‘Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood’ (PS4) review: Synchronizing with a familiar past

The follow-up to “Assassin’s Creed II” mixes high and low points

The ever-so-suave Ezio Auditore da Firenze makes a hit-and-miss return in “Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood,” the follow-up to “Assassin’s Creed II.” The Assassin who earned my admiration during 20-something hours in the first entry in the remastered “Ezio Collection” does little more than he’s already done during the 20-something hours I spent with him this time around. Which means, in effect, the game’s a fun one, but it’s basically one you’ve already played.

The events of “Brotherhood” kick off right after the end of “Assassin’s Creed II,” with Ezio returning to his family’s villa in Monteriggioni, Italy, after quite an epic battle. However, his respite from danger doesn’t last long as the villa is attacked by Cesare Borgia, who steals the Apple of Eden (a powerful weapon). Ezio then heads to Rome to regain the Apple and to defeat the Borgia who have overrun the city. It’s not that much of a plot, but that’s OK because it’s not this plot that matters.

If you recall, Ezio is the ancestor of Desmond Miles, the present-day protagonist who’s been tasked with saving the world, more or less. His sequences, and his story, are fantastic and interesting, especially from a story-based point of view. Plus, the game’s ending will leave your jaw on the ground.

As you parkour your way through this vast, complex Rome, you’ll want to pay particular attention to the Borgia towers. These massive constructions serve a couple different purposes, but you only have one goal when it comes to them: to burn them to the ground. Doing so reduces Borgia influence in the area, which allows you some more freedom in movement, and unlocks vendors within the vicinity of the now-destroyed tower.

However, it won’t be an easy feat. You only can gain access to the tower-burning sequence once you take out the tower’s captain. Charging head-first into him and his guards will normally result in the captain fleeing, which prevents you from moving forward with your goal. (A captain returns twice a day in in-game time, so don’t fret if you don’t get him the first time.)

The growth economy from the previous installment returns; once you unlock any particular area, you can purchase and renovate shops such as blacksmiths and doctors. The premise of “spend money to make money” is central here: The more shops you unlock, the most revenue you make from them every 20 minutes. The more money you have, the more items (and renovations) you can purchase. For the most part, this simply allows you to buy new weapons and items, but the game does come with some high-priced landmarks you’ll want to buy if you want to achieve full synchronization.

Gone are the tombs from “AC II,” with new lairs chocked full of the followers of Romulus taking their place. For the most part, the lairs offer a nice break from the main story and should visually impress with their designs.

Another addition (or throwback from the original “Assassin’s Creed”) is the return of assassin apprentices. As you explore, you’ll notice citizens being attacked by the Borgia’s soldiers. If you help defend them, they join your assassin’s guild. (This feature doesn’t open until after a few hours into the game, however.) Once they join your cause, you can send them to complete missions near and far to gain experience and grow stronger; if you desire, you can even summon them to help you in real-time (as long as they aren’t sent on a mission elsewhere). Though it’s generally not necessary, it’s a nice treat to know you can call in for back-up if you need it.

Which you probably won’t, considering the gameplay mechanic of sword-fighting in this game has been reduced to chaining combos together to slay everyone around you. Once you start the combo, it’s pretty difficult to be overwhelmed if you don’t screw up the button inputs.

As for game missions, you’re not going to find a lot new here from the last installment, though there is some diversity within the missions themselves that “AC II” lacked. Most of the time you’ll be tasked with familiar tasks: saving people, killing people, stalking people, etc. Every once in a while you’ll be able to break from the mold, though, and play mystery-solving games, learn how to kidnap and destroy machines of war. Alas, stealth missions, during which your discovery by the enemy will end the mission in failure, are here. And they’re just as terrible as they are in every other “Assassin’s” game.

Of note: “The Ezio Collection” stripped away the multiplayer component that “Brotherhood” had upon release. Judging from previous multiplayer modes in the “Assassin’s Creed” universe, you’re not missing much, but you should be aware. (The same applies to the final game in the Ezio storyline, “Revelations.”)

And, though it should come as no surprise to anyone who has played an “Assassin’s Creed,” you’re going to run into some graphical issues, particularly clipping through the world environment and seeing level geometry no player should ever have to see. (It admittedly can be funny to watch Ezio just fall through the world, but it’s not exactly a mark of craftsmanship.) There’s also some screen tearing from time to time, and the frame rate just does what it wants to at truly random moments.

In the end, “Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood” comes across as an amped-up version of “Assassin’s Creed II.” It takes the highlights of that game and adds a few touches here and there, but it doesn’t really offer a whole lot extra. Ezio’s story in Rome more or less plays out the same way it did in the first game, while there isn’t nearly enough of Desmond’s story to keep the player invested in his plot. Parkouring around this “Assassin’s Creed” world is a blast, as always, as long as you don’t fall through the environment to your doom. But, despite its flaws, you’ll miss out on important moments in “Assassin’s” lore, and you could do worse than watching Ezio flirt with every skirt he runs across.

Three “I hate synchronizing…” stars out of five.

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