Review: Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood

Ezio Auditore da Firenze is summoned into battle once again as he aims to liberate Rome from the influence of the Borgia family. Small improvements to the campaign and a fresh multiplayer mode ensure that fans of the Assassin’s Creed franchise have plenty of content to get excited about.

Developing Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood couldn’t have been easy. The last iteration (AC:II) shipped only twelve months previous and was applauded for fixing many of the jarring flaws in the original Assassin’s Creed. Many writers such as myself were worried that the short development cycle of Brotherhood would force Ubisoft to shrug off the single player experience as an after thought. We needn’t had worried. If you liked Assassin’s Creed II, you’ll almost certainly like what’s on offer here.

Nurturing a brotherhood of assassins is no doubt one of the largest additions to the game. Ezio can approach unruly citizens and enlist them to his cause, sending them out on missions and levelling them up with experience points. These can then be summoned into battle with a tap of the shoulder button, attacking large numbers of enemies or serving as a distraction as you drive toward your objective. The system isn’t forced upon you, as utilising them is only crucial to a handful of missions later in the game. I never felt an emotional tie or sense of personality from any of my members, so as a result I used them sparingly throughout the campaign.

Once Monteriggioni is all but destroyed, Ezio and his assassin chums head to Rome for the remainder of the game. The city is astoundingly huge and offers a wealth of districts, back alleys and landmarks to explore. The parkour controls make it incredibly easy to traverse the open world, again making brilliant use of rooftops, window sills and suspended signs. The setting does reuse many of the objects and textures found in Assassin’s Creed II though, surmounting in a location that lacks quite the same visual impact as Venice.

Players continue to explore Ezio’s memories so that Desmond Miles (a chap from present day) can learn of a political conspiracy. This section has a much larger prominence than previous games in the franchise, giving Desmond the chance to leave the animus and do a little free running of his own. There’s not an awful lot to discover here, but it’s a crucial reminder that what is happening to Ezio in the Renaissance period has implications for the future. A startling end sequence creates further questions for Desmond’s role and the motives of the Templars. Oh, and Shaun Hastings is just as annoying and idiotic as before.

The core missions have a nice amount of variety, including tailing enemies, infiltrating hideouts and performing covert assassinations. These can often require a great deal of stealth to complete, forcing players to pick specific routes or combinations of kills. Unfortunately this can sometimes lead to ‘trial and error’ scenarios, which is frustrating if you want to be creative and use a route that the developers didn’t intend. Nevertheless the campaign is paced well and consistently offers unique and enjoyable missions.

Just like in Assassin’s Creed II, there is a heap of side missions for Ezio to delve into. Players can help renovate Rome by purchasing buildings, receive upgrades by destroying war machines for Leonardo De Vinci and traverse tombs for a special armour set. The single player is already reasonably lengthy, but these additions mean that enthusiasts will be going after achievements and trophies for many weeks.

The multiplayer is a vital component of Brotherhood, but one that I can admit to not testing for this review. I’ve never been much of the online type and as a result, the new mode simply doesn’t interest me. From what I hear the experience is a unique take on cat and mouse, forcing players to hunt a target whilst they in turn are hunted by someone else. They are keeping the multiplayer for the upcoming Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, so presumably it has been a success and maintained an active community.

The engine has started to date a little bit in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, with occasional texture drop in and objects sporadically appearing in the distance. This is also apparent in some of the facial animations, which have since been eclipsed by titles such as L.A Noire or Heavy Rain. Despite these flaws the game has a massive attention to detail, realistically representing Rome in a stunningly historical fashion. Character animations continue to be a highlight, with Ezio leaping between rooftops and rolling across the floor with surprising fluidity and velocity.

The Assassin’s Creed franchise continues to refine its unique blend of stealth combat and period setting. Brotherhood does enough to justify itself and differentiate from the previous game, teasing players with further questions for Ezio’s final chapter, Revelations. If you’re interested in multiplayer this is a fantastic adventure game with great value both online and off.

The narrative impact of Heavy Rain

Warning: This post will contain spoilers for Heavy Rain, the adventure video game on PlayStation 3.

