It wouldn't be outrageous to say that Assassin's Creed is one of the biggest franchises to come out of this generation. It also wouldn't be outrageous to claim that the series has seen arguably one of the largest gameplay improvements between two titles of this generation. While Assassin's Creed had people talking, it wasn't without it's share of criticisms, notably shallow gameplay and a lack of variety. Then along came Assassin's Creed II, and not only were existing fans impressed by Ubisoft's advancements to the formula, but a whole slew of gamers who were disappointed with the original were now happily riding the bandwagon. The people loved Assassin's Creed, and they wanted more.
Most were expecting the announcement of Assassin's Creed III, the third and final major game in the apparent trilogy. Instead we got Assassins Creed: Brotherhood, a companion piece to Assassin's Creed II. Surprise at this announcement soon turned to shock, as Ubisoft revealed that Brotherhood would be the series' first foray into the world of multiplayer.
Was the main focus on multiplayer, and would the single player feel tacked on? Would the multiplayer deliver at all? Why were we getting this instead of Assassin's Creed III? What is with all the questions? We've answered most of these in our Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood review for Xbox 360, and now we can answer them all over again for long awaited PC port. Read on to see how Brotherhood shapes up on PC hardware.
Unlike Assassin's Creed II, which pushed the story forward a few centuries along with a new protagonist, Brotherhood picks up quite literally exactly where the previous game left off, with Ezio Auditore da Firenze speaking to the holographic remains of a long lost civilization, while in the real world Desmond and Co. escape from the Templar threat in the back of a van. Attempting to dig back into Ezio's memories from 1507 causes a disruption in the Animus, and instead Desmond is forced to relive a later memory from the Battle of Viana as well as Ezio's life in Rome, both of which serve as basis for the story's premise.
As said, Brotherhood is a direct sequel, and thus in its story carries on many themes, characters and concepts from Assassin's Creed II, and is typically Assassin's Creed in every way. The attention to detail in historical characters and events is there in full force, as is the convoluted manner in which the story is handled, thanks to endless barrage of twists lurking around every corner. Because it stays so faithful to the story concepts of the previous games, players eager for sharper consistency and greater believability in writing and premise are unlikely to be impressed. However, long term Assassin's Creed fans who are quite used to, or perhaps even look forward to, the absurd twists and wild multilayered plot will find plenty of alluring mysterious to discover, all of which further the development of Ezio and Desmond's characters, and add to the overarching Assassin's Creed universe.
Just as the story is a continuation of Assassin's Creed II, so too does the gameplay stay truthful to the previous game, for better or worse lacking any significant gameplay evolution. Had Brotherhood been an extension of the original Assassin's Creed this might have been a problem, but with Assassin's Creed II already featuring such a polished formula huge gameplay advancements are not necessary. As it stands, Brotherhood utilises most of the concepts straight from Assassin's Creed II. Free form running and climbing? Check. Challenge temples? You betcha. Investing in the city? You can do that too. In almost its entirety, Brotherhood is identical to Assassin's Creed II, and those familiar with the gameplay will be able to jump right in.
However, that's not to say there are no improvements to the gameplay. Of noteworthy improvement is the mission structure, which offers far greater variety and sense of progression than most missions in Assassin's Creed II, with Brotherhood relying more on interesting and varied scenarios. Additionally, the various Borgia Tower missions, which require Ezio to kill the tower's captain, scale the tower and set it alight, abandon the often constrained mission structure of the previous games in favour of flexibility, giving players the ability to freely plan and execute their assassinations without having to conform to rigid mission rules and pacing.
Destroying Borgia Towers nets their own reward and new gameplay addition; trained assassins. Throughout the game Ezio will have the option of expanding his 'Brotherhood' with assassin recruits, each of which can be equipped and leveled up through experience earned by sending them on missions, or being called in to help Ezio during battle. A fairly basic addition, they are useful and enjoyable to use throughout the campaign, and show that even in a straight sequel there is room for useful additions.
Even with these positives, Brotherhood is still subject to criticisms, notably in the combat. While mission structure has taken steps towards greater polish, combat remains just as basic as it has always been. Ezio might be well equipped with an assortment of weapons and toys, but the actual combat itself is about as shallow as a puddle. Mashing the attack button will get players through most encounters unscathed, with Ezio performing daring feats and amazing combos without ever demanding any true skill investment from the player. In many ways this is the point of Assassin's Creed combat; allowing players to become an unstoppable super assassin. While it absolutely succeeds in doing this through presentation, Brotherhood will disappoint those looking for true combat depth.
