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.

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Review for The Force Unleashed II

Stepping into the persona of a dual lightsaber wielding Sith should feel utterly compelling. After a distinctly average original, this sequel was a good chance for LucasArts to fix many of the franchise’s problems and capitalise on an immensely popular license. Although the Force Unleashed II looks and sounds as good as the classic trilogy, an incredibly short campaign and monotonous gameplay drags it down into the realm of uninspired cash-in.

I worshipped Star Wars as a child… and by that I mean really, really worshipped it. So upon entering this game I was prepared to forgive many of its shortcomings, provided it dealt a healthy dose of nostalgia and challenge. Players follow the life of Starkiller, Darth Vader’s secret apprentice and all round hyper-powerful Jedi. After an ambiguous death in the first outing, Darth Vader claims that this new Starkiller is a clone, albeit a more powerful one with the destiny of crushing the last of the rebel alliance. Questioning Vader’s interpretation of his origins, Starkiller escapes from the planet Kamino and tries to become reunited with his lost love, Juno Eclipse.

The CG cutscenes and voicework are very impressive. Sam Witwer does a good job of portraying the confusion and anger of Starkiller, whilst cameo appearances from Bobba Fett and Yoda help reel the plot into some sense of context. The soundtrack often reworks many of the Star Wars’ most iconic scores, emphasising the sense of a modernised re-conception.

The core of the game is a typical hack and slash, with all of the films’ force powers dramatised to their full advantage. Each face button can deliver either a devastating web of lightning from your finger tips, crush tie fighters to a cube like pulp or mind trick swarms of stormtroopers into battling one another. All of these can be upgraded and strung together into elaborate combos. The visual spectacle of destruction is initially awe inspiring, but quickly becomes replaced with a sense of complacency.

Unfortunately, dismembering your opponents is just far too easy. Starkiller is overpowered to the point that you can simply hold forward, press any combination of buttons and then sit back with your eyes closed, comfortable in the knowledge that you’ll reach the next stage in about five minutes. A few enemies can only be defeated by certain types of force powers and admittedly this does help to provide a sense of strategy and challenge – but players will quickly store these variations in their muscle memory. Each wave of enemies feels like a chore and can easily be sprinted past – a viable option if you’re not interested in picking up the force points needed to upgrade your abilities.

After the opening sequence, the plot almost immediately runs out of steam. Rather than unravel the mystery of his ‘cloning’ origins, Starkiller spends most of his time taking orders from Kota, an annoying Jedi pilot who repeatedly stops you from finding the second most interesting character in the game; Juno. The Force Unleashed II is like a poor piece of fan fiction, never once adding anything relevant or interesting to the Star Wars narrative. Both endings provide a glimpse of an interesting plot development, but they’re so far removed from the Star Wars canon that they feel completely irrelevant.

The worlds that you explore are interesting enough, with some fantastic weather effects (the rain in Kamino is stunning) and an above average sense of architectural grandeur. The little touches, such as paintings of familiar Neimodians and holograms of speeders are both fitting and convincing. However, behind this visual veil is the disappointing realisation that each level is merely a corridor. There are few deviating paths available and very little exploration involved. As long as you run towards the sound of blaster fire, you can be almost certain that you’re slogging in the right direction.

The adventure also feels remarkably short. Less than six hours on the normal difficulty setting simply isn’t good value money. Perhaps it could have been justified with an increasingly remarkable and inventive experience, but The Force Unleashed II simply isn’t it either of these. Apart from the desire to unlock the alternate ending (which can be found fairly easily on YouTube) or play on a higher difficulty setting, there is little incentive for a second playthrough. Those who paid full price for this title will likely be left feeling cheated or disappointed.

It’s hard to recommend this game unless you’re obsessed with Star Wars like I once was. An unremarkable tale and dreary combat surmounts to a single player title that is average at best. Hopefully Star Wars: The Old Republic will provide fans with the game that they’ve deserved for almost half a decade.

(Note: The Xbox 360 version of this title was used for review)