Review by Chris Plante
"Assassin’s Creed" spent three years in development, "Assassin's Creed 2" took two years and "Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood," the latest addition to the franchise, had a single year turn around. With less time in the oven, is "Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood" undercooked? Or has publisher Ubisoft mastered the recipe for success?
The year is 1499 and Ezio Auditore de Firenze is leaving the “The Vault” in which he successfully battled Pope Alexander XI (aka Rodrigo Borgia, aka the antagonist of "AC2") for control of the Papal Staff and the Apple of Eden. The "Assassin Creed 2" adventure has just concluded and things appear to be looking up for our bearded hero.
But faster than we can say inciting incident, “The Vault” retracts The Staff, Borgian officials steal the Apple of Eden and Cesare Borgia (aka the "Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood" antagonist) kills a beloved member of the Auditore clan. Not one to be bullied, Ezio plans to unite the assassins, thieves, courtesans and mercenaries to overthrow the powers that be, restore Rome and save the world from an unfathomable power.
Meanwhile, in 2011, Desmond Miles and his band of rogue scientists/historians are on the lam from the mysterious, monolithic and malicious Abstergo industries. With no other place to hide, the gang sets up shop in, of all places, the modern Monteriggioni Villa – the town Ezio restored in "Assassin’s Creed 2."
Will Ezio recover the apple? Will Desmond’s hideout be found? And how the hell does this confusing story hold up in multiplayer?
Questions will be answered -- sort of!
It Takes a Village to Overthrow a Nation
They should have pluralized the title this time around as the ability to recruit assassins, manage their growth and unleash their power is Brotherhood's most fulfilling addition to the franchise.
Here's how the less-complicated-than-it-sounds system works. By destroying Borgia Towers and defending harassed citizens, you earn assassin recruits. These assassin’s can be sent on Mafia Wars style missions to earn money, XP and weapons. You don't play or even see these missions. It's a meta-game of numbers.
However, then, in game, the assassin recruits can be ordered to attack enemies. With a tap of the left bumper, your assassin’s might unleash a violent wave of arrows, leap murderously from haystacks or charge into battle on horseback.
Taking out key figures with your trained killers fits around the core game like an old coat, expanding the scale without hindering the stealth and speed.
Challenging the sharp, loud and aggressive multiplayer modes of "Halo: Reach" and "Call of Duty: Black Ops," stands the meticulous, heady multiplayer of "Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood." Rewarding patience and stealth, this is a palette cleanser – a nice way to chase a long night of death match.
The premise of the core multiplayer mode is simple: every player is contracted to locate and assassinate another player. At the same time, the player must evade the assassin contracted to kill them.
Stealth and style net extra points, not only when terminating a target, but also when harassing your would be ambusher. There are a number of modes that put a twist on this concept –team, 1 assassin vs. 1 well-protected target. Each retains the feel of the every man for himself mode and will interest those who like to play with friends, not just against them.
Projecting onto Others
The hand-cannon was the weak point of "Assassin's Creed 2"’s superior combat. In Brotherhood, projectile weapons finally serve a purpose. Along with throwing knives, the hand cannon has been incorporated into heavy weaponary combat in a similar fashion as the grenade function in an FPS.
The crossbow -- with its long-distance stealth kills -- also comes in handy for the game’s many later, more difficult assassinations.
I've always loved climbing towers in Assassin's Creed to reveal parts of the overworld map. Now, the task is even more addictive. Certain Borgia Towers are built in well-guarded towns. To unlock them and the stores in their vicinity, you must assassinate the tower’s official, then climb the tower and blow it up. More assassinations means more fun.
All Roads Lead to Rome
Rome isn’t the only location in the game, but it is where you’ll spend the lion’s share of your time. It's beautiful. It's big. And occasionally it's repetitive.
Have We Met?
Brotherhood is too large to be labeled an expansion pack, and yet, "Assassin’s Creed 2" dwarfs its advancements. There are too many instances of déjà vu. Assassin’s Tombs have been replaced with Romulus Lairs and collectible feathers are joined by collectible flags.
Monteriggioni Villa is repurposed and certain parts of Rome feel strikingly similar to Venice in "AC2." There’s plenty new, but there’s plenty old, too.
Somehow, the game's stealthiest missions, those assigned by Leonardo da Vinci, drag the most. Stranger, these quiet moments conclude with jarring, explosive set pieces that feature deadly technology (e.g. the cannon-mounted boat, the machine-gun mounted carriage). They feel rushed, insipid and unresponsive.
This Is the End... No Really, This Is It?
Without spoiling the surprise ending, I will say it is unearned; the final moment is a reach for emotions and drama the series still isn't equipped to create – despite its continued efforts. While Ezio's story is serviceable, ¬Desmond Miles pseudo-sci-fi adventure is laughable.
"Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood" isn’t the step forward for the franchise that some might want it to be. At the same time, the package provides much more than an expansion pack. If you enjoyed "Assassin's Creed 2", you will enjoy Brotherhood -- mostly because it so resembles its predecessor. This is the same hero with many of the same abilities. But what we experienced in "AC2," here it is more polished and fleshed out, especially with the added multiplayer
As for newcomers to the series, they might want to play through "AC2" first. The story in "Brotherhood" is unwelcoming to those unfamiliar with the evil Borgia and the heroic Audtiores.