Murder as an Artform – Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

It’s been just over a year since my inaugural review on A Most Agreeable Pastime, in which I heaped praise upon the doorstep of Assassin’s Creed II. It seems fitting then that this week’s review is of its sequel, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, which I’ve just finished playing and very much enjoyed. Look out for a review of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations this time next year as I maintain my reputation for steadfastly remaining a good couple of years behind the rest of the gaming community – we may not be timely here on A Most Agreeable Pastime, but you could never accuse us of jumping on every fad gamewagon that rolls into town. Although I might buy a Wii U in November.

The start of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is pretty bewildering, even for someone who’s played the two previous games – I can’t imagine how confusing it would be for someone who’s new to the series. (Tip: if you are new to the series, start with Assassin’s Creed II, it’s much better than the first game in every respect.) In terms of plot, Brotherhood picks up directly where the previous game left off, and in the usual manner of sequels, all of your good work from the previous game is quickly undone within the first five minutes. Like that careless Samus Aran in the Metroid games, you manage to lose all of the precious stuff you spent the previous 20-odd hours gathering up, leaving you to start from scratch again – it’s a gaming tradition as old as time itself. Well, at least 1986 anyway.

Spot the assassin.

Brotherhood kicks off with one of those tedious modern day sections that blight the series – as I said in my review of Assassin’s Creed II, the series could easily do without all of the modern day sections and not suffer in the slightest. In fact, it would be better if the hokey sci-fi plot and the clunky ‘modern’ sections were expunged entirely – I actually sighed when I realised another tedious segment with dull ol’ Desmond Miles was coming up. Thankfully, the designers seem to have got  the message that these sections are all but redundant – the game is bookended by two such chapters, but otherwise you remain in Renaissance Italy for the entire time, although with the option to leave the Animus at any point. Not that you’d want to.

Once you’re thrown into the game proper though, the sheer number of innovations thrust upon you quickly becomes overwhelming. Assassin’s Creed II did a good job of expanding the gameplay by ushering in various new ways to complete missions, such as hiring courtesans to distract guards or using poison to discreetly dispatch your target, but Brotherhood takes the number of options to a whole new level. As well as various new weapons, such as a crossbow and poison darts, you can now use parachutes, summon horses and even command your own squad of assassins. There’s also the option to buy up and repair buildings across Rome and install factions of various guilds in certain buildings, and to be honest, it’s all a little overwhelming at first, even for someone who’s played through the previous games – god knows what someone who’s new to the series would make of it.

The impressive Colosseum.

Still, once you get the hang of things it gets thoroughly absorbing, and there’s something incredibly satisfying about watching your influence gradually spread across the map as you defeat Borgia captains and buy up property across Roma. And speaking of Rome, the scale of the city is mightily impressive – this time around, rather than spread the game across three mid-sized cities, the designers have chosen to concentrate on one enormous city, and it’s a decision that pays off well as you get to know the various districts and streets of the capital, gradually pushing further and further out from the centre. Initially I was a little disappointed with the actual look of the city – in terms of prettiness, Rome isn’t a patch on the beautiful Florence of the previous game – but on the other hand it’s an incredibly faithful reproduction of the city, right down to the half-finished dome of St Peter’s Basilica and the impressively enormous ruins of the Colosseum.

By far my favourite addition in this game is the ability to summon your own team of assassins at any time – select your target and a quick tap of the bumper will cause a flurry of assassins to emerge from the shadows and eliminate your enemy. It’s a brilliant mechanic that never gets old, and the ability to level up your assassins by sending them away on missions brings a welcome RPG-style touch to the proceedings. Another RPG-like addition is the various goods that can be looted from treasure chests and messengers and then sold to merchants – this makes treasure hunting a much more interesting pastime than in the previous game, although I would have liked to see this idea expanded on a bit more – once you’ve completed the limited shop quests on offer, there’s not a lot you can do with your ‘treasure’.

A quick hand gesture from Ezio (on the right) unleashes assassin vengeance. This never gets boring.

Overall then, Brotherhood is a fine improvement on the previous entry in the series, although as ever that slightly embarrassing sci-fi hokum storyline casts its pall over an otherwise intriguing historical adventure. See you this time next year for a review of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations.

[As belatedly reviewed by Lucius Merriweather. Another game falls from The Mantelpiece…]