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A good assassin's job never ends, does it?
That's what poor old Ezio Auditore, hero of Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed 2, must be thinking as the latest game in the franchise begins. Dubbed Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, the game continues Ezio's exploits as he takes the Assassins' eternal war against the Templars to the city of Rome.
At the end of the previous game (SPOILER), he let the current pope, Rodrigo Borgia, live after a visitation from the goddess Minerva (END SPOILER).
In return for that, Rodrigo's son, Cesare, leads an army to the Auditore mansion and destroys it, forcing the Auditores to run. Ezio is determined to end the Borgias' reign and heads to Rome to make things right. In the modern day, Desmond and a small group of Assassins head to the Auditore ruins to set up shop away from the Templars who stormed their warehouse at the end of the last game. Desmond has to return to the Animus to re-live Ezio's life and discover just what happened in the past.
Fans of Assassin's Creed 2 will find a lot to like in Brotherhood, as it keeps most of the wonderful things about that game, as well as adding some new wrinkles as well.
First, in keeping with the "Brotherhood" name, you're not in this battle alone. Once you get to Rome and establish yourself, you can recruit assassins who will help you in your greatest time of need. With the push of a button, you can call them to help you in battle or to carry out the assassination that you are supposed to be doing (they have the uncanny ability to appear in places that you might find it hard to get to without your target running away). You can also assign them missions to foreign lands that will greatly aid the assassin cause. These missions will get you money, give them the experience necessary to raise them to assassin rank, and also sometimes get you a needed resource that will help with certain shop quests.
To become head of the Brotherhood and recruit assassins, you need to start removing Borgia influence from Rome by toppling various Borgia towers and killing the Borgia guard captain responsible for that area. As towers topple, more areas of Rome are freed so that you can purchase businesses and build the city back up to its former glory. Run-down shop fronts with beggars hovering around them will suddenly become bustling marketplaces with well-dressed gentlemen and ladies walking by.
This is much the same as building up your mansion was in the first game, except it's de-centralized, forcing you to go to the Bank, Art Shop, Weaponsmith, or what have you, in order to buy it. Building up the city creates income for Ezio, which will come in handy when you need to purchase cool new weapons and armor.
Recruiting and managing assassins can be fun, but it can also get old after a while. Assassins can be killed on their foreign missions if you assign them one that's too tough. Of course, the trick is to wait until they're strong enough (or send multiple assassins to bring up the chance of success) before sending them. Thus, there is no real tension. There are also too many repeats. How many times can you have one of your agents sit between two nobles at a performance and eavesdrop? A lot, apparently.
Combat will be very familiar to players of the previous game, though Brotherhood does add a few twists. You can have a pistol and crossbow (the crossbow can help with assassination missions, as it's quiet). You can throw certain weapons for nice ranged attacks too.
The best new additions to the combat, however, are execution moves. You can counter an attack and have Ezio perform a one-hit kill on a guard, as previously. However, you can string together a series of execution kills as long as you aren't interrupted by getting hit. Thus, with ten guards around Ezio, he can kill them all one-by-one without even stopping to take a breath. It's awesome to behold when you get a really good chain going, and can help make some of the more difficult guards easier to take down. They're not immune to this, though they may be more likely to hit you, interrupting your beautiful string.
The graphics are, once again, glorious to behold. The hustle and bustle of Rome gives it a lived-in feel, though there are a few too many similar character models hanging around. When you're at the top of a tower, sometimes it's hypnotizing just kneeling on a ledge and looking out over the city and its environs. There is occasionally a bit too much fade-in, though, with objects and building appearing out of nowhere as you move forward. This can be a bit jarring when you're running from the vicious Borgia guards.
The story is well-told, though it does get a bit predictable after a while. The story missions, while relatively few (there are only 9 episodes), are quite varied and give you lots to do. There is also a huge number of side missions as well, from Courtesan missions to Assassination contracts, as well as Thieves Guild missions and many more. These can get a bit tedious after a while as well. There are so many that they start to appear the same after a while.
Thankfully, once Desmond is in the Animus, the story doesn't go back to him until the very end, though you can leave the Animus at any time and explore the modern-day Auditore mansion. There are five things to find in your modern-day explorations, though if you get anything other than achievement/trophy for it, I couldn't tell. You do want to leave the Animus occasionally and talk to your fellow assassins, though, as well as reading your (and their) email. You'll find some interesting story content if you do.
The story ends in a twist that will have fans of the series chomping at the bit for an Assassin's Creed 3. Unfortunately, the twist is kind of telegraphed in an earlier conversation, but it's still affects you deeply. It also makes further travels into the Animus as Ezio seem really out of place (as before, you can continue to play after you've finished the story).
To add to the confusion, "The Truth" rears its ugly head again! Those weird symbols appear on the walls of various buildings in Rome once again, and when you find one, you once again have to solve various puzzles that will make you tear your hair out. There are some interesting implications from some of them, though, such as the possibility that Chief Justice John Roberts is actually a Templar. Who knew?
Finally, as an added bonus, for the first time you can play the game multiplayer. Instead of mainstays like "Team Deathmatch" and the like, there are various assassination games. My favourite (and the only one I've played) is "Wanted," where you're an assassin in the Animus (it's become a Templar training device) who has a target to kill in the bustling streets of Rome. But you're also being hunted as well. You get bonuses for how stealthy you complete your kill, or if you manage to evade the one who's after you. I love this mode because it keeps people from just running madly around the city. Instead, you have to plan carefully, track your target and put the knife in. Hopefully before somebody puts it in you. As you gain experience points and levels, you can unlock various character models, outfits, weapons, and other goodies.
Overall, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is a wonderful game. It's much more than an expansion to Assassin's Creed 2. Yes, there are a lot of similarities between the games, but the improvements are what makes this one a step up on the previous. Better combat, economic management, and an interesting (though much shorter) addition to the main storyline, all make this a necessary buy to any who loved the previous games.
And if this is your first, it's certainly a great place to start.
(This review can also be found on Dave's Video Game Revue)