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Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (PlayStation 3) artwork

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (PlayStation 3) review

"I donít generally play games to see what twists the narrative will take, but I do have certain standards. Cut away the memorable opening and the even more memorable closer and the story here really just amounts to ďLetís build up a team of assassins so we can save the day!Ē It basically amounts to filler, the sort of stuff you would expect from an expansion pack, and yet the game as a whole does enough important things that you dare not skip it."

Assassinís Creed Brotherhood would be easier to love if it didnít closely follow Assassinís Creed II. You can have some fantastic gaming experiences while you spend the 30 or 40 hours it takes to do everything important in Brotherhood, but little issues along the way keep everything from coming together in a truly satisfying manner. The real issue is that those issues were much less invasive (or not even present) in the previous title. As a result, each new or exaggerated flaw stands out as surely as if someone took a yellow highlighter to it.

When I play a game, I donít want to have to work just to love it. I want to stick it in my game console and I want the magic to forcefully take over. I want to look up from my play session and realize that suddenly itís 7 in the morning and I really should have been in bed hours ago. That last part actually did happen to me as I played Brotherhood--twice, even--but I feel like the developers managed that in the wrong ways. They appealed to my compulsive side and so I kept going, but I wasnít having nearly as much fun as I should have been.

Like Assassinís Creed II before it, Brotherhood places you (indirectly) in the shoes of Ezio, an Italian assassin. As the sequel commences, Ezio and his family--some related by blood and some through the ceremony and creed that make them assassins--are celebrating victory over their Templar rivals. They go their separate ways, and Ezio looks forward to the less meaningful but more relaxed life that he has earned. He will live on the family property with his sister, his mother, and with his uncle.

Things eventually go very wrong, or else there wouldnít be a game. The manner in which they go wrong definitely makes for a memorable opener, too. Aside from some stuff that rather transparently is just a tutorial in disguise, that opening is one of the gameís obvious highlights.

Meanwhile, in 2012Ö

Desmond Miles definitely gets to enjoy more of the spotlight this time around, as well. Thatís something I remember looking forward to as I played previous installments, because I personally find Desmond interesting. I also like the close-knit group of experienced assassins who have gathered around him to make sure that he has time to find the memories that they hope will lead to the recovery of the magical bauble that thus far has lied at the heart of the franchiseís mythology. Look forward to plot twists that are sometimes satisfying, sometimes the tiniest bit boring, and sometimes just plain shocking.

Most of the game, though, is still devoted to Ezioís ongoing adventures. Older, wiser and now blessed with additional emotional scars, Ezio heads to ďRomaĒ to battle those who have given him new reasons to regret their continued existence. This time around, the chief villain is Cesare, the son of someone Ezio met in Assassinís Creed II. Cesare is jealous, whiny, and determined to bring the known world under his control, but you donít see him for most of the game. Instead, you spend time hearing about him and fighting people who barely matter so that you can eventually become a thorn in Cesareís side.

Thatís my first problem with Brotherhood: the story. I donít generally play games to see what twists the narrative will take, but I do have certain standards. Cut away the memorable opening and the even more memorable closer and the story here really just amounts to ďLetís build up a team of assassins so we can save the day!Ē It basically amounts to filler, the sort of stuff you would expect from an expansion pack, and yet the game as a whole does enough important things that you dare not skip it.

At least the plot and the gameplay are intertwined, so itís possible to appreciate it all on that level. Early in the adventure, youíll be able to start recruiting thieves to your cause. Oppressed by the ruling family, the Borgias, theyíll join your guild once you save them from guards who bully them. Once you have recruited those thieves, you can press L2 and summon them to briefly assist you in battle, or to take out any on-screen guards with a hail of arrows. Doing so often enough will cause them to gain experience points so that they make more effective allies. Contract missions are an even faster means to the same end, however, and so I had my assassins in training for most of the game. Completed quests also bring cash and sometimes items, so itís a fairly neat diversion.

The number of thieves you can recruit ranges from one to twelve, depending on how many Borgia towers you have toppled. Those towers exert influence on surrounding buildings, which is important because it means that if you want to use a doctorís services or purchase armor or weapons or renovate stables, you need to first make sure that it is not under the enemyís control. To do so, you have to head into a danger zone and assassinate a general, then scale a tower and blast some explosive barrels before leaping from a viewpoint and into the nearest pile of hay (some things, at least, never change).

