Monday, November 29, 2010

Xbox 360 - Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood by Ubisoft

Lightning doesn't always strike twice with games and Brotherhood is definitely a miss for Ubisoft. Bear with me as this is a reasonably long review. Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, while adding some interesting things to the Assassin's Creed franchise, fails on far too many occasions.

Story

You're still playing as Ezio (in Italy) from Assassin's Creed II (and, of course, Desmond). All of the climbing, jumping and acrobatics are still in Brotherhood. The controls are identical to that of Assassin's Creed II. The trouble isn't with the controls (or, at least, I should say, they are no worse than the previous games). The climbing controls have not, however, improved either. Nearly all of the same problems that plague episode 1 and 2 are still present in Brotherhood. I do wish Ubisoft would actually fix some of the issues that affect Ezio's climbing abilities. Some of the problems stem from the fact that Ubisoft overloads each buttons' function based on current mode. For example, when climbing, the B button lets you drop. However, if you are using the high reach glove, the B button becomes grasp (for a few seconds). Immediately after, it goes back to drop. So, if you don't time everything perfectly, you'll drop off of whatever you are climbing instead of actually grasping the next ledge. This is completely frustrating and needs to be fixed.

In fact, I do not even know why you have to press the B button to grasp when you use the high jump in the first place. Ezio should auto-grasp high ledges without having to do anything.

Another issue is with jumping. There are many times where I am jumping along on bars and stop, yet Ezio keeps going and jumps right off and to the ground. At times, that can mean lost health or guard detection (if in a quest). Again, frustrating. These are just a few of the 'little things' that tend to plague Brotherhood.

In fact, in this game, there isn't really one single consistent story. There are many stories (like Grand Theft Auto). Each quest leads you to a different story. So, the stories change as the game progresses.

Quests

There is the main quest (those with a ! icon) and there are side quests (those with other icons). As you progress, the game opens up side quests as you play through the main quest. So, just be patient and the quests will all open to you. The same goes for the map areas (we'll come to this issue shortly).

Brotherhood

Further, as you progress, one of the quests opens up the ability to recruit assassin trainees into your ranks. So, the more Borgia towers you burn, the more assassins you will have in your ranks. But first, you must send them on missions to train them, level them up, give them armor and weapons and then they eventually become rank Assassino.

What does the assassin brotherhood do for you? Well, other than bringing in a small amount of money that you won't need once you own all of the property on the map, they add a way to have non-detection kills during detection quests (at least, some quests). So, when you go into the 'Don't be detected' quests, just make sure you have enough assassin signals to handle the guards so you can move through the level without being detected.

Other than that, the assassin brotherhood is rather pointless.

Desmond and the Present

The present amounts to little more than wandering around trying to locate a handful of artifacts, talking to Lucy, Rebecca and Shaun (which is pretty pointless), read pointless emails and entering the Animus. You do get to wander around the town and hop from roof to roof, but you're limited to 10 minute stints (there's a countdown timer). Not that there's much out to do when you're running around as this part of the game is intentionally limited. I'd have really expected more from the 'Present' at this point than there is. There's still no combat, nothing really to do. I haven't personally waited past the 10 minute countdown to 'see what happens', but I probably should. It might actually be interesting.

Clearly, the present is intended to be solely a stepping stone to get you into the Animus and into Ezio's shoes where everything frustrating and repetitive happens.

Map

The map is about as big as the previous game, Assassin's Creed II. The trouble is, there isn't really a whole lot to do besides the quests, finding loot, locating the four Leonardo war machines, restoring businesses and training assassins. The game is pretty much one-tracked. By that I mean, there's nothing surprising here. It's much the same as the last game. The quests are the same throughout (we'll get to the problems with the quests shortly). Sure, you get better weapons, armor and assassin robe dyes, but that's what you'd expect based on Assassin's Creed II. Beyond that, the weapons, armor and dyes really don't add much to the intrinsic play value of this game.

Music

Ok, but repetitive. After you've played the game for a while, the soundtracks become exceedingly old. You might want to think about cranking up some Xbox tunes instead.

