Monday, September 17, 2012

Assassin's Creed Timeline (Part 3) - Brotherhood

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (AC:B) is a seamless transition from AC2, starting immediately after the events of the previous game. A brief narrated video is all the player gets in terms of an introduction before the game thrusts them into the game proper, back into the role of Ezio Auditore and Desmond Miles.

Unlike the previous two games, AC:B is set almost entirely in a single location, the city of Rome. There are a few short segments in alternate locations, but Rome is where the bulk of the gameplay occurs. The introduction is one of these, but unfortunately is one of the weakest part of the game. It doesn't offer much in the way of a meaningful tutorial for new players, but also doesn't really cater to existing players in a terribly interesting or engaging manner.  Once this is over, then the player heads to Rome and the player mostly remains here. This turns out to be both a blessing and a curse.

The exploration aspects of the game are significantly reduced as a result of this single location, and there's not quite the same sense of wonder as exploring locations like Jerusalem or Venice. The modelling of landmarks like Castel Sant'Angelo, Roman Forum and the mighty Colosseum is very impressive and detailed, but it doesn't have quite the large scale spectacle of the previous two games. There are also a number of missions and activities that see Ezio covering the same ground repeatedly, so there are certain areas that the player can feel they are seeing too frequently.

Rome is beautifully created, but I wanted more big vistas

Conversely, this tighter focus means the player becomes more at home in the setting of game, and is able to recognise and navigate via landmarks much easier. This leads to a welcome familiarity, and provides a sense of growing in knowledge just as Ezio would have gained in his journey to becoming a master assassin. The player can learn routes and quicker means to move about, which can give them an edge when trying to escape from guards or hunt a target.

As with previous games, AC:B does briefly remove most of the player's equipment a short way into the game, but even more so than AC2, is very quick to return it again. This is largely a power balance issue, reducing Ezio's health and his better weapons that would allow him to kill enemies with little effort. The good thing is that Ezio's range of equipment is mostly given back fairly swiftly, the main thing players have to wait for is the improved swords, maces and daggers that are faster and more effective against enemies. Even better is that the player is given a few extra weapons with which to dispatch enemies. The addition of the crossbow is particularly nice, especially given it was featured as a weapon in the opening/trailer cinematic for the original Assassin's Creed, but had never been available until now.

About time we got this!

Freedom of movement and the variety of moves available also increases once again in AC:B, as does the difficulty of the enemies. The game requires players to implement a variety of tactics to overcome enemies; a further improvement from AC2 where it was still sometimes possibly to defeat opponents through brute force and/or perseverance. Quick kills and kill streaks pose a new means to end lives, and the ability to leap from horseback to horseback assassinating enemies is somehow far more enjoyable than it has a right to be.

These killing abilities come in handy when attempting to kill a fleeing templar captain, which happens when attempting to establish a new assassin tower within Rome. This new gameplay element involves Ezio trying to get close to the target without being spotted, as when Ezio is seen, the captain will attempt to flee to the safety of the templar controlled tower, and Ezio must kill him before he does. Doing allows the player to recruit new assassin allies, which can be summoned to assist during missions to kill targets without Ezio have to dirty his hands or attraction too much attention. These allies can make some missions laughably straightforward, but it's a nice extra assassination tool to have in the player's arsenal.

With friends like these... we'll need some more enemies

Another highlight is include the addition of "full synchronisation", where extra "memories" (read: missions from Ezio's past relating to a love interest named Cristina Vespucci) become available upon completing a mission while meeting certain additional requirements. These can include: finishing under a time limit, killing enemies in a certain fashion, not being detected, taking a limited amount (or no) damage, among others. This is an excellent way to pose an additional challenge to players without them feeling too penalised if they do not succeed. These bonus missions also serve to flesh out Ezio's character a little more; he really does start to feel like a fully realised character who has evolved from the brash youth of AC2.

One area where the game does take an unfortunate step back is mobile blending, again returning to the simplistic "hit A to blend" option to hide withing a moving group of people. The game also starts to fall apart a bit in the tail end with a series of missions that are fairly simplistic and a little bit tedious. The management of numerous assassins by sending them on missions and training them up can also feel a little repetitive and dull, even though they are fun to call on in the middle of missions or just generally roaming about the city.

"And then I stole his horse... "

The only other real shortcoming is that it doesn't really feel like it offers much that is terribly new or innovative in long term gameplay. There are a few segments where the gameplay is switched up with Leonardo's war machines, or a few different mechanics, but none of these really offer anything that feels like a huge step forward for the series. It really feels like an extension of AC2 rather than a whole new entry to the series, even though the designers did step up a notch in terms of mechanics and even the storytelling and overall presentation feels more polished. The drawback is that the ending once again feels rushed and the story of Desmond is notably lacking in content and context throughout most of the game.

AC:B is very enjoyable game despite feeling like "more of the same" of its predecessor. There are changes and improvements made around the edges, and Ubisoft really seem to have filled out the gameplay and getting sufficient variety into the mechanics and the art of killing to give the player and Ezio a complete and manageable set of tools with which to dispatch his enemies. Stick through the slightly laborious opening to get into the meat of the game, and you'll be glad you did.

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