Nothing is true, everything is permitted
December 10, 2011
I’ve been wary of what I like to call the “new kids on the block”, or, specifically, feature title series that have been making headlines in the past few years (such as Uncharted). What I mean by wary, however, is that I’m wary of whether or not it’s worth the time to investigate such titles when it seems like they’re developed around the console. Which, if you haven’t guessed by now, doesn’t exactly sit well with me because I don’t own any consoles (and I don’t plan on changing that). However I was led on by a trusted friend who does mingle in that part of the gaming world that the PC versions of Assassin’s Creed were worth trying. Honestly, I’m glad I did.
However, that doesn’t mean that this is a review for Assassin’s Creed (as in the first game). Instead, this is actually a review for Assassin’s Creed II and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Yes, a combined review. Call me old-fashioned, but if you make a “second title” featuring the same character, the same setting, and the same plot, but with a significantly shorter play through, then I’m calling it an expansion pack. As for why I haven’t played Assassin’s Creed (the first one), it has mostly to do with the fact that I started with the second game and found myself unable to cope with what seemed like a complete regression in player control and fluidity. Not to mention having some Anglo-looking dude with an American accent playing the part of a Syrian sort of threw me off. Also, I’m not sure if the team has even been to Acre, but that’s not what Old City looks like. At all.
But before I go off on a different tangent, yeah. I started with Assassin’s Creed II. I already know what you’re saying: “No, you should’ve played the first game!” And I know exactly why you’d say as much. In fact, Ubisoft seems to agree with you 100%, considering it took a considerable amount of time for me to understand what the hell was going on in the game’s world. Whereas it is customary for sequels to treat each gamer as if it were his first experience with the game series, Ubisoft threw that rule right out the window and said, “Nope, everyone has played the first game, so they should know all this free-running nonsense like the back of my hand!” Well, I’ve never seen what the back of your hand looks like, Ubisoft, let alone the front, so count me amongst the disingenuous dirty serfs who weren’t too thrilled about the cold shoulder.
Right from the get-go I’m introduced into a number of complexities, such as learning that all those key assignments in the options menu wasn’t for show. In fact, it seems like the game intends for you to use every single keystroke known to mankind and expects you to execute them with perfect timing AND to always know which key to hit (even if it is an obscure one that’s rarely used–sort of like an Allen wrench). The game boasts that it’s an “introductory phase”, but I found myself getting my ass handed to when I had to fight ten gents by my lonesome in pugilistic glory. That is correct, ladies and gentlemen–I “desynchronized” on my very first mission. It wasn’t nearly as bad as the second mission where your brother thinks you’re the love child of Neo and Spiderman. That one? I failed a good seven times. I nearly quit the game then and there, because it’s not like as if the game was doing its best to keep me interested. I did manage to finally meet with success with the subsequent try, however.
We shall call him…’Zatarra’
But I digress. Where are my manners? Like with all things, we start with the appetizer and then move on to the main portion. After philandering for a good portion of the game, I discovered what Assassin’s Creed is all about. The game takes place in 2012 with the world on the cusp of a worldwide geological disaster. On one hand you have one secret organization, known as the Templars, that are trying to stave off disaster but with the ultimate goal being that they wish to rule the world. On the other, you have another secret organization, known as the Assassins, that are also trying to save the world but also wishing to keep it free and not under the control of the Templars. Apparently they’ve been running with this song-and-dance number for thousands of years.
In the middle of it all is Desmond Miles, a nobody bartender, an everyman who knows nothing. And, yup, you guessed it, he’s the answer to saving the world. But not in the way you think, so pay attention, because here’s where the story actually gets interesting. You see, I wasn’t joking about Desmond being a nobody–he’s not valuable for who he is, but for who his ancestors were. Through the modern miracle of Science!, Desmond is able to relive “genetic memories” of his ancestors, who happened to be some notorious Assassins. In this case, his particular ancestors dealt with powerful artifacts that were able to shape the world, which are hypothesized as being the modern answer to saving the world.