Problems that plague Brotherhood

Sync Challenges

Let's start by saying, there are many problems with this game. Specifically the quests. Instead of different hardness levels, which Ubisoft should have supported, the game developers lumped it all together in one game. When questing, for example, Ubisoft lumped two challenges together into each quest. The first challenge is to get through the quest from beginning to end (Ezio's story). The second challenge is to get a 100% sync for the memory (Desmond's story). To get 100% sync, you might have to avoid detection or use your assassins or do the challenge within X minutes. Whatever the challenge is, it tells you up front.

I would have preferred the sync challenges be enabled only on hardness level Intermediate. Perhaps even 'Hard'. There should have been an 'Easy' hardness that did not have the sync challenges at all. In fact, you should get 100% sync just by doing whatever the quest requires. The sync challenges don't really matter to the overall game. Nevertheless, having them there is annoying and frustrating. One of many problems with this game.

Slow Moving

The game is also very slow moving. By that I mean, there are many many main quests you have to do before you even get most of the map open. This is frustrating if you just want to explore the area. Instead, there are large parts of the map that remain locked out until some time way later into the game. Frustrating.

Too Many Detection Challenges

The one constant part of the questing that simply drives me absolutely batsh*t nuts is detection challenges which are seemingly endless. Seems every later quest requires you not being detected. The problem with being detected is that the game is way overly sensitive to detection. You can be climbing around minding your own business and then you're 'detected' and the whole quest starts over (and you wait while the game reloads). You can't even see what detected you. There are times where you assassinate a guard and just as he's hitting the ground, the game says 'detected' and, again, you're starting over. It's these kinds of problems that lead me to believe this game was not play tested.

Skipping Cinematics

Skipping long cinematics is a complete chore. Instead of one button skipping, how most other games handle this, Ubisoft decided to skip cinematics by using a main menu selection. So, you have to open the main menu, select 'Skip Cinematic' in the menu, then answer a 'Yes' or 'No' confirmation question. Seriously, 5 or so button presses compared to a single button press. After you do this, the game takes at least 30-45 seconds to skip the cinematic. That is, the game clears the screen, goes back to the blank Ezio loading screen (you can make him run around), you wait and then the game redraws the screen and places Ezio is in some 'new' location. In some cases, it takes way longer to skip the cinematic than it does to watch it. Worse, in some cases, Ezio will end up starting in some way distant location or on top of a very tall structure (not where you were when you skipped). This can be highly frustrating and puts Ezio at an extreme disadvantage if the quest happens to be a 'chase' quest. The thing is, if you don't skip the cinematic, Ezio starts on the ground where he was standing before the cinematic started. Why the game has to relocate Ezio when you skip the cinematic, I simply have no idea. But, it's frustrating and annoying. It almost seems like Ubisoft intentionally penalizes those gamers who choose to skip cinematics.

War Machine Handling

All of Leonardo's War Machines are a pain to manage, but the flying war machine is near impossible to control. At the same time, with the flying machine, you are tasked to fly around with this near-impossible-to-control flying machine and bomb a very tiny guy on a horse. The flying machine only works by shooting fire at the ground to create heat pockets to make the machine rise into the air. Expect to start this level over about 20 times at least. Again, I say, this game was not play tested.

Continual Button Controller Reassignment

Other frustrations include continual controller button reassignment. Basically, Ubisoft decided to overload the controller buttons with different actions depending on proximity to certain things in the game. For example, if you're in a crowd of people and there are bodies on the ground that you want to loot, if a horse stops and stands on the body, the game remaps the key to 'Hijack' instead of 'Loot'. So, now you're pulling the person off of the horse and not looting the body. If you want to use the high jump glove, the game remaps B to Grasp while the high jump is in action. As soon as the high jump is over (or at least, the game thinks the action is over), the game changes it back to 'Drop'. These controller remapping issues need to be desperately addressed. The game needs a way to stay focused on a specific object (even if it's a non-combatant). The remapping isn't intelligently designed either. For example, placing 'grasp' temporarily on top of the same button as 'drop' almost seems like a cruel joke played on the gamers.

