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Assassin's Creed Brotherhood finally delivers the world promised by the first game. Variety, imaginative design and tangential gameplay make this my most fascinating stay in the Animus.
I've held a grudge against the Assassin's Creed series for a long time.
Coming back to gaming in search of something fresh and innovative, I was always a likely sucker for Assassin's Creed. I remember seeing the trailer and thinking how classy the game looked. A man in white robes was slinking through the braying crowd at a Jerusalem execution. A bell chimed in the distance. The man stepped on to the platform and in a second had sliced his sword gracefully through the guards. Then it all went silent as he leapt, floating on air, as his wrist blade found its destined neck. Then saw how good the actual game looked and I was sold.
The game was of course a letdown, a beautiful realization of history sadly tainted by rows of repeated architecture, copycat assassinations, and formulaic side quests. The ambitious concept could not distract from the game's uniformity.
I fall for promising games over and over though, and never really learn my lesson. Last year it was Heavy Rain and Final Fantasy XIII - both turned out so below par that I almost stopped being disappointed in them, such was my anger at my optimism. Reflecting on them was like thinking I'd been with a girlfriend for years and realizing I could've done better, I felt nasty and pretentious.
Assassin Creed's Rome, unlike Florence and Venice, is spilling over with things to do.
More than that, it's indecent. Even if gaming could be better, it's still what I love, and you should have faith in those you love. Sometimes, if you're lucky, you'll be rewarded for your faith.
Assassin's Creed II repaired some of the damage. Repeated architecture was replaced by real-life Renaissance Italian landmarks. Copycat assassinations were replaced by a plot that centred on enigmatic personalities like Leonardo Da Vinci and Niccolo Machiavelli. Exploring a historical setting so well realized made me forgiving of the still repetitive stealth and combat sections.
Now I have Brotherhood. Set after the events of Assassin's Creed II, it focuses on the reformation of the Assassins Guild and its fight to claim back power in 16th century Rome.
Assassin Creed's Rome, unlike Florence and Venice, is spilling over with things to do and see. Outside of the main quests, there are Romulan lairs to explore, vantage points to reach, assignments where you aid courtesans and thieves, war machines to seize control of, Borgia towers to ignite and take over, flags and feathers to find, shops to buy, and assassination contracts to carry out.
Brotherhood may be based on the Assassin's Creed foundations of free running and killing but a simple injection of variety makes it an entirely new experience. It's filled with so many different things to distract me from the beaten path that there isn't a whiff of repetition.
I naturally let the completist in me take over and soak up every shiny thing it stumbles upon, all the while another part of me, the part that hasn't had a holiday in three years, slides back in his chair and takes in his virtual vacation in Renaissance Italy. It's an overwhelming combination. When there's always something near to collect, complete, or see, the PS3's power switch seems very far away.
Climbing up the Coliseum at two in the morning is a fresh innovative experience.
So I find myself bleary-eyed in the middle of the night, eyes transfixed as my assassin avatar climbs the walls of the Coliseum. He flits up and across the ledges and cracks of the tall crumbling amphitheatre, his ascent slow but measured. I think back to that first photo of the Coliseum in an encyclopedia. Some 20 years later, here I am climbing it in search of a flag.
Brotherhood may lack in some departments, not least story, character development and the politics that made Assassin's Creed II so engrossing, but climbing up the Coliseum at two in the morning is like finally experiencing the fresh innovative experience I imagined when I first saw Assassin's Creed all those years ago.
I could lose myself in Brotherhood's lush world full of things to do. But this time of year the backlog of game only burgeons. But I'll take with me a sense of vigour, now rejuvenated and ready for the next challenge. Assassin's Creed has finally delivered on some of the promise I initially saw in it.
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