In the first game, Desmond is kidnapped by the Templars by a company front known as Abstergo Industries, where they subject him to a machine known as the Animus, which is where he’s able to access his genetic memories. However it’s not like a DVD where you can just skip ahead to the interesting chapters in his ancestor’s life. Instead he must begin with a basic memory dealing with the specific subject (in this case, what’s called a “Piece of Eden”) and then progress forward from that point onward, essentially living the important (and lengthy) moments in his ancestor’s life. He does this for Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad, a Syrian Assassin who lived during the Third Crusade, who came in contact with a Piece of Eden. His sessions in the Animus are tireless and anguishing, due to the Templars doing their best to press him for answers. Eventually he is freed by a fellow Assassin who was also being kept as a prisoner. They retreat to an undisclosed location in Italy.
Whereas Desmond wanted nothing to do with either organization, he’s convinced in Assassin’s Creed II that joining the Assassins is for the best, as is helping them in what ever endeavors against the Templars. This means that he has to hop in, once again, into the Animus, but not to relive the memories of his Syrian ancestor–instead we fast forward to a different time and a different place. Now Desmond explores the genetic memories of his ancestor Ezio Auditore da Firenze, a Florentine who lived during the Renaissance. He begins to relive his memories in 1476 Florence, where Ezio is still but a boy unaware of his family’s heritage. He goes along, happily enjoying life, whereas the player is introduced to basic gameplay characteristics (and new ones that weren’t there in the first game). His father is a prominent banker, which supports the rest of his family.
Of course the shit does hit the fan eventually. After getting a crash course to his first baby steps to becoming an Assassin, he witnesses the execution of his father and two brothers. Realizing Florence is no longer safe, he leaves with his mother and sister to Monteriggioni, a walled hamlet in the Tuscany region, where his uncle Mario has a villa. It is there that he is taught the secrets of what and who the Assassins are, as well as the plot behind why his family was killed. He discovers that his family was betrayed by the Pazzi, a rival banking family who are secretly Templars. After Ezio exacts his revenge, he learns the plot goes deeper, Inception-style, and embarks on a very lengthy pursuit to uncover conspiracies within conspiracies across Florence, Tuscany, Romagna, and Venice. Along his way he meets a mysterious cast of characters who help him along his way until he eventually meets the head of the conspiracy who was known only as Spaniard, but who is revealed to be Rodrigo Borgia. Rodrigo escapes, but the cast of unlikely companions consult with Ezio and introduce themselves as Assassins, formally welcoming him into the society, with none other than Niccolo Machiavelli being the head of the order.
Things escalate further, of course, but Ezio essentially lives through 24 years of first exacting revenge against the Templars to eventually working towards the goals of the Assassin order. By 1500 he infiltrates the Vatican to assassinate Rodrigo Borgia (actually Pope Alexander VI by this time), as he holds two Pieces of Eden (one being the Papal staff, while the other being a golden apple). Pope Alexander VI thwarts Ezio’s assassination attempt, however, and the two battle before the Pope retreats into some sort of constructed catacomb that doesn’t look altogether human. He spouts rhetoric at you, which all amounts to, “I want ultimate power and to rule over all people.” Eventually Ezio subdues him in combat, but instead of killing him, he spares him his life, coming to terms that his death won’t bring back his family and that revenge is no longer a goal of his. Instead he uses the Pieces of Eden to gain access to the mythical vault, which the Pope suggested contained “God himself.”
Instead Ezio is quite confused as to what he finds, as a holographic recording of a human-like being, introducing herself as Minerva, begins to “speak through” Ezio in an attempt to communicate with Desmond through the Animus, having the foresight to know that the world is in trouble and that the Pieces of Eden are the key to saving the world. Ezio, in complete confusion, has no idea what to make of the exchange and leaves. Before any questions can be answered, however, Desmond is pulled out of the Animus as Abstergo has found their hideout and they must immediately leave.