Random Weapon Changes

In combat situations, you'll find your weapon changes based on the game's mood. You'll be going along fine with the sword in your hand. The next thing you know the game has switched you to fists for no apparent reason. So now you have to fumble to get back to your sword. Sometimes, you lose your sword for no apparent reason. I'm assuming one of the soldiers disarmed me, but there was no warning of this. I don't remember this problem in Assassin's Creed II at all. This appears to be something new in Brotherhood.

Random Finishing Moves

Smoke bombs are also frustrating. You throw a smoke bomb and all of the guards start coughing. So, you choose the sword and try to swing it. Instead, the game chooses to do some kind of fist punch and a back breaking thing. If I had wanted to punch the guards with my fists, I would have selected the fist weapon. Why is the game, then, choosing this fist finishing move INSTEAD of using the weapon I've chosen (i.e., the sword or the assassin blade)? It's these little annoying things that just continue to mount making this game less and less enjoyable and more and more frustrating. Use the weapon I select and use it when I tell you to.

Lose-No-Health-Square Challenges, Guards and Running

Further into the game, Brotherhood starts throwing 'Lose no health square' challenges at you. However, instead of making this challenge just progress normally, the game continually throws excessive numbers of guard after guard after guard at you while you're trying to make your way across the map. If this is supposed to be some kind of 'challenge' it isn't. This is a disaster and definitely indicates bad game design. The trouble is, if any guard connects with you, you end up falling on the ground and rolling around. This rolling maneuver kills time and lets other guards catch up. Worse, the guards can actually run faster than Ezio. This is wrong. Ezio is supposed to be a well trained Assassin and in peak athletic form. In order to scale buildings in the way that Ezio does, he would have to be extremely athletic and should be able to outrun anybody when sprinting. Yet, the guards are about 2 times faster than Ezio and the guards are usually oufitted in full body armor. Does anyone really think this stuff through?

Camera Problems

Later into the game, Camera problems also begin to surface. So, you do something like loot a body and then the camera decides to rotate around to a different view. Then, the game proceeds to leave the newly placed camera in the new position. That is, instead of returning the camera to the position before the looting started. Worse, when in close proximity to wall surfaces, the camera can get wonky. It will begin to act erratically and attempt to move into a position that's optimal. Instead, it ends up continually moving around completely disorienting the gamer. Again, this makes the game frustrating to play as the gamer now has to spend time reorienting to where the camera has decided it wants to be. When this happens during a quest (and it will), you lose time and, sometimes, lose the quest.

Countdown Timers and Chase Quests

Countdown timers should not even be used in Assassin's Creed Brotherhood or, indeed, in any Assassin's Creed game. The game is about being an assassin. An assassin who carefully, slowly and meticulously plans kills and then the means of escape without people seeing what happened. Instead, the game throws in 2-3 minute countdown timers to get from point A to B. So, instead of being able to plan the kill, you're racing to get to where the game wants you to be no matter how many guards it throws at you. Worse, when the developers combine chase/follow-me quests with countdown timers, it's the worst of all possibilities. When you're following someone, if the tail gets out of sight, a 25 second countdown timer starts. So, you have to 'see' your tail every so often to reset this timer. By 'see', I mean the camera has to see the person you are following. Ezio can remain hidden inside a bail of hay or some other hiding place.

Chases use a different mechanism. When you're chasing someone, the trouble is that person doesn't even have to get very far head and the game will say 'target lost'. Seriously, you can still see the target on the screen in front of you and the game still says 'target lost'. Bad bad bad. Again, no play testing.

Lack of Achievements

Yes, you'll get a 20G achievement at the completion of every quest (100% sync or not). These kinds of a achievements tend to annoy me. By that I mean, you have to complete the quest to move the game forward anyway, so how is that really an achievement? Yet, once you purchase all tailor shops, blacksmith shops, stables, or indeed purchase every single thing on the map, no achievement. That makes no sense. If you've spent the time and effort to scour the entire map and completely rebuild Rome, isn't that worthy of an achievement or at least Uplay points? How is it that the game developers don't see this? Yet, you get neither an achievement or uplay points. Again, bad design and more proof that this game was not play tested.

