keskiviikko 9. maaliskuuta 2011

REVIEW - Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (2010)

Genre(s): Action
Released: 2010
Available on: PC, PS3, X360
Developer(s): Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher(s): Ubisoft
Players: 1-8

...The ending of the game was wide open. Right after the credits rolled, those people who enjoyed the game and its admittedly fantastic story even in the slightest, started to pray for an Assassin's Creed II, and list the first game's mistakes, hoping they would be erased. In late 2009 the highly anticipated sequel came, saw, and conquered. ...BUT, it missed something. What didn't the game have? Oh, that's right, an extensive multiplayer mode. How boring. I thought that with the third game in the series, they would give us another amazing single-player sandbox experience with tons of new features instead of a dull, trendy MMO. Oh, it is still another amazing single-player sandbox experience? There are tons of new features? By the looks of the game, I don't buy it, but I'll try it. ...Fuck me, it IS good! But as good or better than Assassin's Creed II was when it came out? I'm not so sure about that.

Requiescat in pace and all that

Roger Craig Smith : Ezio Auditore da Firenze
Kristen Bell : Lucy Stillman
Nolan North : Desmond Miles
Carlos Ferro : Leonardo da Vinci
Andreas Apergis : Cesare Borgia
Manuel Tadros : Rodrigo Borgia
Liane Balaban : Lucrezia Borgia
Danny Wallace : Shaun Hastings
Eliza Schneider : Rebecca Crane
Shawn Baichoo : Niccolo Machiavelli

With Abstergo on their trail, Desmond, Lucy, Shaun and Rebecca flee to Ezio Auditore's home of Monteriggioni to set up a new base for Desmond's Animus session. Desmond is suffering from the side effects of the Animus; a part of him seems to believe he is Ezio, and he constantly has visions of the past even when not in the machine. The familiar settings of Monteriggioni only worsen his mental condition. However, he agrees to solve Minerva's cryptic message to him and try to find a clue to the current whereabouts of the Apple of Eden by entering the machine one last time. In the year 1500, now 40-year old Ezio returns home after defeating Pope Alexander VI, but letting him live, much to his Brotherhood's dismay. The Borgia family launches a counterattack on Monteriggioni, led by the Pope's children. Ezio fights back with everything he's got and manages to save most of the villagers and his family from the slaughter, but not himself. Although aging and wounded, Ezio refuses to give in and begins his quest to put the Borgia family to rest one by one and conquer the city of Rome in the process. This time, he has the whole Brotherhood backing him up.

Storywise, Assassin's Creed remains as phenomenally addictive as the character of Ezio Auditore, yet on the "downside", it keeps on getting phenomenally weird, a much harder conspiracy theory than Metal Gear ever was. I think it's getting weird for the sake of just being weird, instead of truly deep - and it's still a case of the chase being better than the catch. The cryptic solutions provide more questions than answers, but it doesn't really matter, since the mysteries themselves are so well scripted and neatly tied to real historical events. Just like Assassin's Creed II, Brotherhood starts off right where the previous game left off - on an extremely negative note with everything going to shit after a brief period of song and dance (and a surprisingly artful sex scene), and this time the blame's on Ezio as far as many people's opinions, including that of his own, are concerned. The story is well balanced between Ezio's time and our near future. We can leave the Animus any time we wish and explore the ruins of Monteriggioni by using Desmond, who has now learned all of Ezio's basic movement. The script is even less mechanical than before and I'm hearing more than a bit of Nathan Drake and Elena Fisher in Desmond and Lucy's dialogue, obvious thanks to Nate and Desmond sharing the same voice actor, and similar action sequences which are based on Desmond climbing walls to impossible heights and interacting with age-old machinery to help Lucy make progress. Gameplay as Desmond is very simple, as he doesn't even have a health meter. So, his game is all about nothing being true and everything being permitted. Gameplay as Ezio, however, is way more complexed than it was before. His basic abilities remain the same, but he has many new advanced techniques and co-op tactics up his sleeves, and the sandbox has many, many new grains of sand.

Ezio's back, cooler than ever.
The game looks magnificent. The colouring's maybe a little different than that of the previous game, but to put it simply, Brotherhood looks like Assassin's Creed II, a slight but notable update for the better. Most of the action takes place in one single city, but Rome is a very large and visual one and allows the team to realize all sorts of stunning ideas. The cinematics are better than ever. The attack on Monteriggioni is one of the most epic cutscenes I've seen in a game in a while, and it really blows a gap between this game and the previous ones as far as stunning visuals are concerned. Character modelling's pretty much the same as before, only Ezio and a few choice NPC's from the previous game such as Leonardo, Claudia and Caterina seem to have had notable makeovers.