The Borgia Towers are a neat idea, but theyíre a bit too restrictive. As you would expect, the game ropes off certain areas with the translucent white walls through which you dare not pass. Until you advance the central story, youíll often find yourself only just barely unable to reach a tower, and thus you canít generate additional income by renovating buildings and you canít reach viewpoints and such. Taking down a tower is always satisfying when you finally are permitted to do it--and often you gain access to a few new buildings all at once--but the system is a transparent means of taking away the playerís control.

I also was disappointed by most of the missions, optional and otherwise. For example, you can find and destroy various war machines that Leonardo Da Vinci was forced to build for the enemy, but that always means a lengthy mission with heavy stealth elements. Getting spotted by the enemy forces you back to the last checkpoint, and those checkpoints arenít always generously placed. You can also raid six hidden dungeons in search of treasure, where youíll have to make a lot of daring leaps. In a few cases, I would figure out how to work my way through a dungeon, but at the last minute Ezio would run up a wall and bound outward (taking a fatal fall), or Iíd try to grab a railing and he wouldnít for some reason. So Iíd try other things and then eventually I finally looked it up online and found out that I was doing things right all along but some of my moves just didnít register properly.

Really, though, the stealth part that I mentioned was my pet peeve. Ezio is a capable assassin, so I look forward to the freedom that the excellent training he underwent (by my hand) in Assassinís Creed II should allow. Stealth missions take that freedom away and turn Brotherhood into something that barely even feels like Assassinís Creed. There have always been mild stealth elements throughout the series, and those make sense in a logical sense. Iím fine with them up to a point. But when you essentially turn your game into Metal Gear Solid, somethingís going to give. The stealth requirement also prevents you from using your thieves to their greatest advantage, which means that the new twists on the old formula donít even get along with one another.

In cases where stealth thankfully isnít required, the game still finds ways to make you feel bad about being spotted. Missions now have a synchronization rate, where you are awarded 100% synchronization if you do things perfectly, or only 50% if you make a minor mistake. That success rate is tied into a trophy, too, for all you completionists out there (though the trophy that requires you to find 110 Borgia flags will likely have already proven enough to dissuade most fans from trying to do everything). The possibility of only partial synchronization means you need to pay close attention when you first start a mission. You have to quickly scan the requirements for full synchronization and then you have to remember them throughout however many checkpoints a memory might contain. In one case, you might have to avoid touching the ground, while in another youíre penalized if you lose too many squares from your life meter. Most commonly, though, you have to avoid being seen.

For the sake of completeness, I should probably also mention the online mode, which lets you play as Abstergo agents in the animus. You can assassinate other players and form teams andÖ well, thatís as much as I could gather from reading descriptions. I spent 10 or 15 minutes in a lobby waiting for a team of six players to form so that I could try things out for myself, but that never quite happened. Everyone has moved on to Assassinís Creed: Revelations by now, or perhaps theyíre just holding out for Assassinís Creed III. Whatever the case, thereís little to no online support for Brotherhood. Even some of the menus reference an upcoming E3 2012 promotion with now-expired deadlines.

If you were to say that all of the above is just me harping on minor things, I wouldnít disagree. Itís just that for me, the small things all stink a little bit. Together, they have the impact of a fart at a fancy restaurant. The food around you is still good, but the experience has changed and itís not as wonderful as it had the right to be. You can soldier through it and savor the flavor, maybe even love it once you put the stench out of your mind, but youíre still left wishing no one had farted. Thatís an ineloquent metaphor, I know, but I figure it works as well as the game does and I wonít be changing a word.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (September 12, 2012)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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Roto13 posted September 13, 2012:

You're saying "thieves" a lot when you mean "Assassins." :P And "Michaelangelo" when you mean "Leonoardo." Wrong Ninja Turtle.

These games are not the kinds of games you really want to play one after the other. It's easy to burn out.
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honestgamer posted September 13, 2012:

The game actually does call them thieves, even though eventually they can become assassins under your tutelage (following the unskippable ceremony back at the island hideout). You got me on the Michelangelo thing, though. Thanks for the catch!
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darketernal posted September 14, 2012:

I rather liked the game, personally, even though some of the challenges are annoying.

If there is one thing I didn't like, it was the unecessary banter between Desmond and Lucy, or Ezio and various characters. It just seemed forced, and didn't really fit with the game what so ever.

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