Ultimately, you end up fighting with so many problematic character controlling, unexpected button remapping, combat glitching and lack of play testing issues (that, in many cases, force you to restart over and over) that you really can't enjoy the game as it should be enjoyed. Instead, you end up fighting with the controls and stupid game design issues rather than actually playing the game.

Note that these are only a sampling of problems. There are many other small issues that drive me nuts about this game.

Glitchy Bug Problems

This game is reasonably buggy in places... especially the PS3 version. The Xbox 360 version seems much more stable overall than the PS3 version. Apparently, the PS3 version has issues with the tunnel system and various other showstopper bugs. The major PS3 showstopper bug that angers so many people is that people have played through the entire game and only received a handful of Trophies. So, if you decide to give this game a try, be wary of the PS3 version until these issues are resolved.

One additional bug I ran into was with parachutes. At a later time in the game, actually too late in the game really, you'll obtain the parachute from Leonardo. I think he gives you initially 3 or so. If you want more, you have to visit the tailor and buy more Parachutes. So, I visit the tailor and fill up my parachute slots to a max of 15. I go on a flag hunting spree and find one that needs a parachute to obtain the flag. I use about 3-4 parachutes to get to this flag. That's the last time I needed a parachute for a while. That also means I should have had 11 or 12 parachutes left. Yet, several hours later when I tried using the parachute again, I had no parachutes at all. I know that I hadn't used them up. So, somewhere along the way, the game removed all of the parachutes from my inventory. I was able to refill my supply by visiting a tailor, though. This is serious bug that needs to be fixed and a bug that indicates limited or no beta or play testing.

Overall

This game could have been great, but was released way too early in the development cycle. Instead it's a mediocre game with no real need for it in the Assassin's Creed lineup.

The Assassin Brotherhood part of this game feels like a last minute add-on rather than the main reason behind the game's creation. Even worse, at the times when you need the Brotherhood to assist you the most in the final main quests, the game inexplicably prevents you from using your carefully trained assassins. I'm at a loss here. Why would you spend all of that time and effort to create an Assassin Brotherhood only to prevent its use in the final quests? Seriously, the assassins that you've spent loads of time sending on contracts and leveling up should have been intrinsic to the final battles of the game, not completely ignored. Bad game design.

The game was seriously not play tested to any large degree. If it had been play tested, all of the frustrating problems would have been addressed long before this game hit the shelves. I can say, though, that I understand why this game hit the shelves early. Ubisoft wanted a title for the 2010 Holiday season. But, putting crap games out doesn't make people want to buy your games. Ubisoft would do well to take heed of that.

I can't recommend this game in its present state. It's too glitchy and problematic at this point. If you enjoy a high levels of frustration in a game, give this a try. If you, like me, don't like frustrating games (i.e., you're fighting with the game more than playing it), then you should avoid this game or rent it. Note, however, there is so much repetitive stuff to do that it will take you at least a week or two to get through the entire game start to finish (including all side quests). So, be wary of the time it takes to play through if you decide to rent. You might do better to buy it used from Gamestop and return it within the 7 day return period.

Note, I'm being a little generous with a score of 5 out of 10. In fact, this game really deserves less score, but because of high quality look of the characters, I'm rating it higher.

Frankly, I would have preferred that Ubisoft devote their efforts to finishing Assassin's Creed III rather than putting this weak and unnecessary game out.

Score
  • Sound: 5/10 (repetitive verging on annoying)
  • Graphics: 9/10 (characters look good)
  • Gameplay: 5/10 (climbing and jumping are not yet perfected after 3 games)
  • Story: 4/10 (disjointed story)
  • Bugginess: 5/10 (glitchy problematic issues)
  • Controls: 6/10 (overloading needs to stop)
  • Bang-to-buck: 1/10 (definitely a rent)
  • Play Value: $4 (rent it)
  • Overall: 5/10 (repetitive, one-tracked, nothing new here, frustrating).

