If those lovable cheese-chomping faux-Frenchie countryfrogs of Ginia’s had told me ten years ago that my favorite console game would involve a womanizing Italian with bad facial hair who had a thing for principessas in otra castellos, I would have laughed and said, “Not a Koopa’s chance at a Doc Martens factory.”
And yet, Ubisoft has managed to surprise me again and again, first giving me control of known terrorist and murderer Altair ibn-l’Ahad, a jihadi waging war against Grandpa Lusipurr and his righteous Catholic soldiers trying to “reclaim” the Holy Land from the people who have lived there from time immemorial for a bunch of Angles and Saxons in some backwater hillbilly island somewhere north of the civilized part of Europe. Then, they thrust me into the shoes of the aforementioned greasy Italian.
Ezio grew on me as he literally grew on screen, changing from a brash young man consumed with what all young men lust for (sex and violence) to a thoughtful member of a grand crusade of his own against those who would strip humanity of their free will.
So it was with shaking hands and breathless excitement that I unpacked my Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood collector’s edition from its vacu-packed Amazon box. However, due to family issues, I was unable to play until the week of the Thanksgiving break. Still, an extended time at home with my family during our grief did allow my younger brothers and me plenty of time to take our minds off our troubles and indulge in some Templar killin’.
AC:B is not a sequel. If anything, it is a standalone expansion to ACII. It contains a brief, game-opening recap of the first two games, and brings the players in to the story immediately after ACII ends. Players are given the briefest of tutorials for game mechanics, far different than the training missions in ACII. If anything, the game is too sparse for new players to pick it up. This is not a game to draw in new fans, but rather, over-delivering new content to existing fans to tide them over before ACIII‘s release in a year or two.
With that being said, there is not much else to do, review-wise, for AC:B. Fans of the previous games will find lots more to love this go round. There are still assassinations a-plenty, our main ‘mo Leonardo da Vinci to make us more cool gadgets, and some dastardly incestuous Pope-spawn to take down, while at the same time working against a modern-day conspiracy with our Templar buddies: love interest Lucy Stillman, computer nerd and 1337-sp33k afficionado r3b3cc4, and that impishly grumpy British guy Shaun (I know, fucking eerie, right?).
Mechanic-wise, AC:B merely improves upon the game’s existing themes. Viewpoint synchronization is given an interesting twist that now before players may synchronize, they must often displace a Borgia agent in a gruesome manner. Additional “hard mode” ways of completing memory sequences are now present. Simply completing all objectives gives 50% synchronization; 100% is only achieved if the player completes some arcane objective, such as killing the Borgia captain by buggery. Most of these are trivial (buggery is remarkably easy to achieve), while some of them, such as taking no damage while wrestling with the infernal controls of da Vinci’s Renaissance-era bomber, are next to impossible.
Some reviewers have lamented that the game is even easier than ACII (which, while challenging at parts, was not stressful or rage-inducing like Demon’s Souls). I do not find this to be universally true. Sure, Ezio has a bigger bag of tricks, like the crossbow (which is really just a super-fast hidden blade pistol, or a more powerful throwing knife) or calling in his trainees (which is an instant “I win!” button in many memories), but it fits within the overall scope of Ezio’s growing power. The game is not so much about challenging Ezio to be a bad-ass assassin (he already is), but about allowing him to temper his personal bad-assness by becoming a cog in a larger Assassin movement.
True to that effect, the emergent Brotherhood is a vital part of the game. When entering an area where a trainee can be recruited, Desmond will be prompted to assist the citizen in need, much like the “save a citizen” missions in AC. This is but one example of how the mission structure of AC is bleeding in to ACII.
Some things are just as annoying as they were the first time around. Rounding up flags and tailing missions are still boring, pointless mission types. Ezio’s targeting still leaves a lot to be desired, as there is no way to switch targets once locked on. Combat is fluid and awesome-looking, but rather on the simple side, as Ezio can now chain counter-kills. One single counter-kill, in the hands of a skilled fighter, can dispatch entire waves of enemies, making it less necessary to use stealth to avoid detection.
Other, new challenges abound that are pointless and frustrating. More money-sinks have been added (such as purchasing and renovating faction buildings), and treasure chests now contain items that can deceptively be sold, but might be required later to unlock weapons and armor in “shop quests.” The shop quest mechancic was never explained at the start of the game, and I sold my “vendor trash loot” quite flagrantly, leading me to wonder if I will be able to unlock powerful weapons and armor now that I cannot find certain shop quest materials again.
The game assumes familiarity with the basic mechanics of the series. Gone are training missions that show Desmond/Ezio how to use certain mechanics. Rather, these can be accessed at any time via a “virtual training simulator” that hides behind menus and interrupts the flow of the game. On-screen hints also sometimes appear.
Overall, the game is fairly short, with the story section spanning far less than ACII. I believe this to be because AC:B represents cool “extra” content that did not quite fit within the story arc of ACII but nevertheless constitutes story that should be told, and as something to tide fans of the series over until the third actual game is released. Still, despite its sometimes niggling little flaws and short length, and the fact that the story is less-fulfilling this time around, it is a solid entry in the series, meant for fans, not to recruit new ones.