Now, if you’re anything like me, what I just described to you (sans the last two paragraphs) was probably a little bit of heaven. I can’t even remember the last time a video game used real history for its setting and plot, let alone quite so accurately in its characters and locale. Ubisoft brilliantly ties in many real assassinations (and attempts) in the span of the game’s timeline to be connected to this conspiracy theory–what’s even more is that they managed to do it with a time in Italy’s history that was quite tumultuous (and with a very infamous Pope). Ezio, while fictional, experiences the very real events of the Pazzi conspiracy, the attempted assassination of the Medici, the hanging of Pazzi conspirators from the Palazzo della Signoria, Leonardo Da Vinci’s exploits, and even the very real rule of Girolamo Savonarola over Florence. There’s such a vast resource of history that’s based in fact that it makes the whole conspiracy angle doubly more delicious. And, what’s more, the specific locales and landmarks are quite well done (such as Piazza San Marco in Venice).
You’re probably still chewing on my “sans the last two paragraphs” bit. I know I am. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was to make of it, but I had a feeling that the Pieces of Eden dealt with something extraterrestrial. Throughout the game you can find hidden clues left by a previous Animus user who was held as a prisoner by Abstergo–apparently he had such a direct genetic link that he was able to dig deep into his genetic memories–all the way to the first “man”. That’s right, biblical Adam. After finding all such clues (which apparently denote different Pieces of Eden and how different figures in world history wielded them, such as Christ, Alexander the Great, and Adolf Hitler), you’re revealed to a sequence in which Adam and Eve ascend a very futuristic-looking building after having stolen a golden apple.
This sort of encroaches on more touchy subjects to be honest. I liked it better when it was left to the imagination and interpretation. For instance, apparently notable real assassins of tyrants throughout the ages were actual Assassins of the order (such as Marcus Junius Brutus). Instead Ubisoft goes further along into the realm of fantasy, where the Templars weren’t actually established as a Crusader order, but are older than dirt, and that Cain (yes, that Cain) was the founder of the Templar order (because since biblical stories deal with a time in which human aliens ruled humanity, Cain apparently was a proto-human that murdered his brother because he had the golden apple in his possession). What makes this even weirder is that it also means Adam and Eve are the first Assassins (as opposed to the Asasiyun, the infamous order of Persian and Asyrian assassins).
I’m not entirely sure what to think of that whole bit, especially considering it’s not revealed in full (but you can pretty much guess that all the Pagan gods were apparently real and that they were alien overlords), but all I can say is that I was immensely impressed with the game’s story up until that reveal at the end. And to be entirely honest, the other issue with following real history to the ‘t’ is that you can’t really get around whether or not someone was killed at a specific point. So while some players may be rooting for Ezio to kill Pope Alexander VI (and rightfully so, as he’s corrupt and he’s abusing his power to subjugate people to his rule, murdering those that get in his way), he’s unable to do so. It turns into a wall banger moment considering Ezio is all about trying to rid the world of evil Templars and he just lets the damn head of the order walk away unscathed. I mean, never mind that a seventy-year-old held his own against a trained killer, I just couldn’t understand why they left it hanging by a thread.
Of course that can largely be ignored. Overall, as I said, the story is quite intricate and impressive. Although I find myself faulting it for being quite long–after all, the escapes of one man in a span of twenty-four-years is certainly no walk in the park. Usually games struggle to provide a satisfying amount of content to enjoy, but Assassin’s Creed II doesn’t really seem to know when it should hurry past the boring parts and stick to the more interesting parts. I always hate getting that feeling that you’re just waiting for the game to end, especially if you’re thoroughly enjoying it. Thankfully it does save itself by sprinkling in a lot of cameo lines (such as the introduction of coffee to Venice, to which Ezio suggests that a little milk and sugar might do it some good), but if you don’t know the history you might not catch it. Thankfully I thoroughly enjoy history, so despite its length, it was still an enjoyable experience.
No, Ezio, what I’m saying is, when the time comes, you won’t have to.
Now that we’ve covered the story, we may now focus on the other half of Assassin’s Creed II, which is the gameplay. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect–I had seen trailers before with Ezio jumping from building ledges to and fro, and the game is about an assassin, so I used my imagination for the most part. What I wasn’t expecting was the ultimate parkour simulator. Also, despite what history may say, political assassinations involve you running across rooftops, scaling large buildings, and leaping from one windowsill to another. Also, if your target detects you before you can “stealthily” leap off a ledge onto him, it’s all botched.