When I finished Heavy Rain, I had to take a moment to catch my breath. A moment to be able to take in what I had just experienced and digest some of the finer plot points. Regardless of the choices, mistakes or revelations that you make in the game, it is undeniably an emotional roller coaster.

I should probably provide a brief summary of my personal path in Heavy Rain. As Ethan Mars I managed to find and save the child – this was achieved by cutting off Ethan’s little finger and choosing to take the poison at the final trial. By refusing to shoot the drug dealer, I was left with three possible choices for the location of Shaun. Luckily, by listening to the mobile phone and deducing that some kind of ship(?) was nearby, I chose to drive to the warehouse closest to the river.

As FBI profiler Norman Jayden, I didn’t find out that the killer was Scott Shelby. Despite finding the gold watch in the clip of the origami killer, I didn’t want to accuse Blake and didn’t think of geo-analysing it for further evidence. As I rooted through the rest of Blake’s evidence, I was aware that Norman would soon die from the ARI and chose to log out. This meant that I ended his scenario with a rather unimpressive resignation.

Regrettably I left Lauren to die in the car, allowing Scott Shelby to escape to the surface. I felt a little tricked by this section; the buttons didn’t seem to correspond to their contextual counterparts and what I thought would wake Lauren up actually resulted in Scott leaving. Out of frustration I left Charles Kramer to die in the mansion (the man deserved it in my opinion) and I also missed cleaning the telephone in the typewriter store.

Although I was never particularly sold on the quick-time controls, the intriguing plot and deep characters really pulled me in. It was a great piece of storytelling and up there with some of my favourite crime novels. To make the experience ‘pure’ I never turned off the console to retry a section, nor did I spoil the story by looking it up in advance. As a result Ethan’s final choice was a very difficult decision for me. The revelation that Scott Shelby was the origami killer was also completely unexpected.

Hopefully Heavy Rain will spawn more video games with this type of mature, intelligent narrative. Although I was confused with a few of the minor plot points (what was Ethan’s blackouts really about?) these were addressed in some of the ‘Making Of’ videos and I agree with their decision to make the game less supernatural. Although I always felt a twinge of the fantastical in Heavy Rain (Norman’s glasses were always a little far-fetched) maintaining a sense of realism helped to focus my own personal theories throughout the game.

I’m not usually one to advocate video games as an art form, but Heavy Rain certainly fits into this category. The narrative is engrossing and will likely stay with me for many months to come. If you own a PlayStation 3 and haven’t played it yet, I heartily recommend checking it out.

Tetsuya Nomura reveals new Kingdom Hearts III details

Square Enix legend Tetsuya Nomura (Director of the Kingdom Hearts franchise and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, among others) has leaked a few more tentative details about Kingdom Hearts III in Famitsu magazine.

Nomura is said to have confirmed that Kingdom Hearts III will be the last instalment featuring the series’ iconic villain Xehanort. This doesn’t mean that the franchise is set to end though, as Nomura later added that a structure has already been created for future sequels with Sora.

It’s important to remember that Kingdom Hearts III is a long way from realisation. The team is currently developing Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance for the Nintendo 3DS, which is reported to be at about 40-50% completion. Although Kingdom Hearts III has been rumoured for many years, there has been no confirmation that title has made it to production or planning.

Fans can find answers to some of their questions regarding Kingdom Hearts III in the aforementioned KH3D, according to Nomura. He also mentioned that Square Enix were looking into the technology that could render older titles in high definition. Is this a hint that we could soon see HD remakes/ collections for Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts or Dragon Quest?

It’s an attractive prospect, but one that I hope they don’t undertake. The team has already spent far too much time in side projects and now need to refocus their efforts on Kingdom Hearts III. Although fans are enjoying some of the recent portable outings, I can’t help but feel that they are growing more and more restless for a sequel on home consoles.

Review: Outland (PSN, XBLA)

A distinctive art style and eclectic blend of gameplay elements makes for a compelling 2D platformer. Outland is a downloadable title that has been finely tuned with precise controls and challenging level design. Everything screams detail, from the clever use of its colour system to the intelligent and downright tricky boss stages.

The silhouetted hero is tasked with reinstating balance in the world. There is a brief introduction to gods and ancient warriors, but by and large the plot is completely forgettable. The narrative quickly slips to the background as the first locale is revealed, a beautiful jungle filled with brilliant shades of green and yellow. Stages like these are just waiting to be explored and traversed, constantly filled with scale and hidden secrets.

