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Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood: A masterclass in how to hook your audience

We love Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, we truly do. In terms of game design it’s ingenious, constanly rewarding and enticing the player with new tasks to complete, jobs to undertake, challenges to overcome, trinkets to find, high spots to synchronise and even more besides. It’s the product of some great minds coming together and thinking long and hard about contemporary game design, and how it can be bettered. The end result is one big riposte to any who played the original AC and said it was too repetitive (which it was). AC: Brotherhood is the exact opposite. There’s almost too much variety.

In terms of trying to actually get things done, AC: Brotherhood feels like a never-ending and insurmountable task. Five hours in and you’ll find your minimap cluttered – no, swarmed – by hundreds of small icons vying for your attention. Blacksmiths demand to be renovated, high points scaled, Borgia towers burnt down, feathers collected, Romulus hideouts explored, aqueducts repaired. A few more hours and Mercenaries, Theives and Courtesans demand your attention, Guild quests require completing, and Leonardo’s war machines need taking down. Later still and your micro-managing your titular brotherhood, sending nascent assassins across Europe to kill enemies and steal documents. And then there are Ezio’s actual missions, of course, if you ever get round to doing them.

AC: Brotherhood rivals Fallout 3 and its successor, New Vegas, in terms of never getting anything done. A typical play session in the Capital Wasteland or the Mojave will see players head off toward a story quest, only to find numerous distractions, NPCs and side-quests have kept them from getting to their destination even after hours of play. AC: Brotherhood – if at all possible – is an even worse culprit. “Right,” you’ll say, booting up the game. “Off to meet Niccolo Machiavelli for my next mission.” But then, why not ignite that Borgia tower on the way? How about getting that hidden flag up on that balcony first? But what’s that twinkling noise? Is there treasure nearby? Perhaps I’ll use that treasure to renovate another bank. And then, with the funds withdrawn from that, you’re off purchasing new shops and businesses, renovating structures of value, and proccuring new items from Leonardo da Vinci. Before you know it you’ve taken a trip outside the Animus to have a chat with Lucy and the team, and perhaps left the Villa to explore the surrounding village of Monteriggioni. Once you’ve strapped yourself back in you could still be distracted by Ezio’s older memories of Christina, the virtual training challenges accessible via the menu, or the lure of an assassination contract.

For an OCD sufferer, AC: Brotherhood’s map is a personal hell. All those icons, their blank grey crying out to be filled with a satisfying white following completion. And yet it always feels like three steps forward, two steps back. As soon as you’re close to completing one series of tasks another three take its place. The map plays with its players, teasing them with 100% synchronisation before cruelling yanking it away with the introduction of each new gameplay element.

It’s stressful. It’s distracting. It’s hard work. And it’s brilliant. Rarely before has a game offered so much to do, such a wealth of variety, so many good ideas, and all without breaking the pace or flow of the game. AC: Brotherhood can feel like it’s over-inundating the player at times, but if we were to complain that a world as big and beautiful as Brotherhood’s rendition of Rome iss filled with too much variety, we would be fools indeed. It’s one of the best examples of how to develop an open-world game and keep it from feeling slack, and a brilliant example of how to keep your players hooked for ridiculous seven hour sessions.

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  • Have they got rid of the annoying sci-fi storyline with more flash forward expositions than the Star Trek episode “Inner Light”?

  • Chris McMahon

    I’ve played it for around fifteen hours and there’s only been one forced flash forward near the beginning, and it was actually pretty good. Other than that, I’ve only left the Animus when it’s been my choice. You can leave whenever you want via the menu.