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

Simply exacting revenge against the Borgia might be Ezio’s ultimate goal, but it isn’t the real focus of Brotherhood. In order to break the Borgia influence on Rome (and, by extension, that of the control-crazy Templars), Ezio will have to unite the city’s courtesans, thieves and mercenaries under his own banner, and found a secret society of Assassins right under Borgia’s nose. To accomplish this, you’ll have to gradually take over the city while working from an underground stronghold, which looks and feels like a more secret version of the Auditore Villa.

In addition to hiding your followers, cash assets and weapons, the stronghold is also a place to display trophies from previous missions, which once again includes portraits of assassination targets, as well as little models of Leonardo Da Vinci’s inventions. And going by the models we saw, Da Vinci and his more interesting war machines will clearly play a significant role this time around, although it’s not clear whether they’ll be assets to your cause, or bosses you’ll have to fight.

Anyway, back to taking over the city. If you’ve played Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, you probably remember the repeated gang skirmishes you had to fight to win chunks of territory in Los Santos. Brotherhood is a little like that, in that Rome is divided up into districts lorded over by “Borgia towers,” and you can only take control of a district – which involves buying up businesses, renovating certain buildings and opening up fast-travel entrances to the underground – when that tower’s been destroyed.

As we found out, that couldn’t be simpler; when we wandered into a hostile district, the game warned us that a local Borgia captain was nearby, and that we’d need to assassinate him to free the district. After we’d located the man – who was surrounded by his troops – it was time to close in for the kill.

One of our favorite new additions to Brotherhood is the ability to recruit new Assassins by rescuing citizens from Templar harassment. The more of the city you control, the more Assassins you can recruit and have ready at a time, and the more you can summon using a Brotherhood Assistance Move (or, more awesomely, BAM). They’ll then either fight by your side or disappear after eliminating their target, depending on what you were aiming at when you called them.

After singling out a target, all we had to do was press a button, and Ezio clenched his fist in the air in a silent signal. A second later, a few novice Assassins descended from the rooftop to attack the target (something that’s also useful for causing distractions or simply throwing groups of guards into disarray).

Unfortunately, they weren’t able to kill the guard captain before his troops got in the way, but no matter – with the distraction they’d caused, we were free to pursue the target through the streets while our buddies kept his guards busy. Once we’d pounced on the guard captain with Ezio’s hidden blade extended, all that was left was to climb the Borgia tower – which was designed like a puzzle, thanks to its unusually hard-to-find handholds – and set its roof ablaze, which ignited several powder kegs conveniently stored up top. As Ezio dramatically dove back down to street level, the tower exploded behind him, and the district was open for business.

In addition to Borgia towers, recruitable citizens and standard story missions, there’s a staggering amount of interesting stuff scattered around Rome for Ezio to investigate. Probably the biggest targets were the Wolfman Lairs; we’re not sure why they’re called Wolfman Lairs, and we didn’t have a chance to explore one (probably we wasted too much time hunting for puzzle glyphs, which again return as hidden whatsits that unlock a mystery in the game’s present-day timeline), but we’re told they’ll be Brotherhood’s version of the environmental-puzzle-filled Assassin Tombs.

It’s also possible to stumble onto one of Ezio’s “repressed memories,” missions that take place earlier in Ezio’s life. We stumbled onto one of these, labeled as a “Cristina mission,” which turned out to take place in Florence before the events of Assassin’s Creed II, and which centered on Ezio’s romance with Cristina, the young noblewoman whose bedroom he’s chased out of near the beginning of ACII. Infatuated by Cristina after seeing her in public, and encouraged by his mischievous older brother, Ezio tries to be charming – and fails miserably.

Not one to be easily discouraged by a girl telling him to leave her alone, Ezio decided to follow her, which we did from the rooftops. Once she’d made it home, though, things took a turn for the conveniently melodramatic when Vieri de’Pazzi – Ezio’s murderous rival – confronted her outside the door, announced that he’d waited long enough for her to spread her legs, and made a lunge for her. This, of course, was our cue to dramatically revise Cristina’s opinion of Ezio by dropping down and punching Vieri until he swore revenge and ran away (as he so often did in ACII).

It was an interesting little detour into Ezio’s past, and one that made us immensely curious to see what else the game has in store. If we came away from the extensive hands-on with anything, though, it’s that this already looks to be exactly the full-fledged Creed sequel we were hoping for– and if what we’ve seen is any indication, it’s going to be huge. It’s also set to release on Nov. 16, less than a month away as of this writing, so you could say we’re a little excited. Keep your eyes peeled for a full review in the coming weeks.

Oct 18, 2010