Alright, admittedly the game makes no attempt to hide the fact that it is railroading you in the most difficult way possible–I get that the whole point of the game is to “synchronize” the genetic memories to “what really happened.” But unless we are to mirror Ezio’s every move, why would it matter if I leap from a rooftop or punch him to death when I can still play Charon the Boatman in Venice for days on end? The interface also seems keen to remind me that “Ezio did not kill citizens” when ever one of the buggers get in the way of me trying to kill someone else. But if he didn’t kill citizens, why wasn’t I immediately desynchronized?
It’s not really much of a complaint to be honest, but it certainly does make some missions harder. Well, harder on top of a complex control function and a camera that has a mind of its own. I think the first few hours of Assassin’s Creed II were spent on just figuring out the controls. The next two were about coordinating the ability to execute numerous controls in a small allotted time. Truthfully I did eventually get the hang of it, but the game certainly makes no attempt to hold your hand as you progress the game–in fact, right from the start, it throws you off a rooftop screaming like a little girl the entire way down. Moments before impact flash the words, “press assigned key to grab onto a ledge as you fall.” Well, my bad I never took a speed reading class, Ubisoft, but I didn’t quite catch that in the two seconds it took me to fall.
Speaking of controls, I knew I had a good feeling about being right when I thought the game was aimed at being console-favored. All of my deaths in Assassin’s Creed II? They were all attributed to falling. And it’s not like the sort of, “Oh no, I misjudged the distance!” falling. Nope. You see, the game’s function keys seem to work on some sort of lagged sequence. Which means if you are still pressing the keys for a certain combination, Ezio will then perform that action the moment he stops his current action. This proves rather frustrating when you need to hold two different keys for two different “profiles” (one is “fast walk” and the other is “run”). This is on top of holding down a directional key to direct your character. We now throw in a jump key and you can regularly find yourself hitting three or four keys at the same time. It’s like I’m conducting a symphony just to make Ezio run and jump across a rooftop.
Other kinks in the system include the game not making it clear enough what Ezio is supposed to do, fixed camera angles, and bringing up archaic button combos in tense moments of the game. I found myself more than once having to alt + tab from the game just to look up a guide to a particular mission because I had exhausted all resources and attempts in order to succeed, only to find out something simplistic was the answer. Fixed camera angles are surely self-explanatory, but I like to think of them as moments in the game’s span where the developers think you’re so stupid that you won’t pan the camera around yourself to see where you can leap from a ledge behind you. So when the camera swings to a side view of Ezio and you need to leap BEHIND, take note that using the back key is not the right answer, as I soon learned when he would leap to the SIDE like an idiot, plunging to his death.
The hardest part in the game was never a boss fight or a fight in general. In fact the most difficult moment in the game came from one of the “Assassin temple” side quests (which actually aren’t side quests as you can’t progress further in the game unless you’ve completed them all). In one particular temple, you come to an intricate puzzle in which you must latch onto levers. Each lever drops another and you must race to pull down on them all before a timer runs out and you must start from the beginning to attempt the run once more. In this puzzle, the game wants you to run up a wall and then, while in mid-air, jump to the side. Wait, what? Do what now? Press what to the what and do huh? Not once in the twenty hours before this point did the game ever attempt to even teach me this “wall jump” technique. But now it wants me to learn in a timed sequence with a small sentence flashing up on the screen for a millisecond. Needless to say, I wasn’t surprised that there were hundreds of thousands of inquiries into the very same experience I was having when I did a Google search.
Everything else is really a matter of attempting to ignore gravity as best as possible. At the half way point you are taught the ability to somehow “leap” up from a ledge while hugging a wall. While the technique is a life (and time) saver, it’s the most awkward animation of the game I’ve seen. I can’t even fathom how someone might even be able to jump up from a position in which you already have to be extremely nimble else you may fall to your death. And speaking of which, despite trying its best to go for the realism pitch, no matter how often you are stabbed or fall from a height that would break the legs of lesser men, all you need to do is drink a “magic” potion and your health is back up to normal.
