If there’s one certainty with Ubisoft Montreal’s Assassins Creed series, it’s that it’s home to a plot that makes about as much sense as a Japanese VCR manual read out loud by some guy called Desmond and his nerdy mates. What I can tell you is that it’s set directly after the events that took place in AC: II, whereupon you relinquish the role of renaissance assassin Ezio Auditore da Firenze and his ongoing struggle against the Borgia. While you might be forgiven for thinking this latest instalment is Assassins Creed2.5, Ubisoft have actually crammed in a wealth of content, missions and side quests, combined with a singleplayer campaign spanning over 20 hours and a competent and engaging multiplayer.
Save for a few new combat manoeuvres, little has changed in Ezio’s repertoire of moves and abilities since the previous game, which makes for a similar suite of inspired gameplay and clumsy awkwardness. Bounding across the rooftops of Rome with cat-like grace to take out your target is as satisfying as ever, but for every glorious moment of satisfaction there are [nearly] as many moments of teeth-gnashing frustration. As you nimbly run and jump from one roof top to another, what seemed like a simple combination of button presses only moments before suddenly has you bouncing off walls, leaping in the wrong direction or falling helplessly to the cobble stoned streets below. It’s the same with combat, which shifts between skilfully felling several enemies in an audacious whirlwind of steel to clumsily tripping over your own sword just as you move in for the kill. You haven’t changed how you approached these situations and you certainly haven’t lost all feeling in your fingers and thumbs; the game has just suddenly decided that you’re no longer quite that skilful.
It’s this lack of consistency during gameplay, (something that has been prevalent since gamers first donned the white cowl in Assassins Creed), that threatens to break what is – for the most part – one of the most intuitive combat-cum-platformer in years. As gamers we’re accustomed to making our own mistakes and if we lose then it should be down to our own lack of skill, not because the game suddenly decides we’re going to have a bad day by wresting control from us – if only for moments. Having said that, when it does all come together and you find yourself perfectly in tune with what’s happening on screen, you can forgive those shortcomings and revel in its brilliance; even if it does mean reloading that previous memory and starting again.
As before, Ezio can call upon the aid of thieves, courtesans and mercenaries to help him in combat and out of tight situations. This time round however, there’s the added bonus that upon Ezio destroying a Borgia Tower, he can then recruit and train an assassin to do his bidding. Not only can you call upon these Ezio clones for support, but you also send them out into Europe to complete various assignments and contracts in order to progress their experience. XP can be spent improving their skills and changing their appearance, all in the name of making them better, more efficient killers. While not a terribly new concept it is, however, another example in cementing the knowledge that AC: Brotherhood is more than just a cash cow hastily developed for Christmas and is, in fact, more of a nod towards what Ubisoft have in store for us with Assassin’s Creed III sometime in the new year or thereafter.
Of course it should come as no surprise that, like those gone before it, AC: Brotherhood looks and sounds absolutely spectacular. With noticeable improvements to character models, (their facial animations and general movement being the most obvious), and sound throughout, nowhere is Ubisoft’s aesthetic overhaul more apparent than in Rome itself. Older gamers, (myself included), often speak in awe of just how far video games have come since we were children and AC: Brotherhood is one such game that will undoubtedly stir those emotions and prompt discussion. From Rome’s sun-drenched, tightly-packed rooftops to its bustling, winding streets and overcrowded, sweltering market places; it’s a meticulous and loving creation. I’ve never been to Rome, but I doff my hat to Ubisoft for at least giving me a taste of what it may have been like to stand at the highest point of the Colosseum and look down during the 16th Century. You may find yourself plummeting to your death from the highest of towers after battling with the controls more than once in AC: Brotherhood, but at least you’ll look good doing it.
In conclusion then, this latest adventure into the world of Assassin’s Creed is unquestionably the best in the series yet. Its story still might not make a great deal of sense, and there’s still some work to be done in regards to the flow of combat and movement; but as it stands, Assassin’s Creed is a series that has gone from strength to strength with each new release, and AC: Brotherhood continues that trend with aplomb. A flawed, yet beautifully crafted diamond.