I sat down with Enosh and Chica Bonita this weekend for a special screening of Nazi Surfers Must Die, a scathing commentary on 1980s gang warfare on the beaches of California and a poignant look at the importance of surfing following enormous and very selective earthquakes, but I think I’ll leave the actual review to Enosh, should he choose to tackle this deep and complex film. Me, I figure it’s been forever since we actually reviewed, you know, a video game on here, and Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood has been eating a hole in my pocket, so I thought I’d do some of that.
While not officially labeled as Assassin’s Creed 3, Brotherhood is a direct continuation of the events of Assassin’s Creed 2, and Desmond, Lucy, Rebecca and Sean are still having some Templar troubles. A heads up, the first fifteen minutes of this game give away massive spoilers from Assassin’s Creed 2, which means spoilers are ahoy after the jump. Though, let’s be honest: Who would actually get this game without playing AC2? No one, that’s who.
Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is the kind of game that makes me feel worried when they’re first announced. After the success of Assassin’s Creed 2, game developer Ubisoft determined that the only thing better than Assassin’s Creed is more Assassin’s Creed. Brotherhood was their answer to cries for a viable online multiplayer, which has gotten rather good feedback from the gaming community, but I’m always pretty leery whenever a developer says things like “so you like [insert game name here], eh? Well now you can [insert something interesting here].” That kind of thing always reeks of rushed plots, level design and cookie cutter gameplay identical to the last installment just for the sake of selling more games.
It turns out Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is a bit of an exception to this. Assassin’s Creed has come a long way since crusade era assassin Altai’air collected pointless flags, stole, beat up and eavesdropped his way into our hearts, and this time around the AC franchise isn’t pulling any punches.
After a brief, red-tinged and chaotic de-synchronized session in the animus, we rejoin our real-world hero assassins in the year 2012. Assassin’s Creed 2 hadn’t ended well for Desmond, Lucy and co, and the four assassins are operating out of the back of a van and attempting to find another Something Important locked away in the life of Renaissance era assassin Ezio Auditore da Firenze. Rebecca seems to think the problem lies with Ezio, who is remembering “something else” right during the important moment, so the only option is to send Desmond back to the last synchronised memory he has from his ancestor’s past, and live through life until they get to the sweet spot.
It just occurs to me that if you’ve never played Assassin’s Creed before, that last paragraph is super confusing. I’d still argue that people who have not played AC 1 or AC2 wouldn’t be playing Brotherhood, but I guess I’ll give the run down for posterity sake. Desmond Miles is the REAL main character, or so we’re told. He was kidnapped by an organization called Abstergo, which is just fancy talk for saying “Templar,” and sent back to relive his ancestor’s memories through a weird, mind-breaking machine known as an animus. Abstergo are looking for Pieces of Eden, which can resemble a whole bunch of different objects that all seem to have the ability to BLOW YOUR FRAGILE HUMAN BRAIN.
I always thought of Assassin’s Creed as a 40 percent historical, period accurate open world city simulation, a 30 percent web of intrigue that can usually be unravelled through stabbing, and a 30 percent mind fuck. Just play the games, man.
Anyway, the four assassins set up shop in the modern-day location of an old sanctuary, and its back into the animus with Desmond.
Ezio’s story picks up again immediately after he gains access to the vault and speaks with… a god, maybe? Something. Ezio returns to his villa, tries to explain why he didn’t kill that fat guy he was supposed to off, and then retires the assassin gear to finish his days in a haze of wine, women and song. Sure he’s got a Piece of Eden, but who cares? Ezio figures everything is now totally fine forever.
That’s about a time that a well placed cannon ball crashes through Ezio’s room, demolishing all your hard-earned upgrades faster than you can say Ridley from Metroid Prime. Things go downhill from there, and before long Ezio finds himself in Rome, tracking down some fools and working to liberate the common man. Revolution-y!
There are some definite changes from the earlier games. Combat flows a bit smoother, and you won’t have to wait around for three minutes for a guard to attack you just so you can perform a neat counter kill. If you manage to kill one guard in combat, you can actually string executions until someone actually manages to hit you. Things can get messy, especially after Ezio has chain murdered six guards in a public marketplace and a guard on horseback takes notice.
Chained executions, you think to yourself. Sounds easy. Not so. A lot of the time, you’ll be fighting 10 to 15 guards, and while you’re performing a sweet, scripted assassination on one guard, more times than not some other dude will hit you in the back with a battle axe. Flight is still a viable option, but of course it’s better that you make your kill without actually being seen at all. You are an assassin, after all.
