Cesare’s aided by a handful of prominent sycophants and killers, who – while still being fun to stalk and kill – aren’t as well developed or as interesting as the conspirators of ACII. The only real standouts are Cesare’s sister Lucrezia, who’s portrayed as archly cruel and more than a little unbalanced, and his cousin Juan, a fat, lecherous Cardinal who’s notable mainly for waltzing around in a loincloth when you confront him.
Oddly enough, most of the charm and character development this time around comes not from Ezio’s storyline, but the other one. You know the one I’m talking about. The one nobody seems to like.
If you’ve played previous Creeds, then you already know that the games tend to be split between two narratives: that of Ezio or Altair, and that of their modern-day descendant, Desmond Miles, who’s experiencing their lives through a genome-mining machine called the Animus. As Brotherhood opens, Desmond – who’s on the run from the Templars alongside modern-day Assassins Lucy, Rebecca and Shaun – is brought to a modern version of Monteriggioni, where the team quickly sets up shop.
The good news for Desmond-haters is that, apart from a couple of platforming/puzzle levels at the beginning and end of the game, you never really have to see Desmond at all if you don’t want to. If you do, however, you’re free to leave the Animus at any time from the pause screen, at which point you can explore the town – at night, when nobody’s around, with Desmond’s acrobatic Assassin abilities in full effect.
You can also chat up Desmond’s teammates or (shudder) check his email, which – apart from a couple of late-in-the-game revelations about the other Assassin teams worldwide – doesn’t reveal much aside from what the other characters do in their offscreen time. If you hated checking email in the original, then you’ll be glad to know it can be safely ignored here. If you like the idea of learning a little backstory about the characters, though, it's interesting stuff.
Above: Actual in-game subtitles
What can’t be ignored, however, is what happens after Ezio’s story ends and Desmond’s kicks in again. We won’t spoil it for you, but suffice it to say that there’s a twist cliffhanger at the very end that comes seemingly out of nowhere and left us deeply confused. At this point, we’re looking forward to the sequel just so we can make sense of it.
Also, we should probably warn you not to tense up for any dramatic showdowns between Desmond and the Templars. Instead, you’ll get to play through their Animus-based training program. As them.
When we first heard about Brotherhood’s idea for multiplayer, it immediately reminded us of The Ship: Murder Party, a 2006 PC game about killing a targeted player while another player hunts for you. While Brotherhood’s concept is similar – you’re tasked with assassinating another player, while some other player (or players) is also hunting you – it’s a bit more complicated than that, not least because of all the onscreen data you’ll have to take in at once.
Each multiplayer match takes place in a medium-sized, town-like map populated not just by other players, but also crowds of civilians who all look just like the player characters. Since you won’t normally be able to detect each other on sight, the key is to try and blend in with the civilians,follow your radar and keep an eye out for anything that might give your intended victim away. (If you see someone running or walking around on a rooftop, for example, that’s a dead giveaway that they’re another player.) Kill the wrong person – or, worse, get killed yourself, or stunned by your intended prey – and you’ll lose your “contract,” and will have to wait to be assigned a new one.
It’s a fantastically challenging setup, and one that can either be extremely rewarding (if your minutes of careful plodding, hiding and misdirection lead to a gruesome kill) or immensely frustrating (if someone else kills you when your kill is within reach). Luckily, you won’t be limited to just feeling your way through crowds blindly; as you level up, you’ll gradually unlock new abilities and perks that range from new weapons (which net you more points when you use them successfully) and faster running to disguises, smoke bombs and Templar Vision, which enables you to instantly spot other players.
Above: This is what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps!
Brotherhood’s multiplayer isn’t just limited to single players hunting each other, either. That mode is called Wanted, and more adventurous players can try Advanced Wanted, which gives you even fewer clues about where your assassination target is. There’s also Alliance, which puts you on a team with another player and tasks you with hunting a second team, while a third team hunts you both; and Manhunt, in which two teams of up to four players take turns hiding from and hunting each other. So long as you’ve got the patience to slowly stalk your kills and gradually level up to the good stuff, multiplayer is definitely one of Brotherhood’s high points.
Assassin’s Creed II? No. If it were just a matter of pure gameplay, it would be; Brotherhood brings a raft of improvements and cool add-ons, not the least of which is its multiplayer action. But the things that made ACII so compelling were its story and characters, two areas where Brotherhood falls short. It's not that the story’s hugely disappointing; just that, after the epic narrative of ACII, we really expected more.
Fable III? Yes. Even disregarding complaints about Fable III’s length, Brotherhood’s Rome feels more like a coherent, living world than Fable’s Albion, its fights are more enjoyable and varied, and its action centers around rapidly climbing buildings, something Fable III completely lacks. It also features a whole hell of a lot fewer fetch quests, which is something we can get behind.
Red Dead Redemption? No. While it doesn’t have AC’s free-running or hidden-blade stabbings, Rockstar’s Western epic looks better, is overall more fun, and has a much deeper and more involving story. Brotherhood holds up pretty well next to it, but being an Old West outlaw is still more compelling than being a Renaissance one. (Also, Brotherhood doesn’t yet have a world-altering, zombie-filled DLC package, and that’s something it might not hurt to remedy.)
While its story falls short of the bar set by Assassin’s Creed II, Brotherhood packs in more than enough new content and improvements to make up for it. It’s not the best of the series, but it’s still an essential piece of the ever-expanding AC puzzle.
Nov 16, 2010
Log in using Facebook to share comments, games, status update and other activity easily with your Facebook feed.