The music's great as always, and a bit more on the forefront than before, to emphasize the game's cinematic nature even further. At least I didn't even properly take note of the music in the previous games. The voice cast keeps on getting better, too. It seems Roger Craig Smith has somewhat modified his Ezio accent from the mostly American-Italian style to a thick European one, and I like it even more. Nolan North and Kristen Bell once again one-up their performances - their dialogue is very real, smooth and dynamic. Danny Wallace as Shaun Hastings is even more of the annoying asshole we loved to hate in Assassin's Creed II. Eliza Schneider as Rebecca Crane talks a lot more this time around, and her nerdy swag is the only voiceover performance that really gets on my nerves here, besides the overtly sharp and monotonic Animus voice, reprised by Jennifer Seguin.

In the beginning, Ezio retains all the abilities he had in the end of Assassin's Creed II, but his performance is downgraded by the wound he suffers during the Borgia onslaught, and all of his belongings, including weapons and armour, are destroyed along with his house. What a surprisingly well explained way to force us players to get Ezio up and running again. Well, this time our agenda is a bit different. It's not just to hunt down and assassinate a madman who happens to be the reigning Pope, it's to pull Rome from under him and his family's rule, and turn the whole city against them. City simulation returns much bigger than it was before. A little too big, but more about why later.

The stealth mechanics are a bit improved, but there are not huge changes to them. The fighting is very dynamic and I love it, it seems the developers took notes of Batman: Arkham Asylum. There's a new targeting system that allows you to swiftly kill another target with one strike once executing the previous one. While the whole scheme's not quite as simple and fluid as in Batman, it's a definite change for the better from the previous Assassin's Creed games. I wish the climbing and free-run physics were as tight. First of all, climbing's made hard as it is, unnecessarily so. There are large constructions that seriously might have just one single stretch of wall you can use to climb to the top - you'll spend too much time looking for it, and at many times, it ain't that obvious or different from the rest of the wall. The free-running bits can send Ezio down a chasm instead of the next beam if there's so much as a slight twist to the camera angle. The vehicle missions are pretty much nightmares, one after another, but luckily there's only one of each kind. The controls are a bit glitchy all around, as is the whole game. It's a big game, though, so it's no wonder.

Virtually everything from Assassin's Creed II is brought back. The side missions are more varied than ever, each one's somewhat unique and most even have their own cinematics instead of a generic bit of dialogue. Subject 16 has left us ten more devilish glyph puzzles and another "Truth" to chew on, the Assassin Tombs are replaced by Lairs of Romulus which are inhabited by crazed cultists, and if you play your cards correctly, you might stumble on Ezio's repressed memories that took place between the major events in the previous game. How to play your cards correctly, you ask? Well, each mission, be it a story or a side mission, contains a bonus objective - like "Finish the mission in x time" or "Remain undetected". If you nail the bonus objective, you'll fully synchronize that particular memory. When you sync enough missions, a new mission from Ezio's past will unlock. Very cool indeed, but especially the time challenges are quite damn unfair, and the occasionally bad controls have been the cause of my downfall (sometimes literally) more times than I can remember.

The VR training is hard, but rewarding.
The game also reminds people which game started it all, and how far we've come, by bringing back elements from the original Assassin's Creed. The flags return after skipping Assassin's Creed II. There are over a hundred in all. The feathers from the previous game are also in, but this time, there are only ten of them in the whole city. Then, we get to save citizens. Not to rally up vigilantes, though, but to recruit them and train them to be your very own death squad. That's right, you're the master and you need not soil your hands with blood. At least, that's what Ubisoft intended. I guess there's so much sidequesting in this game because Ubi wanted to sell Ezio as the boss of his very own gang. Training the assassins is cool at first, but it gets repetitive very quickly and even the hardest missions can be easily dealt with by assigning your troops to do your target in for you - all you need to do is whistle, then it's "requiescat in pace". On many occasions, it is seriously this simple!

You're not exactly "training" the assassins, you're letting them train themselves. The way it works is very simple. You save a citizen from a group of guards with the sole intention of recruiting him or her to the Brotherhood's cause, then they're all yours. You visit a pigeon coop or your hideout, assign skill points to the young and ambitious killer-for-hire, send them to cities around the globe to do some missions to gather EXP. Once they hit level 10, they are ceremonially baptized assassins. The thing is, it really doesn't matter to you what rank they are. Managing your troops is boring, and they kill with the very same efficiency in battle whenever you summon them, regardless if they're novices or masters. The developers had a nice thread here, but apparently they didn't quite know what to do with it.