One of the most compelling features in Outland is its use of light and dark affiliation. Once players have gained each power (emphasised as blue and red) they can be switched on the fly with a single button press. Soon everything in the world requires a delicate use of each colour; enemies can only be dispatched with the opposing shade and waves of projectiles need to be absorbed by matching their colour.

Towards the end there are a few ingeniously dramatic moments that cause players to switch between colours in mid flight, activating platforms and avoiding damage in a single move. It’s a simple mechanic that is used in increasingly complex and imaginative ways.

Outland controls perfectly. The character is capable of being flung left and right with incredible accuracy, darting up ledges and sliding under crevices with a flick of the analogue stick. Despite the campaign’s high difficulty level, players will rarely feel cheated or let down by the game’s control scheme.

This is vital for taking on the handful of lethal boss characters scattered throughout the adventure. These are often layered with multiple stages, starting with simplistic attack patterns and then slowly building up to almost impossible windows of vulnerability. Failure will set you back to the very first stage, so finding out the secret of each boss often takes numerous infuriating attempts.


The world is divided into linked stages that can be revisited at leisure. It’s a constantly expanding experience, encouraging players to backtrack and use newly acquired skills to access new areas. These can lead to upgrade shrines, floating collectibles and in game currency. It’s not essential, but offers further incentive for completion addicts and trophy junkies.

Although the game boasts a beautiful art style and fluid animation, the sound design is mostly underwhelming. It’s by no means poor; it just never grabs your attention or adds anything new to the proceedings.

Outland also boasts a few online co-operative modes. Tackling the campaign with a partner feels a little unnatural, but playing the challenge levels and “arcade” setup is deeply rewarding.

Housemarque has taken reference from a number of older titles (Metroid, Ikaruga, Prince of Persia) and bundled them together to create a surprisingly fresh downloadable title. It’s polished to precision and will satisfy anyone with a love for exploration and old school 2D platformers.

Photo diary: MCM Expo (May 2011)

Attending the MCM Expo in London is an exhilarating, tiring and joyous experience. It’s basically a convention packed to the ceiling with video game booths, anime merchandise and independent comic book artists. If you’re interested in any of the above, I highly recommend checking out this event in the future.

The photographs below show off some of the titles which I was lucky enough to play and watch.

You can’t get around it. Visually, Solarobo: Red the Hunter has a lot in common with the Star Fox franchise. Cute animals pilot giant mechs or flying airships, happily exploring a futuristic fantasy world. Developed by CyberConnect2, Solarobo is said to be the spiritual successor to Tail Concerto. The DS title uses a fairly decent 3D engine, although most of the gameplay mechanics felt fairly unimaginative. Meh.

Warner Bros continued to push Batman: Arkham City, although they were only showing an old trailer on the floor. The pod to the left was showcasing a version of Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters, a generic brawler with squad mechanics. It looked so boring that I didn’t even bother picking up a controller.

This was my first chance to try a Nintendo 3DS. So what better way to start than with a hands on demo of Ocarina of Time? The 3D effect was subtle but significant, dropping distant vistas into the background and pulling speech bubbles out of the screen.

Graphically the game was a small step up from its N64 origins, cleaning up some of the nasty edges and adding some vital new pixels. Although it hasn’t sold the system for me, newcomers to the Nintendo brand and Zelda fanboys will surely lap this up.

Capturing 3D footage with a standard digital camera results in some odd effects. But you get the picture… it looks quite pretty.

Dead or Alive Dimensions was just as I expected. It’s a great representation of the home console outings, but adds very little in terms of new ideas or mechanics. Scantily clad women and muscular ninjas pummel each other until one throws in the towel. If you’ve played Dead or Alive 3 & 4, you’ll know exactly what to expect from this handheld version. The 3D effect was pleasant, but rather unnecessary.

JRPGs have a hard time trying to win my praises at the moment. This tutorial of Xenoblade Chronicles was dry and repetitive, forcing me through some mundane combat scenarios and uninspired locales. The game also suffered from sub-par graphics, looking embarrassingly last generation. Perhaps this was an unfair representation of the final game, but it left me feeling a bit bewildered and let down.

