"Everything... is permitted"
I'm of the belief that realistic expectations for Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood would be low expectations. Here we have the third game in a still inconsistent franchise released only a year after the monumentally improved Assassin's Creed 2 with the crux of its marketing campaign being placed on a multiplayer component. It's true, AC2 was a gigantic step forward from the ambitious, but wholly disappointing Assassin's Creed, but the developers at Ubisoft risked souring that good will by dishing out a half-baked sequel to capitalize on its popularity. That's why it's not only surprising, but wonderfully miraculous that not only does Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood live up to its prequel's quality, but surpasses it in so many key areas that it is no stretch to call it the best in the series thus far.
STORYFor those unacquainted, the story of Brotherhood is a tad hard to summarize. Basically, you play as Desmond Miles, a former bartender in the year 2012 who comes from a long ancestry of Assassins, a secret organization devoted to safeguarding society through the act of savage neck stabbings. Using a special device called the Animus, Desmond must re-live the memories of his ancestors to gain their knowledge and abilities in order to combat their rivals, the Templars, in the modern day. Obviously, the story also revolves around the ancestor whose memories he is currently re-living. In this case, it is Ezio Auditore da Firenze of Renaissance Italy, an Assassin whose ascension was chronicled in the previous game. Ezio finds himself in some hot water when, following an attack on his villa, he must go to Rome to combat the full might of the Borgia papacy and restore the once great city to its former glory. The story here is certainly different than the previous game as Ezio is already established and is now focused on a single goal rather than the long multi-year journey of AC2, but it manages to stay fresh and interesting with its large cast of distinct characters and surprisingly savage and cutthroat tone. On the Desmond side, there isn't much development until the very end. When that end hits, however, it'll likely leave you both scratching your head and with your mouth a-gape in shock.
CONTENTBrotherhood is a hefty game. The main-line story is relatively long at about 10 or so hours, but you can easily double or triple that with the single-player content alone. The game does a fantastic job of continually throwing more and more activities at you to the point where, just as you believe you're about to get to finish half of what's on your plate, suddenly it's stuffed to the gills with new stuff to check out. That's not to say some of it is repetitive, but the game does give you incentive for exploring the city and doing as many things as you can either with new toys or helpful gameplay buffs or just more story exposition. Throw in the city-building aspect of buying properties and the gathering and training of Assassin recruits, and it's easy to become immersed in the activity-filled Roman streets for hours on end.
This also doesn't account for the game's multiplayer, which in and of itself can be played for an immeasurable amount of times. Realistically, only three game-types and a handful of maps are included in the package as it stands, but the addictive and tense gameplay and constant player progression will ensure you spend at least a little bit of your stay in Italy with some other human players.
GAMEPLAYBy now, the gameplay of Assassin's Creed should be fairly familiar. The game retains its social stealth and acrobatic antics with a few tweaks. You'll still use a combination of Ezio's dexterity and the populated streets of Rome to locate, tail, and/or kill your targets, but Brotherhood seems to have done its darnedest to eliminate feelings of frustration or helplessness that were found in the previous games, heaping on tools and toys that just beg to be exploited. Among them are a slew of new ranged tools including a ridiculously deadly and silent crossbow, as well as a better use of the large weapons found in AC2. All these are aided by the fact that Ezio now has the ability to chain kills together while in combat, allowing you to clear entire swaths of guards with enough timing and skill. It's not too easy, but it's simple enough a mechanic that helps speed up fights without feeling cheap.
You'll also step into a handful of vehicles for some pretty unique and wholly entertaining missions for Leonardo Da Vinci. Poor Leo has been forced to create war machines for the Borgias, but as his best bro, you've agreed to destroy them and their blueprints to avoid their use in harming the innocent. As such, you'll go through standard stealth missions that will each end with Ezio commandeering and subsequently destroying said inventions. Although I was in no hurry to jump back on Leo's flying machine (even with its new bombing capability) I must say I got a kick out of a rocket-firing gondola and was delighted when I got the chance to step out from the shadows and into Leo's rickety wooden tank for one ridiculously fun segment.
Perhaps the biggest inclusion to Brotherhood's gameplay is the inclusion of the Assassin's Guild, a feature that isn't even introduced until about halfway through the game's story. Now, Ezio has the option of recruiting rebellious citizens of Rome and train them up to assist him in combat. This involves a type of strategy mini-game which has you sending your dudes and dudettes out on missions across Europe to build up their skill and strength. With each level, your recruits get more and better equipment until they finally reach the rank of full Assassin. Their real value, however, comes in their ability to be called in to assist Ezio at any time (provided they've been given enough time to cool down since last called and/or they aren't all off doing their own thing). With a simple button press, you can direct your recruits to a target to take them out silently, leaving you to do go on your merry way unmolested. They can also be called into fights to give you a little more muscle and, if enough are available, they can perform a guard-clearing arrow storm that is pretty devastating when used correctly. The one caveat is that your recruits can die if overwhelmed in combat or if given a difficult mission, but if you're like me and you don't make any overtly stupid decisions, you'll have a large brace of full Assassins by game's end.
It would also serve to talk about the multiplayer gameplay. Essentially, the multiplayer on offer is a sadistic version of hide and go seek. Using mechanics from the single-player, your job is to find and assassinate a given target while also evading your own pursuer. As such, games quickly escalate into a tense combination of trying to keep a low profile while still staying mobile enough to find your target and score a kill. Intelligently, the game awards QUALITY kills over QUANTITY of kills so while you could be super conspicuous and charge towards your target with abandon and kill them, you'll get far less kills than if you were to, say, hide with a group doppelgangers while your target passes you, then slowly tail them before calmly and quickly executing them and disappearing once again into the constantly moving crowds. Eventually, you'll earn more tools to help with your given play-style, but they don't change the game fundamentally. And fundamentally, the Brotherhood multiplayer is just plain fun.
PRESENTATIONLastly, it's appropriate to talk about the presentation side of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. This is one good-looking game, although some effects seem to be more implied than actually fully executed (if that makes any sense). What I mean is that while textures aren't necessarily the sharpest, nor player models the sharpest, the way the game presents them is such that it never exposes any ugliness. Rome's size is remarkable and its look is equally impressive. Characters animate remarkably well, and it's Ezio's downright nasty fighting animations that steal the show. On the sound end, it only gets better. The period-appropriate music returns here with more haunting and ominous tunes that eventually explode into jangling chase music. The voice-acting is great from top to bottom with Roger Craig Smith putting in another exceptional performance as Ezio, giving the role both a learned gravitas while keeping the character's cheeky and suave nature intact.
FINAL VERDICTWhat more can be said about Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood? I'd wager nothing, by the size of this review, but I shall close with this sentiment. If this is to be the height of the AC franchise, then I consider it a success. This is a game that is not only full to the brim with content, but makes itself thoroughly more enjoyable to play and advances its own story in the process. Was it necessary to revisit Ezio and Renaissance Italy? Probably not, but if this were indeed an attempt to cash-in on the success of Assassin's Creed 2, it was a heartfelt and incredibly well-executed one. It might be lacking for some originality, sure, but after over 24 hours poured into the single player alone, I could care less about originality. Throw in a superfluous yet remarkably well-executed multiplayer component, and you get a game that, while first looked like nothing more than a side-story, ends up towering above its predecessors.
The wisdom of our creed is revealed to us in these words; nothing is true... except that Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood deserves 5 stars out of 5.