The lights are on
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, at first glance, looks just like Assassin's Creed 2 in Rome, and in many ways it is just that. But play on, and enough improvements will manifest themselves to make it a worthy standalone experience - indeed, rivaling it's two predecessors.
The gameplay mechanics are more refined, though largely the same as the last game's - weapons have Damage, Speed, and Deflect stats, though the first two only really matter in enemies who can't be killed with a single counterattack. A notable improvement is the 'execution streak' system, which allows for any enemy (except bosses) to be one-hit-killed after killing an enemy. This can be continued until either a false counter is performed or Ezio is hit. It definitely puts more emphasis on offensive play and makes the player feel like a graceful master of death when he or she kills 10 guards in 5 seconds or so. Nonetheless, I found some things - particularly the crossbow and poison darts - to be unnecessary. The crossbow serves the same purpose as the hidden gun, except it is superior to it in every way and therefore makes it obsolete (it is totally silent, holds about four times the ammunition, and doesn't have any drawbacks to pay for this). Poison darts accomplish what poison did, except (obviously) at long range.
Read a review, any review, of the original Assassin's Creed and you'll find repetition to be amongst the foremost complaints. Assassin's Creed 2 largely remedied this, but even it suffered from some stale missions. Brotherhood, however, has a diverse set of missions that I see only rarely in video games. Hardly any main plot missions are simply "Go and kill this guy" types anymore - even ones that appear to be the simplest assassination missions usually have some unforeseen variable. I found myself disguised as a guard, listening to my fellow guards' reactions to ascertain the location of my assassination target, climbing rocky outcrops of the massive Castel Sant'Angelo hundreds of feet above the ground, and infiltrating a play disguised to prevent the murder of an innocent man who held a key Ezio needed to gain entrance to the aforementioned Castel. There are four missions in particular which Leonardo gives which are immensely fun and unique - I shan't spoil the experience though. Even optional missions, which usually are notoriously repetitive, often felt fresh - they were usually basic assassinations, but the varied AI of my targets and geography of Rome made each kill a unique one.
Another interesting improvement is the addition of Full Sync challenges on most missions. Completing the mission will yield 50% sync, but completing an optional constraint will boost this to 100%. These constraints are usually varied and creative, from simple "Kill using the hidden blade" ones to "Do not swim" or "Do not touch the ground". These make the game feel even fresher. Nonetheless, there were a few full sync requirements that I felt were unfairly challenging, such as those during a few of Leonardo's missions.
I haven't mentioned the story yet because I felt it lacked a good one, at least for an Assassin's Creed game. The plotline in Renaissance Italy was a foreseeable one where the Assassins simply weaken the Templar's economy and military and then send the whole thing crumbling down. No big plot twists or anything. However, the main storyline in 2012 was surprising, to say the very least. Suffice to say you'll want to get your hands Revelations ASAP.
The entire single-player experience is a great package (I finished it in about 24 hours of gameplay time, but I probably went quickly), but that's only half the game. Multiplayer is a blast, and unlike anything I have played. This is no fast-paced Call of Duty game. It's a game of intrigue, of stealth. In the basic Wanted mode, you get a contract to kill someone. The trouble is, there are lookalikes everywhere. Kill a civilian, and you lose the contract and must wait for a new one. You have the aid of a compass which points to your target, but it grows imprecise as you close in, forcing you to rely on observational skills. Walking around alone guarantees a quick death. Speaking of death, while you're hunting your target, you have a hunter on you, doing the exact same thing. Your target's only defense, besides hiding, is attempting to stun you, but this takes a long time to execute and will almost never work if your pursuer tries to kill you first. Needless to say, complex games are the norm. Just like in Call of Duty, you level up here, too. In this case you gain abilities (Smoke Bomb, Charge and Poison are my favorites), perks (only the later ones are really of any value), kill streaks (only in the form of extra points), and loss streaks (my favorite is one which doubles the value of your next kill).There are deviations from Wanted mode - Manhunt, a four-vs-four match in which teams take turns between being hunted and hunters, Alliance, a two-vs-two-vs-two in which teams hunt each other for two rounds, and Chest Capture, which is a modified Manhunt mode where the hunted players attempt to capture chests. There are also advanced versions of Wanted and Alliance which make target identification more difficult. The chief complaint I have is that locking on to targets is difficult (if the target is in a group, more than likely hitting L1 will target the wrong person). You can hold L1 to focus and zoom, which makes locking on more precise, but this takes a long time and is difficult to do in a moving blend group.
All in all, Brotherhood is a spiced up and polished Assassin's Creed 2 with multiplayer. All things considered, that's not a bad thing.
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