There were understandable fears for Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Not only was it another iteration in a series that, by our money, failed almost catastrophically in its first part, but it was also that the game’s multiplayer features were by far the most promoted and vaunted in the year since its official announcement. Would the single-player game be a fully-fledged adventure in its own right? Would it even be a game, or simply an isolated set of throwaway levels, a bullet point on a box housing a product focused almost exclusively on the multiplayer angle?
Absolutely not. Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood treads a fine line in its approach, teetering sublimely between all the great moments of its excellent predecessor, and adding just enough new ideas to the mix to freshen up the concept. In short, this may be Assassin’s Creed 2.5, but in being so is a perfect reminder of how a careful, iterative approach can be just as rewarding as blithely flinging ideas around for the sake of innovation.
We’d have been happy enough, in fact, to see the adventures of Ezio simply continue where they left off, with the massive space of Rome to explore – larger, in fact, than the whole of Assassin’s Creed II’s play area – and the familiar combination of stealth and rooftop bounding parkour action at the forefront of the action. But then Ubisoft started showing off, with an almost mind-boggling plethora of features to tie up some of the hanging threads of its predecessor’s gameplay, while introducing a dusting of other joys.
The core addition, of course, is the titular Brotherhood, a happy consequence of the game’s new focus on revolution; bringing about change in Rome not by way of simply removing those in power by brute force, but by undermining the corrupt Borgia regime by harnessing the power of the people. Thus, those familiar ‘help the citizen’ events now garner far more than increased respect in the local area – they supply Ezio with a band of up to 12 trainee Assassins (in line with the same amount of Borgia towers, which must be symbolically burned down to embolden the volunteers), at his beck and call almost whenever required. It feels immediately like a neat gimmick to be able to summon a small army of stabby Ezio clones, but the system runs even deeper. A basic menu system enables the team to be individually trained, sent off on missions around the world, and their resulting XP used to level-up their attack and defensive stats. On top of this, the more Assassins amassed, the more impressive their combined special abilities in battle; six or more, for example, calling down a hail of arrows to demolish even a sizeable opposition force. Meanwhile, calling these chaps and chapettes into battle (or sending them abroad) will always carry the risk of failure, the foreign missions in particular measuring the probable success rate of the Assassins as a percentage, allowing you to stack up a cumulative roster of dangerous ambassadors to get the job done.
The three factions from last game are now possessed of their own levelling systems, chalkboards in the Thieves’, Mercenaries’ and Courtesans’ guilds inscribed with a list of moves Ezio must carry out in order to upgrade their services. It’s a great way to remind you of the exceptional range and depth of Ezio’s fundamental abilities, which can be so easily ignored by those bent on marching through the game last time around.
On a similar level, Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘machines’, now fallen under the control of the Borgia army, must be destroyed, in a series of side-quests that strip back everything but Ezio’s stealth capacity, rewarding several minutes’ tense head-scratching with cheerfully ridiculous payoff, as Ezio turns the contraptions against his enemies, gunning down pursuing horses from a cart-mounted prototype machine gun, or commandeering a wooden, manually—powered tank to go toe-to-toe with other theoretical creations, now made solid in a world Ubisoft takes cheeky liberties with infectious confidence.
The Assassin Tomb missions, meanwhile, have been replaced by epic descents into the gloomy, scabrous underworld of the Cult of Romulus – a wolfskin-clad band of nomads with hideouts so huge, all six could almost comprise a game in themselves –while the villa-renovating minigame from ACII, now allows you to buy and renovate the whole of Rome, purchasing historical landmarks, and rather gloriously visualising the dismantling of the Borgia’s strangehold on the city’s trade and culture.
Ezio himself has now become an even more unique character in gaming; no longer the up-and-coming vengeful youth, this is a 30-plus-hour game in which the player is a cast as a man with years of history; a philanthropist, a tactician and a leader, as well as a killer and an acrobat. He even has his own flashback missions, detailing some as-yet untold snapshots of his life some twenty years before.
Ubisoft’s obvious affection for Ezio and his world lives as strong as ever – stronger, even – among the lighthearted secret history treatment, with a degree of appreciation for the period that easily matches the last game. Implied incest between the Borgia siblings, a mercurial Machiavelli and, again, those crazy Da Vinci contraptions paint a world that’s more fun to simply strut around poking things in than ever before, especially as the visuals have received a suitable spit and polish, rendering more stunning vistas than ever, and facial animation that ups the believability of the human drama on show to often admirable levels.
Hitting the mark in just about every area, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is a stunningly considered improvement on its predecessor. Essential for fans of the series, it’s also an adventure of tremendous substance and beauty in its own right.