Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood single player preview

Sexy times, kicks to the balls, workforce management – all things we’ve encountered in the first three hours of Ubisoft’s latest (greatest?) time-travelling epic. Xbox 360 version tested.

By Edwin Evans-Thirlwell, October 19, 2010

This leads to a pretty suspenseful bit of retrospective storytelling, as you pursue ghostly silhouettes of Ezio and his kin back up through the bowels of the structure to the Assassin’s Sanctuary at its heart. Gameplay here drifts closer to the old Prince of Persia setup, Desmond negotiating chains of handholds and platforms. The lovely Lucy steps in occasionally to hold down a switch for you, but mostly she’s just there to banter with. Not quite Elika then. Once the Sanctuary has been reached, Desmond must scamper through the sleeping town outside connecting circuit boxes to power up the Animus, using his Predator-esque Eagle Vision to pick out the telltale glitter of electricity.

With the device online, it’s back to the fifteenth century and the exhausted Ezio, who has at last reached Rome and with it the real substance of the game. At three times the size of Florence, and now traversable by horse, the Papal burg is the largest and most complex of Assassin’s Creed’s many large and complex cities, with all the amenities of its brethren plus a few extra nuts and bolts. There are guards to avoid, glowing things to collect, shops to patronise, peasants to help out of scrapes, thieves to pursue over rooftops, prozzies to hire for guard-distraction purposes, out-of-work bards to accidentally gut while fumbling in your pocket for some coins. Somebody should probably write a Lonely Planet guide.

Now that's how you deal with a traffic warden.

The beefiest new terrain dynamic amounts to a beefing-up of the “scenic overview” bits from games past: where before you had to scale the odd steeple and “synchronise” to unlock missions in the immediate neighbourhood, here there are 12 Borgia-controlled towers to tear down, one per district. Doing so dials back the guard presence in the district and unlocks content, including the locations of potential Assassins, but first you’ll need to mince the local Borgia deputy. Once liberated, run-down areas can be renovated and upgraded like the villa in AC2, though our hands-on didn’t go into the specifics.

With perhaps the most infamous counter-kill mechanic in recent history, Assassin’s Creed isn’t exactly celebrated for its melee combat, and my PR handlers were of course keen to talk up the numerous and cunning ways in which Ubisoft Montreal has made this aspect not-rubbish. In brief: counter windows are shorter, and enemies are more likely to attack in tandem. The first tweak can probably be negated with practice, and while the second ups the challenge somewhat it doesn’t make things any more entertaining. Ezio can also now kick people below the belt to break blocks or stall assaults. Given that mashing buttons is often the best response to heavy odds, this results in some rather unsportsmanlike moments as you repeatedly and pitilessly hoof one particular bloke in the knackers.

The new graded objective system seems more exciting. At one point I was asked to terminate a Borgia overlord strolling around inside a heavily defended courtyard. The easiest and least elegant approach would have been to duff up one of the guys by the door, then fillet their boss as he rushed to help, but the game awarded me more points when I took a subtler tack, hurling a throwing knife from behind a screen of civvies. Past games haven’t done as much to encourage stealth and the manipulation of NPC dynamics as I’d like, so the introduction of reward-scaling is very welcome.

A Borgia tower bites dust.

Once sniffed out and inculcated into the ranks of the Brotherhood, Assassins can be posted off on missions around Europe, the odds of success depending on the level and number of the participants. Experience earned in the process can be used to outfit the troops with new armour and weapons, which naturally pays into how you might deploy them at street level (on-mission characters are, of course, unavailable for deployment). There are some pretty potent tag-team attacks in store given the right mix of weapons and skills, like the self-explanatory “arrow shower”. Let’s see the world’s street sweepers recover from that one.

I’m far more interested in the multiplayer component than I am the campaign portion of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, but if the second instalment’s schmoozing, shimmying and slicing got you hot under the collar, this should suit. Nothing seems to have changed drastically, opportunities to delegate the death-dealing aside, but then that’s what Assassin’s Creed 3′s for, isn’t it? (Right, Ubisoft?) Thumbs in the ascendant, then.

The game’s out on 19th November for PS3 and Xbox 360.

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