You broke my heart Ezio, you broke my heart
Normally, I tend to scoff at gamers who say a game was a big disappointment. A lot of them expect the moon and even the slightest fault and the game is seen as inferior or not quite what they thought it was going to be. Every game (for the most part) tends to have its merits; its shining moments that break through the other idiosyncrasies the game can carry. So it was a good position I was in that I wasn't massively hyped for Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, the "Assassin's Creed 2.5" if you will. I absolutely loved the Assassin's Creed 2 enough to get all the achievements out of it but still, Brotherhood was something I'd definitely play but not something I was salivating at the mouth for. And yet still at the end of the 20-25 hour adventure, I was left with an emotional state closely resembling shock: "did I really play something I should be loving but didn't? Did I do something wrong? This game can't be that disappointing, can it?" Oh yes, it can.
After the ending of Assassin's Creed 2, many speculated on where the franchise would go from there. Would we see Medieval Europe? Or somewhere during the Industrial Revolution? Feudal area of Japan? Nope, instead we're going back to Italy and the further adventures of Ezio. This time Ezio, having his villa destroyed and uncle killed, flees to Rome to strengthen the Assassin's, and build up a strong enough force to counter Rodrigo Borgia and his son, Cezare all the while we see Desmond Miles in the present day uncovering more information about the Templars and the hunt for the Piece of Eden.
The main issue I have with Brotherhood is that it kind of feels like a side story rather then an essential tale. While certain events will undoubtedly be important in the franchise's future, the main plot itself is either confusing or just not that engaging and I actually took extended breaks playing the game compared to Assassin's Creed 2 where it was in constant rotation. One of the better elements of Brotherhood's storyline is some flashback missions that show Ezio's romance with Cristina, and while gameplay wise they're very straightforward, they told an intriguing part of Ezio's history that fleshed out what is otherwise a strangely bland character.
Now Ubisoft in making the 2nd game took a lot of criticisms about the first game and made not only a more improved sequel but an incredible game in its own right. They do add more elements to this game such as renovating Rome by re-building places like banks, tailors and blacksmiths, missions involving Da Vinci's "war machines" that were a ton of fun and there's a lot more side missions to do. It does feel slightly repetitive though: do things to gain more money so you can build something that'll generate more money but it was a nice goal to work towards. Not all additions are things I cared for and one of them is the optional requirement for getting 100% on a mission, fail and you only get 50%. Some of these range from kill the target using an air assassination, don't get caught or time limits. However, these can range from insultingly easy or some of the most infuriating or off-putting requirements ever. One was the common "do not be detected" one yet in some cases a guard will turn around at the last minute and stabbing would be a stealth kill and in other cases, just seeing you was enough to fail the mission. In many cases, I found I was failing for no reason and I'd be sitting there going "wait....what? Why?"
Controls have still not been improved since Assassin's Creed 2 either. Many, many cases of Ezio not jumping in the direction you're clearly still holding down, the camera will swing around causing the direction of your jump to change, the basis for what can be grabbed and what can't seems strange and some of my favorite ones is where he'll sometimes magnetize to a ledge to grab it and other times he'll fly completely by it. The parkour is excellent as always though and the combat controls are simple enough (although the actual combat is also too easy or just not that fun). Presentation-wise it strangely looks...okay in places and gorgeous in others. One major annoyance is huge amounts of pop-in with trees magically coming to life or disappearing like Marty's hand in Back to the Future, textures on cliffs and distant buildings will fade in and while the draw distance mightily impressive, it's just not a stunner anymore like the last game was. Voice acting is good when it doesn't repeat itself all the time and one guard was stuck in this endless loop of "let's show him the power of the Borgia" that made me want to kill him even faster. Music, however? Absolutely spot-on and while some themes are recycled from the previous game, it's still a remarkable soundtrack.
The multiplayer is surprisingly excellent when it works right. Like Uncharted 2, Ubisoft adapted its parkour "kill in stealth" gameplay to multiplayer where you play as several characters with similar looking NPC's in the level and with the help of a radar and your keen eye, you have to discern which one's your target while also trying to avoid whoever is out to kill you. Matches can get quite intense and Ubisoft is having the appreciative mindset to give out free DLC such as new maps and gametypes. I don't know how long the community will last but we need more differing styles of online in games and Brotherhood offers a neat alternative to the headshot-wanting crowd of today.
While I am expecting it, I'm sure a lot of people will outright disagree with my review and I've always tried to be as brutally honest in these as I can and not try to hide the game's faults in a couple of sentences while spending paragraphs worth gushing over its triumphs. Like I said, I adored Assassin's Creed 2 and love the fiction and universe that they created but still, things can get a stumble now and then and Brotherhood for me hit too many wrong notes and at the end of my adventure, I really hated admitting to myself this game was a disappointment.