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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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.

Catherine demo available from next week

Atlus fans rejoice. On July 12 a demo for Catherine will be dropping on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live – or rather, at least in the United States. There’s no confirmation yet that the gameplay glimpse will be available in Europe, adding further speculation to when (or if) the title will be released there. The erotic horror puzzle-platformer came out in Japan back in February, with the aforementioned demo being available since January.

To get an idea of what the demo will showcase, below is a walkthrough of the Japanese demo by Kotowari. He’s been kind enough to translate the dialogue and control scheme, so that you’ll be able to understand some of the insane plot.

Are you excited for the English demo? Or have you already played the Japanese version? Let me know in the comments below, especially if you’re concerned about the speculative Europe release.

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.

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.

First trailer drops for No More Heroes: Red Zone

No More Heroes was always a pretty gruesome and erotic game. Now Suda51 and the guys at Grasshopper Manufacture reckon that they can top it with No More Heroes: Red Zone. The zany Wii title has already been ported to the PlayStation 3 in the form of No More Heroes: Heroes’ Paradise, but this version promises to be a little bit special.

This new trailer shows off the game’s exclusive features and a restoration of its original adult Z rating. In comparison, Heroes’ Paradise was changed to fit a more socially acceptable D rating. Players can expect Red Zone to have support for PlayStation Move, online rankings, five returning boss characters from No More Heroes 2 and ten missions that were cut from Heroes’ Paradise.

The end of the trailer also reveals a download code that unlocks four new beam katanas, four bike colour variations and a “Forbidden View” mode. Konami states (found via Joystiq) that Red Zone is the same version being released as Heroes’ Paradise in America.

I’m not a Wii owner, so I’ve always been very excited to try out the No More Heroes franchise on a HD console. The compatibility of PlayStation Move means that the PS3 should be an ideal platform for carrying over the gameplay from the originals. Fingers crossed eh?

Reaction to Bonus Round: Episode 502

Over the last few weeks GameTrailers have been posting up another of their fantastic Bonus Round episodes, a series of panel discussions featuring some heavyweight publishers. I thought the debate brought up some really interesting points concerning the marketing of so called ‘triple A’ franchises and the use of multiple development teams.

We all love a good video game blockbuster, but I hate the way in which industry pressure is forcing some franchises to make unnecessary evolutions. Players want value for money, but if the content isn’t relevant people simply won’t want to play it. Take Dead Space 2 and Bioshock 2. Both games have phenomenal single player campaigns that deserve respect and recognition. Both were also pressured into tacking on a multiplayer mode that no-one really wanted to play. It might have extended the experience, but I would have preferred it had that part of the development budget gone back into improving the single player story.

It was awkward for Geoff Keighley to suggest that growth in the video games industry won’t come from ‘core’ titles – especially when the owners of Epic and Ubisoft were part of the panel. Although most of the hype last year surrounded Kinect and Move, I think that it’s wrong to argue that new gamers will only be attracted by casual titles. For example, when youths get bored with the lacklustre Kinect Joy Ride, they quickly look to the next step up; Mario Kart, Burnout, etc. Providing quality in those spaces will ensure that new gamers grow into the mature range of content.

Likewise, I know many students that only play a single franchise such as Halo, Call of Duty or WoW. There’s plenty of room to move these players onto a wider range of core experiences on their preferred platform. John Hight, Director of Product Development / SCEA made a great comment when he said that new core titles are conveyed like summer blockbusters in the film industry. It’s driven by the passionate fans and if marketed correctly, can quickly become an anticipated event for more casual players as well.

(Aside: Did anyone else notice Mike Capps say that Epic was already playing with the hardware for ‘Playstation Next’?!)

Digital distribution is already revolutionising the way in which we purchase games. However, the way in which industry analysts are predicting online ‘services’ in the future is truly terrifying. Paid DLC has become universally accepted, but a subscription method would be awful for industry expansion. I already feel a little bit miffed paying for Xbox Live – would I be prepared to pay a premium subscription for a title like Halo Reach – which I only play every now and then? Of course not. Only a minority of gamers would be prepared to pay for a service that they rarely use. In all likelihood, players would simply opt for a single service which they use the most; Call of Duty, WoW or similar. All of the others would be discarded, making it almost impossible for a new IP to enter the market.

The used market has taken a considerable chunk of revenue away from publishers. They’re all worried about the impact of rentals – experienced players who know that they can blitz through a 12 hour campaign in a single night and give it back to the store in the morning. I know that this happens because I do it with a LoveFilm subscription – saving me an incredible amount of money in the process. Multiplayer modes, DLC and community content will go some way to encouraging players to keep their disc. I just think that a subscription will put them off purchasing the game all together.

Watch Episode 502 of the Bonus Round here.