Firstly, did anyone else see that Brotherhood ad that was the still image of Ezio and his groupies, except someone thought “People need to see moving images for an ad to work!” so a poor animator was tasked with making it so. I can’t find a copy of it now, but basically, he took Ezio’s hood and added an animation of pure black wavy lines, like this:
Anyway, the actual game! (SPOILER WARNING)
AC:B, as it shall affectionately be known, continues straight on from AC2. You play as Desmond, the most generic chatacter to ever have existed. Desmond is strapped into a machine which lets him re-live the memories of his anscestors. Of course, all of his relatives are assassins. So for most of the game, you play as Ezio, who arrives with neither family nor friend in Rome. As it’s set in Italy, this instantly becomes a tale of revenge da familia. You gather some cronies (such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Machiavelli, Catherina Sforza) and together on your quest, with your goal to kill the Pope and the Pope’s fucked up family. But all of this time, there’s no real motivation for commiting the atrocious acts you do. You’re told the Borgia are evil, but honestly, Ezio’s probably killed just as many. In AC1, there was the theme of “Nothing is true, everything is permitted“. Each time you killed a target, he proclaimed himself innocent, calling you the monster. There was a constant doubt present – maybe I am the asshole in this world? Yet in AC:B, nope. Ezio’s right, everyone else is wrong.
The one neat thing they tried was by making Machiavelli look like the most evil bastard in the game. The minute you meet him I thought “Bet this guys going to betray me” and halfway through when I found out he had indeed been the traitor, I thought “Oh, big surprise”. Yet they switch it again! You find out right before you were about to put an end to him that he wasn’t the traitor after all! So fair play to Ubisoft for not making the evil looking one, well, evil. I’d like to coin this technique as “The Lenihan”.
So you kill the Pope, take his wizard off-hand item that instantly kills anyone and blahblahblah. The more intersting story, for me anyway, was Desmond’s. In between missions, you can leave the animus, and walk around talking to your modern-day friends. Rebecca, the tech-savy one. Shaun, the SBD (Snarky British Dude) and let’s not forget, Fish-Lips.
In these little intermissions, you get to walk around, chat for a bit, and read everyone’s emails. The fights over guard duty, the “who stole my yoghurts”, the “hey, where’s my iPod gone?” and the hinted romance between Rebecca and SBD all bring these characters some likability. Whereas in Rome, everyone’s too busy stabbing others to actually come across as real people. This bond to these characters pays off in the end, when, being controlled by a God, Desmond is forced to stab Fish-Lips.
They used a technique which, in my circle of friends, has become known as “Pressing Square”. Named after the bit in Metal Gear Solid 3, where you stand over your mentor/final boss, and have to press square to deliver the final bullet yourself. That was a big deal, usually the cutscene would do that for you, and the blood didn’t feel so very, very real on your hands. AC:B doesn’t pull it off quite so well, but it still had a “Noooooo whyyyyyyyyyyyy” moment. So I can safely say, this one had the best story in the whole series, not because it had the most explosions, or most sex-in-a-bath scenes (it did), but because it had little things which made you actually care about these characters.
One of the major systems they carried over from AC2 was the currency system. Most people seemed to like the Buying/Refurbishing property game, where you got to spruce up your own little town, and these upgrades shops couls sell you better things, and also, in turn, raked in more money. Which led to a major problem. About halfway through the game, you’d find your wallet bursting at the seams, but with nothing to actually spend your money on. AC:B makes these exact same mistakes again, but the process is drawn out a bit. This time, major landmarks are purchasable too. (No, before you ask, you cannot buy the Colosseum. Which is such a major letdown! Picture this: During a thrilling mission, Ezio gets captured by his enemies, and forced into a shady dueling tournament held in ol’ Colosso. Ezio climbs the ranks, one head-on-a-spike at a time, until he wins the competition, assassinates the head dude, and claims the Colosseum for his own. Ezio then runs the shady dueling tournaments, forcing captured enemies to fight his fledgling assassins. The mission would be called Gla-Die-Ator.)
So as you can see, this currency issue snowballs out of control. Once every amphitheatre has been purchased, aquaduct repaired and brothel opened, Ezio is stuck sitting on his pile of gold. The single, only, way to decrease your riches ever so slightly, is to throw gold on the ground. No matter how many people you have murdered in the area, how many horses stolen, how many lives ruined by Ezio Auditore, he simply has to throw 10 coins – 10! That’s all it takes to win the heart of a crowd. Yet to make even a dent in your fortunes, you’d basically have to pave the entire city with gold.
