a minor issue that Ubisoft would do well to mend. The bigger problem is Ezio’s occasional refusal to aim for the hay piles when he performs a leap of faith. Several times in the game you will find yourself at the top of a large tower, having spent five or more minutes puzzling your way up there. When you reach the edge, instead of jumping in the intended (and safe) direction, Ezio will decide that it would be a better idea to fling himself to his death twenty stories below for no apparent reason. This happens fairly rarely, but it is annoying, and it was a glitch in AC2 that absolutely should have been eliminated in the transition to Brotherhood.
Luckily, Ubisoft has made a few tweaks to the AC formula here that ensure that Brotherhood is the best game in the series yet. The combat in the previous games usually boiled down to waiting for enemies to strike, countering them, performing an execution move, and repeating. Brotherhood seems similar at first, but it quickly becomes apparent that Ezio has learned a few new tricks. You can now chain execution moves together by pressing the Square button in the middle of an execution move. This leads to some crazy looking encounters in which Ezio will plunge his sword through one man’s shoulder, quickly turn, slicing another man’s neck in the process, and finally leap forward, gouging a final enemy in the throat. Also, it is now possible to use multiple weapons during an execution, so you might see Ezio take out an enemy’s legs with his sword before blowing his head off with a gun. The animations connecting all of these executions flow seamlessly together, making the already impressive-looking combat even better.
The other big addition to the AC formula is the presence of assassin apprentices. Much like in the handheld Metal Gear Solid games, Ezio can recruit and train assassins to his cause. These trainees can be called on during gameplay to either kill or distract enemies that might be too overwhelming for you to deal with on your own. With the press of a button, on of your compatriots will emerge from behind a curtain or inside of a hay pile, for example, and perform a stylish execution. Each of the hired assassins can also be leveled up by sending them off to do missions on their own. More experience will be doled out for more difficult missions, and although it is possible for them to die on these missions, this is a rare occurrence. Overall, the hired assassins add yet another layer of depth to an already immersive action title, making it even easier to get sucked into this engrossing world for hours on end.
It is lucky, then, that the Brotherhood experience is nowhere near finished when you have completed the 20-hour-plus story mode. This is the first game in the series to feature a multiplayer mode, and despite the game’s new-kid-on-the-block status, it easily gives multiplayer juggernauts like Call of Duty and Battlefield a run for their money. If you were skeptical of the idea of an Assassin’s Creed deathmatch, you were not alone. Put that skepticism aside and you will find Brotherhood’s online modes to be highly tactical and wonderfully addictive. In the main game mode, you will be assigned a target to assassinate while at the same time another player will be assigned to assassinate you. What follows is a tense game of cat and mouse. If you run around on rooftops and sprint through the streets stabbing everything in sight, you will die repeatedly. The only way to succeed here is to use restraint and time your strikes. In the world of online console gaming, which typically emphasizes running around with the biggest guns possible, the idea of a game that requires a lot of self control to play successfully is enticing. If the terse nature of the games is not enough to keep you coming back, the numerous upgrades and alternate costumes will be.
Graphically, Brotherhood is gorgeous. Easily the best looking game in the series, it flies high above the competition with its fantastic character models and stunningly realistic cities. Climbing to the top of the game’s highest buildings and looking down upon the entire city around you is still a breathtaking experience, and the silky smooth animations go a long ways towards selling the world that the game is trying to create. The audio is noticeably better than in the last game as well, which is no small feat. The voice overs are all around fantastic, and the sound effects have a visceral crunch to them that makes the game sound more like a big budget Hollywood movie than your average video game.
It’s apt that Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood eschews the use of a number in its title. The game is easily superior to its predecessors, making it one of the finest action games money can buy. On the other hand, though, there are still a few nagging issues that have persisted from the last entry. If Ubisoft had fixed these problems, they would have had a near-perfect game on their hands. As it stands, Brotherhood is still the strongest entry in a series that has never produced anything less than great, and the multiplayer modes are amongst the best out there. Do yourself a favor and join this Brotherhoood as soon as you can.