Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood started with a quicktime event, and moved on a forced tutorial that made sure I knew how to use its cannons in a way that I pray it won’t ask me to do in the future. Then there was an a g-rated sexcapade with Catarina Sforza, followed by helplessly watching as my decision to not kill Rodrigo Borgia came back to bite me on the ass.
Strangely, I find myself annoyed with the plot but revelling in the experience. I’m quite liking freeing up Borgia territory, even if it doesn’t do anything for me, because it’s about taking out key targets and building a reputation and building fear around the idea of Ezio, the Assassin.
Checking the Steam statistics, I have finished Assassin’s Creed 2, fist-fighting the pope and all, and that took me 38 hours, including maxing out the villa and redoing some things for their own sake. I’m barely a third of the way through Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, and yet I have 24 hours under my belt. This is a worrying statistic, indicating as it does to me that ACB will take more time, without necessarily being better. It’s flabby, with a lot of extra mechanics in place to encourage me to waste time – dolling up shops in Rome and perfect-completion rules on mission – and misses some things I think of as basically necessary for playing at my own pace. You can’t skip text, or speed up dialogue at all, for example, and cutscenes are unskippable – even ones you’ve already seen.
What makes this even stranger, for me, is that it means the times the game gets out of the way and lets me take it as slow – or as fast – as I like it, I really enjoy it! Some assassination contracts as Ezio can be treated as a time trial with a body count, and some are wonderfully rewarding if you’re patient enough to do them slow and safe, and I’ve done both. Even more surprising is how much I love the bits where you play future Desmond and get assistance from Lucy Stillman. In those moments it’s a pure parkour puzzler and while the puzzles are simplistic, it means the character dynamic has to support the action, and, despite the blandness of the character visually, Desmond really holds his own here, creating a rapport with Lucy that isn’t trite.
There’s a challenge in writing this kind of situation where exposition is necessary. The dynamic most writers take is to make one character the moron, the other character the smart one, and then have the non-informed character do something physical to fill in time. However, these two characters are actually equally matched in physical ability, with Lucy parkouring almost as well as Desmond – instead, the characters have two different elements of enlightenment to bring to the table. Desmond brings visions of unrecorded history from the time in the Animus, while Lucy brings the greater world details about Abstergo. It’s not the normal dynamic, and that alone makes it an interesting dynamic.
I think the thing that the AC games let me do, more than any other game, is get into the idea of roleplaying, but not as a thing I created. It lets me roleplay Ezio Auditore – who was, by my eye, really damn good at his job. Looking at the full-sync stuff, the guy had to have an intuitive eye for pathfinding, a gift for commitment to an action and the patience of a tuatara on sedatives.
Is it bad? God no, it’s great fun and if you liked the core runny-jumpy-climby-stabby parkour of the first two games, you’ll find more of it here. There’s malarkey about extra DLC content, and other stuff about secondary characters, but the plot that I’m interested in, to my surprise, is Desmond’s. I’m aware that there’s a conclusion coming to the Ezio story, and that I won’t have it – but I want some development in the story of Desmond to push us forwards – certainly if his story continues to be so without-frills as the main storyline.
Women still get the short shift in the flashback sequences, Ezio is still just lecherous enough that I feel uncomfortable around his sex life, and the storyline is still distributed on a drip. I’m happy with it despite this, though – the bad things in this storyline are only as bad as they ever were – nothing’s getting worse, besides the aforementioned flabbiness.
A final note is that the DRM system ubisoft has in place feels unnecessary and its concession to player desires is to let you spend points earned through achievements on in-game cosmetic malarkey. I like the idea, nominally, but I haven’t found it overcoming the way that an extra DRM service between me and my games above and beyond Steam, ticks me the fuck off to start with.