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Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood – updated impressions

Do you remember that bit in Assassin’s Creed II where Desmond and Lucy are scurrying through a Templars’ lab, surrounded by Animuses? That’s where the multiplayer element in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood kicks off - eight players stuck in their ancestors’ lives, attempting to knife each other and run off giggling.

This is the big thing Ubisoft is doing with Brotherhood, but you’ll have to wait for it, as discussion must fall to the majority interest which is single-player. The danger with Brotherhood’s offline mode (or accurately, constant online mode in the case of the PC version, because of Ubisoft’s DRM) is that it’ll feel like playing the second game again. Ubisoft is adamant this is a proper third game, even though it doesn’t have a “3” in the title. But it could be very similar, despite moving from Venice to Rome, since it’s still about Ezio running around a city in Renaissance Italy.

As this goes against Ubisoft’s claim that Brotherhood is a full-on new game, there are counter-arguments ready. While it might just be another Italian city, Rome is massive in comparison to Venice, with five distinct districts that form the game’s entire setting.

When you first set foot in the city, you’ll notice how dilapidated it is and you might note the lack of an upgradeable mansion like you had in AC II. This is because you can spend money on upgrading the city itself rather than a personal pad. It’s a curious idea, and will be linked with the usual unlocks and so on, and is one idea we’ll have to see in practice before we side with the yay or naysayers.

There won’t be any trips into the leafy countryside either, but you’ll be able, for the first time, to travel the city on your horse. And you’ll be appalled to know that Ubisoft is proudly hailing the pimping possibilities for your horse. No, Italian women aren’t desperately lonely - they mean you can kit your equine pal out in a variety of bridles, saddles and sunglasses.

Story-wise, Ezio’s now in his ’40s yet still nimble, sprightly and capable of slashing your whole family to death before you’ve even blinked. And he’s not the only AC II star coming back, either. Leonardo da Vinci will return with his fun gadgets o’ death and we’re promised more of Machiavelli, who flitted in and out of number two. Curiously, another character who’ll make an appearance is one that was dead at the end of the second game, the Pope.

Pope Alexander VI might have been brutally killed, but that isn’t stopping him from living and being a menace to all things Ezio in Brotherhood. He’s brought in reinforcements this time, with his son Cesare and his famously murderous daughter, Lucrezia getting involved. More famous characters are sure to be introduced as Ubisoft’s hype machine begins to rumble on in the coming months. As he was hard-pushed to deal with Rodrigo in the second game, this time Ezio’s going to need backup: hence the ‘Brotherhood’ part of the game’s title. As a grumpy middle-aged man, Ezio has decided to impart his killing wisdom to the various promising youngsters he finds as the game progresses.

Once you’ve collected them, they can be assigned different tasks using a curious chessboard-esque interface. Eventually they can even be called upon when you’re out roaming. See a rather nasty guard holding a halberd/sword/rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle? Don’t dirty your own blade with his vile common blood - just give a signal and suddenly one of the Ezio Juniors will come slinking from the crowd and empty the contents of the guards’ stomach onto the ground.