Thursday, 24 March 2011

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood

While we've played plenty of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood's multiplayer mode that puts you in the role of templar, honing assassin-like skills, we haven't been able to play much of the single-player portion of the game up until now. Of course, some of the things we played have been shown before--we got our shot at the siege of Monteriggioni shown at the Electronic Entertainment Expo--but we did get a good look at some brand-new levels, such as action sequences that feature Ezio's present-day relative, Desmond Miles. But the start of our play-through begins in a familiar setting, with Ezio in a secret compartment below Rome's Sistine Chapel.
If you've completed Assassin's Creed II, then you already know what happens here and what Ezio saw upon defeating Rodrigo Borgia. Brotherhood picks up shortly after that as Ezio's uncle Mario calls for him, asking if the Piece of Eden is safe. With confirmation that it's in good hands, Ezio makes his way out of the compartment with the aid of some eagle vision, and the two make their way out of the chapel to flee the Vatican. This entire sequence functions like a tutorial, or a refresher, for Ezio's acrobatic moves and combat skills. As in previous Assassin's Creed games, it's incredibly easy to climb the variety of edifices in your view, and fighting guards and other foes generally functions the same way with some minor changes that are revealed later in our play session. Once Ezio and Mario have made their way through the throngs of priests and Vatican guards, they navigate to a nearby tower where they have a brief conversation before performing the assassin's trademark swan dive into the river below.

Moments later, the two arrive at Monteriggioni--the family home of Ezio and Mario. The two ride their horses through the streets of the town (we took the opportunity to deliberately run into people on our steed, of course) and reach the base of the steps where Ezio meets with some familiar faces from Assassin's Creed II, including Caterina Sforza, who makes googly eyes at the younger of the two Auditores. But, before joining his family and guests in the Auditore residence, Ezio makes his way around town, introducing himself to the engineers of Monteriggioni's new cannon defenses as well as a woman who needs help with an easy task. All of this seemingly serves the purpose of helping you become acquainted (or reacquainted) with the general layout of the town as well as Ezio's romancing skills.
Unfortunately, Ezio's homecoming celebration and subsequent tender and private moment with a certain lady abruptly end when a cannon ball comes crashing through the roof of his room. The siege of Monteriggioni by Borgia forces thus begins. As Ezio, you must travel swiftly to the town defenses--a series of cannons aimed directly at the massive army approaching the doors. You're tasked with firing the cannons at targets until Borgia forces overwhelm them with their siege towers and storm the ramparts. It's here that Ezio gets to use a few more of his combat skills, particularly the disarm maneuver that lets him grab his opponent's weapon. But perhaps even more useful is Ezio's kick. When stronger and heavily armored soldiers appear onscreen, there's no sense in trying to attack them with standard combinations, because they can easily defend against them. Instead, you have to create an opening by giving these tough foes a good old-fashioned kick, which momentarily stuns them and gives Ezio enough time to attack. Also, you might be happy to know that when Ezio disarms enemies equipped with spears, he can throw them at his opponents to produce a particularly gruesome death.

Still, even with Ezio's skills, the town is overrun, and Ezio--as well as his family--retreats through a secret passage found in the assassin's tomb located underneath the Auditore residence. The sequence ends, and we're then brought into the present day with Desmond and his crew, who are now charged with recovering the Piece of Eden lost in the siege of Monteriggioni. The group (which is also still on the run from Abstergo) finds itself at the present-day version of the Auditore fortress, which doesn't look all that different from its past incarnation, aside from modern conveniences like electricity. Actually, one of your first tasks as Desmond is to restore electricity to the Auditore residence (so they can power the animus) by using eagle vision to find wiring that eventually leads to power boxes scattered throughout town. He finds these boxes by performing the same dexterous moves as Ezio, since it's explained that Desmond essentially unlocks all of the abilities of his ancestors as he relives more of their memories.
In fact, Desmond finds the same secret passage used by his ancestors to escape the Borgia onslaught thanks to a vision of Ezio. From a story standpoint, as Desmond and Lucy make their way through the passage, it gives glimpses of how the Auditores managed to escape and how they sprung traps on their pursuers. From a gameplay standpoint, this passage functions much like the assassin's tombs from Assassin's Creed II, where the emphasis is placed solely on platforming with some mild puzzle elements. Needless to say, it seems the present day is going to figure much more prominently into Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood than it has in any previous game.
With the exploration of the passageway complete and power restored, Desmond returns to the animus and to the memories of his ancestor Ezio. From here, we spring a little further into one of the game's later sequences. Ezio is in Rome, and he has his sights set directly on the Borgia clan. However, like in Assassin's Creed II, you can undertake any number of missions available to you--whether they're main story missions or just side jobs that aren't directly tied to the core game. At first, we decided to experiment with a few of Ezio's goodies, namely his projectile weapons. Of course, he carries the same concealed gun that he had in Assassin's Creed II, but he also has access to a crossbow--an incredibly effective weapon for taking out those pesky rooftop guards or other foes that just won't get out of your way.

Perhaps our most favorite of all the weapons is the addition of other assassins that can come to your aid with the press of a single button. Ezio will raise his arm and clench his fist to order the attack on nearby targets. Assassins seemingly fall from the sky to take out enemies in the area before disappearing to the rooftops to attack again, but there is a cooldown period, so don't expect that you can continually use this feature. You can also get different types of attacks depending on the number of assassins you've recruited, so if you gather several of them, your assassins can launch a barrage of arrows from the shadows before jumping down to take care of business. We made extensive use of this feature while attempting to raid one of the Borgia towers in Rome. These towers are massive fortifications that you can storm in order to take away Borgia influence from the area, but doing so can be difficult. The one we tried to take required killing a specific general who would flee the area at the first sign of trouble, so finding a good spot to launch the attack from makes all the difference.

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