Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood picks up moments after the end of Assassin's Creed II. Remember that ending? Bizarre artifacts, weird mystical people and strange prophecies. Brotherhood begins as Ezio leaves the Colosseum with the Apple Of Eden — a bizarre, powerful relic — in hand. If Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is your first title in the franchise, it might be worth brushing up on some of the game's fiction. The franchise's overarching narrative is a swooping, convoluted and often ridiculous tale detailing an on-going battle between two factions known as the Assassins and Templars.
While you'll spend most of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood playing as Ezio Auditore — Assassin's Creed II's protagonist and all-around 16th century badass — you're actually in control of Desmond Miles, a modern day nobody who's captured by the Templars at the start of Assassin's Creed. Through a line of super-computers known as the Animus, Miles is able to live out the lives of his predecessors through weird DNA genes. The first Assassin's Creed put Desmond in control of the memories of Altair, an assassin living in the Middle East. At the start of the second game, Miles is snatched away by the modern-day assassins and put into the Animus once more. This time he's taken to Renaissance Italy, and introduced to Ezio, a scorned assassin driven by revenge after his father's untimely murder. Phew.
While Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood darts between a couple of locations, the majority of the game is set within Rome. The game offers a stunning (and enormous) re-imagining of the historical Italian capital, with acres of scenery and important landmarks. The single-player campaign is roughly ten hours in length, though plenty of replay value is provided by virtue of its open world setting. Brotherhood also includes multiplayer, a robust and natural extension to the game's stealth mechanics.
One look at Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood's map is enough to send anyone queasy. The screen is literally awash with things to interact with. The original Assassin's Creed was called out for being too one-dimensional, and the sequel catered to those criticisms by providing a rich array of things to do. Brotherhood furthers that ambition, overwhelming you with options — in a positive way. The narrative explanation for Brotherhood's wealth of interactions is that Ezio is to liberate Rome from the game's antagonistic Borgia control. The first new interaction comes in the form of Borgia Towers, basic tower-like vantage points that Ezio must destroy upon eliminating a Borgia Captain. Each assassination is unique and memorable in its own way, but it's upon liberating the region that Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood truly begins to open up.
With the Borgia influence lessened, Ezio can begin to rebuild the area by renovating shops, enlisting the help of architects and constructing banks. The role-playing mechanics are completely cyclical, rewarding Ezio with money for each renovation. It's apparent later in the game that your actions are simply providing you with the ability to do more of the same, but as transparent as the mechanics are, it genuinely provides a satisfying sense that you're involved in the reconstruction of Rome.
Of course, destroying Borgia Towers doesn't just lead to the renovation of Rome. It also opens slots with which Ezio can recruit assassins, opening up an entire micromanagement system. By interacting with carrier pigeons, Ezio can train assassins and send them on missions across Europe. Missions are completed after defined periods of real-time gameplay and reward the assassin with XP and Ezio with more florins. Assassins can also be called upon during gameplay by targeting an enemy and hitting the L2 trigger. It provides a new method of clearing out guards without breaking cover, offering a new stealth mechanic and a satisfying alternative to conquering specific situations.
Assassin's Creed II's platforming sub-quests return in Brotherhood and once again provide a dramatic change of pace to the main campaign. The platforming sections are both brilliantly designed and utterly memorable, prompting a reminder that, its outer layer gubbins aside, Brotherhood is still a fantastic platformer at heart.
For all Brotherhood's content, Ubisoft could be forgiven for letting the main narrative sit on the sidelines, but the game's campaign is thoroughly engaging and well-acted throughout. Ubisoft do a great job using the main missions as a means of enforcing the various mechanics, but it never feels like you're being forced down a specific path. Some of the later missions in particular provide such a sandbox of potential, allowing you to tackle the objectives in a variety of ways. The gameplay is so perfectly honed that it becomes a demonstration of possibilities rather than a strict set of rules.
Aside from the obvious charm drawn from Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood's setting, the game is a brilliant showcase of technical proficiency. The draw distance is astounding, allowing you to climb to the highest points in Rome and witness the very extremities of the game world. It's staggeringly detailed too, with the recreation of the Colosseum being a particular highlight. There's some tearing and minor framerate hiccups, but otherwise Brotherhood is a game that oozes polish from start to finish.
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood could have fallen to the trappings of introducing multiplayer for the sake of a bulletpoint. As it happens, the game's 'kill or be killed' multiplayer component is both brilliant and utterly engaging. Working with staples of the multiplayer genre — perks and loadouts are a key mechanic here — Brotherhood constructs something completely unique that plays well into Assassin's Creed's lore. The concept is simple — playing individually (or in teams, depending on the game mode) you're given a target to hunt down and assassinate. The better your assassination (speed, silence, etc) the more points you'll earn. The twist is that while you seek out a particular target, other players will be after you. It becomes a balancing act of chasing opponents, blending into the surroundings and keeping a keen eye out for potential pursuers. It takes a while to get into but it's so unique that it instantly grabbed our attention. The most exciting thing is that everyone's on an even playing field. While skills earned in Call Of Duty generally transcend into other first person shooters, Brotherhood stands on its own. It's refreshing, fun, and something we expect to spend a large amount of time with in the future.
For the most part, Brotherhood's controls are as fluid and intuitive as you'd like them to be. The game still relies on its "freestyle" mechanic, initiated by holding the R1 button. Moving towards walls and ledges will immediately prompt Ezio to climb them. On the whole, the control system works fine. There are still moments of frustration however, such as times when Ezio won't jump towards an obvious ledge, or will end up overcooking his run and jump in the wrong direction. When you're simply traversing the world it's hardly a big issue, but when you're platforming through environments littered with guards, slight imprecisions in the platforming can lead to frustration.
We also had a few hair-tearing moments with Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood where we walked in circles asking ourselves, "Well, what do we do next?" Some mission objectives can be startlingly vague. It's rubbish when you fail a mission due to a lack of communication.
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is the most iterative instalment in Ubisoft's pseudo-historic franchise. The storyline, while confusing to newcomers, will intrigue series veterans. However, it's in the gameplay refinements that Brotherhood really shines, mixing satisfying combat and parkour with simple role-playing mechanics.