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of your points, It COULD have been an unrivaled game, but many of the points really touched base with me. Mostly with the quests, I hate chases where if you get too far away you "lose them,." Seriously, it should just be temporary and you can re-track them where you last saw them or something, but don't punish players when they can't "aim" Ezio to make the perfect jump onto a tiny piling sticking out of the water. Perfect example is the Romulus Lair in the Sewer, I don't remember one thing about that place because I was entirely focused on "keeping up with the target" and "aiming" Ezio through perfect jump after another. Why do developers even bother creating such a good atmosphere for a dungeon encounter when you don't even get to slow down and enjoy it! Half the missions are timed or chase or something or the other that doesn't let you slow down one moment to enjoy the world they created. Not even an option to, you just fail. Another is Time Limits, I despise time limits as much as escort missions, they are completely outdated in this gaming age and there's no excuse for them whatsoever. Your supposed to be an assassin, planning carefully how, where, when you take your targets. Nothing ruins atmosphere like a big ole clock with 3:00 mins ticking down until you lose because you didn't kill fast enough. I really agreed also with guards wearing full plate armor running faster than Ezio was a joke, oh not to mention with weapons in hand. This game could have been one of the best games this decade, but old ideas: time limits, chase scenes, story missions with cheap strict objectives and requirements, instead make the game fun and tell the story through the missions, simply outdated ideas from the developers. I wonder if developers even sat down while playing a mission where running away from guards, while chasing someone, with a time limit, having to make perfect jumps time after time, making one mistake will fail you and said "Hey this is amazing, and super fun!"

commorancy said...

Thanks for your comments. Yes, there is lots of room for improvement in Brotherhood. In fact, Assassin's Creed I began the whole series much more correctly. That is, the AC first game required that you plan your kills more carefully and skillfully, work through how to get there and do the deed without being detected (as an assassin should). Brotherhood always seemed to rush the player through many of the quests without regard to who sees or who knows. The clock timers are, as you mentioned, completely out of line and unnecessary for an assassin. Placing a countdown timer is entirely contrary to an assassin where slow, careful planning and perfect execution is key.

The developers have lost track of what Assassin's Creed is (and frankly, what an assassin is). It's not about blazing through a quest or kill so fast your head spins. An assassin should be stealthy, cunning, smart, careful, reserved and above all, remain anonymous and hidden when the deed is done and escape the area quickly to prevent being caught. None of this is in Brotherhood. Instead, we get, 3 minute countdown timers, silly quests and poorly designed concepts.

I know why they cut out the play testing cycle... it costs money. The thing is, play testing tells you if the concepts you've built make sense for a gamer and tells you what you need to fix to make the game better. Unfortunately, it costs money to do this. I'm sure the executives were just telling their staff to 'get something released' rather than 'do it right'... quantity over quality. When quality suffers, so does the company. A company should never ever sacrifice the quality of a product for the bottom line. Your quality IS your bottom line. Execs don't seem to understand this. So, this is why we end up with games like Brotherhood on the shelves about a year before it's actually ready.

commorancy said...

What urks me more than the problems with Brotherhood are people who firmly believe that this game is 'supposed' to be this way. Meaning, they get angry or feel hurt when someone points out the design flaws in a game. Somehow, these gamers actually believe this game is 'perfect' the way that it is now. In fact, when there are issues with my reviews on Gamezelot, this is usually the issue.

Games are flawed people. They are designed by humans and built by humans. Each game, then, by its very nature is flawed. Some games more than others. As a gamer, you have to accept that. My criticisms on Gamezelot are there to help entice developers to rethink their design ideas and to help enrich future games. After all, we all want the best game experience possible. We want to know that that $60 we spent was worth it. That's the purpose behind the Gamezelot criticisms.

Anonymous said...

I got it for ps3 because I heard they fixed it to look better. I hate it. I run into the guys with the crates and I see their mouths moving but they do not say anything lol. also I got the throwing knife upgrade and the belt just disappeared, wtf. Also during one of the first missions where a guy takes your money and you have to chase him, it lagged and paused 3 times during the chase. I am going to rent it for my xbox and I bet I will not encounter any of those things.

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