Heh, been a while. I basically wanted to make my next entry about Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, but I only really completed it yesterday (as in, got all the necessary trophies for offline), and while I would have originally written an entry about the 1 player campaign on its own, which I could have done last week, well with it being Christmas I found myself with little time.
I want to start off by talking about the online multiplayer available with the game, since that's the big new thing about this entry in the Assassin's Creed franchise. I have to say it's one of the most unique and inspired online games I have played in (what feels like) years. Every game is set up to encourage you to act like a stealthy assassin and there are many varieties of strategies to try out. Saying that though, encouraging you to be stealthy doesn't discourage the hundred or so who prefer to run around like "headless chickens" (quoting Nathan) who prefer to kill as many people as possible within the time limit like it's some kind of time attack game. They never get many points so I don't understand why they keep doing this.
As for the story mode, the main crux of the entire franchise, what I said about Assassin's Creed 2 pretty much applies here. But there were things I took particular note of. I'll talk about the graphics first of all because it's only now that I realise how backward the graphics engine seems to be in Assassin's Creed (every game so far!). I remember when I wrote about Heavy Rain, I remarked on how unimpressive its graphics were. Well that's just because I expect every game (graphics-wise) to reach my minimum standard, which was presented in Metal Gear Solid 4. Despite being over 2 years old, that game has not been easily surpassed in terms of graphics. Well it was only after writing about Heavy Rain that I realised how organic everything looked: the characters' lifelike eyes, their facial expressions, the way their clothes moved, the trees. So compared to MGS4, Heavy Rain looked a bit awkward at times, but at least everything was organic and living. I bring this up because Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood looks like a game. The only things that are truly realistic-looking are buildings. The trees look like cardboard cut-outs. Really? Can't trees look more realistic in a PS3 game? They certainly did in some PS2 games. (huff)
I'm not moaning about the graphics as if they're a real weakness of the franchise, it's just something I noticed. But what did bring down Brotherhood at times were the hundreds of glitches that plague the game. People that appear in front of you from nowhere, horses walking through blacksmiths, Desmond getting trapped in the animus bed (meaning he can't talk to Lucy in the cutscene), and one glitch that annoyed Nathan was a patrolling guard stuck in one position. This basically meant he was forced to reveal himself to the guards in order to complete the mission, but he was meant to not get detected to complete it fully. Rather defeats the purpose. What I did like though was that item finding was a lot less painful in Brotherhood than in 2. When you first play with Ezio, you're expected to find 100 feathers scattered around the cities, with no clue as to where they are, so you spend a lot of time incessantly trawling the cities. Even with the location map I found online, I spent hours trawling every location to find the goddamn things. Too much work for a bronze trophy! Well in Brotherhood they reduced the stress by letting you purchase maps in order to find flags, feathers and treasure chests (only had treasure maps in the last game). What you never get is a map revealing the locations of flags in each lair of Romulus, but they're not very long so with the right walkthrough they're quite easy to locate.
So that's graphics. The real element I was interested in when booting up this game was the story. Have they improved the execution of it? Well yes and no. The team in 2012 (that'll be Desmond, Lucy, Rebecca and Shaun) are a lot more involved this time around. Rather than being an interruption to the Animus sessions you can actually interact with them at will and they basically get their own levels, giving us (as players) a sense of the past having a direct effect on the future/present. There are in fact 3 key canonical levels that Desmond can call his own, which firmly places him as the hero of the story who needs to access the memories of his ancestors for key bits of information. And then, he acts on it. I must also add Ubisoft needs to provide more flexibility to language options. The English voice acting of the present-day characters I have no complaints about, but the Rennaissance characters sound rather bad a lot of the time. So like the last game, I played the entire thing in Italian. But then the present-day characters sound daft, 'cos they're meant to speak English. If Silent Hill 2 (released 2001) could allow the player to customise the difficulty in key areas (combat and puzzles) then why can't we select language tracks for the key time periods? I finished Brotherhood in English, 'cos I refused to play an entire level as Desmond in Italian.
As for Ezio's story, I found that the character was a lot more explained this time around. I felt his development was hurried in the last game and the Christina Missions provided a lot of insight into his past; they also explained why he never opened himself up to anyone, despite happily climbing into any willing girl's bed. Another good thing was that, unlike in 2, characters here were not introduced for a particular chapter and then dumped. The cast was smaller, meaning you actually got to know them and care for them. Um...somewhat. I liked that Ezio's sister Claudia was given a bigger role and was allowed to prove herself. Unfortunately the people Ezio regards as friends could only be interacted with for particular purposes, so Claudia you would only see in cutscenes if there's a) a big battle coming up or b) more voluntary missions available. Come on! Why can't you enter the brothel and just have a chat with her? Stuff like this provides volumes of character development, as well as opportunities for comedy. It's also a contrast to the interaction of the characters in 2012, with Desmond making random remarks and having off-the-cuff conversations with his teammates. Not to mention the opportunity to rummage through people's emails, gaining background context to the overall story and learning the idiotic things some assassins get up to (*cough* Shaun and his dumb jokes). The other irritating thing about Ezio was I never felt his story got a satisfactory ending. For one thing, we never learn how he knew to leave the access password in Monteriggioni for his descendant to find. The second big thing is we learn nothing about Ezio's offspring. He had one somewhere, how else would Desmond have been born? We just never learn anything about Ezio's wife/mistress/one night stand, which is a big let-down considering we learn who Altaïr sired children with.