The thing that makes Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood a slow hook is the amount of crap fitted into it. I don't mean "crap" as in "awful, tedious shit", basically I mean junk. Let's put it this way: you manage to unlock the whole map, buy every treasure map there is and unlock each of the four guilds, and their specific side missions: those of thieves, mercenaries, courtesans and your assassins. Take a look at the map in the menu. It's CRAMPED! Even every landmark that has no practical use to you, but you can purchase it, shows up on the map and it stays there even after you've bought it. A lot of points of interest show up way too early, at that. Even if they show up on the map doesn't mean you can get to them. Sometimes you even have to find a certain route to a storyline mission. Believe me, you're going to run around and backtrack a lot. You'll feel like Clark Griswold in that roundabout. "Look kids, Big Ben!" Only in this game it's something like "Look kids!" "We know. The Colosseum." Well, you'll usually find something new - or something familiar you can finally afford - on your fascinating journey through the woods of backtrack, so it's not all for nothing.

In the previous game, you bought up most of Monteriggioni to be the master of your very small domain. In Brotherhood, you have almost 500 square miles of property to buy and renovate. This doesn't only apply to tailor shops, blacksmithies, doctors' offices or art merchants' coops, this also applies to aqueducts, underground tunnels, abandoned buildings and huge landmarks such as the Colosseum or the Pantheon. As before, you'll gain money and contextual discounts from each purchase you make, as well as some other advantages. Banks are open for business as soon as you renovate them, and there, you can withdraw your income every 20 minutes, just as before. What I don't understand is why they couldn't insert a single panel for all the simulation and cash withdrawals like Claudia's book and the architect's miniature of Monteriggioni in the previous game? Why does everything have to clutter up the map - all property, even the already bought and most unremarkable pieces of it - as if the side missions and collectables didn't take enough space already? Well, actually a panel for the simulation shows up a lot later... but all the crap STILL remains on the map! It's a mess... but a fine mess, no doubt about it. If you loved Assassin's Creed II, you will most likely love Brotherhood as well.

All roads lead to Rome. Why? Because it's
damn big!
There's an upside to all of this, and that is, of course: there's much to do in Brotherhood, so it's not a game you can just easily borrow from a buddy for the weekend and expect to be done with it, come Sunday evening. Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day! It's not a hard game, but it's big. The storyline's moderately lengthy, there are dozens of actual missions on the side as well as loot quests and guild-specific challenges, collecting the flags is way more exciting and rewarding than it was in the PS3 version of the first game, and discovering all of the game's other secrets takes up a fair share of your precious time as well. You could also try full synchronization, or the Animus' VR challenges, which are pure hell. Of course, if you get tired of renovating Rome to your liking, you can always try the multiplayer mode. I don't know much of it, just that there are various different modes and you can choose from a host of even the most unlikely characters. Might try that when my broadband picks a day NOT to act up. Oh, yeah, almost forgot about the Trophies. Unlike Assassin's Creed II, Brotherhood is not an effortless plat. It has a similar collection, but it demands a lot more from the player in both the single-player campaign and the online modes. A fair share of valuable Trophies is rewarded for just beating the game more thoroughly than the average player, though, just like it should be in my opinion.

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood isn't really the huge overhaul that I expected after seeing the amazing transition from the first game's borefest to the second one's all-out sandbox madness. Ubisoft took the beloved Assassin's Creed II formula and injected it with a lot of non-essential stuff to do on the side. It's all a bit too confusing to play when there's all sorts of crap cluttering up your GPS, and the controls, while dynamic, are occasionally really slack and oversensitive. However, it's another great game once you get the hang of it and all of its different ways to annoy the Borgias. Ezio's story comes to a close (?) real nicely, and I'm eagerly waiting for the next chapter in this fascinating, albeit weird saga.

Graphics : 9.3
Sound : 9.5
Playability : 8.9
Challenge : 8.5
Overall : 8.8


GameRankings: 90.34% (PS3), 90.61% (X360)

While Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is not an expansion to Assassin's Creed II, the developers have stressed it's more of an "Assassin's Creed II, Part 2" than a real sequel, a game made to wrap up the second one's storyline. Assassin's Creed III is under development and is scheduled for release in 2012 - the year of the modern-day events in the series.  

The previous game's in-joke on Nintendo's mascot Mario was apparently intentional, despite the fact it was never confirmed. There's a Trophy/Achievement entitled "Principessa in Another Castello", which is a pun of the famous "Our princess is in another castle!" catchphrase from Super Mario Bros.. There is also a Trophy named "Plumber"; its icon looks exactly like a vintage Mario pipe.

Raiden from Konami's Metal Gear Solid franchise is an unlockable character in the VR training mode. Altair's costume from the first Assassin's Creed game was unlockable for Solid Snake to use in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots.

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