XBox 360, PS3
There’s nothing cooler than stepping back from a difficult confrontation to conjure your own army of killers
The Assassin’s Creed series continues to improve in leaps and bounds with this latest instalment, undoubtedly the best to date. Brotherhood starts with a bang, as you return to the life of Ezio Auditore moments before your villa is attacked. You’re forced to flee with your family, ending up in Rome at the beginning of a long struggle to wrest control of the country from the treacherous Cesare Borgia and his forces. With a handful of followers and a city torn to shreds by its vicious rulers you must rebuild the Assassin’s order to regain the mysterious Apple of Eden while in modern times a parallel story sees Desmond Miles searching for the same artefact a half century later.
The story flits from one memory to the next while also giving us our first chance to put Desmond through some acrobatic, puzzle solving paces. But what really sets Brotherhood apart from most other games of this type is the way the narrative is integrated with the gameplay. As you race through the ravaged streets of Rome on your way to a mission, you’ll come upon an area besieged by Borgia forces. Take out their leader and you’ll be free to put the Borgia tower to fire, allowing you to renovate buildings and businesses. Then you’ll chance upon a civilian being harassed by soldiers. Rescue them and they’ll be recruited to your ranks as new Assassins which can be sent out on missions and upgraded individually. There are also sub-missions for factions and still others dedicated to destroying Leonardo Da Vinci’s war machines and each unlocks more money, story and gameplay options. And this is just on your way to a mission.
The freedom is incredible and the wealth of content borders on the ridiculous. Just open up your map - every one of those icons represents something that can be interacted with. The parkour action makes a welcome return and is supplemented by an impressively tweaked combat engine. Fights used to become a meticulous dance of death, with the player poised for a desperate series of ripostes and counters. Ezio is now much more aggressive, breaking through enemy defences with a barrage of blows – an attack which can see him launch into a sequence of one hit kills. It’s certainly faster but feels a little
less skilful, but the range of new attacks, distraction moves and the ability to link a secondary weapon are slickly implemented. It’s hard not to like a counter blow that spins your target off-balance before delivering a shot to the back of the head with a Renaissance-era pistol.
Training and despatching your own Assassin’s is a sim-lite joy, and as they gain in experience you can call these colour coded warriors down to fight by your side. Or just summon an arrow storm and destroy an entire squad of enemies in seconds. A speed run of the single player could easily take you 15 hours, while completists should be able to explore the map for many hours more. And that’s before you delve into the all new multiplayer modes. Our time online has been limited so far but it’s been years since a major game has done something as unique and compelling as Brotherhood – taking the mechanics of the stalk and evade gameplay into competitive and cooperative matches online. Typically, you’ll be assigned a target and go forth onto a map filled with traps and crowds to blend with. Get close enough and you can score a one hit kill and melt back into the shadows but beware, someone is always hunting you too.
The ending might descend into some sci-fi-ridden awkwardness (with an unnecessary sucker punch), a handful of missions are frustratingly vague in their directions and sometimes Ezio just won’t jump in the right direction but these are minor points in one of the most genuinely impressive titles of the year. The action is epic, the scale and attention to detail is sublime and the gritty (and frequently bloody) action stands in counterpoint to the micromanaging of rebuilding the shattered streets of Rome. And there’s nothing cooler than stepping back from a difficult confrontation to conjure your own army of killers
from the shadows.