There’s a reason playing Monopoly by yourself isn’t interesting…not that I’ve tried…cough. Another frustrating new system was the city liberation mechanic. Every time you go to a new district of Rome, you would find the most heavily-guarded area, kill the guy with the arrow over his head, then climb a tower, set it on fire and voila! Liberation, my friend. But this drags on the 12th time. If there was an Opression meter for the area, and a few different ways to lower it (buying shops, killing guards, looting enemy banks), but also, the enemy could fight back and reclaim some sweet sweet opressions, then I feel it could be a bit more satisfying.
Yet at the other side of the coin, in gameplay terms, is the mission-based open world game. To compensate for a lack of new features, Ubisoft has packed AC/BC with a bijillion missions, each simlutaneously vying for your undying attention. Firstly, there’s story missions. Then there’s GTA style quest givers which include the Thieves Guild, the local Brothel, and the Mercenary Barracks. There’s also assassination contracts, viewpoint sychronization and races. This time though, they’re sneaky about it. Y’see, you’re not “racing”, you’re delivering letters of warning from Copernicus to other scholarly scholars (Easily recognised as the dudes with long hair and berets). This actually made me do race missions. Other annoying quests that returned also include feather-collecting and flag-collecting. But hey, achievment whores need something to give them a buzz.
Some of the best times I had were with the Prince of Persia -esque climbing/acrobatic sections. While some of the sewer-based ones dragged on forever, some were challenging while bringing in a new art style (whoever designed the Pope’s Abandoned House level, I salute you). While doing these, I realised how fluid and capable the free-running system actually can be. It’s just a shame it’s never pushed to be challenging. Falling is rarely super detrimental, and the path up a building is usually pretty clear. More advanced moves like wall-jumping sideways are never necessary, meaning the puzzles are never set out with the full system in mind.
A major problem I had was the “Synchronizaton” status at the end of missions. At the start of a mission, you’re given what seems like a side-objective, such as “Do not swim” or “Only lose 3 blocks of health”. Which I thought was a really cool idea, until I didn’t do them. Rather than giving you a bonus for following them, they give you 50% if you don’t. Put one goddamn toe in that fucking puddle and you lose 50% of your score. The only way to not feel like a failure in this game is to replay and replay missions until you’re soulless. Even worse are the ones that say “Kill your target with X weapon”. One of the best concepts on Assassin’s Creed was the fact you had a wide arsenal, many of which are suited to certain conditions, but in the end, it’s up to how you want to kill dudes. Then this sync system comes along, forever frowning over your shoulder, tutting loudly when you use a crossbow instead of the deafeningly loud pistol.
The fighting system in general has been greatly improved. It’s become way more fluid, almost solely because of one new feature: the ability to kick enemies in the balls. Yet in spite of this, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood still fails to ever make you use some of it’s features. The sword is pretty useless – the knife is quicker and easier to change target with. Pistol has been made redundant by the crossbow. I never once had to pick up, let alone dispose of a body. All this is really a shame, because when combined, some of these killing methods becomes almost wonderous.
In the run-up to the release, the spotlight was focused on the ability to recruit other assassins and have them help out. You train them by sending them on text-based missions around europe, they are gone for 5 minutes, and return with loot and xp. And while it’s fun to send your minions to do your bidding, and I’ll admit, the ceremony when my first recruit became a full-fledged assassin brought a slight tear to my eye (she was just such a trooper), the real wondrous feature lies in Ezio’s ability to control eagles. Every time you whistle to call an apprentice, and eagle flies over head and caws. You jump off a tower? Eagle call. Ezio’s hood? Looks like an eagle.
Oh! Multiplayer, yeah. It’s what a always dreamt it would be – a game where you have to act like an NPC. It’s just too bad most other players don’t realise that and run around rooftops waving their arms and yelling at the top of their voices: Noob.
In the end, AC:B was a lot of fun most ofthe time. If you like running round jumping off buildings, and riding terrible looking horses, hours of fun to be found! Maybe you want to play more as an actual assassin, who’s careful and strategic? Hitman: Blood Money.
Let the money hit the floor, let the money hit the floor, let the money hit the floor, let the money hit the floor.