Repetitive action/adventure - the Assassin's core values have been lost to the ages...
Brotherhood's missions can switch very quickly between boring stalk-fest and glorious stab-fest: one minute you're on the prowl when suddenly your prey bumps into a rock and starts walking backwards - right at you - giving away your position and ending the mission.
Then, at an arbitrary point on the road, your order from HQ comes in to engage stabby mode and you are allowed to go Medieval on his ass. This bit is fine - it's only in the vicious fight animations that this game holds my attention for more than 2 seconds.
On the subject of HQ approval, I do feel that Assassin's Creed is moving slowly away from its core selling point. Originally, the set-up was that you were given a target and then sent to learn their movements before going in for the kill. Although there was always clearly a "right" way to do this, you were pretty much left alone to get on with it. This concept was backed up by the Assassins' motto:
"Nothing is true. Everything is permitted".
Nowadays, the game kicks you out of missions if you kill a guy five seconds too quickly (or slowly).
Or if you walk down the wrong road on your way to your target.
Or if you climb a building too quickly - a mission at the Coliseum being a fine example of this.
The mission brief was "Climb to the top of the Coliseum", so I did just that. When I reached the top I found that there was a mission marker halfway up that I was meant to be climbing through, and the mission would not progress until I had walked through it. This meant I had to climb back down again (from the top of the Coliseum, thank you for that Ubisoft) and walk halfway round to touch this mission marker. I was then allowed to climb right back up to where I was before. "Badly thought through", I thought, "and feeling about as free as a free iPhone competition".
Freedom condensed into Mission format
To go along with this newfound hatred of freedom is the mission format, where all of the events of the game are chronicled in a timeline which you are expected to go back over to get better results - eventually aiming for 100% completion.
The requirements in order to acheive 100% completion are normally things like "Complete mission within 3 minutes", or "Do not get caught by the guards". Some of the requirements are bizzare though, such as "Kill 3 types of enemy with their own weapons" - and given that searching around on the floor for a particular sword is fucking awkward while Leonardo di Stabbi is lunging for you - so as you can imagine I didn't have the energy to complete that one.
It is clear that some of these are geared up so that they take a couple of tries - getting through the tank level without taking damage being one such challenge - and so Ubisoft are obviously hoping to increase the lifespan of the game using this method. Well, Ubisoft, no. It just makes me press ahead with 50% completion as the thought of going back over those laborious, linear and dull missions was just too horrific.
Most of the missions follow exactly the same format too - follow Bloke A, meet Bloke B, climb up tower, stab Bloke A, climb down tower, stab Bloke B.
Some missions are a little more interesting, such as the "Lairs of Romulus", where you must find your way into a secret chamber containing treasure. These are slightly better as the routes to climb up aren't quite as obvious, and sections of the scenery break away as you climb up them adding a little tiny bit of tension and excitement to the proceedings.
Is it a bird? Is it different type of bird? No, it's a plane!
The next thing I think I should mention is the new gadgets, vehicles and gameplay options introduced in Brotherhood. In the middle of the story, there is a section where your old pal Leonardo da Vinci comes to Ezio to tell him about the War Machines that he has been forced to construct. These are:
- the Parachute
- a Naval Cannon (a war boat)
- a Fying Machine (a paraglider)
- a Tank (well, it's as it sounds - a frikkin' tank!)
Yes, the history books forgot to mention this lot! With the strangely advanced technologies involved aside, this lot need to be taken with a pinch of salt if you're to go along with the story. The tank in particular is just ridiculous - a turtle shell design with about 12 cannons covering all 360 degrees around the armour.
The gadgets that Leonardo develops for Ezio are equally silly:
- the Leap-Climb Glove (to jump up buildings extra-quick)
- Upgraded Hidden Blades (one on each arm for double kills)
- Poison Darts & a Poison Dart Launcher (though poisoning is crap)
- a Crossbow (er..... O.K., I'll let this one slide)
To be honest, I'm not sure why they even bothered with having swords and a wall-climbing mechanic: for continuity they really ought to have had lightsabers and jetpacks.
One addition that is both appropriate and brilliant is the hired minion Assassins. In Brotherhood you now have the opportunity to save civilians and convert them to your cause. Once they have been recruited, you have two options: use them during missions to take out your targets, or send them off around Europe to complete missions without you.
The latter of these is boring - you choose the Assassin you want to carry out the mission and click OK. Ten minutes later you get a message saying "That Mission was Successful" and that minion gains some experience. That's it.
The fun bit is using your beyatches to kill targets while you are there - you simply select your victim, press the "Send in Minions" button and watch as they leap from the rooftops to stab your target in the back of the neck.
Tee hee hee.
Now this may sound like it's taking the fun of killing out of your hands, but it's not. In missions where there are many targets to be killed in a small area, engaging a few in a swordfight while you pick off stragglers with your flying ninja minions is tactical bliss. If there was only a few more missions where this was necessary then the whole game would benefit. Sadly, such times are rare.
Requiescat in Patches
The repetitive bug mentioned above meant that one target in a mission, whom I was meant to be stalking, kept hitting rocks, jumping off his horse and running straight towards me - causing the mission to end. 7 times I had to restart that one. 7 times. Hanging back meant that he'd run off and I'd lose him - hiding behind trees didn't help as he'd just come for me anyway. When I finally got it to work I found that it was meant to be a quick, 2-minute chase to bridge parts of a mission. As it was, it was the bane of my afternoon and put me right off the game.
Then, during the final battle with Cesare, a glitch just threw me out. Literally. Just flung me out into space and just said "Desynchronised" (meaning dead). Thanks. I was kicking his arse then, and I've lost my flow now. So it meant I had to start the fight over again.
This is getting a bit familiar, AC:B, now isn't it? Is it your intention to get me to play through every mission several times to really drain all the fun out of every last drop of the game? If so, you hit the nail on the head.
Now bordering on ridiculous in terms of gadgetry and scenarios, this is less a realistic depiction of Renaissance Italy as it is a fantasy sci-fi about a special forces unit who use million-dollar gadgets to take down fairly defenceless foes in a "ye olde Italiano" setting.
It saddens me that the concept that hooked me in the first Creed game is gone - replaced by a bunch of mainstream Hollywood-esque missions.
In summary, Brotherhood just isn't very good. It is no longer fun to play, and the flashes of fun you can have are much too sparse. The series' action is tired and thin - much like Ezio himself. Maybe now it's time to put the old boy out to pasture...