The Sims: Auditore Edition
Assassin’s Creed II plays up a great, clean, and crisp UI, which is backed up by just about everything else (including its music). It’s all wonderfully done and plays into the whole “running a simulator” feel with the techno-themed font and the minimalist blips. Why complicate something that should be simple? It’s something I quite liked in Civ V’s art deco approach to their UI.
Everything is centered around attempting to make the player believe they are reliving a memory in a simulation as opposed to being limited to what the game wants you to do. Certain parts of the game are blocked off until you’ve passed certain memories, as are weapons. Health is “upgraded” through items in the game and you gain money by purchasing non-specific “upgrades” to your villa which do little else than increase your till that is replenished every twenty minutes. Completing collections in the game further increase the “value of your villa”.
In essence this becomes the mini game to the game, buying paintings of the period for no other reason than to have them hang in your villa and increase its value. Sure, they look pretty, but you won’t be losing sleep over not having them, nor will you even bother strolling into your art galley if not to just see if you own all paintings in an attempt to be a collector freak. The game encourages these sorts of things so there is some sort of money sink, else you might just do the smart and sensible thing and save your money to buy better armor and weapons. Which, you know, is what anyone with half a brain will actually end up doing.
Other game-specific tools include “hidey spots”. These are sort of helpful to “shake the heat” a la GTA-esque style. This ranges from the conveniently-placed pigeon coop-thingies on top of some buildings to stacks of hay (which ensure Ezio is able to leap hundreds of feet up from tall ledges and fall to safety–don’t ask how, it just happens). Suddenly I am coming to the realization that master assassins didn’t slink into the shadows and blend into the crowd to disappear (which you are able to do in this game). Instead it seems they were able to fool the guards easily by throwing themselves into a bale of hay. “Where-a did he-a go?” the guards will exclaim, looking dumb-founded as they had eyes on you just a moment before you ducked into a not-so-conspicuous hiding spot on a roof. “Huh. Guess-a he got-a away.” Ah, yes, oops. I guess I’m still playing a game.
Other tools of the trade involve poison (to coat your blade in to slowly kill your enemy), a pistol, and throwing knives, or what I like to call, “things I never used because they were worthless”. I’m just not entirely sure what the point is to using things that only serve to whittle down the health of your opponents when you can simply stealth-assassin folks with your dual hand blades or use your magic sword to take on fifty guards at once and press a magical combo that will auto-kill an attacking guard. Later on in the game I just threw money on the ground near guards just so I could go around punching folk and watching them stumble into crowds, falling down on their asses. I mean, hey, when you can climb buildings in a jiffy and you can jump from ledges to jam wrist blades up someone’s nose canal, then I guess you need to take a break every now and then.
Prévenez-moi si vous l’aperçevez.
It’s not all spite, truth be told. Yes, Assassin’s Creed II is quite fun. It runs with a good clean atmosphere that compliments a time in history in which people were “enlightened”. The musical score certainly does its best to follow suit with this theme. And, for the most part, the game does a bang-up job of tying it altogether. However, I find that the lack of a smooth port and the cheesy sci-fi egg-in-face bit brought down what should have been a rather beautiful game to have been seen for quite some time. And this is with me not even mentioning all other third-party issues, like DRM, edition-specific pre-order bonus items, and DLC. Well, oops.
Let’s all go to the lah-ah-bee!
Take a breather. I know I did (Skyrim: the black hole of my life). At this point in the series I said to myself, “You know, Ubisoft can do something quite brilliant with this. I can’t wait to see what they do next.” Where would our adventures take us next? The Industrial Era? There’s tons of fun conspiracies surrounding the American Civil War! Or, ooh! Bolshevik revolution! No, go back, even better! Hundred Year’s War! Good gravy Ms. Navy, if they managed the Crusades and the Renaissance, I could only imagine what new and exciting era Ubisoft could conjure up next.
Duck tales, oo-oo! The adventures of Uncle Ezio.
