Yet if the missions are left wanting in terms of structure, mechanics and fun, they're woven into a well-written narrative. Where Uncharted 3 sacrificed a cohesive plot at the altar of explosive action, Ubisoft is happy to let the story drive the content. That it's not an entirely disastrous decision is mainly thanks to the quality of the new characters. Ottoman Assassin Yusuf, your guide for the early game, and a recurring presence throughout, is a likeable addition to the cast; the feisty and intelligent Sofia, who thaws a little of Ezio's icy demeanour as the game progresses likewise. That the bad guys don't quite have the same impact is an understandable problem for an assassin: if you're doing a good job, your enemies don't tend to last very long.
Moreover, it ties all three narrative strands together more efficiently than before. Altair and Ezio's connection in particular is explored more thoroughly. There's also a satisfying finality to the story of one of these characters, though the send-off the other receives still feels slightly incomplete.
And what of Desmond? Well, he gets a few brief moments to shine, but it's a new optional element - unlocked from collecting Animus fragments spread across Constantinople - that sees Nolan North earn his fee. In Desmond's Journey, we learn a little about his past, as our hero reminisces of his life before the Assassins intervened. Bizarrely, this is achieved by exploring abstract environments in first-person while placing platforms under your feet. At first, it seems relatively simple, but then you'll have to get past moving lasers that disintegrate the platforms you place and a strange, dark substance that moves anything floating above it. These sequences are either some of the most irritating spatial puzzles you've ever played or the least efficient storytelling device ever. Either way, as you sit through the lengthy credit crawl you'll wonder how, of the several hundred people involved in the game's development, no one suggested they might be a terrible idea.
A disappointing campaign is supplemented by an updated version of one of the most unfairly underplayed and underappreciated online games in a long time, an inventive cat-and-mouse variation on multiplayer standards that deserved more attention than it got. For its early weeks at least, Brotherhood's online component was a rare treat, until a number of players seemed to catch on that running around on roofs was the secret to multiplayer success and interest waned. The new game does little to rectify that, in truth, with a few perks to boost speed that only seemed to encourage rooftop sprints in the games I played. The contested kill idea, meanwhile, seems unbalanced, apparently rewarding button-mashing after the fact to drop the murderer's points. There's an attempt to provide a narrative grounding for the multiplayer, with some guff about Abstergo your reward for levelling up, but like many of the solo ideas, it seems a little half-hearted. Ubisoft is promising tweaks and patches, but while with the right set of players it's still one of the most entertaining multiplayer games around, it's unlikely to win anyone over from Call of Duty or Battlefield for anything more than a week-long fling, if that.
So, for the first time, a new Assassin's Creed game is worse than its predecessor, the first time the short development period has had a noticeable impact on the game's quality. It's a game of nearlies and might-have-beens: summed up by the hookblade, a supposedly key new feature which in practice merely extends Ezio's reach slightly, and allows him to glide down the occasional zipline. Its setting, while evocatively realised, is less interesting than before, and its systems and feedback loops just aren't as satisfying as they used to be. As much as I've enjoyed spending three games with one of gaming's most charismatic leads, perhaps it is time he - and Ubisoft - moved on.
VideoGamer.com Score7 Score out of 10
- Ziplines and linear platforming sequences are terrific
- Engaging story that answers several questions
- Largely uninspiring missions
- Tower-defence sections are bad; Desmond's Journey is even worse