It took 20 years for Ezio to learn how to be an assassin before toppling the Templar plot in AC2, and childhood is officially over for both Ezio and the Assassin’s Creed franchise. What was once an easy matter of climbing towers to update your map becomes a huge strategic undertaking, complete with slaughtering a bad guy captain, avoiding guards, and making your way up a difficult climb before claiming the view spot. Extra assassinations, stealth missions, and the confusingly difficult war machine quests keep the game fresh, and much more difficult than its previous two installments. This time, it feels like the gloves have come off.
Even the easy assassinations and quests can be difficult, however. It’s no longer enough to have Ezio just relive his ancestor’s memories. No, this time around, he needs to do things in a specific way if he wants a complete, 100 percent synchronization rating. You don’t have to do these challenges, but as Rebecca mentions, if you do things right you might actually gain access to “repressed memories,” whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean.
Challenges can mean everything from killing a guard a certain way to not getting hit during a fight, or even remaining undetected or to not kill anyone during stealth missions. While these challenges encourage you to complete a mission a different way from what you normally would, each of them usually makes the mission harder than it was to begin with.
The other notable update for this game is the assassin recruiting system. After a certain point in the game, Ezio, much likes Ubisoft, decides that the only thing more badass than one assassin is six to twelve assassins. So off into Rome you go to recruit some random men and women who are either smart or stupid enough to try to topple Rome’s government in the name of the assassins. Ezio manages the assassin’s guild through carrier pigeons, where he can send his recruits off on missions of varying difficulty, upgrade their armor or weapons, or change the color of their cloaks. Assassins gain experience and move up in ranks the more you use them.
You can also call them in just randomly during your travels, which can make the game rather easy. During one particularly difficult assassination attempt, where I was unable to get close to the Borgia captain I needed to off, I stood on a nearby roof and just ordered my assassin recruits to do the job for me. So far, no one has ever noticed them at all. Whereas I would have to do some kind of deep, stealthy run between crowds and hay bales, they were able to simply run up to the guy from nowhere, show them their stabs, and then abscond.
On one hand, I feel like a badass when this happens. After all, these are my students! Look how awesome they are But I’m also pretty sure they’re not supposed to be better assassins than Ezio. These are, after all, just a bunch of unwashed Roman peasants I pulled off the street and gave assassin cloaks to.
Something else: they added in an overwhelming amount of side content. Shortly after Ezio arrives in Rome, you begin to realize that you’re going to sink hundreds of hours into this game, and will probably never see all the content you need to see. There are ten feathers to collect, 100 Borgia flags to remove, countless amounts of shops, tunnels, buildings, landmarks, aqueducts and stables that you need to liberate and renovate, treasures to find, hidden shrines to plunder, quests for three factions, stealth missions and mass slaughters thanks to the inventions of an old friend, and more. I’m not sure how long the main story is supposed to be, but if you want to do everything be prepared to really work at it.
This time around you can buy maps showing the locations of treasures, flags and feathers, and (thankfully) there are no achievements for the mindless collection quests.
Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood isn’t a perfect game. A lot of content is repeated, even if the resulting videos and cut scenes are not. Once again, you have to find and decipher bullshit puzzles from a former victim of Abstergo’s aggressive project who has (SURPRISE) gone quite off the deep end, and some of the long-standing quests, like how you need to infiltrate tombs to gain access to the ultimate armor, and the idea of viewpoints and flag collection has remained basically untouched since the beginning. And, as if you needed more mindless collection, if you ever get bored being Ezio, you can hop out of the animus for a bit to run around as Desmond, hopefully to find collectible artifacts in 2012! THANK GOD FOR ENDLESS COLLECTIBLES GIVE US MORE PLEASE UBISOFT.
Anyway, if you’re a fan of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, then like me you’re going to want to pick this one up regardless, if for no other reason than to find out more about what the hell is going on. For the record, the phrase “show him your stabs comes from a Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff style comic thrown on MS Paint Adventures a while back that stuck in my head for some reason. Though, in going back through, it’s not nearly as stand-alone as I thought it was. Ah, well, check it out here anyway.
Filed under: Games | Tagged: Abstergo, animus, apple of eden, Assassin's Creed, assassin's creed 2, Assassins Creed Brotherhood, Desmond Miles, Ezio, Ezio Auditore da Firenze, Lucy, piece of eden, pigeons, Rebecca, Sean, show them your stabs, Surf Nazis must Die, Templar |