…What? What’s this? Ezio? Again? Wait a minute, didn’t we exhaust that bit already? We followed him all the way to his ripe forties. It was obviously time for him to hand in the reins (mostly because forty back then was like eighty is today). We had seen enough of the Italian Renaissance. Yes, he was snarky, and we all loved the Italian accents, but for the sake of the story, it obviously needed to move on to a different character. At least, that’s what Trilogies for Dummies might tell you. I guess Ubisoft never learned how to crawl. Instead they’re just rolling around in their vault of coins with the motto stamped across the office: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I just didn’t think they’d take that to heart so literally.
Alright, what ev. We’re here so I suppose we might as well roll with it. Exeunt Assassin’s Creed II, enter Assassin’s Creed II: Brotherhood. The game picks up right squarely from where the last game left; with Ezio leaving Pope Alexander VI alive. He meets his uncle as he exits stage left and they both mount a daring escape of Rome. They slip on back to the villa, where the game makes an obvious attempt at, “It’s too quiet.” Which, of course, it is, and so the villa is besieged by Papal forces the next day. Ubisoft does its best, once more, to tug at the strings of my heart by introducing Cesare Borgia as the new main villain. You’re winning me over, Ubisoft. Sort of.
When I say sort of, I mean that they then seem to “de-invent” the wheel by sticking Ezio in one locale and having him play a good game of Grand Theft Toga. Granted the locale is Rome, but the story takes a beautiful nose-dive. Ezio, now realizing everything he loved and coveted had been taken from him once again (including his uncle being killed and the Apple falling in the hands of the Pope AGAIN), realizes that, yeah, he probably should’ve killed the ol’ bastard when he had the chance. So what does the master assassin do? Does he plan a masterful assassination attempt? Does he contact his allies to mount an assault, like he had done so many times before? Nope. Ezio plays vagrant and decides that the best way to take down the Pope is to apparently whittle down his influence slowly. Gee, good idea, Ezio. Glad to see you’re taking such a proactive approach while atrocities are committed in the name of God. Good one.
What follows is a deviation from history and a follow-up to a greater world of fiction. While Cesare Borgia was quite the ruthless figure in history (and part of Machiavelli’s inspiration for The Prince), Ubisoft depicts him as a raging man-child that wages warfare with two whores by his side and drunkenly stumbling about, mumbling lines that belong only in bad porno flicks. What’s more is that since Ezio is stuck in Rome it means Ubisoft has to pull the entire story out of the hat in an ultimate magic trick because all the real history was happening OUTSIDE of Rome. Creative freedom, you say. The sort of crap that turns the series into another faceless action game, I say.
We’ll skip the main portion (because, frankly, it was painful enough to play through) and provide footnotes: Ezio undermines Borgia influence in every single way he can while Cesare is away conquering Papal enemies and trying to keep the French out. Eventually history catches up and Ezio sneaks into Castel Sant’Angelo to attempt an assassination on the Pope only to find father and son arguing about who should have the Apple. Refusing to hand his son the Apple, Cesare thinks it’s a good idea to kill his father (because it’s the only reason why he has any sort of power whatsoever) and his bent on attempting to retrieve the Apple. Ezio quickly beats him to the catch and retrieves the Apple, using its powers to escape Vatican City.
Fade to black? Nope, not yet. Cesare is arrested by the new Pope, but ah, that Ezio. He wants to make sure bad boy Cesare is put down for good. Four years later, history catches up with Cesare in Spain in some anti-climatic battle (which Ubisoft does its best to pull all the stops in an attempt to seem less anti-climatic as Cesare is so obviously beaten by this point in the story). And since Ezio, now pushing fifty, who was all about character development in the first game and all, “revenge won’t bring back my family”, reverts back to his juvenile self just so he can kill Cesare.
Well, congratulations, Ubisoft. If your attempt was to make it seem like you simply churned out another Assassin’s Creed title just so you can drag on Ezio’s story a little longer to cash in on his popularity, then you succeeded. You succeeded so well, in fact, that everything that made the first iteration of Ezio’s story killed all of his character development in this “sequel”. If your hand was forced in history from the first, then you certainly did your best to awkwardly fit characters who were all sorts of wrong in a story that is long overdue for a new hero. Not even the Banquet of Chestnuts could save what is starting to seem like the three new Star Wars movies.
Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!
