Creating a brand new video game is tough and starting a brand new franchise is even harder, but one of the biggest successes of this generation has been the Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series. The games does a great job of mixing historical set pieces, with believable crowds of NPC’s great 3rd person melee combat, parkour action and a sci-fi story that some how mixes it all together. It also throws a little conspiracy and end of the world prophecy all in for good measure.
The latest entry into the series, AC: Brotherhood is far and away the best so far, but things didn’t start out so well for this franchise. The first game had it’s issues with just about everything a game could have issues with. Reviewers felt the story was too convoluted, and the game play was repetitive and the game’s tone was too dark and humorless. But that didn’t stop the first game from selling very well for a new IP.
With the success came the inevitable sequel, but Unibsoft Montreal (creators of some of my favourite games ever) didn’t spin out a new game to cash in on the game’s popularity. With two years between games, the dev’s took all the criticism to heart and turned out one of the best sequels I’ve ever played. AC II had all the fun parts of the first game (the defensive combat and free running around populated cities) while adding more platforming elements, better characters and a more immersive universe. And while the game still had a really blunt and ambiguous ending (something that seems to be a theme for this series) the game still satisfied in everywhere the first game lacked.
What’s most significant about this sequel is that it addressed the problems the fans and critics had directly by both building a better game, and talking about how they did it. And with so many games in the industry being churned out year after year with little improvement, it’s refreshing to see developers take such pride in their art.
So when they announced the next sequel will come out one year after AC II, I was a little concerned. I’ve kind of become jaded to these kind of announcements, there have been too many good, if flawed games get really bad sequels becuase the publisher wanted a cash in rather than build a franchise. And it really hurt that the AC franchise was going to get this same treatment. After all, the second one was so good, they could basically release the same game with new maps and more people neck stab and most people would be happy.
But the really strange things is that’s basically what Unibsoft did, but they made it work. AC II had some massive cities and great vistas, but AC Brotherhood give us Rome, a massive city with packed districts, open fields and churches but also a whole bunch of smaller, focused levels and “memories” of your Renaissance Assassin. AC II let us upgrade out Assassin’s villa, but now we can rebuild Rome (it takes more than a day), there are also more puzzles, and assassin contracts.
But best of all, AC Brotherhood does something that most games always flop on, it makes you feel like a leader and does make it boring. It’s something that also bothered me about the GTA series, you work your way up the criminal underworld but once you get to the top, the game ends. Or when you’re up there, you’re still doing the bitch work for other people. But about halfway through Brotherhood your character assumes the role of the new leader of the Assassin’s brotherhood. You begin to recruit new assassin’s and send them out on contracts throughout Europe, leveling them up until they came be accepted as a true assassin. It’s rewarding, fun and has an impact on the actual game play when you can call in your assassin’s to take out guards or save your bacon in a tough fight.
On top of all that, it adds multiplayer, and it’s not some tacked on mode. it’s got 3 unique modes (with two “Advanced” versions) and game paly that is wildly different from the usual shooter fare. Yet it keeps elements that have become central to this generation’s multiplayer play book. You can level up and unlock new perks and abilities which keeps you pushing on to reward yourself. It also set out to carve a new path in multiplayer gaming by saying true to what makes the game great. The game mixes the “hide in plain sight” stealth of the game with free running and some brutal take downs. Unibsoft Montreal has had a pretty solid track record with creating new and unique multiplayer experiences, especially for third person stealth games.
Basically the only thing that takes away from this game is that it came out only a year after AC II, I mean if this game came out last year instead of AC II, it’s be a game of the year contender for sure. But the game play formula is so solid, and it has enough improvements to make it feel unique that I can feel good about calling it one of the best sequels of the year.
It also helps that Unbisoft has taken the high road and said they’d rather take some time off with the series rather than spin out another game and let the series get stagnant