Monday, February 21, 2011

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood

This is a post-game impressions write up, not a review. Expect spoilers.

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is the first game in the series to deliver on the unspoken promises that have always hovered over the franchise. Remember that first trailer for the first game? The one where the player character had a crossbow? The crossbow was mysteriously absent from the first game, and the second, and then as quietly as it disappeared it shows back up in Brotherhood. The developers figured that if they added a ranged weapon, like the crossbow, that players wouldn't take the time to get up close and personal with their kills. What they did do was give the player throwing knives that worked at crossbow range and took out a guard in one hit. Basically they drew an arbitrary distinction between a crossbow and throwing knives that might as well have been a crossbow. These pesky fun killing decisions have run rampant throughout a series that was always pretty fun but where it always felt like the developers were holding a little something back. Brotherhood is the game you get when the developers finally throw their hands up in the air and say, "FINE! Let them have a crossbow. Let them go nuts."

The only gripe I have with Brotherhood is the story. So I will just get the very little I have to say about it out of the way. Basically, good thing I don’t play games for their stories. The main villain, Cesare Borgia, spends the entire game whining or making advances toward his sister (which in and of itself would have been an interesting plot device had they handled it better) and in the end he dies way too easily and I barely cared when he did. The rest of the villains show up on cue, do something villainous, and then you kill them before the game even really establishes why they were important in the first place. In addition to the villains being a drag, all the fun sidekicks from the second game have been done away with entirely or are just shoehorned back in for no other reason than apparently the developers realized they still had the character model sitting on a hard drive and the voice actor was still on the payroll. If you are familiar with Assassin’s Creed 2 and you compare the charming interactions with Leonardo Da’Vinci to the strict wooden by-the-numbers interpretation of Machiavelli then you can understand the NPC differences between the games. Brotherhood has a LOT more Machiavelli and only enough Da’Vinci to remind you that they got a buddy character right last time. (Hopefully the Da’Vinci Disappearance DLC coming out in March will correct some of these issues. But I am not holding my breath, because after all, Da’Vinci will be spending most of his time disappeared.)

Every single other individual facet of the game has been ramped up to the point that I was smiling like an idiot the entire time I had the controller in my hand and I was interacting with the game world to an extent beyond "skip cut scene." The combat is so much better that I can’t believe it only took a few tiny tweaks to change it as much as they did. This is honestly the first time in the series where I felt that the protagonist was as much of a badass in action as he was when he was just standing there looking brooding and awesome in his robe with his blades out, just to show you some cool blades, on the cover of the game. You can actually break an enemy’s defenses now and attack them at your leisure. This seems so obvious as a combat mechanic to us enlightened Brotherhood players, but back in the stone age with AC and AC:2 an assassin had to wait until an enemy stopped blocking or they attacked back to do any killing in open conflict. This meant that, essentially, if someone was marked for assassination, all they had to do was hold their sword up and they were invincible. Despite all the assassin’s acrobatics, sweet robes, and hidden blades (which he insists on showing everyone, all the time, even on the cover of the game), there was nothing he could do if the mark decided, "Nah, just going to stand here and block."

Beyond realizing that enemies shouldn’t be so frustrating to kill in a game about a guy who is supposed to be fairly decent at killing, the developers made everything else better as well. Rome is a better city than Florence and Venice combined. Driving a tank, a warboat, shooting a machine gun and flying a bomber around are better than flying a glider for a few seconds and crashing it. You can ride horses around in the city. Yes, the city planners decided to reallocate the funds they had been using to keep the anti-horse matter force fields up and running at all the gates. They spent the money on quick lift rope systems that make quick rooftop escapes faster and more dramatic. You can recruit assassin underlings and feel like the boss for once in your life. You can parachute off of buildings, collect shrunken heads, and you can even play online with your friends (it’s like, the title, “Brotherhood,” works on so many levels man.)

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is a game that gets it right. Not as just an Assassin’s Creed game but as a game in the larger sense. It is super fun and it gives the player what they want. If I want an awesome story I can always play one of the older games, or put down the controller and read a book. If I want to get plopped down in a game world and do a bunch of really cool stuff with a lot of variety and carry around a crossbow while doing it, this game has me covered.

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