So, all in all, the new features are very nice, but do they really justify the development of a whole new game? Probably not. Thankfully, the game has one more trick up its sleeve, and it's a trick that defines the very concept of the game. In Brotherhood, Ezio has reached a legendary status. Among other assassins, he's an idol; a merciless killing machine feared but respected throughout the lands. As a result of his iconic status, Ezio can find and recruit impressionable young assassins to join his cause. At the heart of this feature are some fairly in depth role playing mechanics; Ezio can send the fledgling assassins off on missions where they earn experience and level up. Once they've reached a certain level, they can be called upon in game to do Ezio's dirty work. With a fully functioning brotherhood at his disposal, there's no need for Ezio to lift a finger.
The single-player is just one facet of the overall experience; Brotherhood allows players to plunge a knife into the back of other human controlled assassins. Indeed, for the first time in the series (if you exclude the crappy iPhone game) the main menu plays host to a multiplayer option. Here, the assassins that form the Brotherhood forget their allegiances to one another, and become instruments of multiplayer murder. It's an alluring prospect, but Assassin's Creed wasn't originally designed with multiplayer in mind. Just how effectively does the game bring together multiple players? With a lovely Ubisoft PR person to chaperone me to the front of a very long queue, I decided to find out.
Sitting down with seven other wannabe assassins, I was greeted with a short tutorial for a game mode entitled 'Wanted'. The object here was simple: to assassinate a specific target whilst avoiding being assassinated myself. The problem (and solution, depending on your situation) is that countless AI clones of each character wander about the city, meaning that finding the 'real' target is no easy task. A compass at the bottom of the screen will gradually lead you in the right direction, but if your target has decided to blend in with other characters of his ilk, then it's nigh on impossible to work out who you need to kill. A good assassin will train their eyes for giveaways; running in public, climbing up walls, changing clothes. All of these actions stand out like a sore thumb to any pursuer, and if spotted, they won't think twice before slitting your throat.
Often a target will notice your presence before you deliver the fatal blow, and they'll inevitably make a run for it. Once they start running, the calm and collected style of play maintained up until this point is thrown out of the window. The chase is on, and your target needs to be caught before they slip out of sight. If you're quick enough, all it takes is a quick tap of the assassinate button within range to put some points on the board. Each character has their own unique skills they bring into the game, such as knives, smoke grenades or disguises, but these should all be used as a last resort. If you're good at the game, nobody will even notice you're playing.
Assassin's Creed 2: Brotherhood is a fantastic stop gap on the way to AC3. It might seem like the game is merely a testing ground for multiplayer, but the brand new storyline and extensive Brotherhood features suggest otherwise. The range and quality of the upcoming multiplayer modes will likely play a huge role in how successful the game turns out, but from what I saw at E3, Assassin's Creed fans have every reason to be excited.
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is out winter 2010, for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.