The Gears of War 3 booth was crammed with gamers all throughout the day. Epic Games was only showing the multiplayer beta that was recently made available on Xbox Live, but it was still insanely popular. It’s everything that you’d expect from a Gears title; roadie runs, chainsaw kills and hilariously bad dialogue. This will inevitably sell like hot cakes when it drops in September.

This was one of my most anticipated titles of the day. Playing Child of Eden was a fantastic experience, combining unique electronic music with engaging Kinect enabled gameplay. Using both hands to track enemies and dispatch them felt incredibly natural, especially when using the right hand to swipe at highlighted targets.

This is Jane Douglas from GameSpot UK running through one of the levels. She was far more competent than me and did a great job showcasing the game during the Sunday Q&A session. Although I’m yet to purchase the Kinect accessory, this definitely piqued my curiosity and got me excited for its June release.

It was refreshing to see the MCM Expo take on a more video game centric approach this year. Trawling endless anime merchandise quickly becomes tiring and tedious – so the GameSpot UK stage was a welcome addition. If the team decides to come back I’d like to see an even greater variety of games and interviews, especially as the event now spans across three days. Ultimately I had a great day and look forward to visiting the convention again in October!

Opening cinematic released for InFamous 2

The release of inFamous 2 is now less than a measly month away. Sucker Punch has decided to unveil the intro sequence, which brings new players up to date with the story and shows off some impressive comic book animations. I think it looks absolutely gorgeous, it fits the gritty superhero theme of the games and reminds me of DMZ by Brian Wood.

I’m not completely sold on the voice actor for Cole, but who knows – it might grow on me. It also throws up some interesting questions on who or what the ‘beast’ is. Perhaps a future/ alternate version of Cole? Or a new character altogether? It’s probably too early to speculate.

The Hero Edition of inFamous 2 will get any fan drooling at the mouth. Clothing, soundtracks and graphic novels are all my favourite types of video game memorabilia – so this special version really appeals to me. The sling pack in particular looks like a great way to carry around some gear with a hint of gaming style (although I’m sceptical about what the build quality will be like). The figurine and in-game items are also nice extras, but I doubt they’ll be a deal clincher for most people.

Of course, whether or not gamers will order this depends on the price. In the UK it’s currently going for around £99. Ouch.

SSX Deadly Descents is renamed as… SSX?!

EA has added yet more confusion to the strangely defined SSX Deadly Descents by announcing that the game will now be titled simply ‘SSX’. A quote from Creative Director Todd Batty in Gameinformer (and found subsequently via videogamer.com) says:

“We wanted to make sure we hit the over-the-top arcadey gameplay in all of these different gameplay modes. We decided to lead with the new Deadly Descent gameplay in that trailer, but all of the classic SSX style will be there, too.”

Fans had been dubious and worried since the initial trailer for SSX Deadly Descents dropped earlier in the year. A dark skyline and edgy visuals suggested that the developers were aiming for a more hyper realistic game in line with Stoked or the original Amped games. It looks like the SSX team has taken the fans’ concerns on board and tried to reassure them with this broader description of the game.

“We’re a little challenged with how many levels we can put on the disc, honestly, but we’re thinking it will be somewhere in the vicinity of 70 mountains. By comparison, SSX 3 had one. The hub works kind of like Google Earth. You can spin the globe around and pick a mountain range you like then zoom in on that and pick a mountain you like from there, then you get to race down the crazy arcade courses that we’ve built on top of real-life mountains.”

Creating 70 mountains from scratch will be no easy feat. I absolutely loved the mountain from SSX 3 and would prefer to ride a small number of phenomenal courses than a dozen uninspired ones. Still, EA Canada have had this game in development for some time now – so who knows what kind of snowboarding madness they’ve been brewing.

This ‘behind the scenes’ trailer offers some insight into the style and reinvention that they’re aiming for. Racing and insane tricking will be present and accounted for, although this time they’ll be supplemented with the threat of natural disaster. Avalanches and cave-ins were a couple of examples shown in concept art. Todd Batty emphasises staying ‘true to the franchise’ – I really hope that he can deliver on this one.