Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood – single-player hands-on

Around this point, the game decided that we needed a break from all this cool Renaissance action, and reintroduced Assassin’s Creed’s love-it-or-hate-it secondary plotline: that of Desmond, an Assassin descendant/fugitive trained by his time in the genetic memory-exploring Animus device, and Lucy Stillman, a modern-day Assassin played by Kristen Bell (and also their two whiny Assassin friends, Shaun and Rebecca). As was suggested at the end of ACII, Desmond’s been experiencing the prior chain of events while in the back of a van en route to an Assassin hideout – which, as it turns out, is in no less significant a place than the present-day city of Monteriggioni.

Above: We don’t have any images of Desmond jumping around yet, so here’s more of Ezio

Because Desmond’s more of a badass now, what followed was considerably more interesting than his sequences in the last two games – which isn’t to say it was particularly fantastic, or that it wasn’t an annoying interruption from the story we actually cared about. While skulking around the Auditore Villa grounds, looking for a way in, Desmond saw a ghostly hallucination of Ezio, who led him to a high, narrow ledge and leaped off. Back in control, we immediately followed suit, performing Desmond’s first-ever Leap of Faith into a convenient bale of hay that was apparently still in the same place after roughly 500 years.

The leap led down to the same secret passageway Ezio had entered at the end of the last sequence. So rather than play through Ezio’s daring escape through the tunnels, we watched it play out in reverse via Desmond’s Animus-induced hallucinations, as he and Lucy braved precarious jumps and crumbling, ancient machinery and exchanged charming, occasionally informative banter.

Once we’d backtraced Ezio’s steps to the miraculously undiscovered crypt and opened the door for Shaun and Rebecca, we learned that Desmond wasn’t quite done with us yet. While the crypt presented an ideal hiding place from the global surveillance of the sinister Knights Templar, it lacked any sort of power. And so we had to venture into the town proper (which is apparently one of those places where nobody ever goes out at night), and climb around using Desmond’s Eagle Vision to locate electrical switch boxes, to which we then had to attach transmitters that somehow beamed power to Rebecca’s equipment. So, yes: just when we were starting to like Desmond, the game had to go and use him for an inane, plot-slowing fetch quest. Hopefully, those will be a rare occurrence in the finished game.

Back in the Renaissance, the wounded Ezio rode out toward Rome to find the Apple, rescue Caterina and exact revenge on the Borgia, only to collapse on the road. Luckily, when he woke up he’d been nursed back to health in a little house on the outskirts of Rome, so it all worked out – apparently thanks to the efforts of Assassin leader Niccolo Machiavelli, who’d left instructions for Ezio to meet him when he was back on his feet. Before that, though, our first task was to go and see a doctor about stitching up Ezio’s wounds. Of course, the doctor was only able to partially heal him, saying that Ezio’s wounds would recover slowly, over time. Which was basically a clever way of saying that the game had just busted Ezio back down to level one, without all the cool weapons and armor he’d accumulated during the last game (but with all, or at least most, of his abilities intact).

Oh, well. At least we now had the ability to ride horses within the city walls – which, given how big Rome is, will probably be a necessity in getting anywhere in a hurry. It’s also worth pointing out (in case you didn’t watch that video on the last page) that you can now do more with horses, like leaping onto their backs from above, and using weapons while riding them.

Next on the itinerary was our first real assassination mission. It seemed the local corrupt Carnefice (Italian for “executioner”) had forced himself on another man’s wife, and then hanged her for no other reason than to be a psychotic dick. This clearly couldn’t be left unpunished, and so we crept up to the Carnefice’s cliffside villa, scrambled up onto the roof and executed a perfect, aerial execution before any of his guards even realized what was going on. Cue one of those brief, ethereal conversations that always happen when Ezio kills someone important, a brief fight with the guards and a few awkward moments of us horrifying onlookers while trying to find a suitably undignified cliff or trash pile to hurl the Carnefice’s corpse off of/into (we finally settled on a well).

Above: This isthe Carnefice, in case you were wondering

Following the skirmish, we were jumped ahead to a later part of the game – and it was here that we saw what Brotherhood really holds in store.