It’s important that you know right from the start that I really loved Assassin’s Creed 2. I loved the Italian Renaissance settings, I loved the Grand Theft Auto-meets-Spider Man gameplay, and I even loved the sci-fi/art appreciation/historical thriller plot. The only downside was that the game ended right in the middle of the action. Now, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood picks up the story again, delivering all the things I loved about the original game, and a few new surprises as well.

If you’re late to the game, good luck catching up. Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood picks up right at the end of the previous game and there are no allowances made for players who don’t already know what’s up with Ezio, Desmond, and the Animus. In fact, the characters themselves start in a sort of bewildered state, so there’s no chance at all that a new player will be able to care even a little bit about whatever portions of the game he or she is able to understand. I won’t spoil any of the story here, but I will say that Brotherhood focuses on Ezio’s fight against the Borgias, who have taken power in Rome, and the disappearance of a certain artifact. Along the way, you’ll meet famous people from the era, investigate art, find treasure, and, yes, stab your way to fame and fortune.

Though Ezio, Machiavelli and the Borgias take center stage, the city of Rome is the real star of Brotherhood. The city is immense and every single inch is lovingly detailed, from the heights of the Coloseum to the winding hallways of the Castel Sant’Angelo to the tiny piazzas, alleys and bridges that link the city together. Just exploring the city and discovering the various landmarks and points of interest is more than enough to keep you occupied for a few hours. The few other locations offered in the game just sweeten the deal.

Fortunately, there’s also a lot of great gameplay here as well. Much like the city of Monteriggioni in the previous game, Rome tasks players with rebuilding its infrastructure. You’ll have to attack and burn the Borgia towers, and then pay to renovate and upgrade the various shops and sites throughout the city. Building up this infrastructure not only serves as a handy benchmark for your progress through the game, but also opens up new rewards and quests. It’s a great way to give the player a sense of constant progression while also offering up larger rewards for big plot points. The missions themselves are also much more tightly connected. The Castel Sant’Angello infiltration and rescue mission is particularly captivating. It’s like this little mini-chapter within the game that seems to go on forever, but never once overstays its welcome. I mean, even the 2012 missions aren’t too terrible, which is saying a lot.

While I typically don’t have much cause to replay missions in games like this, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood offers a new “full sync” option for Ezio’s memories. In the past, success was the only bottom line. Now, you’ll have to pay attention to the way you succeed. Some missions might offer extra rewards if you can avoid detection or getting hit, so there’s an added challenge to face for the truly hardcore. Even if you’ve managed to get through a mission and progress on through the story, you may still want to go back and get those full sync bonuses.

As the name implies, Brotherhood isn’t a one-man show. You can save townspeople from attacks by the Borgia and then recruit them to join your cause. These townspeople become assassins you can use to undertake missions in distant cities and, more importantly, as backup during particularly nasty fights in Rome. It makes taking out the heavier defended Borgia towers a bit easier. These recruits also level up and develop in very specific ways, so you really start to get attached to them. It’s a nice addition to the game’s other management tasks and makes you feel like you’re really leading a movement to free Rome. Better still, it’s great to sit on top of a tower looking down on your enemies and then see your assassin brothers leap from the shadows and kill everyone in sight.

Of course, the game’s not perfect. There are some inconsistencies in the setting – like having your wanted posters taped to the top of a tower where no one but you is ever going to see them – and there are some of the same old control issues the series has always had. Given the range of commands possible here, the designers have done a good job keepings things simple, but Brotherhood suffers from the “one button for several different things” problem. The “sprint” button, for instance, is also the “hide in a haystack” button and the “jump up on a building” button. That makes chasing targets through narrow streets particularly irritating.

The combat, has improved in lots of areas, particularly in terms of animations and fluid executions, but the counters still make things a bit too easy and automatic. Even if you’re surrounded by enemies, you can just mash the counter button over and over and take out the enemies one by one. A few of the better armed, armored enemies (and those captains who run away while you’re fighting their guards) will definitely make things much more challenging. Fortunately, a couple of kicks to the groin are usually enough to take down most enemies. The real awesomeness comes when you get into mounted combat. Assassinating a dude from horseback is about as good as it gets.

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood also includes multiplayer for the first time in the series’ history. The public servers aren’t up in time to properly evaluate them for this review, but the sessions we played before the game’s release were quite fun. Most of the modes have players all tracking each other through levels filled with NPCs. And since each player looks like a common NPC, it can be tricky to tell who is and who isn’t an assassin. Having multiple assassins in a level all trying to kill each other without looking like assassins really tests your hunting and hiding skills to the limit. The single player portion of the game is still the main attraction, but multiplayer is a nice bonus.

If you were as big a fan of Assassin’s Creed 2 as I was, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is a sure bet. It does all the things the previous game did, and throws in a few surprises as well. It would have been nice if the story had been more welcoming to newcomers, but the ending of the previous game was so up in the air, it’s understandable that Brotherhood hits the ground running.

Bottom Line: This is a fantastic game, but only if you desperately crave the second half of the Assassin’s Creed 2 experience. If you hated the original game, there’s nothing here to sway you and the story certainly doesn’t welcome newcomers. The multiplayer adds a nice diversion.

Recommendation: If you liked the last one, you’ll like this one. If you didn’t like the last one, why have you even read this far?

[rating=5]

Steve Butts wonders where he can get some of that miraculously cushiony hay.

What our review scores mean.

This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.

Game: Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood
Genre: Action Adventure
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: November 16th, 2010
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Available from: Amazon

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