Accompanying the single player portion is something that raised many eyebrows with the initial announcement: Assassin's Creed multiplayer. Most folk were unsure how such a predominantly story-driven single player game would translate to an online experience, and we're happy to report that it works surprisingly well. Falling back on the 'Brotherhood' motif, players assume the roles of numerous assassins and Templars, and compete against one another across multiple game modes, from basic assassinations to treasure hunts.
Most impressive is the manner in which the gameplay of the single player is expertly woven into multiplayer. With an informative HUD and player specific objectives, and the ability to make full use of the social blending features and parkour character movement, a wonderful cat-and-mouse experience is developed, leading to exciting and tense moments as players balance both searching for and stalking their target unseen, while keeping hidden from their own tailing assassin. This enticing gameplay is further enhanced by a scoring system that increases the player's level, allowing them to upgrade their playable assassins and customise their load outs.
Of the games we played, we did sadly run into some networking issues. Ubisoft's clumsy host searching and match making fails to compare to more robust and open networking services found in other PC games, and on more than one occasion we found ourselves forced into a notably laggy game. Thankfully options such as friend lists, friend specific matches, and the ability to customise your own private matches made their way into the online infrastructure.
The original Assassin's Creed was renowned for its quality production values, and just as Assassin's Creed II continued this trend so to does Brotherhood. The trademark historic authenticity, with a twist of the imaginative, in art and design is prevalent throughout. Though it might focus on only one setting, polarising with the location and travel variety found in previous Assassin's Creed games, Ubisoft's rendering of historic Rome is extraordinary, with sweeping vistas and heavily populated streets nothing short of awe inspiring. Presentation expectations extend further into the audio, which once again delivers on all fronts, largely due to a beautiful, era inspired soundtrack that shifts in and out of play at just the right moments, and a slew of high quality voice acting, sharp dialogue and well directed cinematics.
Most PC gamers will disgruntledly recount the so-so port of Assassin's Creed II, of which was plagued with performance issues, mostly centered around poor use of PC hardware and a lack of scalability options, never quite looking as good as it should. We're very happy to report that with the extra development time, Brotherhood is the polar opposite. Exceptionally high resolution textures and various rendering filters allow Brotherhood to set itself miles apart from its console origins, made all the more impressive by a new PC specific shadow algorithm that not only results in cleaner, more realistic looking shadows across characters and the environment, but also smoother transition between shadow 'level of detail' loading, a notable improvement of what was one of the prime graphical complaints for Assassin's Creed II PC.
Maxed out, Brotherhood not only stands as a clear evolution of assets and rendering over its original console release, allowing the game to look as good as it possibly can, but also a fine candidate for serious benchmarking for hardware enthusiasts, made all the more enticing by out-of-the-box support for AMD Eyefinity and nVidia 3D Vision.
The only real criticism that can be given to the shift in platforms comes down to the controls. Simply put, Brotherhood continues the tradition of Assassin's Creed controlling averagely on mouse and keyboard. The configuration is serviceable, but the fact of the matter is that Brotherhood was built for analogue stick movement, not directional digital input from keys. Just as you would never play a 3D platformer like Super Mario Galaxy with anything other than an analogue stick, so too should you avoid running and jumping around Rome without the level of directional precision an analogue stick offers. Because of this, we strongly advise to play Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood on PC with a control pad.
Once the dust clears, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood proves itself to be a rather successful experiment. While it might not push the main campaign forward into new territory, favouring familiarity with it's Assassin's Creed II roots, it does offer arguably the most comprehensive gameplay package of the three main Assassin's Creed titles. As a single player game, Brotherhood has set the new standard for the franchise, particularly in mission structure and pacing.
On the other end of the spectrum, the gamble of multiplayer has paid off. What could have been a woeful adaption of single player mechanics, or a cheap extra designed to appeal to the multiplayer hungry market, is instead a surprisingly polished and enjoyable multiplayer environment, of which separates itself from the wealth of other multiplayer games on the market, while remaining highly polished in its own right.
It seems there has been no compromise. A strong single player accompanied by a strong multiplayer, both offering the highest standard of quality to be found in the franchise. As a cherry on top, it looks downright gorgeous on PC. What's not to like?