Rating: ★★★★☆

A game’s weaknesses are rarely also strengths, but perhaps we’ve all been gauging something wrong with Assassin’s Creed. The series has thus far been based on dumb AI and seemingly basic gameplay problems…and yet we keep playing and we keep enjoying. Ubisoft has certainly stumbled onto something great, especially if they contend with Call of Duty and still make exceptional sales.

Their latest, Brotherhood, follows Assassin’s Creed 2’s story and protagonist Ezio Auditorre in Italy during the renaissance while alter-ego/actual protagonist Desmond Miles slides even further down the rabbit hole. In the past, Ezio’s decision to not kill the pope comes back to bite him a mere day after retrieving his fateful prize, a piece of Eden, waking up to the sound of canon fire and a completely redecorated and holey home. In one fell swoop, his uncle ‘it’sa me, Mario’ and rag-tag cadre of assassin’s is dead or scattered.

Too conveniently, Ezio – and players – begin with nothing. As the game progresses, players update their armaments through purchasing better weapons and armor, unlocked at certain segments of the main story. Both have meager selections, yet as players continue on their journey, it becomes clear that less is more in this case. Hunting for money to buy the latest chest plate or knife was a chore in the prior game. This time, there are other, less important things to spend money on.

In fact, spending money is a huge part of Brotherhood, though it’s almost entirely unnecessary. Taking place solely in the magnificent city of Rome (and thankfully nowhere else) the Borgia army is in charge and running everything, including keeping certain areas on high alert to strangers and keeping merchants selling goods closed. The first real mission of the game teaches players to rid of Borgia influence by assassinating the captain of their ranks and burning their tower, which combines the scaling of tall buildings to map the ground below and unlock the region for safe passage. Later on, clearing these towers and captains also opens up another new element of the game, assassin allies.

The reason it’s ‘Brotherhood’ and not ‘Assassin’s Creed II 2: You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet’ is twofold: the new multiplayer aspect (read below) and the side quest to train and send assassin’s to do thy bidding. Training and sending them to do missions is one in the same sadly, but the essence is clear: destroy Borgia towers, find willing assassin applicants, send them on missions until they’re ready to be inducted into the clan, and then…well, then nothing. A never-ending stream of missions allows players to keep sending assassins on missions, to earn money and experience (a fully trained assassin cannot earn more experience), though with ten AI characters to train and subsequently send out into the world, it’s a time consuming affair, one that will take at least 80% of the game to complete. This is partly due to certain areas being cut off from players however.

Better than earning money and possibly finding valuable items is that these assassins can do your dirty work. Need to remain anonymous, but have too many guards to get around silently? Brotherhood still lacks the finesse of a Metal Gear Solid game with the ability to actually distract the AI, so why not instead send your assassins, or even trainees, to disembowel those guards for you? With just the press of a button, Ezio will whistle and within seconds assassins will fall from the sky or arrive on horseback and either kill their unsuspecting foes, or fight more aware soldiers to the bitter end. Whoever wins, players are victorious, though in my playthrough not a single assassin or trainee ever died. The odds are never too high, and it’s always possible to take chance out of the equation, which limits the fun of the whole ordeal.

Then again, there’s never any need to send them in. Do it all yourself if you so choose. There is almost always more than one route to any destination, especially when dealing with secondary missions. The primary plot is, well, bland and often frustrating because it could be better, but the real meat of Brotherhood is in the unnecessary. This is the kind of game you want to beat 100%, because everything else is exciting. Some aspects, like buying major landmarks around Rome, are a waste of time and money and sometimes contend with the plot as a whole.

Having one city and a few minor outskirts is certainly the way to go. Traveling between provinces in Assassin’s Creed 2 was frustrating, and constantly paying for passage anywhere was time consuming and, frankly, a joke. That’s been eliminated with a more consolidated area, faster load times, and a tunnel system which players can unlock at their leisure, so it remains free. Returning characters are no more charming than before, though new ones do add some flare to the often drama-less routine. Whereas emotions ran high for the hot-headed youth once, the older, calmer Ezio is less fun to see in action.

The multiplayer aspect of Brotherhood is minimal, but a surprisingly enjoyable experience. Players are given contracts at random on other players, but there’s no way to distinguish between a player and AI except for the radar. This means just as likely as it is to find your target and eliminate him, you could be taken by surprise and killed, or someone with the same contract could take the kill from right under your nose. This hectic free-for-all style is wholly frustrating and deliciously, cruelly enjoyable. My first game I won first place after being behind a significant amount, thanks to several last second flashy kills. The system is not perfect – once you find someone is tailing you, losing them is next to impossible, and in a few instances I was chased around a map more than once because I couldn’t keep out of their line of sight long enough to lose them. As players progress more options to kill and escape open up, but perhaps they should have been available from the start, with more experienced players having access to higher quantities of valuable items.

Like the previous two Assassin’s Creed titles, Brotherhood is an addicting, fast-paced and enjoyable game, one that’s clearly made itself more about the gameplay than the game. The plot takes a turn at the end that completely reshapes our expectations for the next full-grown sequel, though the value of this progression is minimal. Instead, I left the game just feeling content about the past 15 hours of single player, knowing it was a good time and that I can’t wait for the next one.

James Pikover

Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.