Stabby jumpy fun – now with added multiplayer!
Yes, yes, YES! Ubisoft have yet again proved an ability to do that which so many other developers fail at: listen to what the fans want, and deliver it in spades. Ezio Auditore and Desmond are back, in a continuation of the excellent Assassins Creed series, focusing on the further adventures of the Assassins, the Templars and all things sneaky and stabby. So, is it a true sequel, or a quick fumble in our collective wallets to milk more from a good franchise?
I’ll answer that question shortly, but let’s get the important stuff dealt with first: ACB follows straight on from AC2, telling what happens next to both Desmond of the future and Ezio, the charismatic lead of AC2 and one of the most complete characters outside of a RPG in the last 5 years.
Newcomers to the franchise really need to play AC2 first: rather than drag us through all of the former exploits of the main characters, Ubisoft instead opted to provide a quick flashback sequence to refresh our memories before launching straight into the plotline. And a beauty of a plot it is, following the further adventures of our Italian death-merchant into Rome, and dealing with more of those pesky Borgias.
Without giving too much away, the story really completes the tale of Ezio, showing what happened to the Piece of Eden, fleshing out the tale of Minerva (the strange being from the end of AC2) a little, and pushing forward the tale of Desmond too. This really is no beefed up expansion pack, but an important section of the story that allows us to follow the Piece of Eden through time to the present day.
ACB looks great: AC2’s engine has been tweaked to really drop us into the realm of Renaissance Rome, and the city itself is spectacular. Ubi have gone for one major city this time round, and filled it with varied boroughs, huge monuments, and much more in the biggest single location yet for the franchise.
This really works on well, allowing the gamer to really learn the environment, and for the first time be able to navigate without calling up the map every few seconds, thanks to a real variance in buildings and viewpoints. Characters look wonderful too, whether up close or from a distance, and nothing feels like a repeated tile or model.
All of the best extra stuff is back too: Subject 16 rears his head with sequenced puzzles to play with, side missions are varied and interesting, and the simple acts of climbing, fighting and stealthplay are as fluid and exciting as ever. The Tombs of AC2 return as hideouts of a secret brotherhood, changing the gameplay each time round, and guilds now employ your services to further their own needs. There is also the usual excessive amount of flags, feathers and treasures to collect whilst roaming around the countryside.
New to the scene are a few key features: missions are varied as before, but can now count towards guilds you have joined, upping revenue and providing extra assistance in missions. Ezio also is now charged with returning Rome to its former glory by renovating the buildings and monuments in exchange for income. This also improves the services offered too: fix up stables for faster horses, blacksmiths for better armour, and the like, whilst also providing more locations to actually buy stuff from. You can even fix sewer entrances to provide “quick travel” spots all over the map.
By far my favourite new toy was the “Brotherhood” feature: Ezio can now recruit and train assassins to the cause, and then use them in game to assist in missions. This generally involves sending them off around Europe completing missions and upping their XP, before swearing them into the Brotherhood at the appropriate level.
Suitably levelled assassins can be a real bonus, however: Ezio can call them in to do his dirty work while he hides in the shadows, or call down a storm of arrows to kill groups of guards. Sure, you can play the game without it, but there is nothing like the feeling of calling in an associate to take out your target as you skulk in the shadows, like some cool, shady underboss. Iīve debated whether this can take away from the feeling of getting a kill yourself, but seeing as it is entirely optional, the choice is in the hands that grip the controller.
The main story clocks in at around 9 or 10 hours, but the extra stuff comfortably triples that – chuck in 100% completion criteria and the singleplayer component of ACB stands up well to most games out there. The only shame was that the last two chapters of the Ezio story felt a bit “phoned in” – rushed and short, glossing over some potential final story resolutions by quickly chopping forward in time between missions. The last mission of all, however, blows the “future” storyline wide open, and already has ardent fans salivating for the next chapter.
ACB Multiplayer basically takes the core gameplay of the series and throws it into an arena-style situation: various gametypes all essentially boil down to “find your opponent and kill him” gameplay. But it is handled incredibly in Brotherhood, leading to what I can only say is the most multiplayer fun I have had in a long time. Players can add traits before beginning a match, creating duplicates that hide them in the crowd, or switching their character model when dipping lout of view. Its incredibly tense and rewarding stuff, and really does come down to a combination of skill, control and good old-fashioned paying attention.
Multiplayer battles tend to be easy to explain: stalk and kill another player whilst being hunted yourself. Stylish, sneaky and clever kills all up the points scored, and streaks increase the number of enemies coming after you. Thankfully, the game intelligently only uses models of the characters being played, meaning you have to watch out for human behaviour in the movement of the enemy, as killing NPCs cancels your contract, flattening all the work you have done up until then.
So the real question is, is it worth the full price being asked of it? I think I can say a resounding yes, as even without the expansive multiplayer component, Brotherhood surpasses AC2 by offering a big dollop of “more” on top of an already great game system. Single player is as deep or shallow as you want it to be, and the multiplayer is just a big, juicy cherry on top. Ezio and his friends are as engaging as ever, and future DLC can only build on a great premise.
So, to answer my earlier question: sequel or cash-in? Itīs definitely a worthy sequel, and blends great multiplayer and singleplayer without compromising either. Ubisoft have yet again moved the franchise forward, and done so without creating a title that feels like a cash cow. My Game of the Year for 2010 without question.
are now tweaked to perfection; the story progresses brilliantly; multiplayer is fantastic; Brotherhood ideas are great
The Bad: Multiplayer will not be everyones cup of tea; the last few chapters feel rushed; it wonīt convert the haters