Assassin’s Creed II: Brotherhood’s focus seemed to be all about gameplay this time around, as I suppose this is the only positive thing about this “sequel”. Combat is much more fluid, new weapon additions are added, and new “temple puzzles” are added once again. Perhaps to top it all off is the introduction to the actual Assassin’s Guild, a sort of menus game where you can recruit assassins to either help you in your fight in Rome or to send them on in-the-shadows missions (which simply means they are out of action for an allotted amount of time while they undertake a mission somewhere in the war to thwart the Templars and strengthen the Assassin Order). It’s a neat little feature that adds some little RPG-ish elements to a game that is now completely centered around unlockable sequences and repetitive objectives.
Back for more sadist enjoyment is the beautiful till money system. This time around, nothing is spared–everything is all about renovating shops that have been otherwise closed due to “Borgia influence”. You can only invest your money in these shops, by the way, once you’ve destroyed Borgia towers (which “lock” a region from allowing you to invest things in and as well as amping up the guard presence to 11). Properties are also up for grab (including all historical buildings and sites you can possibly think of in Rome, including the Colosseum). This really serves no purpose other than, yeah, you know. To earn money. Which has even less of a use in this iteration of the game because combat was, again, made fifty times easier (one of the goals in the game is to keep tally how many “flawless executions” you can do in a chain in a fight against a group of soldiers). Poison darts have also been added, which chalks up yet another useless weapon you’ll never end up using. Although props to the crossbow, which was actually a weapon of choice for would-be assassins. I’m not entirely sure why handcannons were included, however, as the Neanderthal rifles of those times were only able to make loud noises and usually have their barrels explode on their user. Instead they seem to have the accuracy of muskets. I guess these soldiers didn’t go to the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy.
Remember my complaints about ACII feeling too much like an unpolished port? Brotherhood is a ten-times-worse offender in this matter. Switching weapons is all the more difficult in the “quick tooltip” pop up menu and I found myself cursing like a sailor at being unable to remap certain keys because they were “essential” to the game in some way in which I could not change them. Couple this with how some key combinations would only work with the default key (even after you had remapped it) and you have a shoddy port. Which is all the more evident considering the graphics haven’t changed in the slightest, and yet the game runs on higher requirements for some odd reason. Oh, and what in the hell is with that white transparency overlay that glares at you when you’re in dark environments, doing its best to pretend to be artificial, directional sunlight? That alone makes me want to gather the townsfolk of Transylvania to have a good pitchfork-and-bonfire party.
Unfortunately Brotherhood eventually falls flat on its face in an attempt to focus its attention mostly on the gameplay. ACII knew exactly the right formula to play; stay in one place long enough that once it started to become sour, you were sent to another locale. Instead, Brotherhood is all about staying in Rome and running around Rome…sitting in Rome. Playing banker in Rome. Playing real estate agent…in Rome. Playing gondola assassin…IN ROME. It’s been a long time since I was desperately asking for a game to end. I wanted to punch someone in the neck at Ubisoft when Ezio wanted to make sure Cesare was killed “dead good, for reals”. After all, if the most important part of the game was skimped on, why should I suspect that the rest of the game should be in the least bit in any way interesting (even if you are allowed to exit the Animus and enjoy ten-second dialogue with crew members about the status of what’s happening in the real world)?
Color me less-than-impressed with Brotherhood. Honestly, as fun as training your own little Assassin social club is, it didn’t steal away from the sore thumb that was the plot and the setting. What’s Writing 101 again, folks? Move the setting around in the story? No, to hell with that. Ubisoft didn’t get the memo. They were too busy thinking that adding about a thousand unlockables in the game would make up for the lack of substance and depth that they provided us in ACII. Raise the bar and then trip over it: that’s Ubisoft’s new motto, I suppose. Would it be so much to ask for you to do something different in the next iteration of Assassin’s Creed?
Oh hell, I give up. No thanks, Ubisoft. Call me when you want to stop filing for creative bankruptcy. Constantinople or not, I am not going to take a game seriously with Grandpa Ezio romping around in it. Let me know when you decide to stop trying your best to cash in on one character and move the story along.