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Brotherhood: Best Assassin's Creed yet?

CVG travels to Rome for an epic single-player hands-on

Rome - a city rich in over 2000 years of history; the drama of the Colosseum, the beauty of the Vatican... And the delicious chicken wings of the Hard Rock Cafe.

Take a handful of British journalists on a trip to a European city - no matter how rich in culture - and they'll inevitably end up doing the latter.

And then, when the dust and Cranberry Amaretto (Ubisoft Montréal's obsession) has settled, we'll all miss an exclusive helicopter trip around town to sleep off the hangover. When in Rome, eh?

One thing we didn't pass up in the Italian capital was the opportunity to experience one of gaming's most successful franchises - the masterfully epic Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood - on its home turf.

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Assassin's in the (Borgia) house

Shuttled off to an immaculate Roman house (more like a palace actually) once owned by the game's Borgia family, we resisted chiselling the priceless paintings off the walls and instead settled for a chat with the lead team members and an opportunity to wash the potato skin stains from the front of our t-shirt. Oh, and an extensive hands-on with later portions of the new game.

BACK TO THE FUTURE
We must admit that even we're surprised, considering the speedy turnaround, to discover Brotherhood is far from the rushed expansion pack naysayers have been expecting.

If we were to sell our experience with the game in a sentence, we'd tell you it's last year's brilliant formula improved with 12 months of knowledge, depth and masterful sandbox. Ubisoft tell us it might actually take you longer to finish Brotherhood than ACII.

Brotherhood kicks off exactly where the last game started - sci-fi headscrews and all - with our modern day hero Desmond speeding off in a white van with the evil Templar in hot pursuit (this is where the minor spoilers start, so skip the next paragraphs if you want to keep the story a surprise).

It turns out Assassin's Creed's entire modern day period up until now has taken place in Italy, which (overly-convenient or not) means Brotherhood's opening sequence has license to deliver some wicked fan service.

As Desmond emerges from the Animus, Lucy and Rebecca explain that they're searching his genetic memories for Ezio's Piece of Eden. Minerva - the weird holo-lass from ACII's conclusion - changed the Apple somehow and they believe it's the key to finding the lost Temples she spoke of.

The problem is, Ezio's memories of where he left it are locked away and memories-within-memories are stopping them from accessing the location. Strong stuff.

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This is when Desmond and friends arrive at the run-down and derelict Auditore Villa, all modern day and full of electricity. It's a fun scene which sees the increasingly strong secondary effects of the animus displaying projections of Ezio and other past events in Desmond's mind.

These illusions eventually see you travel underground with Lucy to reach the derelict Villa sanctuary, where our protagonists can escape the gaze of searching cell phone towers being used by Templars.

If you needed proof that Brotherhood's not just a rehash of ideas, this is it; the 30 minute platforming sequence sees Desmond and Lucy work together to navigate the caves and mines - an extensive modern day gameplay scene beyond anything attempted in last year's instalment.

In fact, the interaction between the two characters is as a whole more elegantly executed than anything in Assassin's Creed II.

As the pair navigate the mines, pulling switches and climbing up rotten rope, they're full of banter - and not unlike genre titan Uncharted there's tons of contextual chatter. Falling in dirty sewer water for example, Desmond comments on his stinky situation, and Lucy warns him to stay away.

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