ASSASSIN'S CREED BROTHERHOOD and the attack of the frahmisms

Initially known as Assassin’s Creed II with multiplayer, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood manages, at the same time, to deny the chance for newcomers to become emotionally invested while inviting fans to divest from a franchise whose narrative seems destined to pursue the same old McGuffin on each new iteration.

ASSASSIN’S CREED BROTHERHOOD is a videogame developed by Ubisoft Montreal and Ubisoft Annecy, published by Ubisoft for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Mac and PC. The Xbox 360 version was played for the purpose of this review. It was directed by PATRICK PLOURDE and STEPHANE BAUDET.

Some things aren’t supposed to make sense. Take Art Frahm, for example. Frahm was painter famous for his ladies in distress pictures, which involved celery and women whose panties had, crossing the barriers of time, space, logic and common sense, mysteriously fallen to their ankles. Also celery. Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood also has its share of idiosyncrasies, or rather frahmisms, that despite not making any sense, their constant repetition made us accept the lunacy as some immutable design choice. Sure, many of those were brought back from Assassin’s Creed II (ACII), but Brotherhood not only consolidates them but add a few of its own. For instance: Why would a secret organization like the Assassin Order place their logo every damn where? How can Ezio, the game’s protagonist, climb buildings – let alone run – with all the heavy equipment he carries? How can such a flamboyant assassin disappear in a group of 4 people from the enemies’ gaze?

Ezio Auditore da Firenze, who goes to Rome in order to hunt his uncle’s killer, Cesare Borgia, now wears more clothes and guns than ever before. In fact, this is something Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood does in general. It only adds, never subtracts from Assassin’s Creed II – even when it doesn’t make much sense. The city restoration mechanism for monetization is back, for instance. Should it even be back? It made sense in Assassin’s Creed II‘s Monteriggioni, but for Rome? Why restore Rome? To win the people’s heart? Should we expect that mechanism in every future Assassin’s Creed title from now on, like Art Frahm’s panties? Now you can also fire a mounted machine gun and launch rockets at enemy frigates, like a true Renaissance Man! Why? Who cares?! It’s more content and content is good, right?

Adding variety for variety’s sake means there must be something wrong with your core gameplay loop. If the loop is deep and satisfying to begin with, there isn’t any need for you to intercalate it with some other type of gameplay in order to prevent your game from becoming tiring. I’m particularly picky when such variety takes form as frahmisms.

And while I salute the entire ludodiegetic frame of the Assassin’s Creed series, where even the pause menu’s existence in justified in the game’s narrative, there is only so many frahmisms I can endure. It’s a pity really, because Brotherhood is a better game than the mess Assassin’s Creed II was. The villains are more realistically drawn and overall plot is more centered. On the other hand, Ubisoft never really got around to justifying the game’s existence; narratively, only the 4 last minutes of the game are of any relevance to the overarching plot of franchise. When this is taken into consideration with all the game’s noise – granted, many of these are the spawn of Assassin’s Creed II, ultimately transforming Ezio in a Walking Ball of Cloth and Blades – it’s become hard for me to defend this game. Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is schlock.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the top. You start this game the same way you did in Assassin’s Creed II: by following Lucy commands. You then meet up with your uncle Mario and, shortly thereafter, he is killed, and the Apple of Eden is stolen from you. If you have no idea of who Lucy, Uncle Mario or the Apple of Eden is, don’t worry: it’s not your fault. It’s Brotherhood‘s, since it doesn’t actually know what an introduction should be like. If you do have some idea, however, don’t be surprised that this entire beginning feels like somebody at Ubisoft was re-heating ACII’s leftovers at the microwave. I’m not as heartless – or rather, as incompetent – as Brotherhood, though. Want to know what a Lucy is? Easy peasy! Lucy is the Woman; Mario is the Mentor; the Apple is the McGuffin. That’s all there is to know about those characters. Hell, they aren’t even characters. They are roles that needed to be fulfilled!

The McGuffin at play here relies on the notion that Ezio’s particular Apple was super-special or something and finding where it currently is could lead to whatever his descendant, Desmond, needs to do in order to er…¦ save the world, I suppose. Again, it is all very flimsy and poorly justified. There isn’t even any evidence that the Apple wasn’t moved from where Ezio hid it to begin with. Everyone is just grasping at straws here. So it’s will come to no surprise that Ezio’s quest doesn’t really advance the overarching plot in any significant way. It all seems a bit pointless.

Poor motivations (e.g.: avenging someone you don’t care about/recovering an artifact for weak reasons) aside, at least is plot is an improvement over the jumbled together mess of ACII’s. The histrionic Cesare Borgia poses as a much more menacing threat than his father Rodrigo and serves as a valid justification for Machiavelli’s presence in the game. He is the Prince, after all. In order to kill him, Ezio must get Borgia’s underlings first, and the plot advances according to that progression. The downside is that these assassinations are not only few and far between, but also strongly scripted, leaving little room for the player to improvise. Unlike the original Assassin’s Creed and, to some degree, Assassin’s Creed II, you no longer feel these men are your prey, but rather mission goals like any other.

The big innovation Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood brings to the table is exactly the idea of brotherhood, or at least forming one. And no, I haven’t played the multiplayer mode. The game, however, tries to mirror the idea of fighting along other assassins at the single-player campaign. This sounds good in theory. In practice, the presence of other assassins only serves as a fuck you button. The fuck you button was something I first saw in God of War. After you finish toying with your victim or simply didn’t feel like spending too much time hack’n’slashin, players would press the fuck you button and Kratos would quickly dispose of the enemy. Here, when Ezio pulls the fuck you button, another assassin springs from somewhere are finishes of your target. It delivers a weird voyeur-like pleasure to see how the NPCs will play among themselves, and it kind of makes you wonder why the hell you are feeling pleasure for not playing in the first place.

Thematically this doesn’t work very well. You never feel part of a brotherhood. There is even a whole ceremonial event that repeats whenever one of your apprentices becomes a full-fledged assassin, but what’s the point? You don’t actually care about these NPCs: they are merely tools, stick figures. You did not train them, but instead played a menu-based / Facebook mini-game. You did not win their hearts for the cause (an empty phrase Ezio insists on repeating, perhaps believing that turning it into a cliché will supply the value it lacks), but saved faceless NPCs that appear randomly after certain requirements are met. So, what is the point? The whole exercise feels like going to the school presentation of your boss’ children.

If you have ever played Assassin’s Creed II before, then you have already played this game. The fact this Brotherhood is limited to Rome, coupled with Ubisoft’s inability to convey a strong sense of place like John Marston’s New Austin or Mario’s Delfino Isle only makes us become more attentive to the engine’s limitations, like how the buildings all look alike and apparently nobody ever slept during the Renaissance. Rome either doesn’t have as many exhilarating places to climb or perhaps I’m just becoming desensitized due to overexposure to the franchise, which is awful considering the concept of reliving ancient history has more potential than all the current Guitar Hero’s combined. The only known cure for sequel-itis is bitter though. It’s called boycott. Sure, a frustrated-and-powerful game director might also do the trick, but miracles are more frequent than those.

Wake me up when we leave the 1500’s, will you, Doc Brown?


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