Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Game Review: Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (PS3)

Renaissance Assassin Ezio Auditore picks up right where he left off from Assassin's Creed II: older, wiser, deadlier, and with the mysterious Apple of Eden in his possession. Alas, all good things must end. A new villain soon appears to get the plot moving, and players are plunged into a world of assassinations and near-death experiences via newfangled inventions such as cannons, wall guns (muskets), and whatever Leonardo da Vinci has been cooking up.

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is aptly titled because the group that helped Ezio in his previous outing is now more organized and crucial to the story. Granted, the story is basically an extended find-and-retrieve mission, which is probably why developers piled on a metric ton of extras. Foremost among these is the ability to recruit and train ordinary citizens and send them on missions to raise them to the level of Assassin. This fulfills two functions: it earns Ezio money, and lets you kill guards without getting your hands dirty--either by calling your flunkies to swoop in and go stabby-stabby, which you can do three times in succession, or you can use up all three slots in one go with an "arrow storm," which kills every enemy within sight. So that's the other reason the game title makes sense.

Other, familiar sidequests show up to distract players from the thin plot: thief challenges (usually in the form of rooftop races or killing members of a rival thief gang), courtesan challenges (replacing the "beat up my worthless, cheating husband" missions, only this time you beat the targets with sharp objects), and assassinations. As with other Assassin's Creed games, treasures abound, marked on the map if you spy them with your Eagle Vision or if you buy a map of the area. There are feathers to collect, too, but not as many as in the last game. Collect 'em all and win the Auditore Cape!

The game takes place mainly in Rome, which is enormous and has lots of structures in disrepair--just waiting for some savvy entrepreneur to buy and renovate for profit! Its aqueducts need to be fixed, too, if only for the knowledge of your noble contribution to history. Just kidding. I think it's mostly for raising water levels in certain areas of the city so Ezio can access hidden treasures.

There are new additions, too: the Borgia banners (the Borgia family is Ezio's sworn enemy)--collect the full set of 100+ to get the Borgia Cape (meh). There are tightly guarded areas to penetrate so Ezio can burn Borgia Towers, which diminishes their influence in Roma and allows Ezio to renovate city essentials like blacksmiths, stables, doctors, painters, tailors, and banks. Midway through the game, old pal Leonardo shows up and begs Ezio to destroy his new war machines, which takes players outside Rome to test out a working prototype hang glider, tank, and speedboat cannon (?). Pretty cool. Finally, having lost the Armor of Altaïr early in the game, Ezio has the option of going into Lairs of Romulus to gather the keys leading to the Romulus Armor.

I was impressed with how the developers took everything fun about AC II and served them up almost immediately. Crucially, players can start earning money early on by reopening banks and going on sidequests, and you can get the crossbow within a couple of hours. The crossbow is the weapon of choice for the hardworking Assassin, because those guards on the roofs aren't going to fall to their deaths on their own, you know.

I was gleefully tearing through the game when the plot harshed my buzz with its full lameness. Having taken a break from obsessively completing sidequests, I inadvertently retrieved the Apple of Eden--and had to actually use the bloody thing exclusively, which defeated the purpose of the entire Assassin thing. Worse, some glitch kicked in where the enemies I turned into cowering wrecks via Apple were ignored by my Assassin posse, and I couldn't kill them myself because all I could do was hold the Apple aloft and let its work its annoying magic. I had to wait for arrow storm! #firstworldproblems

Helpless, I could only watch (and play) as the action shifted back to the present, to Ezio's descendant Desmond and his team of two nerds plus one trained Assassin who want to find the Apple of Eden, to save the world, obviously. From the sun, I believe it was. Anyway, conveniently, the advanced race that created the Apple and left clues behind were really into acrobatics, so Desmond, having absorbed all of Ezio's monkey- and goat-like leaping/climbing abilities, is perfectly suited to reaching the inedible, glowing golden ball that will lead to yet another fucked-up ending, pardon my French.

So there you have it: the middle game in the trilogy has a weak plot, fun sidequests, and an ending calculated to make players purchase the next game immediately if not sooner. Well played, Ubisoft, well played. I shall take up Ezio's ridiculously distinctive uniform one last time.

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